Israel’s ongoing massacre in Gaza has stirred worldwide calls for a ceasefire to stop the genocide unfolding. The United States has been no exception, which countless demonstrators taking to the streets in recent weeks. That hasn’t stopped the US government from backing Israel’s horrific campaign in Gaza to the hilt. The White House has refused to heed calls for a ceasefire and even deployed two aircraft carriers to the Mediterranean—not to defend Palestinians, but to dissuade regional powers from joining the fray to defend Palestine. As the possibility of a regional war looms with the entry of Yemen into the conflict, many wonder how the US might respond to such a scenario. Former US Congressperson Dennis Kucinich joins The Chris Hedges Report for a discussion on the US war machine—what it is, how it works, and how it might respond should the war in Palestine spiral into a wider conflagration.
Chris Hedges: As a member of the US Congress for 16 years, Dennis Kucinich gave over 500 speeches warning about the consequences of US wars against Afghanistan, the Balkans, Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Syria. He also spoke out for the imperative of peace in the Middle East on behalf of Israelis and Palestinians. He met with leaders of many countries who were grappling to keep their nations out of conflicts and came to understand the role some in the US government have played to intentionally catalyze war, fueling arms sales globally without regard for the consequences. Dennis warns that we, in his words, are “cartwheeling towards a massive East versus West war with religious and ethnic overtones. This seemingly inexorable march of nuclear folly may,” he writes, “pit the US militarily against China, Russia, and their allies.”
Joining me to discuss how, as he writes, the polarization of US politics, the cognitively impaired and failing executive branch, the instability of the congressional leadership, the pure blind partisanship, and the ideologically click-bait driven media has produced, a mad bloodlust for war against Iran and perhaps China and Russia, is Dennis Kucinich. You have fought the war industry with probably more consistency and courage than any US. politician. You’ve paid the price for it. But let’s lay out globally the reach of the war industry, how it functions, and why it seems to be beyond the control of either political party.
Dennis Kucinich: Thank you very much, Chris, for that introduction, and thank you for the opportunity to be on your show. We are in a moment of peril and the subtext of it, or maybe the context of it, begins with the fact that the US has over 800 bases around the globe. This has been part and parcel of an attempt by America to use its military power to be able to control not only the politics of a country but the economics of a country and to stop the rise of any counterforce in the world. Of course, we know that was vainglorious. The efforts have failed, and notwithstanding the fact that we have this archipelago of bases around the world, we have slipped from a position of unipolar leadership moving to a multipolar world in which the US has less and less influence, with the exception of certain economic moves that can be made to try to hamstring the economies of various countries through sanctions.
Now, where this all begins is in the appropriations process. The military-industrial complex that Eisenhower so famously warned us about in January of 1961 has… Every district of the US, every congressional district has programs and projects in it that require funding and are put into an appropriations bill. Lobbyists confront members of Congress from their own community, saying we need this for the jobs in our community. Together you have a defense production establishment that is nationwide and it has enormous influence on individual members. Beyond that, you have when members of Congress come in and they take an oath to defend the Constitution, unfortunately, for many members of Congress, that means signing on to any military action that the administration recommends. So there’s very little deep thinking that goes on, especially where the money’s going to come from. Because the 31 trillion-plus national debt, which the US has a substantial part of, comes from the country putting wars on a credit card.
Ingrained into our system is the funding of wars and a perpetuation of conflict because if you’re making all these arms materiel, you’ve got to use them. The more that you use, the more you make. There’s a continuous loop here of money that pours in. Right now we’re close to $1 trillion in this particular fiscal year of 2023 for the Pentagon plus the various intelligence services. That then is a substantial part of discretionary spending of the US. Depending on who you’re talking to and what math, it’s anywhere from about 40%-45%. We’re spending our national treasure on war. We’re a war machine as a nation. We prefer war over healthcare. We prefer war over housing. We prefer war over education. We prefer war over the economic welfare of our own citizens. This is something that more and more people are catching onto. Unfortunately, the last ones to catch on appear to be members of the US Congress.
Chris Hedges: How are decisions about war made? We see the public shills for war, the same people, whether it’s Iraq or Libya or Syria or Afghanistan, these neocons who are well-known who brought us the war, 20 years of warfare in the Middle East. But they are spokespeople for obviously the war industry. If we look back at the last two decades, it’s fiasco after fiasco. Nobody can describe any of these wars as a success. Who’s making these decisions, and why is it bipartisan?
Dennis Kucinich: The decisions to go to war ostensibly would be made at the administration level. However, there is a broad network of public policy groups masquerading as independent voices, think tanks, academic organizations, and people in the media who feed into any narrative that would prompt the country to start to rattle the sabers or determine, well, we need to go here in order to defend our national interest. Once that appropriation process starts, let’s keep in mind, that they have close to $1 trillion in all accounts. They’re on their own. That money’s fungible. That money’s there, which enables the US at this very moment to send two aircraft carrier units out into the area near Israel. Now you have to wonder, what’s that all about? What it’s all about is that the US right now has the money to be able to send troops anywhere they want in the world or to pay for the ones that are already stationed, and they put the country at the threshold of a war the minute they do that.
When I say “of a war,” I mean of actual combat interactions. The people who are pushing for this and we have to keep in mind that one of the things that drags us into war is an ideological mindset. Today in the US, it’s sponsored by a group famously known as neoconservatives, who see America as a force fighting against evil all over the world. The Manichaen struggle that they invite is one that is generally of their own making, the desire to be able to create wars and to cash in. There are earnings reports coming out lately where some of the war contractors or those who hold them in a portfolio, are citing what a great thing it is for the profits that are going to come as a result of what’s happening in the Middle East right now. It’s unconscionable but we’re in this cycle where we have a war-dependent economy and the more that we spend on war materiel, the more likely we are to go to war. The more people we have at forward bases around the world, the more likely we are to go to war.
When an international crisis develops, such as has developed after, most famously signed on October 7, 2023, we then see things go into motion that will support and justify the reason why we are there, to begin with. Then from there, you go on to additional appropriations. One of the things that I want to point out, is the over $14 billion which Congress will vote on perhaps at the beginning of November, once Congress votes on that, forget declarations of war, Article One, Section Eight, the role of Congress in balancing off the executive’s desire to go to war. Forget all that. Once the money is there, we’re there. We’re stuck. It’s like gamblers, in for a dime, in for a dollar. Once we put that money down, we are at war, whether it’s declared or not.
This is the danger of the moment that we’re in right now, because the American people, unless they can convince their members of Congress, for whatever reason – Whether it’s as one member of Congress, Tom Massey from Kentucky says, we can’t afford it. That’s one way. Another way is to say don’t fuel the fire. Another way is to say, stop killing the Gazans – There are so many different reasons to avoid it but the American people have to be heard from. Immediately call their members of Congress to say don’t fund the war. If they’re so intent on spending money, spend it for diplomacy, spend it for humanitarian purposes, spend it for food, shelter, clothing, electricity, water; anything to try to relieve people from the veil of tears they’re in right now and the fears for their life.
But right now, our country, we are ready for war. It’s not about funding an effort against the people of Gaza but it’s about getting ready for war against Iran which would be catastrophic for the US and for Israel. We’re really at a crossroads right here, Chris and the piece that I wrote in Substack outlines the contours of it because this war has both. It’s not just geographical; it is ethnic and it is religious.
Chris Hedges: You have a situation where once the money comes in, it’s not a congressional decision, it’s a unilateral decision by the White House, for instance, to send these carriers. No, Biden didn’t consult anybody except maybe Jake Sullivan who probably made the decision for Biden. But all that power, that potential to essentially trigger a war is in the hands of the presidency. Congress isn’t even part of the decision.
Dennis Kucinich: Once the money is there… This is what I’d like your viewers to understand. You have the Constitution, Article One, Section Eight, in which the Founders clearly put the power to make war in the hands of the House because they didn’t want an executive roaming the world, looking for enemies to slay, as Adams was famously warned about. But if Congress approves an appropriation that the president then wants to take to create a war, courts have held pretty consistently that Congress’s ultimate power is the power of the purse. If Congress wants to stop a war, don’t fund it. If Congress wants to start a war, fund it, but Congress cannot go back after it funds a war and say, oh, we didn’t mean that. We didn’t mean for him to escalate. Hey, once they have the money, the administration, the president as commander-in-chief under the Constitution, is able to use that war material in any way that he or in the future she would please.
Chris Hedges: And yet we see no pushback. The last budget Congress gave the Pentagon $40 billion more than they even requested. In many ways, the Democratic Party is worse.
Dennis Kucinich: Yeah, it’s become reflexive. The inability to ask questions about why. Only after the fact will you see the Inspector General’s reports come back and say, well, you misspent billions or billions there. After a while, it adds up. You go back to Major General Smedley Butler who won two medals of honor for his service to the country at the beginning of the 20th century. He concluded famously, “War is a racket.” And this is a racket. The members of Congress go along. Let’s face it, once Citizens United became the law of the land, and money equaled free speech from the corporate standpoint, this entire defense establishment was emboldened to pour money into congressional races. And they do. They do it openly through $5,000 contributions or whatever they’re allowed right now and in addition to that, Super PACs, which can make a difference in a congressional or Senate race.
We have almost a closed-loop system that guarantees that we will continue to go to war. There is no counterbalance for diplomacy or peace. That doesn’t exist. The Department of State is there to rattle the saber, as the current Secretary of State Blinken has proven. The National Security Advisor Sullivan, is there to keep fulminating. Of course, we know about the gentle lady who is a deputy secretary who has famously kept her neoconservative credentials alive since the beginning of her service to the US as somebody who promotes war. We have an entire phalanx of people at the administrative level who are promoting it every day. They’re supported by the think tanks, academics, and the media. People don’t question and so we get pulled into this maw of war. Then people wonder why.
Watch American troops, when their lives are put on the line – They’re already being out there as bait, as far as I’m concerned. Our troops are in that region as bait – If and when the troops start to die and you get reports, maybe some have already, but if and when that starts to happen in large numbers, the American people are going to be horrified. The money could go out this week unless people call and object strongly. That’s the way you stop a war. Stop funding it.
Chris Hedges: What they’re playing with, as you’ve written, is a very dangerous global conflagration. It’s like throwing and tossing lit matches toward pools of gasoline, not only in Ukraine and not only in the Middle East, but also in China. The consequences are potentially catastrophic. In the case of China and Russia, we’re dealing of course with nuclear powers. Then of course Israel has nuclear weapons. There’s nothing to stop Israel from using a tactical nuclear weapon on Iran. Talk a little bit about how this could all go bad.
Dennis Kucinich: When we have these discussions about the danger that we can sense lies ahead, we have to look at things not out of fear, but out of a cold strategic analysis. The US and Israel are seen as simultaneous in the actions in Gaza right now. That has created a furor, particularly in the Arab and the Muslim world. The head of Turkey, Erdogan, yesterday gave a speech to about a million people whom he warned about, he invoked the image of the Crescent versus the Cross. We’re talking Crusades here, folks. The idea that if the US and Israel are aimed at trying to wipe out people who are Arabs and most of whom are Muslims, what does that say to the rest of the Muslim world? Nine million people in Israel, maybe a million and a half of them Palestinians, in the larger Arab world surrounding Israel, hundreds of millions of Muslims and Arabs are watching people in Gaza being slaughtered.
The emotional turmoil that comes from that then is informed by a very deep religious sentiment that is being provoked by the first week of October, Ultranationalists marching from Temple Mount into Al-Aqsa and rearranging the furniture, shall we say politely. It could be, depending on who you talk to, that what we experienced on October 7, notwithstanding the apparently very thorough planning that went on, that we had an Al-Aqsa intifada as a flash point because the destruction or the desecration of anything at Al-Aqsa is going to be responded to. There are those in the Ultranationalists who are all ready to try to push the Palestinians out of Gaza, push them, kill them, and then the Palestinians in the West Bank and to fulfill a dream that for them has biblical authorization for the fulfillment of the land of Israel.
Then to rebuild the third temple which of course would annihilate Al-Aqsa. When we start to get into religious sentiments and beliefs that go back thousands of years and we have people motivated by prophecy, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It can lead right to the Bible which talks about Armageddon, the apocalypse. That’s why we have to take this seriously. We can’t pretend that’ll never happen. Actually, it’s moving in that direction right now. The leader of Turkey pronounced Crescent versus Cross, raising the issue. Are we coming to that? I often talk about Barbara Tuchman’s book, The March of Folly, where she writes as a historian, that it’s nothing new under humanity for leaders to prepare a course of action and execute it that is totally antithetical to the interests of their country. This is what Mr. Netanyahu is doing with support from the right wing in Israel in enacting this biblical phraseology that he’s quoting lately.
There’s a game being played here that is so dangerous that could pull us all into not only a regional war but a world war. So those are some of the antecedents that we have to consider when we’re looking at an analysis of what we could be facing.
Chris Hedges: Why isn’t the Biden administration offering any restraint? Canceling or vetoing the ceasefire resolution at the UN, giving more military aid. It’s not that they’re passive but they’re actively involved. Why?
Dennis Kucinich: Well, first of all, you have to look at President Biden himself. He has never really been anyone who has said, whoa, wait a minute. Let’s not do this. He’s generally been congenial to voting for the war as a senator and voting for certain defense or Pentagon appropriations. That’s where it’s at. Then who surrounds him? The neocons are his closest advisors. They’re spoiling for a war against Iran. This has been going on since Bush was president. There’s no question. I gave about 150 speeches on Iran alone, where I saw the Bush Administration was actually talking about a strike on a nuclear research lab at Bashir.
I pointed out in the speech in Congress that if we go ahead and do that we’re going to be creating a radioactive fallout around a good part of the globe. Is that something we’re thinking about? Is there an intention to take us right to the precipice here of a war? Absolutely. They can’t say they’re stumbling into this. No, these people are not stupid. I might question the rationale, and I do behind Biden’s decisions, but they’re ideologically driven. Some have said let’s use this to go after Iran. Like the pronouncement was made after 9/11, let’s use this to go after Iraq. It’s the declensions of war, Iraq, Iran, I run to hell.
Chris Hedges: Why Iran? You have oil in Iran, you have more oil in Iraq. What is it? Do they think that… Is it this vision that they’re going to remake the Middle East into their own image? What do you think is driving this animus towards Iran? Of course, we have to be clear, Bibi Netanyahu has been pushing for a strike on Iran for a long time. And it’s my understanding that the Pentagon has essentially been very wary about carrying out strikes against Iran.
Dennis Kucinich: I had a chance to talk to Mr. Netanyahu as a member of Congress on a committee that he testified to. At this committee – Chris, this could have been 25 years ago – He said, well the US should go after Iraq, Iran, and Syria. After the hearing, I met him in the hall, and I said, Mr. Netanyahu, why don’t you do it? He said, oh, no, no, no, no, you should do it. Leaders go to war for all reasons; Some reasons are that they may be in political trouble and they think war is going to save them. That can be part of Netanyahu’s calculus. It could also be part of Joe Biden’s calculus. A wartime president, don’t change horse in the middle of the stream, on and on and on.
Iran, in its nuclear research, represented a threat to Israel that people who were otherwise condign on the issue of Iran said, hey, wait a minute. We’ve got to look at this. We don’t really see eye to eye. They could try to strike us. In the dialectic of conflict that goes into the calculus of a nuclear exchange, if you think the other guy’s going to hit you, you might hit him first. That’s one thing. Iran has risen as a technological power. It’s not an Arab country, it is Persian. It has developed a society that is advanced. It’s not well understood by the US that the people of Iran, they’re not afraid of America. They don’t expect to be attacked, but if they’re attacked, they will respond and they’ll be ready. They’ve developed some very accurate missiles that can travel thousands of miles.
The thing that I’m concerned about is that in this dialectic of conflict that we’re seeing move along in an escalatory fashion, this could mean the end of Israel. I don’t know why that isn’t … I’m sure people in Israel are living with this and are starting to get concerned. Where’s this headed? But we cannot create a war with Iran without expecting a retaliatory strike with everything that Iran has on Israel itself. It’s like, back off, stop it. Stop this forward momentum towards a cataclysm.
Chris Hedges: To what extent do you think these neocons who have orchestrated these debacles in the Middle East essentially are using Iran as a scapegoat? They made the mess but are they trying to offload it onto Iran, and once we get rid of Iran, our utopian vision of the Middle East will appear?
Dennis Kucinich: That’s part of it. No question about it. I’ve got a library here, a lot of the books recently in the last 20 years are about Iraq. It’s very interesting how you can see the parallels between what we’re doing with respect to Iran right now. Now, the CIA reports that I saw did not say that Iran was directly linked to what happened on October 7 but there are those who want to create that connection now, in order to blame Iran for that as we falsely blamed Iraq for 9/11. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. According to our own intelligence agencies, Iran was not connected to October 7. It really goes back to the Project for a New American Century. We’re talking about, just as there are plans in Iraq that are driven by history and ideology and politics, so too in the US there are plans that are driven by similar metrics. It puts us in a position where we’re moving towards a war against Iran and we’re not really thinking about where’s this going to take us?
All of the ships, the carriers, and the planes that we’ve already sent over ostensibly to protect Israel, they’re really in a forward, ready position to be able to deploy for an attack on Iran. We’re not fooling anyone, least of all Iran on this. Iran’s been preparing for this for some time. Then one has to ask, as war planners sometimes do, where does this lead? China’s already standing with Iran. We are already opposed to Russia and the games that were played with respect to Ukraine. Where do we go? We are looking at a conflict that inevitably will take us against two other nuclear powers: China and Russia.
Isn’t anybody aware of how dangerous this situation is with respect to standing guard for Israel while they go ahead and the government levels Gaza and kills hundreds of thousands of people perhaps? Somebody has to say, look, we’re playing in the flash of World War III here, and we ought to stop. It’s beyond a ceasefire. There has to be a stand-down and stop it so that Israel can be secured from destruction so that the Gazans can be protected from destruction, so that those in the West Bank can be protected from destruction, so that our nation and the nations of the world can be protected from destruction.
One need only go back to the poetry of William Yeats when he famously wrote The Second Coming, “Turning and turning in the widening gyre the falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; The center cannot hold.” What we’re seeing here is the center of gravity that holds the world together right now is starting to fracture. Once that happens, the potential for a very wide war is introduced. Once it starts, it plays itself out as wars always do, depending on what weapons are used.
Chris Hedges: Those carrier groups are not deployed in the Mediterranean. They’re deployed in the Persian Gulf off the coast of Iran.
Dennis Kucinich: Right, thank you. You’re right about that.
Chris Hedges: So it’s a very clear threat to Iran.
Dennis Kucinich: That’s why they’re there in the Persian Gulf. Iran, Persian.
Chris Hedges: Yeah. Great. We can find you at denniskucinich.substack.com. Is that correct?
Dennis Kucinich: Yes. That’s my Substack address.
Chris Hedges: Right. Okay. I’m a subscriber. Everyone else should subscribe. That was –
Dennis Kucinich: Thank you. Anybody who wants to subscribe, your subscriptions are gratefully received.
Chris Hedges: – That was Dennis Kucinich. I want to thank The Real News Network and its production team; Cameron Granadino, Adam Coley, David Hebden, and Kayla Rivara. You can find me at chrishedges.substack.com.