Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi discusses the State Department’s unintentionally hilarious report on global terrorism, the government’s steadfast refusal to see the underlying grievances that motivate terrorist actions, how Congressional Resolution 1553 defers Iran war-making decisions to Israel and how countries designated “state sponsors of terrorism” are placed on the State Department’s “ignore” list.
MP3 here. (20:46) Transcript below.
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is a contributing editor to The American Conservative and executive director of the Council for the National Interest. He writes regularly for Antiwar.com.
Transcript – Scott Horton Interviews Philip Giraldi, August 12, 2010
Scott Horton: All right, y’all, welcome back to the show. It’s Antiwar Radio. I’m Scott Horton, and our first guest on the show today is Antiwar.com’s Phil Giraldi. He’s a former CIA and DIA officer. He’s part of the American Conservative Defense Alliance. He’s a contributing editor at The American Conservative magazine – that’s AmConMag.com. And he’s now over there at the Council for the National Interest. Welcome back to the show, Phil. How’s it going?
Philip Giraldi: Thanks, Scott. Doing fine.
Horton: Good. All right, so new article today at Antiwar.com. I think if people just go to Antiwar.com/Giraldi it’ll forward on. It’s actually original.antiwar.com/giraldi, and the article is “Hillary’s Enemies List.” Go ahead…
Giraldi: Well, I mean, you know, as the article states, we Americans are always addicted to making lists and doing numerical analysis of stuff. I mean you see it in all the reporting that comes out of the Pentagon on what’s happening in Iraq and what’s happening in Afghanistan – it’s all in numerics. And to me, one of the most invidious lists of all is the list that the State Department puts out every year. It’s a report on world terrorism. And the most, I think, reprehensible part of the report is the section on state sponsors of terrorism, because the state sponsor list is completely influenced by politics and really has very little to do with terrorism.
Horton: Yeah, I have to admit – you know, no offense or anything, but your articles usually aren’t that funny. They’re very informative and very to the point; they’re always about the very same topics I’m interested in, but it’s not usual that I’m laughing out loud, holding my gut, reading a Giraldi article. This is an exception, however. This is absolutely ridiculous. It wasn’t you cracking wise, it was just the facts as you were reporting them that I just though were absolutely absurd. I mean, I think as you say in here, basically this report could have been written in Tel Aviv. It’s not even written from an American point of view, it doesn’t even seem like.
Giraldi: Yeah, the analysis of terrorist groups and their activities over the last year, I mean, it’s just straight, you know – no analysis really of questioning why these things happen or whether these groups have aspects other than what they see as the terrorist side. I’m speaking particularly, of course, of Hezbollah and Hamas. But the Iranians, too, are lumped into the same thing, and the fact is that none of these groups actually target Americans.
Horton: All right, now, so, a little bit of background, especially for people who maybe are new to the show or haven’t heard of you before. The fact that you write for The American Conservative means that you’re a conservative, I think, American Conservative Defense Alliance and all that, and with a name like Giraldi you’ve got to be at least a little bit Catholic, and so I don’t think that you’re some kind of pinko hippie who’s just afraid of a fight – and I’m pretty sure also a Vietnam War veteran, right? I’m also pretty sure that you don’t walk around carrying a brief for radical Islamic terrorist cretins. And after all, Phil, Hamas and Hezbollah, no matter who their enemies are – they have used suicide attacks before and stuff. I mean that’s terrorism, man, right?
Giraldi: Well, you know, there’s terrorism, and there’s terrorism. I mean, the fact is that we tend to see terrorism in monochromatic terms, you know, black and white. The fact is that many of these groups that we consider terrorists start out as national resistance movements to an occupation or, like in South Africa, to a repressive state structure. You know, there are numerous examples I can cite obviously of terrorist groups that originally were actually defending the local people. And then they get cacheted as terrorists by the people that they’re opposing.
And in the case of the United States, the United States has pretty much taken over willy nilly lists of terrorists or lists of terrorist groups that are actually groups that have never ever targeted Americans in any way and never would. And so it makes you question what is the utility of this kind of compendium.
Horton: Well, and also speaking of that, I know that part of your experience in the CIA was in Turkey, so you’re also very familiar with the Middle East and the politics of that region, and so, you know, I don’t think you’re arguing that you want to see a Middle East run by Hamas and Hezbollah; you’re just trying to, well, I guess take it from the monochromatic description of the way things are in the world to add a little bit more color to that wheel and explain kind of the subtlety of the situation a little bit better, huh?
Giraldi: Well, it’s largely, you know, a question of our own self-interest. I mean, if we go around and we start labeling numerous groups that are political parties in the countries they’re in as terrorists, that means we can’t talk to them. And it also means that when we look at countries and call them state sponsors of terrorism, we can’t talk to them either. And all kinds of legal and sanction issues kick in automatically once you’re on that list. So it’s self-destructive.
It’s not that I’m saying that these groups are nice people – I’m not saying that at all. But the fact is that it limits what the United States can do to establish some kind of realistic way of dealing with these people, because you have to deal with them. I mean, Hezbollah is, I believe, the biggest party in Lebanon – political party. And Hamas is certainly the biggest political party in Gaza. So if you’re dealing with the political problems in both those areas, there’s no way you can avoid talking to them. And yet we set up this legal-quasilegal structure that ties our hands and guarantees virtually that we’ll never be able to talk to them.
Horton: Well, and you know it seems like of course the narrative is, it’s all about Iran, and as per the usual Israeli narrative, never mind the fact, it’s not even true maybe that Gaza and the West Bank have been occupied for two generations in a row or something. I mean, basically, to read this thing, the people of the West Bank and Gaza won’t stop invading Israel or something like that, and so therefore, kind of as you’re saying, there’s no national resistance kind of characterization even possible about these groups. They’re simply aggressors and – oh, in fact fronts for the Iranian regime. That’s the only reason that they’re after poor Israel over there. And therefore us, I guess.
Giraldi: Yeah, well the one thing that amazed me was, you know, I read this whole damn report, and it’s something that could put you to sleep, that’s for sure, but the thing is, I became curious about it, because it had these long descriptions of what Hezbollah was doing and Hamas is doing, and then I went and I checked the section on Israel and saw exactly how many people were killed by terrorists in Israel last year, and the number was I think four. And none of them had been killed by Hezbollah or Hamas. So here you’re identifying these groups as terrorist threats and so on and so forth. If they are terrorist threats, they’re pretty ineffective.
Horton: Well, and is it even right, really, that – I mean, clearly Hamas has ties with Iran, but I mean how separate are their interests from each other? And of course there’s the Sunni-Shia split when it comes to Hamas and Palestine, but maybe that’s not all that important.
Giraldi: Well, I think yeah, your point is right. I mean, you know, Iran is a friend of Hamas because they have a common interest in that Israel and the United States are opposing both of them. And the same thing with Hezbollah. Hezbollah has more profound connections with Iran, no doubt about it.
But the fact is that nevertheless everybody is acting out always their self-interest, and precisely what I’m saying is that, you know, you basically look – if you’re really engaged in serious diplomacy, you look at the national interest or the interests of these people, and you work those in your favor, because there will be things that they’re interested in that we’re also interested in, like, you know, there might be issues of regional stability that they’re quite interested in just as we are.
So, you know, the problem is, what you decide to categorize, put labels, put people on lists, you’re basically hurting yourself. You’re limiting your ability to do things.
Horton: Now, if you were the National Security Adviser of America, and say you wanted to bring hope and change to American foreign policy, is it completely unreasonable – I mean, I know I’m a very libertarian kind of guy with a point of view that doesn’t represent much of the population or whatever here, but is it a crazy idea to think that you could just go over there and say, “All right, look, Iranians, we’re just going to make friends. Forget all that stuff, here’s a security guarantee, stay within your safeguards agreement, sanctions are lifted, let’s work things out, we’ll have an agreement, we’ll sit down at a table, work out things in Palestine, etc.,” like that, or are they just intransigent crazy ayatollahs over there, Phil? Real quick, and then we’ll go out to this break.
Giraldi: Well I think the short answer of course is that they will have interests in common with you, and the Iranians have in the past made it clear that they want security guarantees from the United States, so we have a big bargaining pot.
Horton: Right on. All right, everybody hang tight. We’ll be right back with Phil Giraldi after this break.
Horton: All right, y’all, welcome back to the show. It’s Antiwar Radio. I’m Scott Horton, and I’m talking with Phil Giraldi. He writes for Antiwar.com and The American Conservative magazine and Campaign for Liberty and American Conservative Defense Alliance, and now he’s over at the Council for the National Interest, and now – oh, and a former CIA and DIA officer as well.
Now, Phil, I think that, you know, all your talk about the way to win the terror war is to ramp it down, and the way to deal with Iran is to try to shake hands, and the way to deal with Hamas and Hezbollah is to try to sit at a table – I think you’re just naïve and you won’t face up to the real truth of the danger of radical Islam.
Giraldi: Well, that claim has been made vis-a-vis me, but I think actually that we have had now 10 years nearly of facing up to the threat of radical Islam and we’re far worse off and far less secure right now than we were 10 years ago. I mean, the fact is that we have adopted the wrong strategy. It’s very clear, and I firmly believe from my own experience, in the CIA in particular, that there are ways to work issues and there are ways to work around issues, and things like that, and we haven’t tried that approach as much as we should. And I firmly believe that to be the case.
Horton: Well now, so what about Islam itself? Because I mean that really is the narrative, especially of the neocons – is that radical Islam is the basis of our conflict. And I think what that really means, if we follow the chain of dominos or whatever, it means that our civilization is in the fight of its life against a billion people in the world – at least, you know, the 10%, as Harvey Kushner put it to me in a debate once, from Family [Security] Matters for America over there, a neocon outfit. He said, “10% of Muslims in the world are so radical, they’re at war with us, that, you know, we’re going to have to kill them all.”
Giraldi: Yeah, I’ve heard that line from a few people. In fact I heard 15%, which would be a few more. But, you know, I mean, the point is that the people who’ve come out with those lines do not ask the other question, which is, “How do these people become radicalized in the first place?” They became radicalized in the first place because of actions undertaken by the United States and frequently Israel. It’s not like we were nonplayers in this process.
So my suggestion would be that we take the initiative that President Obama made when he went and spoke in Cairo shortly after he became President, and extend that, and really let it become a concept of our government that we are basically friends to everyone. This is what George Washington advised; it’s what Thomas Jefferson, Madison – friends with everyone and not getting involved in other people’s quarrels and trying to be, you know, a force for moderation in the world. We haven’t been that.
Horton: Yeah. The shining city on a hill as a light of liberty rather than a laser designator for a JDAM, huh?
Giraldi: That might be a good idea, yeah.
Horton: All right, well, so I’m looking at this article on Reuters, and you know I guess no one in the whole world could have predicted this, no? It says, Karroubi, he’s I guess one of the leaders of the opposition over there in Iran, says that the new sanctions are strengthening the government and weakening the Green movement.
Giraldi: Well, you know, that was predicted by many people, that obviously you create a siege mentality in any environment and the people are going to rally around the government. So I’m not really surprised at that. And I think that –
Horton: Do you think that’s what the sanctions are for? Is it still the case, like it was when John Bolton and them were running the place, that the moderates are the enemies, really? The more we can make it look like the CIA is behind all the dissent, the more marginalized they’ll be, and then the easier it is to come up with an excuse for war against those crazing hardliners instead?
Giraldi: Well I think that what we’re seeing is we’re seeing lots of people with lots of different agendas. I mean, obviously the military-industrial complex has a definite agenda in terms of a war economy continuing and a state of tension continuing in the world. And the Israel lobby has its own agenda. And then there are other hardliners in Congress that have their agenda. And this all kind of coalesces into a situation in which we’re just doing things for the sake of doing things, and you know it just – it really doesn’t make any sense.
I know you’ve probably already discussed on your show this congressional resolution 1553 in which our Congress will give Israel a green light for attacking Iran. I mean, what possible good can a resolution like that do for the United States and for the United States’ interests?
Horton: It’s just amazing. I mean, I guess they haven’t passed that yet, but they’re really saying, “We’ll leave it up to the government of a foreign state to get us into a war or not.” I mean, we complain that Congress doesn’t declare war any more; they give that power to the President. Now they give it to the Prime Minister of Israel?
Giraldi: That’s essentially what the resolution would do. It would give him the right to make a major strategic decision that would have a huge impact on our country.
Horton: Yeah. You know, Pat Buchanan compared it to Neville Chamberlain’s war guarantee to Poland, which Lord Gray and all of them immediately said, “What? You did what? You gave the Polish colonels the right to decide what for us?” Too late.
Giraldi: Exactly. And when it’s too late, it’s too late.
Horton: Amazing. Well, all right, so let’s move on here to the possibility that, as you put it before, the Israelis might just get us into a war real soon, if not – you know, see I always, I guess my gut tells me that they want to be able to wait a year and say, “See, the sanctions didn’t work because the Iranians are crazy.” But I guess your thing is “Netanyahu’s crazy,” and why wait, from his point of view, huh?
Giraldi: Yeah, well that’s it. I mean he basically could be voted out of office in a year. And he definitely has an agenda.
And you have to look at it this way. You have to see what the down side is for the Israelis – I mean in political terms, because that’s how they’re looking at this. And if they were to attack Iran, Iran in all probability would retaliate in such a way that the United States would get involved, whether it wanted to be or not. And if that’s the intention of the Israelis, that’s mission accomplished.
And then people have been arguing, “Oh yes, but that means that the United States and Israeli would break off relations, the United States would be so angry about this occurrence.” I don’t see that. Congress is repeatedly passing motions like 1553 that indicate that anything Israel does is fine. Both Obama and Hillary Clinton have said that Israel can do whatever it wants in terms of its own security.
And, you know, it’s clearly not the message that’s being sent, and you know the mainstream media would jump right on the bandwagon together with Israel, almost immediately, and would in fact make it look s if the Israelis were the victims of the Iranian attack, even though it’s vice versa.
Horton: Yeah. Well, now – eh, there’s so many different directions to go from there. I guess the most important thing I think for people to understand, if I have this right, is that the Iranians have Sunburn missiles and – I always forget the names of both of them at the same time, I always get one or the other, but these are supersonic sea-skimming missiles that could very conceivably sink American aircraft carriers.
Giraldi: Yeah, that’s true. I mean, these are, I think derived, from the Chinese Silkworm missiles that –
Horton: Right. That’s the word I was looking for.
Giraldi: – are cruise missiles that they sold to the Iranians, and the Iranians kind of juiced them up a bit. But yeah, I mean, you know, this is serious stuff. If you’ve got a couple hundred of those lying around, and they’re hidden in various places where you’re not easily going to find them or take them out – all right, they don’t have to sink an aircraft carrier, they could sink a supertanker, and you block the Straits of Hormuz and that’s it. Gas prices go up to $15 a gallon and the American people will wonder, “Hey, what happened?”
Horton: Well, now, five years ago, in fact almost exactly five years ago, you wrote an article in The American Conservative magazine about how Dick Cheney had a plan, if there was any more terrorist attacks in America, to just go ahead and use it as an opportunity to strike Iran, and that he’d ordered the military to go ahead and include nuclear weapons in their plans, and then there was some word that that had been taken back and then maybe put back in, but I think you said – well I don’t know, three years ago now or something? – that the new version of the plan was, “Well, we’ll keep nukes in our back pocket for conventional strikes and then if they dare to resist, we’ll, I guess, have to use nuclear weapons.” Right? Because no one can even – no one in the Pentagon contemplates putting ground forces in an actual invasion and march to Tehran. So it comes down to, if the war starts and they decide to really fight back, then we’re talking hydrogen bombs. I mean, is it really as simple as that?
Giraldi: Well, I think that it’s the ultimate deterrent, really. I mean, if the Iranians are fighting back in a serious way, the United States might send them a message saying, you know, “Keep it up and we’re going to nuke you.” It seems to me, it is the ultimate deterrent for the United States in this kind of situation. And it would be stupid of people to say that that wouldn’t be contemplated.
Horton: Yeah, but I mean when the generals sit around, even when, you know, Paul Wolfowitz and his kooks at the University of Chicago, Wolfstetter and these guys, sit around and talk about, you know, nuclear weapons posture and whatever – they don’t ever talk about, “Well first you start a conventional war and then you tell them, ‘You better sit there and take it or we’ll nuke you.'” No one could really conceive of a country just sitting there and taking it, even with a threat like that, if we’re talking about we’re already in a conventional war against them, right?
Giraldi: Well, when I was at the University of Chicago, we used to sit around and talk about women and getting drunk. But, anyway, that was a different subject.
Horton: Ah, yeah, well, we’re out of time now.
Giraldi: All right.
Horton: But anyway I’m glad you didn’t take [Albert] Wohlstetter’s class. You’d be no good to us at all.
Giraldi: [laughs] All right, thank you.
Horton: Everybody, that’s Phil Giraldi. Antiwar.com/Giraldi. We’ll be back.