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Truthdig Radio: How the U.S. Co-Opted Human Rights

Posted on May 11, 2011
Photo illustration from an image by Colin Grey

(Page 2)

Robert Scheer: … and he collapsed after 9/11. So what is it, just the power of these lobbies? And they’re actually supported by some labor unions; they’re supported by plenty of Democrats, not just Republicans. Is this an unstoppable force, or is …?

Lawrence Korb: Well, I think with the death of bin Laden, and also our deficit problem … but see, what you need—and President Obama did take a step in the direction; he talked about cutting $400 billion over the next … between 2013 and 2023. We’re moving, I think, in the right direction. But you know, the great irony is you go back and look at history, the people who really got the defense budget under control were Eisenhower, Nixon and the first President Bush. And it’s a great irony because, politically, they could do it and nobody could challenge them. Remember that Bush’s secretary of defense was a fellow by the name of Dick Cheney. And so when Cheney—in fact, it’s interesting; Cheney tried to kill this … Osprey; it takes off like a helicopter, flies like a plane, the V-22. And he lost the thing, and he called the weapon system a “turkey.”

Peter Scheer: We’re speaking with Dr. Lawrence Korb, former assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration. Dr. Korb, we’re deployed militarily in a hundred and fifty countries, something like that, in the world. What is the true cost of this—what you might call an empire-building?

Lawrence Korb: Well, again, if Iraq and Afghanistan this year are costing us $170 billion—they’ve cost us well over a trillion dollars so far in the direct cost—but this is where I talked about the fact that you got to take a look, why do you got 80,000 troops in Europe? I mean, you don’t need them. And taking them out, and then taking them out of the force, is how you save the money. And I think right now, President Obama has directed the Pentagon to take another look at the strategy, because the first review they did, they wanted to do everything and go every place. And that’s—you got to ask these questions; why are you in all these countries? What would happen if you weren’t there?


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Peter Scheer: Yeah, why are we in Germany?

Lawrence Korb: Well, that’s what I mean, because we were there at the end of World War II, and nobody ever wanted to get out! And again, people say, oh, you can never tell what will happen, and stuff like that.

Peter Scheer: But Germany’s not that great. I mean, why do we want to be in—I don’t even understand any justification for that …

Lawrence Korb: Well, I agree, I agree …

Peter Scheer: … I can understand Korea; you could say China’s there, we have to be worried about China, we have to project power into that region. But Germany?

Lawrence Korb: No, I agree. That’s why you have to raise the issue. And I think when you do that with the American people, then they say, wait, now I understand.

Robert Scheer: Well, you know, you’ve raised an interesting thing politically. You’re right; we did much better under some Republicans; not under George W. Bush, he went to the races with this stuff. But you’re absolutely right, under Nixon and under the first President Bush, and certainly under Dwight Eisenhower, we had Republican politicians with the courage to stand up to this military-industrial complex …

Lawrence Korb: Well, they also had the political clout. See, and again, the Democrats, you know, are still concerned about being seen as weak on defense.

Robert Scheer: Right. Now, what about the existence of these libertarians—the Pauls, father and son—who have in the past challenged the military budget? Certainly Ron Paul has. Do you get any support from them for your position?

Lawrence Korb: Oh, sure. Yeah. I mean, we do a lot of—you know, our views are accepted by the Cato Institute, which is the libertarian think tank.

Robert Scheer: So you do cooperate, to some degree.

Lawrence Korb: Oh sure, yeah. Yeah, we sure do.

Robert Scheer: Because I know, I’ve talked to Dennis Kucinich about that—he told me that on some of these issues he gets along really great with Ron Paul. Do you think that could be another center of criticism …

Lawrence Korb: Yeah … we did a study this year for Barney Frank and Ron Paul called the Sustainable Security Task Force, to make sure that the deficit commission focused on defense, and the chairs were Barney Frank and Ron Paul.

Robert Scheer: Let me conclude—you wrote an article that was in CNN Money, “The $1 million soldier.” What’s wrong with how we budget war? What’s your one-minute answer to that?

Lawrence Korb: Well, I mean basically the fact is that if you’re going to go to war, you’ve got to realize it’s much—it’s very expensive—like in Afghanistan, because it’s landlocked, to support those things—it’ll cost you a million dollars a troop. So when people say, well, let’s add 30,000 more, you’ve got to realize that’s $30 billion before you do it.

Peter Scheer: Well, we’re going to have to leave it there. Thanks so much, Dr. Lawrence Korb.

Lawrence Korb: OK. Thank you for having me.

Robert Scheer: Thank you. Bye.

Peter Scheer: Dr. Korb was an assistant secretary of defense in the Reagan administration, and he is currently a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.

* * *

Peter Scheer: This is Peter Scheer with Josh Scheer. We are speaking with James Peck, who is the author of “Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-opted Human Rights.” Welcome.

James Peck: Welcome, I’m glad to be here.

Josh Scheer: So, human rights—how does the government do it? … I’ve read the introduction; you talk about the Cold War and, you know, setting up dictatorships. And then when did the, as you put it, ideological weapons … that our national security infrastructure used to bring human rights as a motivator for war?

James Peck: Human rights, I think, really began to emerge in the public in the United States in the 1970s. Sort of the late ’60s, early ’70s … in the public; it came with Soviet dissidence; it came up with Allende and things like that, in the Congress. But the national security people were faced with the enormous implications of the defeats in Vietnam, the discrediting of anti-communism, and all the resistance that had occurred in the Vietnam struggles. And I think what really happened, if I could put it sort of in a, really sort of a nutshell, is this: The human rights movement really was grabbed upon by the Carter administration, and ever since, in order to cut off—in order to create sort of a new idealism, on the one hand; but also to bifurcate what had been some of the deepest demands within the peace movement. The human rights movement, in a way, really broke from some of the fundamental concerns that dominated the peace movement.


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