This is Guns and Butter.
Andrei Raevsky, The Saker: I think it’s a person who is an Israel Firster, very, very strong Zionist ideological bent, definitely puts Israel above the United States for sure. Secondly, I would say people who truly believe in violence and force as a way to solve every conflict, people who have no use for diplomacy – internally or externally, for that matter. A messianic ideology, they are right, they are the best and they get to choose to make the calls. They don’t need to consult or treat anybody with anything but contempt or bribery. So it’s a very shallow kind of ideology, much less sophisticated than anything previously in the United States. The folks in charge were much more refined, much more complex, multi-layered. Neocons are very primitive in what they do and how they operate. They’re also very predictable.
Bonnie Faulkner: I’m Bonnie Faulkner. Today on Guns and Butter, Andrei Raevsky, who blogs as “The Saker.” Today’s show: “Looking into 2018.” The Saker is an expert in military analysis, intelligence issues, Russian geopolitics and traditional Christian orthodoxy. He was born in a military family of white Russian refugees in western Europe where he lived most of his life. After completing two college degrees in the United States, he returned to Europe where he worked as a military analyst until he lost his career due to his vocal opposition to the Western-sponsored wars in Chechnya, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. He returned to the United States and has been blogging since 2007 as “The Saker,” and his analytical essays are now widely distributed on the Internet. He is the author of The Essential Saker: From the Trenches of the Emerging Multipolar World and his newest, The Essential Saker II. Today we discuss the geopolitical outlook for 2018 and examine the possibilities for war or no war.
Bonnie Faulkner: Andrei Raevsky, welcome back to Guns and Butter.
The Saker: Thanks much for having me, Bonnie. It’s always a pleasure.
Bonnie Faulkner: In your recent essay, “2018: War or No War,” you take a detailed look at America’s role in global geopolitics and come up with a very disturbing picture. You write that “It is plainly obvious that the neocons are now back in total control of the White House, Congress and the US corporate media.” What is the evidence that the neocons are now running things?
The Saker: I think the strongest piece of evidence is the recent move by the United States to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which is a typical kind of thing neocons would do. It’s purely ideological and it is basically a “Screw you” to the entire planet, “We do whatever the bleep we want and we don’t care.” And it’s also very characteristic of their lack of intelligence, because if you look at the consequences of that move, they are dramatic.
One of the biggest, most effective tools Israel had in the Middle East was to have the United States impersonating a neutral mediator. Everybody was honest knew that was a joke, that the U.S. was acting on behalf of Israel, but that fig leaf of neutrality was crucial to push forward Israeli agenda.
Now this is gone. The United States has basically removed itself from the role of a mediator, which is a disaster, I think, for Israel, actually, and very good for the rest of the region. So I personally welcome that move. I give it a standing ovation. But from the point of view of the neocons, United States and Israel it’s an absolutely disaster. Yet they did it, and I think this is just the latest in a long series of clumsy attempts by Trump to appease the neocons because he realizes, correctly, that they form the core that opposed his presidency, that they were the number-one enemy. He tried to appease them and all he did is sell out to them completely, and now he’s basically just taking orders straight out of Israel.
It’s debatable if that’s a good or bad thing. I actually think that’s actually a pretty good thing for the rest of the world. But it also is worrisome in one way because we see that the people in charge of decision-making are pure ideologues who don’t concern themselves with minor issues such as facts or logic or consequences. Basically, they’re in a purely ideological position which tells the entire planet, “Screw you. We do whatever we want. We’re above you and we’ll just bully everybody around.” The fact that they have really embarrassing resolutions in the United Nations where the entire planet votes against them, including U.S. allies, votes against that and just minor islands like Kiribati or whatever will vote for it, is horrible. They don’t think there are consequences to that.
So we’re not dealing with a rational actor, and that’s the scary part. The good news is that they’re incompetent. The bad news is that their incompetence could actually lead to very dangerous situations.
Bonnie Faulkner: You have written that a disaster has been triggered by the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, that the U.S. is not acting in defense of its own national security interests and that this is really frightening, which you’ve been discussing. How, in your opinion, will the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital adversely affect US national security interests?
The Saker: First and foremost, of course, the little fig leaf of neutrality now is gone. There were people who were saying that all along but they were dismissed as extremists, anti-Semites, conspiracy theorists etc. Now that you see a superpower like the United States doing something that is self-evidently counterproductive you can only come to the conclusion that really the U.S., in political terms, is the colony of Israel, and that is just very, very damaging internationally.
You have to put that in a broader context. For instance, I don’t think Obama deserved his international prestige one bit but, for instance in Europe, it was extremely politically incorrect to say anything against Obama while Obama was in power because Obama was, by definition and regardless of argument, such a wonderful man. This is not the case with Trump. Hating the U.S. president has become something politically correct in Europe. All my European contacts tell me and report that. So the U.S. is now fair game for vehement criticism, and doing that kind of thing just provides more ammunition to those who criticize the United States.
So what it ends up doing, really, is isolating the United States. And in the Middle East specifically all of the U.S. foreign policy now completely rests on two countries: Israel and Saudi Arabia. This is a disaster because those two countries are locked in a tepid to cold war with Iran. That’s a war they can’t win and they can’t win for a very simple reason: They have many advantages but one thing they don’t have is boots on the ground that they can actually use.
Now, we saw that very clearly in Syria, where the United States is basically frustrated by its inability to actually put boots on the ground. I’m not talking about a small contingent of special forces or maintaining a base in Kurdistan; I’m talking about actually participating in true combat. The Iranians can do it, the Syrians can do it, the Russians won’t do it but they could do it but the Israelis and the Saudis can’t. And these are the two allies of the United States, allies that are hated by the entire region and at the same time cannot win a war that they have embarked upon against Iran. It’s a terrible choice of allies. So for all practical purposes the Middle East is lost for the United States and that recognition just seals the process, which began before that.
Bonnie Faulkner: You write about the reality of the situation in Syria being the exact opposite of what the US claims it to be, and that everyone knows it but no matter; the U.S. government in its rhetoric simply describes a situation that doesn’t exist. Can you talk about what is really happening in the war in Syria, and how that contrasts with what the U.S. says is going on?
The Saker: Yes, of course. The simplest points, which I don’t think anybody who would base his or her opinion on facts and logic would disagree with, is that a) al Qaeda is a US creation; b) what we see in Syria – you can call them Daesh, al Qaeda, ISIS, Al Nusra, IS, it doesn’t matter; it’s the same thing. I like to call them sometimes Takfiris, sometimes Daesh, sometimes the Islamic Crazies. Whatever we want to call them, this is a US creation, first of all. Secondly, these people were pushed then and supported, and still are as we speak right now, get military support from the United States and advisors and intelligence supports. They are supported to the hilt. The United States says the opposite, that they are in a war against Daesh, which is an absolute lie and everybody knows that.
Secondly, it is absolutely, undeniably clear who won the civil war in Syria. It’s actually sometimes incorrectly stated that Russia did. I don’t think that’s true. I think Russia and Iran and the Syrians and Hezbollah did. You have to include all four elements, and I would put a special emphasis on Hezbollah and Iran who did a lot of the hardest fighting on the ground. Not the United States. Not at all. They’re now saying that Russia took the credit that the United States rightly deserves. This is ridiculous, and I think everybody knows that, again.
Coming back to your previous point, when you repeat a lie and you know that nobody believes you and you still go on repeating this, you’re a pure ideological product, again. You basically don’t care about facts on the ground or even facts in the head of the people that you’re speaking to. It’s, again, I think, a tremendous sign of weakness. It’s something that the United States would never have done in the past. To call water dry and black white is a new development, which, again, I would say is a very clear sign of neocon influence.
Bonnie Faulkner: What about alleged attacks on the Russian aerospace forces airbase in Khmeimin, Syria? You have written about this. What is the significance?
The Saker: Well, that’s a worrisome development that is very significant. We’re actually dealing with two separate instances. There was one overnight that happened in the last 24 hours. This time they used drones to attack the base.
The attack was initially reported by one Russian source. It was exaggerated, but basically what it tells us is that the Russian base there – and there will be provocations to try to either kill as many Russians as possible or make them pay or trigger maybe an exaggerated response on their part. I think it shows that the United States has a strategy of harassing the Russians in a very provocative way. I actually wrote in my analysis of the upcoming year that I think there’s a pretty good chance that the United States will end up shooting down a Russian aircraft. The reason for that is they will conclude that Russia probably will protest, might defend itself if attacked, but I don’t think the Russians want to start an open-ended war with the United States. I think that kind of caution will be interpreted by the United States as a sign of weakness.
Right now, overnight, they have attacked the same Syrian airbase with drones. The Russians managed to defeat that attack by shooting some of them down, actually taking control of others, forcing them to land. And actually, they’re taking them apart and showing interesting parts about these drones – and some of them crashed on landing when they either crashed or the Russians tried to force them to land.
But we’re seeing clearly that the airbase and the port in Tartus are going to become targets and I think this is mostly worrisome in the short- to mid-term. There are ways the Russians can protect themselves. They have already changed the policy about how the base is protected. There are basically three circles around that base: a short, like a kilometer distance; another one that goes up to five kilometers; and a long one. This case rockets can be stopped by the Russians but mortar attacks coming from the second zone. It was not possible to stop them and they did hit a number of Russian personnel, not as many as claimed but it was a semi-successful attack. So this is worrisome and shows that the U.S. policy in Syria will be to provoke Russia.
Bonnie Faulkner: You write that “The reality of the war in Syria is that the Russians sent a very small force, and that this force did not so much defeat Daesh as it changed the fundamental character of the political context of the war.” What do you mean by that?
The Saker: The Russian forces did play an important role in defeating Daesh. They provided crucial bombing and close air support, so I don’t want to minimize that. However, it is true that the force was tiny – I mean, ridiculously tiny. We’re talking about 35 combat aircrafts at max, which is really small. So, first of all, it tells you how good the personnel is, how advanced the technologies they’re using are – I mean, it’s superb. They achieved a sortie ratio and an effectiveness which the United States and NATO allies can only dream about. So in no way do I want to minimize the importance of what they did.
But the key thing was that Russia basically signaled to the world that “we are not abandoning our ally. This is not the Russia of Yeltsin, which was going to sell out anybody. We will stand by and we will extend that political influence over Syria and over the Syrian government,” which I think sent a crucial message to everybody around: The Russians mean business. And that’s what I mean that the dynamic of the war fundamentally changed, because the United States could not – I mean, Hillary actually planned to extend a no-fly zone over the Russian forces in Syria. Thank God Trump was elected and that didn’t happen, because I think we were looking at real war in that case.
I think the fact that the Russians have basically put a no-fly zone over Syria – unless the U.S. is willing to truly enter a pretty major suppression of enemy air defenses kind of operation, the Syrian skies are controlled by Russia right now. So they raised the bar much higher, because dealing with a Syrian air force would have been extremely easy for the United States; it would have been a no-brainer. And there’s nothing that Iran could have done if CENTCOM had decided to take the Syrian skies under its control.
Now they’re dealing with a very challenging environment for them, not only because, as I said, there are very few Russian aircrafts present in the skies, and of those only a minority are air-supremacy aircraft, but Russia now has very powerful electronic warfare and air defenses in Syria. This is the main deterrent to a U.S. attempt to impose a no-fly zone is the Russian air defenses there, and that is a true game changer. So I think once the combination of those two things happened, a political message, very effective support for Syrian forces by Russia but also again by Iran and Hezbollah, and the creation of an integrated air defense between Russian equipment and Syrian-controlled equipment creates a completely new dynamic, which basically says that the war is lost for the U.S. and al Qaeda.
Bonnie Faulkner: You write that the neocons are now treating our entire planet to a never-ending barrage of threats. What are some examples of these threats?
The Saker: I think the DPRK is the scariest of all, all this talk about Rocket Man and how Trump wanted to send a formidable armada – the aircraft battle groups that he wanted to send, reneging on the deal with Iran and sort of implicit we’re going to reaccelerate. I heard Nikki Haley openly referring to “the fight” we have with Iran. That’s a threat. The threats on Russia, by basically blaming Russia for everything that they don’t like, hacking, whatever. We know the rhetoric is going to go up so what’s next? Russia will be accused of supporting terrorism. There’s threats made at Russia very clearly. The attitude in the Ukraine just looking towards the Donbass. Sending weapons doesn’t make much of a military difference; it makes a big political difference. The rhetoric from Venezuela, even Cuba, although recently the FBI finally decided to admit that there was no sonic attack on the U.S. embassy in Havana. The really worrying – that’s not even threats – we know what the plan is for Afghanistan.
And that’s another one which I think is amazing. What’s amazing is that basically that surge is nothing new; that’s been tried in the past many times and it’s failed. And the second part is to basically sanction Pakistan. I mean, it’s again one of those examples where you wonder what the average IQ is of the people who advise the president, because if you try to solve a conflict in Afghanistan, how do you do that without having a single neighboring country supporting you? It just blows my mind that the one country that the US still could be on speaking terms with was Pakistan, and what does Trump do? He promulgates a policy on Pakistan which resulted in the Pakistani foreign minister just simply saying, overtly in The Wall Street Journal, “We don’t have an alliance with the US anymore; that’s not how allies behave.”
So okay, Trump lost Pakistan now. Good luck in Afghanistan, really. I mean, this is all the same stuff. It’s100% reliance on force – and I would insist on that, dumb force, ineffective force, force that cannot work and can only result in backlash.
Bonnie Faulkner: What is your assessment of President Trump’s recent verbal attack on Pakistan and the freezing of most military aid to that country? I doubt that Trump came up with this by himself. What is your sense of who is behind this broadside on Pakistan?
The Saker: The very same neocons. I don’t think there’s anybody around him left. He’s surrounded by wall-to-wall neocons or basically – their ideology’s very simple. Israel first, violence everywhere, and no diplomacy. That’s how I would sum it up. In their opinion, diplomacy is basically issuing threats and sanctions. That’s the sole function of foreign affairs. That’s it.
In the case of Pakistan, again, I don’t think there’s anybody in this entire country who believes that this will work, not a single area specialist. I don’t believe anybody in the U.S. military believes that sending more forces to Afghanistan, giving them more leeway, and then sanctioning Pakistan is going to in any way, shape or form allow the U.S. to walk out of Afghanistan or to get any victory, however you define victory. It is absolute, pure, unadulterated stupidity. Really, it’s amazing.
Bonnie Faulkner: Well, then, what about Afghanistan? It looks like the U.S. will be there forever, and this has primarily to do with the drug trade, don’t you think?
The Saker: I don’t know that the United States will be there forever, because it is a huge drain on the United States. The United States cannot afford this. And even if the current regime in Washington is indifferent to U.S. casualties, never mind local casualties, there is a cost in dollars and cents that even printing dollars out of thin air eventually has a hard time covering. So there’s a real cost here. There’s a very real political cost. So I would not say that I don’t think the United States will never get. I think there will come a point where getting out will be so self-evidently demanded and obviously needed that I think it will happen.
The second thing is that any solution for Afghanistan has to include three countries who have to agree on that, and that’s Russia, Pakistan and Iran. Short of those three countries agreeing to any solution, there will be no solution. Therefore, since the U.S. is not on speaking terms with either one of the three, never mind all three, what I predict is basically more of the same only worse until the United States truly pulls out under duress in the worst possible circumstances, at which point the three countries that I mentioned – again, Iran, Pakistan and Russia – will have to do what Russia is trying to do with Syria, gather a regional conference from which the United States will obviously be excluded – China will probably be included, by the way – and they will try to come up with a workable solution that will basically stop conflict in that region. I think that’s where we’re headed.
Will it happen short-term? It really happens on how badly Trump – well, I shouldn’t say Trump, his administration, because I don’t think he has much of a say – will mismanage everything. They are truly going really rapidly at screwing up everything, so I don’t know. It could happen in the not-too-distant future. All I see happening in the United States and the international relations is one disaster after another. That’s all that they can achieve with that combination of violence, threats and lack of intelligence.
Bonnie Faulkner: What about the drugs coming out of Afghanistan? That’s important to the U.S., isn’t it, and the banking sector? What do you think?
The Saker: I’m aware of that. I hear a lot of discussion about that, but I’m not sure that the neocons care about it that much. I’m sure there are interest groups in the United States who have a vested interest in that. I’m under no illusion about the level of corruption in the U.S. military and particularly intelligence, because a basic trick is that anything that’s classified is also out of public scrutiny. So it’s well known that intelligence services have a tendency of going rogue and corrupt just because it’s so easy for them.
So I think these interest groups are there, but the neocons are kind of single-issue people. I don’t think they see that as a . . . Maybe if some of them have personal vested interest, yes, but I have no reasons to believe at this point – maybe I’m missing something, and I probably do – that the Trump administration and key people around him have an interest in the drug trade. It might be so. If it is so, I’m not aware of it.
Bonnie Faulkner: Now, you’ve talked about the neocons being in control. What about the suggestion that the military is running the U.S.? We have James Mattis as Defense secretary, John Kelly as Homeland Security secretary and H.R. McMaster as national security advisor. What do you think about that?
The Saker: Actually, I don’t think it’s an argument that says that the military is in control because, first of all, I tend to see – at least in my mind, when I talk about the military I talk about people with the rank of colonel and below and a few generals. But generals are political appointees, and amongst the core of generals that the United States presidency can choose from, these are all very much political generals. They, in my mind, represent more a political and corporate interest than truly military interest.
Even if Mattis has this reputation of being this fighting man, I don’t think he is at all, and we’ve seen that already under Obama – and it actually began under Bush. The military is purged from true military men and replaced by – yeah, they’re generals. I’m not arguing against that, but do they really represent the interests of the U.S. armed forces? I don’t think so. I’m absolutely convinced . . . I studied in the United States in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, and some of the people, a lot of those that I studied with, became U.S. servicemen, high-ranking officers etc. I know that generation of people. They’re not stupid. Some of them are very well educated.
You get a sense that American generals are stupid by listening to the political appointees that we have now, but they don’t represent truly the American officer corps or even most American generals. I don’t think anybody in CENTCOM seriously – officially they’ll say whatever they’re required to, but nobody thinks that this new plan for Afghanistan is going to bring anything but disaster. So considering how unmilitary that thinking is, I would have to conclude that the true military doesn’t have much of a say at all in what’s happening right now.
If I may add, that worries me very much because during the Cold War, and I think in the ‘90s, the U.S. military, in crucial moments they were the ones who showed restraint and responsible behavior. I specifically think of the war that Georgia attacked the Russian peacekeepers in Georgia. They did act responsibly – I mean, there are several instances where the U.S. military could cool it off. There were people like Admiral Fallon who said there’s not going to be any war against Iran on his watch. So I always thought of the U.S. military as being tough guys, patriots, yes, but not reckless ideological idiots – pardon my French. What we see now makes no sense to me. I can’t conceive of that being the real product of U.S. military.
Bonnie Faulkner: I see. We’ve had quite a discussion about the neocons being in control. How would you define a neocon, just to make it quite clear to listeners?
The Saker: Well, as I said, I think it’s a person who is an Israel Firster, very, very strong Zionist ideological bent, definitely puts Israel above the United States for sure. Secondly, I would say people who truly believe in violence and force as a way to solve every conflict. The opposite of that: they’re people who have no use for diplomacy, internally or externally, for that matter. A messianic ideology: they are right, they are the best and they get to choose to make the calls. They don’t need to consult or treat anybody with anything but contempt or bribery.
So it’s a very shallow kind of ideology, much less sophisticated than anything previously in the United States. There was always imperialism in the United States and colonialism, but the folks in charge were much more refined, much more complex, multi-layered. Neocons are very primitive in what they do and how they operate. They’re also very predictable.
Bonnie Faulkner: And, of course, there are a lot of neocons. Maybe could you maybe mention the names of a few of them?
The Saker: I think at this point in time, all of them around Trump. I wouldn’t even go into a list. I think they’re either active neocons or people who support the neocon line. For instance, Tillerson would not be one of them and yet, clearly, he’s singing the same tune as they do. So at this point in time, I really think that looking at personalities that’s really too late. You can judge the relevance of a person by the difference he or she makes. Tillerson couldn’t even handle Nikki Haley. Nikki Haley is not intelligent enough to even be called a neocon but does she totally parrot their line? Absolutely. So it’s I think everybody. I don’t see a single exception.
Bonnie Faulkner: Yes, and of course, Nikki Haley is our ambassador to the UN.
The Saker: Yes.
Bonnie Faulkner: Now, does she report to Tillerson or to Trump?
The Saker: I’m not sure she reports to either one of them, to be honest. Formally, to both, certainly to Tillerson. But we also saw the same degradation of Tillerson from what he was as a person before he got the appointment, his initial tenure, and then it just went downhill. It’s just like Trump. What he’s doing now is the opposite of what he promised during his election campaign. His last moment of I think glory was I think his inauguration speech, which I thought was amazing, and then after that it just went downhill. The neocons got rid of the two dangerous guys for them, which was Flynn and Bannon. They made Trump surrender these men, particularly Flynn, very rapidly and after that, once he caved in there was no stopping.
So now we have this endless appeasement. I think all of U.S. policy will just be an endless appeasement of neocons starting a couple months ago already. At this point, individuals don’t even make a difference any more. There’s nobody with a personality, a backbone or a brain left anywhere in the U.S. decision-making.
Bonnie Faulkner: How were General Flynn and Bannon a threat to the neocons?
The Saker: First and foremost because they did not at all share their ideology. Mind you, neither of them are particularly heroes of mine. I can’t say I have … I think Flynn would have actually been a good national security advisor. He had his own problems and blind spots. I’m not necessarily endorsing his nonsense about Iran and China, by the way, but he was right on Russia and I think he was right on Syria, at least generally, as compared to the others. And Bannon comes from a very different kind of ideology, which we all know about, sort of old-right and alt-right and this is the ideology that is totally different from what the neocons have. So they knew they had an insider that was dangerous to them, Flynn, and they knew that they had this ideological influence over Trump that they needed to remove, and they removed both and now their victory’s total.
Bonnie Faulkner: I wanted to follow up on a remark you made earlier in the discussion. You said that the United States has now admitted that there was no sonic attack on the embassy in Cuba? Is that what you said?
The Saker: Yes. I saw a report yesterday. I could look it up from the computer but yes, I believe that the FBI recently said that there was no sonic attack. I saw that yesterday. I didn’t read it very deeply because I never believed there was one. So don’t take it 100% to the bank but I believe that’s what I saw yesterday, that the FBI reports that there was no sonic attack in Cuba. Correct.
Bonnie Faulkner: Well, that’s very weird. Then why do you think that was put out, just to demonize the Cubans or something?
The Saker: Yes, because the way the neocons . . . Actually yes, I see it: “FBI Doubts Sonic Attack” on ABC News, so yes, and TheWeek.com also reports that, “No Sign of Sonic Attack.” The neocons try to create conflict everywhere. That’s their sole tool in their toolkit. So Cuba is a problem, Venezuela is a problem and the list of countries can go on and on and on. The way they operate is very simple: Create chaos, subvert the country, tension, tension, tension, tension, threat, threat, threat, violence, violence, violence. That’s all they do. They’re very, very unsophisticated people and their actions are all the same. There’s no difference.
Bonnie Faulkner: You refer to the new national security strategy of the United States, released in December of 2017 by the Trump administration, as the US being in “full paranoid mode with enemies everywhere.” I thought that a lot of it read like a projection onto other nations of what the U.S. itself was doing. Did you have that impression as well?
The Saker: Yes, of course. Absolutely. For instance, all this talk about Russians interfering in U.S. elections is really just the list of accusations of what the United States has been doing in Russia for years – and elsewhere too, but particularly Russia – for years. And everybody knows that and that’s exactly it. It’s a projection.
But also, there’s more to it than just a projection. For every action there is a reaction, and it is true that by antagonizing the entire planet simultaneously the United States sends two signals: first of all, a signal of weakness because a strong power does not act that way, it does not have any need for that. For instance, strong power always makes its threats never publicly. That’s a basic rule: Don’t do public threats; you always do them privately.
The second thing is that also by fighting everybody it sort of forces everybody to resist and at the same time makes it easier because if your list of targets – I have seven countries on my list of primary U.S. targets. If the U.S. truly focused all its forces on one target only, carefully chosen, eh, maybe the chances would be better. And mind you, my list of seven countries does not even include China, and that could happen again because there was a lot of anti-China rhetoric coming out of Trump, so it could even go to eight. It actually, I think, encourages people to resist.
Think, if you were in Venezuela and you realize that, well, everybody else is having it, the U.S. is spread all over the place, they basically cannot concentrate truly all their means and energies on only you so maybe there’s an opportunity here. And I think there is.
Bonnie Faulkner: Well, then, that sounds pretty stupid from the point of view of the United States to have this huge enemies list.
The Saker: Yes, it is stupid. I absolutely agree. I’m shocked to say that. I always feel a little funny calling an entire administration of well-paid people, many of them have diplomas in academics, calling them stupid, but when I look at the output, when I look, for instance, at the policy toward Afghanistan, I don’t see any other words. So Trump might sound like an idiot but people around him don’t sound like that, yet they do stupid things. So collectively, yes. It’s not a normal term used in international relations but yeah, we speak of stupid. I think that actually fully applies.
Bonnie Faulkner: In your essay, “The End of the Wars on the Cheap for the United States,” how do you define war on the cheap and the use of U.S. Special Forces, which began in Afghanistan? What are you referring to?
The Saker: I was referring to . . . Right after the Cold War special ops became very popular and they were used very successfully in Afghanistan. Basically, they were used as forward air controllers. So you basically don’t need to put boots on the ground. You bring in the Air Force. You put your special ops inside any insurgent units and you use them to coordinate air strikes, so you rely on fire power provided by helicopter or aircraft.
Which is kind of paradoxical, because this is basically what the Russians have been doing in Syria, really. That’s how the Russians got away with using so little hardware, because it’s fairly cheap. I mean, the entire Russian operation in Syria, as far as I know, is still within normal budget of the Ministry of Defense, so they use the budget from training and deployment, etc. They didn’t even have to increase their military spending for this operation. So it is objectively cheap in terms of dollars and it’s objectively cheap in terms of your own soldiers dying.
But what happens, there are a number of prerequisites which are very important. You need to be able to rely on boots on the ground. In the case of Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance provided crucially that shield for the U.S. special forces. The U.S. did not just send a brigade in. They were sending small units, protected and surrounded by local people. That is what the United States does not have in Syria.
It also relies, I think, to a large degree on the enemy feeling that it’s hopeless to resist, but that doesn’t work anymore at all. The United States has been – that worked to some degree with Iraq’s first war, for sure, the second already maybe initially, but now, when I hear, for instance, rumors of the Israelis or the U.S. actually moving in force into Syria, I think the rank-and-file Hezbollah and Iranian soldiers that are on the ground, they’re just dreaming of it. They dream to get finally their hands on some GIs because they’ve been denied that for many years. So I think there’s no fear left, and that’s where this entire strategy of war on the cheap collapses.
Bonnie Faulkner: Then how is it that America’s wars on the cheap may be coming to an end? You’re saying because, what, the people aren’t afraid enough anymore?
The Saker: Yeah. They haven’t yielded a single victory. That’s really what’s happening. The United States is losing military power – the U.S. is not a credible military threat anymore. Even though it still has ten or whatever aircraft carriers and nuclear weapons, but they can issue threats and people go, yeah, and they accept that, and just defeat after defeat after defeat. We’re coming back to the realization to actually have boots on the ground is the only way to win a war – at least in most wars; there are a few exceptions.
The case with the DPRK: How do you explain that the North Koreans are not afraid, clearly are not impressed, by Trump’s threats? The fact that they launched a missile on the 4th of July is just so provocative, so they’re actually provoking him. It tells you that in the opinion – and I think correct analysis – of the North Korean generals, there is no credible threat coming from the United States, and I think they know that. So the wars on the cheap are finished.
Bonnie Faulkner: You have written that “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is the big unknown here.” Your essay draws a very frightening picture of the consequences of a U.S. attack on the DPRK. In your essay, “Debunking the Flag-Waving Myths About an Attack on North Korea,” you write that “One of the most overlooked potential consequences of a war with the DPRK is that its missiles are probably capable of striking the greater Tokyo area and adjacent Japanese industrial areas.” How catastrophic would this be?
The Saker: Well, let me tell you, after I wrote that article I got an email from an intelligence officer – I will say it like this, stationed in Asia. I won’t go any further but I will say that he’s from a friendly country to the United States – who told me that I even underestimated the threat.
First of all, I don’t believe that North Korea has warheads. I think they have nuclear devices, but I don’t think that they can deliver them and I don’t think they have real ICBMs yet. But putting aside this entire discussion about Guam and Hawaii, my concern was that they could definitely hit, with conventional missiles or even nuclear missiles, hit, as I say, the greater Tokyo area and central Japan. And that would have major economic consequences because the entire economies of the Far East are very highly integrated, and if you disrupt that everything stops.
I got a letter from this intelligence analyst who said that I underestimated the threat just by having economic chaos in South Korea, because, he said, the ports in South Korea are crucial. A lot of what is produced in China is actually manufactured in Korea, then assembled in China, so war in the Korean Peninsula would also stop a lot of the manufacturing in China. It would dramatically effect shipping through the entire region and even air movement because crucial airports are also located in South Korea, which I had overlooked. And yes, of course, in Japan.
So we’re looking at a paralysis of basically Far East Asia economically, which would be devastating economically worldwide. And this is not something that’s usually discussed.
Bonnie Faulkner: You write that the Chinese have said that they will not allow chaos and war on the Peninsula. A quote from China in your essay: “If North Korea launches an attack that threatens the United States, then China should stay neutral. But if the United States attacks first and tries to overthrow North Korea’s government, China will stop them.” It sounds very dangerous to me and, of course, the Korean War of the early 1950s was a war of aggression waged by the United States against Korea. The North Koreans have not forgotten that.
The Saker: Yes, indeed, they have not forgotten that. And I would also say that the quality of the U.S. servicemen then was way higher than what it is today and yet it was a really tough, hard war. I get a lot of emails. After this particular article I got a lot of emails from Korean vets who were telling me their personal experience fighting there. This is a terrible place to fight. And what the Chinese can do is basically inject people, like they did in the first Korean War, because it’s not going to be a high-tech war. North Korea will lose control of the air space almost instantaneously, most of the North Korean navy will disappear almost instantaneously. Everything that you think of high-tech, the North Koreans cannot compete with the U.S. whatsoever.
But the terrain is such that they can force the adversary to go World War Two again, or Korean War, which was essentially the same thing. And the Chinese can definitely do that, and they cannot allow the U.S. to take over North Korea because they know they’re next. They’re also cornered. Just like Russia cannot allow the U.S. to take over the Donbass, the Chinese cannot allow – I’m not making a comparison between the regimes; I’m just saying neither country can afford to have a hostile power right there. And I think the Chinese have very good options to actually support the North Koreans, even if they’re reluctant to do so. I don’t think the Chinese are happy with the kind of regime that is in place in North Korea. I know for a fact the Russians are miserable about it; they don’t think of the DPRK as a trusted ally. But the reality is that there’s bad and then there’s worse, and allowing the United States to either nuke the place massively or invade it or do some other things, which the U.S. is threatening, is not something that either country can allow.
Bonnie Faulkner: In “2018: War or No War?” you make an assessment of the likelihood or unlikelihood of war with a list of countries that are in the crosshairs of the neocons. Let’s look at the nuclear deal with Iran. How likely do think this treaty will be abrogated?
The Saker: Again, I know there’s opposition to that abrogation. It would be illegal and unilateral, but considering the folks in power in the White House I think it will be abrogated. I’m sorry to say I think – I’m no fan of Barack Obama – I truly am not – but the one thing he did right was that treaty, and that’s the one thing that Trump is actually going to successfully overturn. I think the chances are good that the treaty will be abrogated, yes. Will that result in war after that? No, not dramatically. I don’t think the U.S. or Israel or the Saudis have the stomach to start a full-scale war against Iran.
Bonnie Faulkner: What about the U.S. backing the Nazis in Kiev in an attack against the Donbass? I guess this is ongoing, right?
The Saker: It is ongoing and, as I mentioned, to my great concern I think the United States will continue and increase that backing because no matter what happens, the United States does not pay much of a big price. I mean, for instance, we just mentioned Iran. If that policy fails there will be very serious consequences for both Israel and the United States. The U.S. doesn’t have much to lose if you look at the Donbass, the eastern Ukraine, because let’s say the Nazi regime starts another war. If it is successful, well, great; the Russians will be defeated, the Donbass will be under Kiev control and the Americans will say, “Well, we did it,” so that’s a good outcome from their point of view. Again, it’s just their point of view.
Say that Novorussians win, which is what I think would most likely happen. That would be the worst outcome from the point of view of the neocons and obviously the best from the point of view of Russians and everybody else who is sane. Well, the neocons will then explain that outcome by blaming Russia as they did the last two times around. They’ll do the same, say, “Okay. Well, clearly the Russians have invaded the Ukraine again because just look at the destruction of the Ukraine army. It could not be the Novorussians; therefore, it’s the Russians that are to blame.” That is the least desirable outcome from the neocon point of view – not mine, again. I insist to clarify that. But it’s the one that’s acceptable to them.
Option three, which is actually their dream, is to force Russia to overtly intervene. That was the worst possible outcome, I think, from my point of view, that Novorussians are not capable of defending the local militia and the attack is successful, at which point Russia will have no other option but to intervene – which is a dream-come-true for the neocons because then the full-scale Cold War against Russia, NATO suddenly found a mission that it’s credible defending, the Western civilization gains the revanchist Russian hordes, etc. Keep in mind that the Donbass itself has no value whatsoever for the United States – neither does the entire Ukraine, by the way, at this point. The only part of the Ukraine that was of interest to the United States is the Crimea, and that’s not going to happen anymore, so for them the sole value of Ukraine is to harass Russia, to keep sanctions on Russia. It’s a platform for anti-Russian operations; that’s what it is. And they will continue that, unfortunately. I don’t see any hope for a rational approach to it.
Bonnie Faulkner: You’ve noted that “What will not stop is the full-spectrum demonization of Russia. Thus, the relationship between the two countries will further deteriorate.” You mentioned the possibility of the U.S. disconnecting Russia from the SWIFT network for financial communications or the seizure of Russian assets. How likely, in your view?
The Saker: I think that I should say that I’m not confident to make a projection on that. I’m not by training an economist. I published an article by one economist on my blog, which I highly recommend, which discusses that issue. Whether it’s technically doable, whether Russia already has – well, Russia does have an alternative that’s being developed. To what degree that alternative is viable, to what degree China can help, I’d rather not make a prediction or even qualify the consequences of either move.
Putin has repeatedly warned the Russian business community. He has urged them to bring their money back to Russia saying, “You know what? It already started once in Cypress and it can happen again. Bring your money back before it’s seized.” So I think something of that kind is being prepared, yes. Which one will they go for? The Russians have made kind of threats that there would be very serious consequences if they are disconnected from SWIFT. I don’t know whether this is actually posturing or not. It’s unclear to me what Russia can do in either circumstance. I know the Russians will never start a war over something economic, that’s for sure, or even for minor attacks. They are, for very good reasons, extremely war averse and that would be truly only as a last resort in self-defense.
What are the other options? I don’t know. Putin is a very intelligent man and he has a superb set of advisors who so far have done a very good job. They might come up with a response that I am totally unaware of, so this to me is a big question mark. All I will say is that it seems to me in the logic of the current rhetoric that I hear from the White House that there should be more tension and sanctions and harassment against Russia coming this year, yes.
Bonnie Faulkner: You’ve written that “one of the most formidable weapons in the Anglo-Zionist arsenal was not the nuclear bomb or the aircraft carrier but a propaganda machine that for decades successfully convinced millions of people around the globe that the US was invincible.” Is this no longer the case?
The Saker: Yeah. I think that nobody believes that anymore. I think this has fully, truly changed over the past decade at least, maybe more. The purpose of any use of any military force is to achieve a political objective. I don’t see any political objective that the United States military has accomplished on behalf of the United States. It’s just not happening.
Bonnie Faulkner: In our essay, “When Sanity Fails: The Mindset of the Ideological Drone,” you write about “the glorification of ignorance that is the hallmark of the imperial mindset.” How do ignorance and empire go hand-in-hand?
The Saker: Oh, in so many ways. I think it’s crucial for empire. Empires really are based on an ideology, and it’s a social one, not even a political one. You have to have this belief that others either need or want you to rule over them, and ignorance is what makes that possible because as soon as you become aware of the immoral nature of the empire, of the human value of those that you oppress, murder, kill, exploit and otherwise terrorize, you’re becoming subversive, you’re becoming disloyal to the empire. You start thinking in moral categories.
Whereas ignorance is what makes it all possible. Either people don’t know what’s happening or if they do, they’re propagandized and socially brainwashed into not thinking correctly about it – like Orwell’s double-thinking is exactly that. You know that you’re hated worldwide; at the same time you think that the U.S. has a mission to lead the world. There’s a complete paradox between those two concepts simultaneously and yet a lot of people in the United States, those who still buy the official propaganda – and that’s changed now; I think that’s not the majority. But in the past, yeah, a lot of Americans I think really believed.
And why did they believe that? Because it was not only taught to them by a propaganda ministry but it was taught to them at home, at school and particularly in movies. The single most important – I don’t know if I should say training tool, I would say education tool or training tool, is the TV, which people watch for several hours a day. That has its own reality. People who watch TV live in a different world, which has very little resemblance to the real world out there. And within that aspect of reality all these things make sense to them.
So that’s why that ignorance, that lack of awareness, is crucial. That’s why the system doesn’t foster travel abroad, doesn’t foster the study of foreign languages. When Americans travel abroad they tend to travel in groups and to stick to English-language groups. And then you have the other kind, which is the Americans you can see all over the planet which have gotten –what is it called in English? – it’s called the turned-natives. They learn the language, they learn the culture, they completely adapt to and they understand exactly what’s happening, but these people are all lost to the empire. From the imperial point of view, they become subversive, become just used to all the propaganda.
Bonnie Faulkner: With regard to the neocons treating our entire planet to a never-ending barrage of threats, you say that “this situation places a special burden of responsibility on all other nations, especially those currently in Uncle Sam’s crosshairs, to act with restraint and utmost restraint.” You write that “Iran, Russia and China, particularly, are acting with the utmost restraint.” You quoted Russian President Vladimir Putin as having said, “It’s difficult to talk to people who confuse Austria and Australia.” Just how dangerous is the world situation presently?
The Saker: It is extremely dangerous, and the outcome will depend on how sophisticated and careful the Russians, the Chinese and the Iranians will be. Because the people who confuse Austria and Australia have nuclear weapons, and to go into quick-fix solutions, to respond tit-for-tat – Let me give you a perfect example. Say that the United States shoots down a Russian aircraft over Syria. Before Putin gives the authorization – now, he gave the authorization for self-defense. That authority is already vested in the local commanders. But you could make the argument that maybe a retaliatory strike would be correct and appropriate.
Now, we saw that situation when the Turks shot down a Russian bomber. There was talk of how the Russians could use cruise missiles to hit the airbase from which the Turkish aircraft took out from. Russians didn’t do that, and I think it was correct not only because eventually Putin turned the situation in Turkey pretty much 180 degrees around, but because every time you say, “Let’s make a retaliatory strike,” you have to think, “What’s the risk of international nuclear war?”
And I think because Trump and the people around him are so, again, stupid and immoral and reckless and ignorant that they don’t think of these categories is not an excuse from the Russian or the Chinese or the Iranian leaders to act likewise. They have to exercise the utmost restraint. This is like using a bomb in a building. You don’t get to just blow it up because you’re irritated with it.
So yes, my only hope is for these people to do the right thing. I have absolutely no hope left whatsoever in the sanity of U.S. decision makers. None.
Bonnie Faulkner: Any last words, Saker?
The Saker: I’m tempted to say, “God help us all,” because, I’m sorry, the situation is really bleak. I have to say that it is bleak. My big hope is a), of course, God have mercy, 2) let’s hope that those in power in the White House are so busy fighting each other, the U.S. elite are so involved in an internal conflict that they won’t have the resources or the energy to allocate to external conflicts, and that that means the time for everybody else to prepare and continue to gradually, region by region chip away at the empire. What the world needs is a gradual elimination of that empire, not any form of collapse. Collapse is bad.
Bonnie Faulkner: Thank you, again, for a great analysis.
The Saker: Thank you so much for having me. It’s always a pleasure and always an honor. I’m a big admirer of yours, as you know.
Bonnie Faulkner: I’ve been speaking with the Saker. Today’s show has been “Looking into 2018.” The Saker is an expert in military analysis, intelligence issues, Russian geopolitics and traditional Christian orthodoxy. He was born in a military family of white Russian refugees in western Europe where he lived most of his life. After completing two college degrees in the United States, he returned to Europe where he worked as a military analyst until he lost his career due to his vocal opposition to the Western-sponsored wars in Chechnya, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. He returned to the United States and has been blogging since 2007 as “The Saker,” and his essays have attracted a large audience. He is the author of The Essential Saker: From the Trenches of the Emerging Multipolar World and his latest, The Essential Saker II. Visit thesaker.is. “Is” stands for Iceland.
Guns and Butter is produced by Bonnie Faulkner, Yarrow Mahko and Tony Rango. Visit us at GunsandButter.org to listen to past programs, comment on shows or join our email list to receive our newsletter that includes recent shows and updates. Email us at Faulkner@gunsandbutter.org. Follow us on Twitter at #gandbradio.