BAR Book Forum: Dan Kovalik’s “The Plot to Scapegoat Russia" and "The Plot to Attack Iran”
“I believe that Americans are the most uninformed, misinformed and ideologized people on the planet.”
In this series, we ask acclaimed authors to answer five questions about their book. This week’s featured author is Dan Kovalik. Kovalik has been a labor and human rights lawyer since graduating from Columbia Law School in 1993. His books are The Plot to Scapegoat Russia: How the CIA and the Deep State Have Conspired to Vilify Putinand The Plot to Attack Iran: How the CIA and the Deep State Have Conspired to Vilify Iran.
Roberto Sirvent: How can your books help BAR readers understand the current political and social climate?
Dan Kovalik: Through my books, I try to provide a history for readers which undermines the bad religion known as, “American Exceptionalism” – that is, the idea that the U.S. is some unique force for good and freedom in the world. Indeed, history shows that the US, especially after WWII, has almost invariably supported, as well as installed, some of the most reactionary, despotic regimes in the world while undermining and overthrowing democratic governments.
My books also undermine the intellectual justifications for “humanitarian intervention” which is really, in the words of Jean Bricmont, “humanitarian imperialism,” though without the humanitarian part. There are almost no examples of a true humanitarian intervention, and certainly, the US has never participated in one. Rather, in the name of defending human rights, the US has in fact intervened in other countries as a means of advancing its own geo-political and economic interests.
What do you hope activists and community organizers will take away from reading your books?
I hope that activists and community organizers will conclude that we need a vibrant, anti-imperialist peace movement. While people are getting out on the streets to protest in large numbers, there is very little being done in the way of protesting against the US’s multiple wars. Of course, it is these wars which are not only devastating the lives of millions abroad, but which are bankrupting the US and starving it of the resources it needs to provide a social safety net for people, to repair crumbling infrastructure and to combat pressing issues such as climate change. US wars in places like Afghanistan, Southeast Asia and Nicaragua have also led to an increase in lethal drugs on our streets. Indeed, nearly all of the problems confronting us today can be traced in some way to the US’s permanent war footing, and yet this connection is rarely made, much less challenged. It is my hope that my books can inspire readers to resist war as part of a greater struggle for a better world.
We know readers will learn a lot from your books, but what do you hope readers will un-learn? In other words, is there a particular ideology you’re hoping to dismantle?
I want readers to un-learn their faith in the following notions: capitalism as a path to democracy and freedom; the US military as a human rights organization; the US as the “indispensable nation.” In truth, I believe that Americans are the most uninformed, misinformed and ideologized people on the planet.And, they must be so for the system to work as well as it does to destroy huge swaths of the world with barely a peep of opposition in this country.
One of my favorite expositions of all of this was put forth in Harold Pinter’s 2005 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, in which he stated:
“The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.
“Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it.
“It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis.”
It is my hope that, through my writings, I can help wake Americans from the sleep to which they have been lulled by years of schooling and by state propaganda masquerading as journalism.
Who are the intellectual heroes that inspire your work?
Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman are probably the intellectuals who most inspires my work. I have adopted their method of critique of the mainstream accounts of US foreign policy. As Chomsky and Herman explained long ago, the mainstream press categorizes victims of human rights abuses abroad as “worthy” and “unworthy” victims. “Worthy” victims are those who are harmed, or allegedly harmed, by the US’s ostensible enemies (e.g., Russia, Venezuela, Syria), while “unworthy” victims are those harmed by the US and its allies. The press invariably gives large amounts of coverage to those it deems “worthy” while rarely giving coverage to the “unworthy” victims. The result is that those who consume this news come away with the belief that the US and its allies are relatively blameless for atrocities abroad while its “enemies” are almost always responsible for atrocities. Of course, as Chomsky and Herman have shown time and again, the reality is the complete opposite of what we are told and led to believe.
“Parenti emphasizes that people have a right to make revolution and to take steps to defend that revolution.”
Another intellectual hero of mine is Michael Parenti. Parenti is unique amongst current American intellectuals in that he not only critiques US foreign policy, but also dares to defend revolutionary governments (including Cuba, Nicaragua and even the USSR) which have attempted to resist this policy. Parenti, who is unknown to many in this country because of the controversial nature of his opinions, emphasizes that people have a right to make revolution and to take steps to defend that revolution against the inevitable Western aggression to come. Unlike many, Parenti argues eloquently that the fact that people may make errors in carrying out a revolution does not undermine their right to support and solidarity. This is a lesson lost on many in this country, and I try in my writings to impart it.
In what way do your books help us imagine new worlds?
I hope my books will help readers think of a better world in which war is not seen as a viable solution to any of the problems facing us. Somehow, the US has become a nation addicted to war. The US has given up any pretense of solving conflicts through diplomacy, and instead shoots first and asks questions later. The result has been trillions of dollars wasted on wars which have only made the world more unsafe, more unstable and more dangerous. at least try to point to a world in which we abandon the use of force against other peoples, and instead use our ample resources to solve our own substantial problems at home while also sharing our resources with other countries in order to promote a more stable, prosperous and peaceful world.
In addition, I argue that the sovereignty of other countries must be respected, as required by international law, and that other nations be permitted to make their own mistakes and to follow their own path to development, just as the US has been allowed to do in its own, and many times messy and flawed, way.
Roberto Sirventis Professor of Political and Social Ethics at Hope International University in Fullerton, CA. He also serves as the Outreach and Mentoring Coordinator for the Political Theology Network. He’s currently writing a book with fellow BAR contributor Danny Haiphong called American Exceptionalism and American Innocence: The Fake News of U.S. Empire.