Major General Dennis Laich: Pentagon Needs a Bad Guy
Yves here. Get a cup of coffee so you can give this meaty talk wth retired Major General Dennis Laich the attention it deserves, With the news dominated by Covid-19 stories, and now the Democratic Party convention, a break of sorts is in order.
Aside from Bernie Sanders’ quixotic call for Pentagon belt-tightening, no budget proposal calls for cutting US military spending, despite its ever-rising pork to production ratio. The fact that Russia, with an economy the size of South Korea’s, has war toys shown in combat in the Middle East to be able to go toe-to-toe with ours illustrates how out of control Pentagon grifting has become.
Paul Jay talks to retired Major General Dennis Laich about the crude but effective means that the defense-surveillance complex uses to justify its bloated spending, namely, the embellishment of foreign threats. “We are always at war with Eurasia”.
Paul Jay Hi, my name is Paul Jay, and welcome to theAnalysis.news podcast.
It’s not often I get a chance to talk to an American general, okay, I’ve never had a chance to talk to an American general. I have interviewed a Canadian general, General Lewis Mackenzie, who told me armies need soldiers that don’t know much about history or the world, because if they did, they wouldn’t want to go off to war, to kill or be killed.
We’ll be talking about the recruitment of soldiers for the US armed forces today, including the debate over the all-volunteer army. My guest wants to return to the draft.
First, we will assess what we should expect from a Biden-Harris foreign policy and what we’ve seen so far from Trump, especially the growing confrontation with China.
Now joining us is Major General Dennis Laich, retired from the United States Army in 2006 after more than 35 years of service. His last assignment was commander of the 94th Regional Readiness Command at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, where he commanded all Army Reserve soldiers in the six New England states. For the last 14 consecutive years of his career, he served in command positions. He has served in Iraq, Kuwait, Germany, and the Netherlands and Honduras. He’s a graduate of the Army War College, the Command and General Staff College and the National Security Management Program. He’s also completed postgraduate studies in national and international security at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. His military awards include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit and the Meritorious Service Medal. He currently serves as the director of the Patriots program at Ohio Dominican University and is the author of the book, ‘Skin in the Game: Poor Kids and Patriots’. Major General Laich opposed the Iraq war while he was still in active service. Welcome, Major General.
Dennis Laich Great to be with you.
Paul Jay And if it’s OK, can I call you Denis?
Dennis Laich I’m retired now, so go ahead. Whatever you feel most comfortable with.
Paul Jay OK, so before we get into some of the more current issues, talk about your experience when you were serving as a general, at the time, I believe, and you opposed the Iraq war, publicly, and got into quite a confrontation with the Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld. Why did you speak out publicly when you were in the service and why did you oppose the war?
Dennis Laich Well, when you say publicly, I spoke out in an open military forum, which was unheard of at that time, I thought that the war in Iraq was ill-advised and became a war, not necessarily that we could win, but I thought that the predicate for the war was set years ago by Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Wolfowitz, and it was ill-advised. We had Saddam Hussein pretty much bottled up. And whether we won or lost the war, we opened up the Middle East for Iranian influence. So I thought it was a bad move on our part. And it, in fact, did open up Iran to greater influence both in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East.
Paul Jay When you say the predicate for the war was established before, are you talking about their involvement in this project for the New American Century and the whole strategy of regime change?
Dennis Laich I think the regime change and also the first Gulf War, I think there was some lingering sense among Wolfowitz and Cheney and Rumsfeld that, “we should have finished the job”, notwithstanding the public statements that Cheney made. And I think that the Bush administration was misserved by Cheney, Wolfowitz, and others, Rumsfeld primarily, and also that Condi Rice failed in her role as the National Security Adviser and being an honest broker of alternatives in the facts.
Paul Jay What was the forum exactly?
Dennis Laich The forum was a meeting among general officers preparing for the invasion of Iraq.
Paul Jay And what consequences did you suffer as a result of speaking out in this open forum?
Dennis Laich The consequences I suffered were, some light reprimands, but I was able to continue to serve and serve until 2006 until I ran into another disagreement with the way that we handled the Tillman incident in Afghanistan and was told shortly thereafter that I was being retired.
Paul Jay What was the conflict there?
Dennis Laich Well, I think that it was obvious to me that we were deceiving ourselves in the. American people and lied about the friendly fire incident around Tillman. My experience is that these sorts of things, ultimately the truth comes out and it did, and I think it was an embarrassment to the military as a whole that we tried to lie to the American people about what happened with Pat Tillman.
Paul Jay All right. Let’s jump to the current situation. First of all, what is your assessment of Trump in terms of foreign policy and in terms of the massive increase in the military budget? He seems to have a particular interest in pursuing nuclear weapons.
Dennis Laich Well, first of all, I don’t think he has a foreign policy or military policy. I think that Trump’s approach to both of these things is completely transactional. And he has no sense of history, and it creates problems not only for us but for our allies and reinforces the policies of Erdogan, Putin and others. I think it’s been a disaster across the board. There are no foreign policy successes, either militarily or economically that I can identify in the Trump administration.
Paul Jay Well, his foreign policy seems to revolve around increasing the contradiction or tensions with China. If you go back to his adviser, Bannon, who apparently is still in his ear, there’s a kind of strategy, it seems to revolve around what Bannon calls the defense of Western civilization. And no, Trump doesn’t openly, often talk that way, although when he got inaugurated, he came pretty close to talking that way. But it does seem to be a war on Islam and now even more focused on China. And Bannon’s even talked about this being a bloody struggle. He’s called for military confrontation in the South China Sea. I don’t know how much Trump buys into this or how much the current military command supports this. But when they tried to justify the military budget in front of the congressional committee, the acting secretary of defense said there are three words that justify why there’s a need for such a big military budget. And the three words were “China, China and China”. That seems to be the strategy. So what they want is tension. So are you saying what they want is tension to justify arms purchases?
Dennis Laich Well, the fact of the matter is that the Defense Department needs a bad guy and a threat. The worst thing that ever happened to the Defense Department in the Pentagon budget was the demise of the Soviet Union. The fear-mongering that goes on among the senior people at the Pentagon is something that supports the military-industrial complex that’s gone on for decades. And I think that war with China would be a real disaster. I just can’t see what would cause the United States to go to war with China, even Taiwan. You know you have to wonder, I often do, whether the United States would go to war over China’s invasion of Taiwan, where we really don’t have a mutual defense treaty with Taiwan, a formal meeting, a mutual defense treaty. I just don’t see a war with China in the foreseeable future.
Paul Jay And when you look at Biden and now Harris, certainly Biden, he seems to have bought into this concept as well.
Dennis Laich Absolutely.
Paul Jay His rhetoric on China is like he’s trying to outflank Trump from the right and be even more aggressive in his language about China than Trump has been. Do you see this is just a tactical position in terms of the elections, or is it simply for the same reasons? He has his own reasons for wanting the military-industrial complex on his side.
And I think when we talk about the military-industrial complex, you can’t separate that from Wall Street, because when you look at who actually owns the military-industrial complex, it’s primarily financial institutions, institutional investors like Vanguard and BlackRock and State Street and a bunch of others. And the way ownership has become so concentrated in the hands of finance. So Biden doesn’t want to piss off finance or the arms manufacturers? Will they have a different attitude towards China?
Dennis Laich I think it’ll be a more nuanced attitude toward China. I think that it’ll be dictated a lot by who is the Secretary of State. And I’ll go out on a limb right now, I know you haven’t asked, but my bet, you heard it first here, is that Susan Rice will be the secretary of state in the Biden administration.
Paul Jay Yeah, we’ve been speculating that if she didn’t get the VP, she’d get the secretary of state. What do you think of her as secretary of state?
Dennis Laich I think it’ll be a fine choice. I think she’s eminently qualified. I think that the Senate confirmation will be the last chance the Republicans have to bring up Benghazi, it’ll come up, it’ll be a spirited discussion, but she’ll be confirmed by the Senate and she’ll be the secretary of state.
Paul Jay Well, you say a fine choice, but she seems to represent the more militaristic, hawkish wing of the Democratic Party. She apparently was very much in favor of the intervention in Libya. She supported the Iraq war. I don’t know if she’s ever thought about a potential war she didn’t want to wage.
Dennis Laich I think that the wars that she supported or the military initiatives that she supported were somewhat different than a war with China. I mean, a war with China is not a walk in the park, as some people would think, although, you know, when we talk about walks in the park, the United States, notwithstanding all of the money that we spend, we spend more than the next eight nations in the world combined on quote-unquote, defense. But we’ve only won one war since World War Two, that and the first Gulf War. We’ve had a myth around the US military power and, you know, we talk about winning, but no football coach in the United States could keep his or her job with the won/loss record that the US military has had since World War Two. I think that a war with China would be viewed a lot differently than than than other military exercises that the United States has inserted itself into.
Paul Jay I’m not suggesting Susan Rice would actually want to support a war with China. I can’t believe anybody with any modicum of rationality would. But she has a serious record of supporting American interventionism and a kind of reckless foreign policy. And Libya is one of the worst examples. It’s not only that they helped destroy that country and it was well known that was the likely outcome of the intervention. Apparently, Obama and Biden as well were against it. Biden apparently argued against the Libya intervention and lost that argument. And Obama went along reluctantly, mostly driven by Hillary Clinton and Susan Rice. Doesn’t that concern you that the Libyan situation could be repeated?
Dennis Laich I think that people learn some lessons. I would hope that people learn some lessons, especially with the Middle East. Bob Gates and others have spoken out and said that we’ve learned some lessons about intervention in the Middle East. And I think that there will be a more nuanced approach. The other thing that I think will drive it is that the defense budget will be under some pressure with regard to fiscal support. We have a US budget that is running at about a 20% deficit and will be at about a 30 billion dollars or trillion-dollar debt by the end of this administration. And there are going to be fiscal constraints on the ability to finance not only the military budget itself but some constraints with regard to military interventions.
Paul Jay And what can you make of Harris’s positions on foreign policy? I know she’s mostly identified with domestic issues.
Dennis Laich I think that the foreign policy and the Biden-Harris administration will be largely driven by Joe Biden and some of his previous cohorts in foreign policy. I think Leslie H. Gelb will play a role in the Biden foreign policy and Richard Haass and a few others in addition to Susan Rice.
Paul Jay You know, Biden supported the Iraq war, too. It seems that Biden’s instincts are to go where the military-industrial complex wants to go. I don’t think the military-industrial complex wants a war with China. I think it is what you said, they want tension. They want almost a war because almost war is good for business. I don’t think any of them. I’ve talked to Larry Wilkerson a few times. He says whenever he’s been involved in war games, they try to game out what would happen with a war with China. It always ends up in nuclear war. And they had to stop the war games. While I think there’s a certain kind of pragmatic rationality with Biden that’s not with Trump. Doesn’t it concern you that he has a history of supporting the Iraq war and generally going along with that kind of hawkish policy?
Dennis Laich It does concern me, but I think the Iraq war has chastened a lot of people. And it’s my belief whether it has or not will be borne out. We thought that the Vietnam War chastened a lot of thought in the geopolitics of the United States. But I think the Iraq war in Afghanistan, still ongoing, has changed some thinking and will make people think a little bit more deeply about U.S. interventions in the future.
Paul Jay What do you make of the current military command? It’s interesting, a couple of months ago, I guess now when Trump walked across the street and held the Bible in front of the church and the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was with him and later actually apologized for doing it. Where are we in terms of the military commanders and right-wing politics? We know there’s been a lot of influence of the right-wing evangelical church. And I say right-wing evangelicals because not all evangelicals are right-wing, many are, but they have a lot of influence in the army and also right-wing Catholicism in the army and very much at the levels of top command. How might that help decide how the military might play out? There’s a lot of conjecture here if Trump doesn’t want to go and loses the election
Dennis Laich I think that, first of all, you made reference to the evangelicals in the military. And I’ve said for a number of years that the military chaplaincy has been hijacked by the evangelicals. It’s unfortunate. We had senior people in the military, General Boykin in particular, and some others who facilitated that and then advanced it, much to the chagrin of many people in the military. I think that we put military leaders on a pedestal. I referred to many of them as senior uniformed bureaucrats, not leaders. When you look at the culling out process, independent thinkers are not appreciated. In most cases, commanders and senior people are looking for affirmation, not information, and it creates a kind of echo chamber that is not healthy for the military and for wise decision making.
Paul Jay I don’t know that Biden is going to be able to resist any of this. But if he asked you what should be the policy towards Russia and China, what would you say?
Dennis Laich I think we need to continue to have a presence in the South China Sea and the Pacific. I think one of the things we need to recognize is that China’s a rising power. And we need to look at China, not as a competitor or necessarily as a threat, but just as we have the Monroe Doctrine in the United States, we have spheres of influence. And I think that we’ve walked away from many opportunities to advance that sphere of influence. We walked away from the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, early in the Trump administration. I don’t think we’ll have a chance to recover that. But we have to recognize that China is a rising power and we can cooperate with them and share the center stage in world geopolitics, or we can continue to go down this path. I think that you have a rising power and a declining power, I’m of the opinion that the United States on many fronts is a declining power.
Paul Jay So you’re saying there should be a reassessment of the attitude towards China and then obviously there’s got to be a way to be a competitor with China without going to war with China, the European Union competes with the United States in a lot of places, but at least as far as we can see, it’s not the same kind of military tensions with the E.U. They’re called allies. But you say the Americans should keep a presence in the South China Sea. Isn’t that provocative? Paul Jay I mean, why should they how would the United States like China having a presence in the Caribbean?
Dennis Laich Well, I think that’s a legitimate point. And I brought up the Monroe Doctrine before, and I think that the Chinese realize that the US has interests in opening sea in freedom of navigation. And, you know, there’s a different set of criteria. But I think that there will be a reassessment of not only the Chinese-U.S. relations but also in the Biden administration, a reassessment of Russia and also with Israel and also Saudi Arabia.
Paul Jay Gorbachev was promised by Bill Clinton that NATO would never come up knocking on their doors in Eastern Europe, which in fact, NATO did exactly that. Isn’t there some onus on the United States to not create this– both in terms of Russia and China, you know, Obama had the Asian pivot, which was about creating a kind of block or supposed military encirclement of China. There’s a lot of the Russians certainly think there’s an attempt at a kind of encirclement. And it’s kind of preposterous, I think, to think that the Russians have any intention of marching troops west. I mean, I don’t think they ever did, frankly. Even going back to post-World War Two. Especially with China, the competition’s commercial. Unless it goes back to what you said in the beginning, this is just about the rationale for a lot of arms purchases.
Dennis Laich Yeah, we need bad guys. But, you know, the US has been duplicitous in its foreign policy, going back to the Native Americans. We started breaking treaties and lying with the Native Americans, and we’ve continued to do it and justified it with the exceptional nation and Manifest Destiny rationalizations. But the fact is that we’ve created a lot of the issues that we’re confronted with and contributed to the uncertainty by our own actions.
Paul Jay I’ve often thought the only real way to have a serious change in U.S. foreign policy is to take the profit motive out of arms manufacturing actually turn Lockheed and Boeing and Raytheon, turn them into public utilities. And yes, there needs to be some kind of defensive army. And yes, there needs to be some kind of weapons, but not driven by a for-profit motivation, because as long as it is and as long as there’s so much money kicking around to fund politicians, both their political fundraising and then military leaders who go like a revolving door between these arms manufacturing and serving in the leadership of the armed forces, I mean, as long as it’s all really driven by moneymaking, there’s going to be a foreign policy that reflects that. Would you support that, essentially making these publicly owned?
Dennis Laich Well, it’s an interesting concept, it flies in the face of a number of issues. And it’s an interesting concept that, is so deeply embedded in our psyche and our systems that it would be difficult to do that. It would be a step in the right direction, as would be the reassessment of how we manage the military.
Paul Jay The nuclear war strategy has hardly changed since the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which many historians believe was quite unnecessary to end the war and the new expenditure in nuclear weapons, the new nuclear weapons arms race, the fact that there’s still a hair-trigger, the fact that the possibilities for accidental nuclear war are as high as they ever were, if not even higher.
What drives this nuclear war strategy? Because it seems like a crazy risk, even if it’s about money making at least the rest of the money making in the military budget doesn’t end most life on Earth. For the sake of commercial interests, they’re risking the apocalypse. And are they not aware of this war?
Dennis Laich The nuclear genie is hard to put back in the bottle, and it’s a matter of trust among nations. But I think that the possibility of complete nuclear disarmament is very unlikely. I think that the big challenge that the Biden administration will have or the big opportunity is not only with the reassessment of the nuclear posture, but also reassessing our involvement in climate change and protecting the environment, but I think the nuclear genie is hard to put back in the bottle.
Paul Jay Yeah, people like Dan Ellsberg would kind of agree with you in a sense, like Ellsberg doesn’t call for the elimination of nuclear weapons. I mean, he does in a sense, but he doesn’t think that’s doable. But if it’s really just about deterrence, there could be way, way less nuclear weapons, I mean, you have thousands, there could be. If there were 10 or 20 is legitimate deterrence, apparently, the Chinese only have what, some people think maybe, a couple of hundred compared to thousands and Russian/Americans and a lot of senior military people and former political leaders and so on have called for this, but there’s an irrationality when it comes to the nuclear strategy that even surpasses the insanity of the rest of the military strategy.
Dennis Laich Winston Churchill said shortly after World War Two that the 10th or 20th nuclear device only makes the rubble bounce.
Paul Jay And he didn’t even know about nuclear winter. You know these generals, you’ve socialized with them. Many of them were your friends. What is in their heads, they’ve got to know they’re playing with, like I said, with the apocalypse. And how do they deal with that in their own psychology?
Dennis Laich I don’t think many have given a great deal of thought to the consequences, I think we have lulled ourselves into thinking that we’ve gone 75 years now without anyone else using a nuclear weapon. And the prospect of us using it is remote. But I’ll tell you that, I personally and, a number of other people have been deeply concerned about Donald Trump having his thumb on the nuclear codes. I mean, this is as scary as his day to day antics might be. The fact that this man has his thumb on the nuclear codes is one of the most frightening things that I think I deal with every day. And most people don’t realize that there is no buffer, no structural buffer between his command and the detonation of a nuclear weapon in anger.
Paul Jay Your book, Skin in the Game, calls for the reinstitution of the draft and, in fact, there is a kind of process in place that never went away. Men have to register for the draft at 18. I don’t think women do yet, even though there’s been a lot of conversation about that. So it wouldn’t take much to reinstitute the draft because people have to sign a register for selective service. But that being said, not many people want it. You’re one of the few calling for it. And why is that?
Dennis Laich Let me correct your assessment just a little bit. I call for the National Dialogue as to whether the all-volunteer force is working or will work in the future based on fairness, efficiency, and sustainability. And also call into question whether the all-volunteer force in the United States contributes to the civil-military gap and the militarization of U.S. foreign policy. And I think that the predicate question is, is the All-Volunteer Force working based on those criteria?
Paul Jay And your conclusion is?
Dennis Laich Absolutely not.
Paul Jay And the alternative is? The alternative is, I lay out an alternative that in my book that says that we would have a fair across the board lottery based draft of men and women, no exemptions, no deferments with three options.
The first one is that those few who are selected and it would be a relatively small number of 18 to 20-year-olds who would be selected for service would have one of three options to go on active duty in the Army or the Marine Corps for two years after Basic and AIT to go into the reserve components for six years after basic and AIT. And if they were mobilized and deployed into a war zone one time during that six-year period, their military obligation is complete. And if someone is drafted and wants to go to college, that’s fine. We encourage them to do it, but they’d be in ROTC and if they fail to gain the commission, meet the requirements for commissioning, they revert to option one or two. And I should point out that there would still be a lot of people who volunteer to serve in the military and a relatively small number of people would be required to serve as part of a draft.
Paul Jay And why do you think this would change U.S. foreign policy?
Dennis Laich Well, if you think about it and just look at the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, I often ask audiences when I speak on the subject if we had invoked that concept in 2005, how long would we have stayed in Afghanistan or in Iraq? And if we had a draft, would we have ever gone into Iraq in the first place? And most rarely does anyone raise their hand and say yes, or we would have stayed as long as we did.
Paul Jay And that’s because a large part of the opposition to the war in Vietnam was because there was a draft. So many American families were affected by that.
Dennis Laich Well, and not only that, but it’s awfully unfair. I mean, when you look at it today, we are offering 40,000 enlistment bonuses to 18 and 19-year-olds that are disproportionately attractive to the lower socioeconomic classes and irrelevant to the first socioeconomic class. So those decision makers at the top echelons of the government and business have no skin in the game. It’s not their children and grandchildren who will fight and die, it’s the poor kids and patriots from the hinterlands who will pay the price.
Paul Jay I don’t think it’s the kids of the rich on the hole that are going into the armed forces.
Dennis Laich Not at all.
Paul Jay But it is about 20% of families with an income over 65,000 go, now, that’s not that much money, actually, if you’re at the lower end of the scale. Well, I guess something like three-quarters of the people that are volunteering come from homes that make less than 60,000/65,000.
Dennis Laich The third and fourth socioeconomic quintiles and the first socioeconomic quintile is absolutely equal.
Paul Jay The inequality argument, there’s an interesting counterargument to that. I was reading something by a guy who’s sort of a campaigner against the draft. His name is Hasbrook. He makes the point that there are millions of people now who don’t register and that the penalty for not registering is purely financial. And so wealthy people, kids can simply not register and then pay the fine, and he says if that’s the case, then the system winds up de facto still being a poverty draft because, you know, people that can’t afford the fines are the ones are going to wind up going.
Dennis Laich Well, the fact is that you have to put some– I mean, the whole concept is skewed right now because there is no draft. There is no possibility. But the whole concept would have to have some teeth in it.
Paul Jay Does that mean there would have to be what prison term for not registering?
Dennis Laich Well, I propose that our prisons are already overpopulated. So what I propose is that if you are drafted and you refuse to serve, you give up your right to any government benefits. You give up your right to vote. And for six years you report to your local county jail when the local National Guard unit is drilling and you serve that time and you pay for your meals for the weekend that you’re there, it’s a matter of the scarlet letter being put on your forehead.
Paul Jay And the objective here, is to make the process fairer or to try to affect US foreign policy?
Dennis Laich Both. If we had a fair process, we’d have a more circumspect foreign policy. And the other thing is that there are some great inefficiencies in the system. I mean, we have recruiters now. There are 10,900 Army recruiters spread out over the United States, 10,900 of the best NCEOs and officers in the military are charged with chasing young kids around the city streets of Baltimore, the country roads of Kentucky to get someone to join the military.
When we invaded Iraq, we had not enough warriors. So we did a lot of things like multiple deployments with no dwell time. We use prescription psychotropic drugs to deal with the emotional and psychological issues that soldiers had. We paid unprecedented enlistment, reenlistment bonuses. There are great inefficiencies that are created by the all-volunteer force.
Paul Jay Also, if you look at the example of Vietnam, even though the draft certainly helped inspire a lot of opposition to the war, it didn’t stop the war from starting. It didn’t stop the war from expanding. And the fact that there were draft dodgers and people going in and burning draft cards and the fact that a large opposition to the draft itself developed, the majority of American public opinion actually supported the war. And I know a lot of the history is written that it was the opposition to the war that ended the war, it was only a factor. Really, what ended the war is, it just became so untenable for the US military to have so many losses on the battlefield that they really had to end it.
And yes, it was becoming a political quagmire domestically as well. So while the draft would be a factor involving people that might oppose an Iraq war, for example, I don’t know that it would stop it or that the majority of American public opinion would be against the war just because of the draft. I don’t think Vietnam actually shows that.
Dennis Laich Well, that’s why I say I advocate for a fact-based national dialogue about whether the all-volunteer force is working based on fairness, efficiency, and sustainability and whether it does, in fact, contribute to the civil-military gap and the militarization of U.S. foreign policy. I think it’s you know, we had two things that happened in 1973 in the United States, one of which is debated and litigated and argued about every day. The other one goes along not questioned or not tested.
The first one is Roe v. Wade, and the second one is the all-volunteer force. You know, we’ve never questioned, never examined it. And I think there’s a case to be made that, in fact, it is unfair. It is unsustainable and is inefficient.
Paul Jay Would you support– I asked my nephew about this. I guess he’s about 20 now, and he was very much against this because he’s against any thought that he could be forced to go to war, yeah, because he doesn’t agree with the wars that have been conducted by the United States.
Dennis Laich Right. Which is exactly my point.
Paul Jay Yeah, but he might have to go. A lot of people didn’t want to go and they wound up going. A lot of people that went to Vietnam.
Dennis Laich And if you get enough of that, we don’t initiate dumb wars and we don’t because they don’t go on for 18 years, like Afghanistan.
Paul Jay Maybe. Like I say, I know you’re calling for a debate, I think it’s a little murky where it would end up. For example, after 9/11, American public opinion was very much in support of going into Afghanistan. And if there had been a draft and in fact, volunteering went up after 9/11, a lot of people volunteered because they wanted to go fight in Afghanistan because they didn’t understand what led up to 9/11 and didn’t understand what it meant to go into Afghanistan to overthrow the government versus going after Al-Qaeda and so on. You know, if we have another kind of terrorist attack or real or staged and there was a draft who knows that that draft would actually stop the war.
Dennis Laich That enthusiasm for military volunteerism lasted about six months after 9/11.
Paul Jay I get that. But if there’d been a draft, I’m not so sure that there wouldn’t have been tremendous pressure on kids to go even if they didn’t want to go. I guess what I’m saying is it’s kind of a way, instead of just arguing about what should happen in terms of foreign policy and what should happen in terms of the military-industrial complex, the draft would force a lot of kids to go fight, even, as I say, go back to Vietnam, there was tremendous opposition and still, thousands of kids wound up having to go or go to jail and many did go to jail.
Dennis Laich The other thing is that the Vietnam draft was a very unfair draft. We had all of the college deferments, we had other deferments. It was very easy to be to get out of that draft. Remember I said a fair lottery based draft, no exemptions, no deferments.
Paul Jay The ROTC doesn’t create a kind of deferment in the sense that wealthy kids can get to college, wealthy kids could go to our ROTC, wealthy kids might even be able to kind of put some pressure on getting commission and dragging it out and so on.
Dennis Laich I think that what would happen is that we would have a higher quality of ROTC cadet in the system because you would have to compete for those positions. And my sense is that in a lot of cases we have, I see a deteriorating quality of ROTC cadets in the U.S. military system. You’d have to compete there, and there would still only be so many positions available. Quality would increase dramatically.
Paul Jay Let’s go back to the big picture in terms of what you know of the military command at the Pentagon, at the senior levels, how aware are they of how dangerous a moment this is? And I’m talking climate and they seem to be blind to the issue of nuclear. But in terms of climate and the pandemic causing such a deep economic crisis, the geopolitical consequences of this are likely to be serious. Looking ahead in terms of climate, the potential for migration from the south to the north over the next 10, 20, 30 years, it’s going to be enormous. Whole sections, just take this hemisphere, whole sections of South America are going to be unlivable. And other parts of the world, sections of Africa, sections of Asia, Bangladesh. I mean, there’s going to be millions and millions of people who have to head north, of course, who knows how long north will be livable, but certainly longer.
I know the Pentagon has papers about this. It’s not like they’re unaware of climate as a national security threat, but they sure have been quiet during this Trump presidency and have done nothing about it. And I think at one point there was a Pentagon paper that actually, not the Ellsberg one, a Pentagon document of some kind that even said climate was perhaps the greatest national security threat. Do they not get this?
Dennis Laich No, I think they do get it. There’s a book out now entitled, and I forget the author’s name, (Michael T. Klare), called, ‘All Hell Breaking Loose’. And it talks about the military implications of climate change and a number of realms with migration, state failures, and even a thing of the rising seas and the impact it has on places like Norfolk and other US bases. So there’s an awareness in the Pentagon, but I think that the voice is muted because of the Trump administration’s disdain for those sorts of scientific findings and less until there’s an administration that is more amenable to open dialogue about it. The Pentagon will continue to be somewhat muted. But there’s an awareness inside the Pentagon that climate implications will affect their operations and their missions.
Paul Jay But not more. I mean, it’s an existential threat to the society.
Dennis Laich Absolutely.
Paul Jay But I guess at these levels, it’s all about your career. And if speaking out isn’t good for your career, I guess you don’t say much.
Dennis Laich No. We’ve seen that in a number of places and, you know, outspoken lieutenant colonels and colonels never make it past lieutenant colonel or colonel.
Paul Jay So just to end, how dangerous a moment are we in?
Dennis Laich I think we’re in a very dangerous moment. I think these next few months, I am very optimistic, that we’ll see a Biden administration in January of next year. But I’m shocked that we’ve made it this far without even greater problems than we’ve had to this point that I’m very concerned about the next several months.
Paul Jay Because? What concerns you? What do you think could happen?
Dennis Laich Well, I think Donald Trump is very unpredictable in terms of how and what he might do, what we see a “Wag the Dog” attempt to rally around him.
Paul Jay And might that be Iran?
Dennis Laich It could be Iran or some other place, but Iran is the likely candidate. And I think that we’re going to see a real test, perhaps, of the stability of the constitutional transition and peaceful transition of power.
Paul Jay And if there is a test, where do you think the military leadership will come down? Because in most countries it does come down to what the military wants.
Dennis Laich Yeah, I think that the events at Lafayette Square on June 1st or the early part of June, I think it was the first when the military stepped outside of his role as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and then subsequently publicly apologized. I think that was really a blessing in disguise because I think that the military realizes that they may be asked to play a role in that, and I think that the military is going to reject that role.
Paul Jay …bewildered me that Americans can’t get that there’s something completely wrong with going abroad to defend the American way when the American way is mostly working-class kids go abroad to fight and die and rich kids don’t, meaning the American way is working-class and poor kids die and other people get rich out of war. And that is the American way that they’re fighting for.
Dennis Laich You know, when you look at this, there’s a history of this in 1863, either one or three at the beginning of the Civil War, there was a provision in the union draft law that provided for substitution and commutation, whereby a draftee could pay $300 to have someone go in his place. And most people in the United States think about that and they say, gee, that’s not right. But in 2007, 70% of those who joined the US Army during the height of the Iraq war received a bonus of $17,000 on average. If you take $300 in eighteen sixty-three and run it out at an inflation rate of 3%, it comes out to $19,000 in 2007. So what’s the difference between the two? The only difference is that in 1863, the draftee paid wrote a check out of his own account. In 2007 the US borrowed the money from China and laundered it through the Defense Department. But the fact is that the moral issue is still the same, it was a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.
Paul Jay Right. Thanks very much for joining us. Major General Dennis Laich.
Dennis Laich Great to be with you. Look forward to seeing you again.
Paul Jay Thank you. And thank you for joining us on theAnalysis.news podcast.