"Color revolution” involvement has made Washington too little friends” – Pat Buchanan, former presidential advisor
The future of Ukraine is nebulous: calls to move towards Europe compete with Russia. The U.S. has thrown its weight behind those protesting against the government’s refusal to join the EU. Has unnecessary interference become a trademark of Washington? Today we talk with Pat Buchanan – the man, who advised three American presidents.
Sophie Shevardnadze: Our guest today is legendary politician Pat Buchanan, a senior advisor to three American presidents, who was once a candidate for the top job himself. Mr. Buchanan, it’s such a pleasure to have you on our show tonight, welcome.
Pat Buchanan: Glad to be here, Sophie.
SS:So we are just going to start with the latest news. John McCain promised to support Ukrainians in their political stand against the government. Is that helpful for Ukraine?
PB: I’m feeling that Senator McCain, who has my respect, had no business in the Ukraine, this is the decision by the Ukrainian people, and Ukrainian government as whether they want to orient towards Russia’s Customs Union or toward the European economic union, and I don’t think that’s an issue that the U.S. has any right to be involved in. It’s a decision for the Ukrainians as I said and Senator McCain being there is a little bit like President Putin being in Canada during the NAFTA debate and telling the Canadians not to sign. So, I think that Ukrainians should make this decision themselves.
SS:There are talks about sanctions the U.S. could use against the Ukrainian government – what are they? Is that action warranted?
PB: I don’t think any action against Ukraine is warranted, no matter what decision it makes. This is a decision, again, for the Ukrainian government, and Ukrainian people, it has nothing to do with vital interests of the U.S., and I would be opposed to my own government, my own country, imposing sanctions on the Ukrainian government and people for the decision which is their sovereign right. So, I don’t think the Congress of the U.S. would go along with sanctions, I find that hard to believe.
SS:Like you said, this is a choice that Ukrainian people should make themselves; and there is no one opinion of what path Ukraine should choose. In your opinion – what do you think can help them figure things out at this point?
PB: Well, I think the Ukrainians are to decide what really is in their own best interest. I know a bit about the Ukraine, I was there back way back in the Nixon’s administration, before Richard Nixon, in 1971 and I know that Eastern Ukraine, for example, is very much oriented towards Russia, and Western Ukraine is somewhat oriented toward the Old Hapsburg empire, so it’s a country that is really a mixture – but again, this is a decision a democratic country ought to make for itself and it is not a business of the U.S. to determine, which way they should orient their economy.
SS:What do you think about the money thrown at promoting democracy around the world, which also includes support and funding of color revolutions – is that money well-spent? Some would argue that democracy actually happened in those countries that revolutions took place in. What do you think?
PB: My view is that many of the national endowment for democracy and its associated agencies – these were Cold War institutions, and they were created in the Reagan administration, I was in the White House and we were trying to orient countries more towards the west as the Soviet Union was trying to orient them towards their camp in the Cold War. But, with the Cold War over, in my judgment, I think these are counter-productive. I mean, interfering in internal affairs of foreign countries to reorient their foreign policy or their government toward the U.S. – I don’t think it’s justified unless there is some imminent threat to our own country, and I don’t see that, and I have argued, basically, for the abolition of these kinds of agencies that interfere in the internal affairs of foreign nations. I think it’s counter-productive, I think we create more enemies that we do friends, when we involve ourselves in these so-called “color-coded revolutions”. Many of them have been overturned since the U.S. was sub-rosa engaged in them, so again, I would say if the common turn has been shut down then they ought to shutdown some of these agencies in the U.S., but I’m not in office anymore and I’m not advising presidents anymore.
SS: What a pity that you are not advising presidents anymore. Since we started talking about Ukraine, would you classify the U.S. actions in the Ukraine right now as interference in internal affairs of the foreign country, and do you generally find that Washington has a real understanding of places it interferes in.
PB: I don’t know that you can say that Washington is interfering per se, but I don’t think the U.S. government, the under secretary of state should have gone there and gotten into a rally into the middle of Kiev. I don’t think senator McCain should have gone there, and then in a rally in a middle of Kiev and accuse Russia of interfering in the internal affairs in Ukraine, when he himself is doing exactly that. So, I don’t think that is helpful. Again, this is an issue that really doesn’t involve the U.S., I can understand EU going into Ukraine and arguing for their case, I can understand Mr. Putin inviting the president of Ukraine to Russia to argue his case. I just don’t know what America’s vital interests or America’s interest is in this decision which belongs to the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian government; I’m sure some people welcomed Senator McCain, but I think doing this really enhances and underscores the reputation, unfortunate, of the U.S. for interfering in people’s affairs all over the world when there is no necessity or no right to do so.
SS:But at the same time – if people are out on the streets, demanding an end to corruption, war transparency, respect for human rights – I mean, surely the U.S. is helpful to them, no?
PB: Well, I think they ought to do that. I mean, they have a perfect right to demonstrate, they have a perfect right to demonstrate against their government, they have a perfect right to say “We don’t want to orient towards Russia, we would like to be part of EU” – that’s the right of the Ukrainian people and we would certainly, from the outside support that right, but the question is not whether we support that right, which we do, but whether we are to get into the middle of the argument. And that’s what I’m saying is that it isn’t our quarrel, it isn’t our argument; but would I like people of Ukraine to have a right to have peaceful demonstrations whether they are for or against Russia’s Customs Union – that’s fine!
SS:But also, you know what a lot of people are thinking – I mean, the U.S. has enough troubles inside its borders, hasn’t it – can it really afford at this point to send under-secretaries and senators to foreign countries to support them for whatever reason?
PB: Well, I think the senator went on his own, and he probably paid for his own way, but I agree with you – I don’t think the under secretary of State should be in demonstrations or should be vocal inside foreign countries about decisions they make which don’t affect our national security, and merely about choice which as I say belongs to Ukraine alone.
SS:Now, you advocate curtailing U.S. invasions around the globe – but aren’t’ they about security for Washington? Isn’t it better to sponsor or fight small-scale wars far-away than let things play on their own and face big problem on your doorstep later?
PB: May view is that now, when the Cold War is over, the U.S. ought not to use its military force unless it’s authorized by the Congress of the U.S., unless the vital interest of the U.S. are imperiled in some way or the other, and unless the American people are united over this intervention. As you may know I was against the Iraq war when President George Bush took us to the Iraq war. While I favored the intervention in Afghanistan after the massacre of 9\11, I did not believe the U.S. should stay there and try to reform and remake that country according to our ideas and our ideals. I thought that was a bridge too far for the U.S. I’ve opposed intervention in Syria, because I’m not an admirer of the regime there, but no vital interests of the U.S. were threatened in that civil war. So, in each of those cases and frankly, since the Cold War ended I have been against most of the American interventions – I didn’t see them as directly related to the vital interests of my country: nothing in my country was threatened, our people were not threatened, and so I don’t think we ought to be out trying to remake the world in our image. It’s an impossibility, as a great scholar once said, the Constitution of the U.S. is not for export.
SS:But you’ve also said that U.S. and the West will collapse in the same way Rome did –from uncontrolled multiculturalism. Do you not believe in positive effect of globalization?
PB: There’s no doubt that the globalization has some tremendously positive aspects to it and consequences from it. I think that the fact that the Chinese people, for example …when I visited China it was Richard Nixon’s at his “opening up China”, I was part of his delegation - it was a deeply repressed country. Poverty was pandemic; it was as dreary a place I’ve ever seen. And I think globalization is in large part responsible for the enormous build up of China, the fact that there is widespread wealth in China, there’s enormous production, and it is growing 10-12% a year for 20-25 years – that’s a great thing. My concern over globalization is that the American economy…America was the most productive nation of the world with a tremendous manufacturing power, when I ran for president in 1992, I said “If we go into these Trade treaties and Free Trade policies the U.S. will lose its manufacturing base, it will disappear. It will be exported” – and that’s exactly what has happened. In the first decade of the XXI century 50.000 American factories disappeared and 6 mn manufacturing jobs disappeared - one in every three we had. So I think when you have an economy as advanced as the U.S., put American workers in direct competition with Chinese workers who are making $1-2 dollars an hour was deeply damaging to our country, even if it was beneficial for People’s Republic of China.
SS:Where do you see rising civilization, who will take over the superpower role, in your opinion?
PB: I think, clearly, the rising power and the potential superpower of the world is China, given the enormous size of the country, it’s extraordinary growth rate, it’s population which is 1.4 bln people, it’s enormous growing power and its assertiveness – I believe China is the rising superpower of the world.
SS: Let me ask you this – does the world even need someone to fill the superpower shoes at all? Aren’t we all about being multi-polar at this point?
PB: I don’t think it’s the choice of us. Great nations that rise up invariably seek a place under the sun that is unique, different and above all others. It’s natural and people take to this, it is part of human nature. I think the Chinese see themselves as the future dominant power of the Western Pacific, then at the Eurasian Subcontinent and then, of the world.
SS:But if we talk about oil-producing countries, not the superpowers – just oil-producing countries and they are obviously very strong politically because of their resources. They had a problem with human rights and America does nothing about it, like in Bahrain or Saudi Arabia – why is the American public okay with this?
PB: It’s the old question and the old point is that we are more tolerant of the mistakes and errors of our friends then we are of those of our adversaries, no doubt about. Is there something of a double standard in powers dealing with their friends like the Saudis, and like the Gulf Arabs and like the others and how they treat minorities and how they treat women? And when we are of some other countries, like Russia, for example, with which we have something around adversary relationship? There is no doubt your criticism is justified, it’s exactly right, I wouldn’t deny it. I mean, in Bahrain, Shia are minority and they rose up peacefully, and they were put down by our friends. What U.S. does in cases like this is usually tries quietly to work with these countries, rather than gets in their face which we tend to do with adversaries.
SS:Yeah, because the second question, of course arises – if the U.S. can find common ground with absolute monarchs, like the Saudis or the Bahrainis, why couldn’t they do the same with strong men like Assad? What is the campaign against Assad actually all about, in your opinion?
PB: You might recall some of the, I believe, it was secretary of state Clinton and some others – before the civil war began we were talking him as “reformer” and they were trying to get along with him. But now, when the civil war has broken out and it is an appalling civil war – the atrocities, deaths and killings on both sides – Assad has been completely demonized in the U.S. so that you cannot associate with him, but there is no doubt that some of these rebel groups like Al-Nusra Front and others are engaged in terrible atrocities and their own executions and murders and all the rest, but there’s no doubt that what is going on in Syria now is far more serious than what is going on in Bahrain.
SS:How do you see Syrian scenario playing out in the end? What’s going to happen?
PB: I don’t think it’s good. I think the Islamists are growing stronger, the so-called Free Syrian Army and others who are associated with the Americans, those rebels are growing weak, relatively weaker, and I see the Islamist elements setting aside parts of Syria themselves and eliminating all opposition there. It’s hard to see how the war ends well, in this sense. I think, Assad could win something of the victory, but it’s hard for me to see him driving out the Islamists from where they are really totally encamped. So I think what you could see is what’s happening in Iraq after we went there – you see Kurdish parts breaking away, gaining more autonomy and independence and the Islamists setting up their own sanctuaries along the Turkish border in the north and Assad in south-west and over to the coast. You could see sort of de-facto partition again, like we see right now in Iraq, and don’t think it’s going to be good news for anyone.
SS:What do you think about Obama’s handling of Iranian issue? Is he doing the right thing – some people are talking about possible thaw in relationship right now – is he handling it in the right way?
PB: I credit both Secretary of State Kerry whom I’ve been a critic of, and President Obama whom I have criticized. I think they are doing the right thing. I’m not very hopeful person, but I’m inclined to think a deal can be done with the Iranians, where they not only stop short of the atomic bomb, but stop their program and stop a year or two short of the ability. Even if they are determined to build a bomb, they are stopped a year or two short of that ability. I think it could be done, because when the Ayatollah says we’ve sworn off nuclear weapons – I think the Iranians must look at that Middle East and say “what do we gain out of building an atom bomb? If we get an atom bomb, then the Israelis will put their nuclear arsenal on a hair trigger. The Saudis will get atom bombs from the Pakistanis. The Turks won’t let us be the only nuclear power in this region, they will build a bomb. The Egyptians might have a bomb. The Americans will have all their warships, some of them armed with nuclear weapons in our neighborhood, and if, God forbid, some atomic weapon went off anywhere in the world, everybody would blame us without looking at the evidence and they would attack us. So what does an atom bomb do for us?” Look at North Korea, they may be isolated, they are sanctioned, they are alone, they are despised, and look at China which has come out and engaged the world, look how they have done. So if I were an Iranian I would say “Why don’t we go the China road, rather than the North Korea road? We are 85 mln people, we will become the dominant power in the Gulf naturally, from natural growth and with peaceful goals. What nation is going to grow to become dominant nation? The Americans threw out Saddam Hussein and he was our enemy, and now we’ve got a Shia government in Baghdad!”
SS: Since you’ve brought up Saddam Hussein in Iraq: Iran is much stronger, internally a lot more unified than Iraq was. In case of a conflict, it will not be a pushover, and everyone understands that. When the U.S. talks about “military option” there – is it really ready for another tough engagement in the region? Is it even in the country’s interest?
PB: I don’t think the war in Iran would be in the interest of the U.S. at all, and I hope and pray there is no conflict between two countries. But I think you are somewhat mistaken, when you say that Iran is more unified. If you take a look at Iran, the core center of it is Persian. But there is Baluchistan in the south, Sistan and Baluchistan, there are secessionist movements there, there are Arabs in the southwest, there are Kurds up in the northeast and there is Azeri in the north. At the end of WW2 Red Army was in that area and had to be forced out of there. Any war between the U.S. and Iran could be a disaster for the world, a disaster for the world economy, but it would certainly be a disaster for Iran as well. There is no doubt that the country of 80 mn, larger, 3 times as large as Iraq, is not going to be a pushover for anyone, but I don’t think anyone would image that the U.S. would send the army up to the Tehran in the event of the conflict. Again, I wouldn’t want to see a conflict, but in the event of the conflict it would be all air, naval and missiles.
SS:NSA surveillance is another huge topic and that’s not likely to run, we all understand that. But do you think it is necessary, how will people counter it or they will just give up?
PB: What’s going to happen is…the court just ruled at the district level that gathering all the information from telephone calls, emails and rest of it all, from everybody, putting it on file – that this was unconstitutional, but there’s two more courts to rule and I don’t think the Supreme Court will let that stay, but I do think that there’s probably going to be some reforms made of the NSA and its bugging and all the rest of it, all the material it gathers, which I think is basically done for the security of the U.S., I don’t they are sitting around reading my emails, I don’t think why they would waste their time listening to my phone calls, and I do think it’s done for national security purposes, but I do think Congress will get in on the act. If you are talking about friendly countries, the idea of listening to the conversations of friendly leaders is a matter of course – I don’t think it’s a good idea, because, first, we don’t get anything out of it and secondly how can you call someone your friend when you are listening to his personal phone calls. Those types of things might be curtailed to a degree, but I think, basically, the program is not going to be – when you got this enormous capacity and enormous ability, people almost always use it.
SS: Mr. Buchanan you yourself thought to become president of the U.S. Do you believe in such a thing as clean politics? Isn’t it all controlled by the corporations now anyway?
PB: There’s no question about it that the big corporations, giant corporations have tremendous power – they’ve got lobbying power in Washington DC and they have tremendous amounts of money, but they are not invincible. They have enormous power, but they are not invincible in national politics and I don’t think the reason I lost was the corporate power. Mine was, basically, the Republican Party which at that point, in 92 and 96, was hostile to my ideas of economic nationalism, economic patriotism and anti-interventionism. I think some of my ideas are more popular today than they were then, but I don’t think it is inevitable that someone, an outsider, can come in and win the presidency of the U.S., I think certainly Barak Obama is an example… clearly, when you get the democratic nomination, you get all of that support in power, the unions and all the rest, but I don’t think that’s just to say that big corporations are all-powerful – they are enormously powerful, I think half of the biggest economic units in the world are companies, not countries, but I don’t think they are united and I don’t think they are invincible.
SS:Mr. Buchanan, it’s been a delight to talk to you. Thank you very much for this interview, we wish you all the best in the upcoming New Year 2014, and hopefully we’ll get to talk to you soon. That’s all we have for now, guys, that was Pat Buchanan, former U.S. presidential advisor. See you next time on Sophie&Co.