William Arkin speaking with Democracy Now!’s Juan González and Amy Goodman:
…my decision not to renew my contract was really one of thinking to myself that I wanted to stand back and think more about what we needed to do in order to change our national security policy. We’ve been at war now for 18 years. I don’t think anybody could argue that there’s a country in the Middle East that’s safer today than it was in 2001. The generals and the national security leadership that run the country, and now also the commentators and the analysts who populate the news media, really are not people who we can look to as saying, “Wow! They won a war. They avoided a war. They achieved some magnificent objective.” In fact, they are the custodians and the architects of perpetual warfare. And it seemed to me like there needed to be both a different voice and a solution. And I want to step back myself and think about how we can end this era of perpetual war and how we can build some real security, both in the United States and abroad.
In those days, when I started, we used to have civilian experts on the air, people who weren’t former government officials, people who weren’t retired generals, people who might be university professors or activists who worked in nongovernmental organizations or experts who were associated with think tanks. Something happened post-9/11, something happened in these intervening years, in which those people virtually disappeared from the airwaves, and we don’t see as many anymore.
And, in fact, we increasingly see journalists who are the commentators on what’s going on. Now, that’s a tricky position, because journalists are supposed to be unbiased, but also, at the same time, they’re supposed to be explaining to the public what’s going on with inside information.
But the end result of it is that we become shallower and shallower in our coverage, particularly in an area like national security. We’ve just become so shallow that we’re not really able even to see the truth, which is that we’re at war right now in nine countries around the world where we’re bombing, and we hardly report any of it on a day-to-day basis.
So, to me, the crisis is that we condone perpetual war by virtue of our lack of reporting and investigation, and then, second, we fill the airwaves or we fill the newspapers with stories about the immediate and don’t give an adequate amount of space to deeper investigations or what I would say would be net assessment investigations of what really is going on.
…there’s no question that the national security establishment has grown and has become far more powerful than it ever was. But here’s the change. We’ve shifted from the Industrial Age to the Information Age. And consequently, we’ve also shifted from the dominance of the military-industrial complex, if you will, to a much more insidious and much more difficult-to-diagnose information complex. So, the advent of contractors, the advent of a professional military, which means that the military itself touches fewer and fewer lives in America, all of those work together to make the national security state more and more embedded within our society, but yet, at the same time, more difficult to get to, more difficult to understand.
So, most people would be surprised to learn, for instance, that Amazon is one of the largest defense contractors, that they’re building the cloud and they’re building the data centers which support the intelligence community and support the military. And there are other civilian companies, that we associate with being civilians, who are also terrific beneficiaries of the military’s largesse.
So, we have two problems. One is, we have a presence in the Middle East, which has grown enormously since 9/11. I believe that that military presence, in itself, provides the stimuli for the creation of more terrorists. Everyone has said this since 2001, but it has really reached a crisis point today, because even as the Taliban were defeated or al-Qaeda was driven into a small number or as the United States was able to maintain some level of security in Iraq, what happened was new groups emerged, new groups kept popping up. And now we see ISIS. We see al-Shabab in Somalia. We see new organizations emerging in Niger and Mali etc.
So, the net assessment of our presence in the Middle East, first of all, has to be: What is it about our presence itself that is the stimuli for the creation of both local and foreign fighters and their growth? And then, second, what is it about our military and the use of our military forces that is inappropriate or not appropriate for the conflicts in which we fight?
Now, you might not want to be in the Middle East at all, and you might not want to be in Africa. I could make a very strong argument that we should just get out of Afghanistan altogether, that there’s no reason for us to be in Syria, that it’s ridiculous for us to be fighting in North Africa, etc. But at the same time, when we are there, we’re not applying military force in a proper way.
So there’s a sort of double analysis that’s required, both a strategic analysis, at the highest level, which we’ve failed to do because we don’t have qualified civilians in positions of national security leadership, and, second, this sort of more tactical analysis that the types of wars we fight, we do in the wrong way.
…the scope and scale of the American military actions around the world is far greater than what most Americans perceive. But again, let’s be clear about diagnosing the issue. It’s less and less manpower-intensive. It’s more and more focused on drones. It’s more and more focused on airpower. It’s more and more focused on space and cyber. And so we don’t see the kinds of injuries and deaths that we were seeing a decade ago during, say, for instance, the surge in Iraq. It’s become more invisible as a result of the style of American warfare. And as a result of that, it’s almost as if the national security state has the ability to do what they want to be doing autonomously, with very little intervention on the part of civil society.
…there are a lot of liberals in America who believe that the CIA and the FBI is going to somehow save the country from Donald Trump. Well, I’m sorry, I’m not a particular fan of either the CIA or the FBI. And the FBI, in particular, has a deplorable record in American society, from Martin Luther King and the peace movements of the 1960s all the way up through Wen Ho Lee and others who have been persecuted by the FBI. And there’s no real evidence that the FBI is either—is that competent of an institution, to begin with, in terms of even pursuing the prosecutions that it’s pursuing. But yet we lionize them. We hold them up on a pedestal, that somehow they are the truth tellers, that they’re the ones who are getting to the bottom of things, when there’s just no evidence that that’s the case.
…I was against the creation of the Homeland Security Department in 2003, to begin with. First of all, don’t like the word. “Homeland security” sounds a little bit brown-shirty to me. But, second of all, it was created to be a counterterrorist organization, a domestic counterterrorist organization. And all during the Obama administration, we heard Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, saying, “You know, we are counterterrorism.” But since then, we’ve seen they’re creeping into cybersecurity. We’ve seen them creeping into election security. We’ve seen ICE and TSA become the second and third largest federal law enforcement agencies in the country. And so, now homeland security sort of has become a domestic intelligence agency with really an unclear remit, really with broad powers that we don’t fully understand.
And we tend, again, to say “Donald Trump’s Homeland Security Department.” Donald Trump couldn’t find the Department of Homeland Security if somebody set him on the streets of New York—of Washington, D.C. So it’s not Donald Trump’s Homeland Security Department. It’s our Homeland Security Department. And I think it’s important for us to recognize that this is a department that is really operating on its own behalf and out of control.