Philip Giraldi, Executive Director of The Council for the National Interest, discusses Israel’s attack on Gaza; the collective punishment of Gaza’s majority under-aged population; how Israel created Hamas in the first place; the whirlwind of unpredictable blowback caused by interventionist foreign policy; and why David Petraeus is just another puffed-up armchair warrior.
SCOTT HORTON INTERVIEWS PHILIP GIRALDI
SCOTT HORTON SHOW, NOVEMBER 16, 2012
SCOTT HORTON: For KPFK 90.7 in Los Angeles, November 16, 2012, I’m Scott Horton. This is Antiwar Radio.
All right, y’all, it is Antiwar Radio. Thanks for tuning in. Our guest tonight is Phil Giraldi. He’s the executive director of the Council for the National Interest at councilforthenationalinterest.org, he’s a contributing editor to The American Conservative magazine at theamericanconservative.com, and of course he’s a regular contributor as well to antiwar.com, antiwar.com/giraldi. He’s a former CIA and DIA officer and regular guest on this show. Welcome back, Phil. How are you doing?
PHILIP GIRALDI: Hey, Scott, how are you doing?
HORTON: I’m doing pretty good. Appreciate you joining us this evening. So, there’s a lot of big news, of course, in foreign policy to talk about this week, most importantly the events in Gaza. Now the last I checked, there were IDF forces massing on the border with Gaza, but I hadn’t heard that they had invaded yet. Do you have the latest?
GIRALDI: Well, I’ve heard also that they’re massing on the border, but they’re also talking about calling up reserves, which would normally involve a ground action, so I would imagine they’ll wait till the reserves are in place and then move.
HORTON: All right, well, now, I guess there’s so much to go over when it comes to this kind of thing. I guess, first of all, if we can stick with the current stuff. Is it really true, like they say, that the majority of the residents of the Gaza Strip or maybe the inmates of the Gaza Strip are actually under 18?
GIRALDI: Yeah, I think the demographics throughout the whole region actually, apart from Israel itself, is pretty much skewed to under 15, I think, actually, the numbers that I frequently see cited. And that’s also true in countries like Iran and Jordan and Syria, the actual age where 50% is under might vary to a certain extent, but the demographic is very young.
HORTON: I guess, you know, it’s important to bring up, I think, because even if you accept the theory of the American and Israeli governments that it’s okay to collectively punish the inhabitants of a nation in order to try to get them to get their government to do the right thing, or change into a different kind of government the exact definition of terrorism if a nonstate actor does it, of course (laughs) but the excuse is always, you know, “We’ll make the people of Iraq, we’ll make the people of Iran, we’ll make the people of Gaza Strip do the right thing and put their evil governments in check and start doing what we want for a change.” But in this case, even the premise couldn’t possibly be right when the majority of the residents are children. That’s their stated thing here. They’re punishing a population that’s a majority minors in order to get them to do what they want. It’s incredible!
GIRALDI: Yeah, well, I think you look at all the military activity we’ve seen since 9/11. I mean, and this not just the Israelis. It’s also of course the United States and coalitions of the willing and coalitions of NATO and so on.
Generally what happens in these wars is that it is collective punishment. The civilian population is always the target, in a sense, and as you correctly put it, the idea is to perhaps put enough pressure on them where theoretically they’re putting pressure on their own governments, but of course that doesn’t really hold true because the governments in most of these places are not even accountable to the people, so the whole thing doesn’t make sense. You just wind up killing a lot of civilians.
The latest death count I saw in Gaza was 18, but that was this morning, so I would imagine it’s a lot higher than that. And it included, what, two little girls under the age of 5, and then the picture of the man holding his 1-year-old son. So civilians are going to bear the brunt of this.
HORTON: Mhmm. Well, you know, to paraphrase Robert Gibbs, Obama’s former press secretary, “I guess that kid should have had a more responsible father,” except for his father is just a reporter for the BBC, not Hamas at all.
GIRALDI: Yeah, yeah, it’s hard to make that argument in this case. But, you know, it’s the same kind of thinking that we had in the Clinton administration where 500,000 dead Iraqi children was worth the price. I mean, you know, there’s something fundamentally wrong with what’s happened to the United States in terms of somehow this feeling that we are the arbiters of fate of other people in the world; if they don’t please us, we can go in and kill them. And it’s just absolutely astonishing. It’s astonishing that we could have come to this point as a country and that there aren’t people in the tens of thousands in the streets complaining. But I guess that’s another symptom of the fact that the con job has worked.
HORTON: Right. Well, and you know the thing of it is is the consequences for the American people from constantly endorsing Israel’s actions no matter what they are I know we’ve spoken about this before, but I’ll never forget, in the book Perfect Soldiers by Terry McDermott, where it’s really the biography of the Hamburg cell of Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Mohamed Atta and the ringleader pilot hijackers and how they would just sit around the apartment in the afternoon complaining about what Israel was doing in Lebanon, complaining about what Israel was doing in Palestine, and saying, “The Americans are going to have to pay for this,” because they put the responsibility on you and me, Phil.
GIRALDI: Yeah, I think you can make a very plausible argument that the whole terrorism issue as a manifestation directed against the United States really comes out of our relationship with Israel. I think you can demonstrate where many of the terrorist acts going all the way back to the ’70s essentially come out of that relationship and the perception that the United States has been an enemy of Muslims. And I think that’s not only a plausible argument, I think it’s an accurate argument. The United States has consistently avoided, you know, doing any of the right things in many of these countries, and continues to do so. I had a little well, I really didn’t have much hope for Obama, but when he very, very quickly endorsed the Israeli action two days ago, you know that demonstrates that nothing’s going to change.
HORTON: I’m talking with Phil Giraldi from the Council for the National Interest and The American Conservative magazine, and there are two, I wish well-known, articles, one by Richard Sale in UPI and another in the Wall Street Journal is by Andrew Higgins. Both of these discuss how Israel helped to create Hamas in the first place. And I know that you were a CIA officer in the region right around that time, and I was wondering if you can add anything to this story, or at least confirmation of this story told by Richard Sale and Andrew Higgins that it was the Israelis who actually created Hamas in the first place, Phil.
GIRALDI: Yeah, I think the idea originally was that the Israelis were concerned that a, shall we say, Palestinian nationalism was becoming a major force in terms of Fatah, which of course was the original resistance movement, and then what they tried to do was essentially to weaken the power of Fatah over the Palestinian people. They were creating alternatives, and Hamas was one of these alternatives. It was supported initially by the Israelis as a way for Palestinians to have a different way of expressing their national sentiments, and the idea was that this would divide the Palestinian people in two.
Now this has of course in that respect been fairly successful in that Hamas and Fatah really don’t get along very well. But the idea was essentially a bad one, because it’s like the United States and Afghanistan arming the mujahideen which then turn into Al Qaeda. So you basically are creating multiple enemies and it’s not a solution. So, but the Israelis were the ones that were behind this in the beginning, yes.
HORTON: Yeah, in the Richard Sale article, there’s a quote I don’t know, for all I know, it’s you, but (laughs) it sure sounds like something you would say: “The Israelis are like a guy who lights his own hair on fire and then uses a hammer to try to put it out.”
GIRALDI: (laughing) No, I didn’t say that. I’ll use it from now on, yeah.
HORTON: Yeah. But, yeah, brilliant idea. And of course, let’s see, I think it’s the Richard Sale piece that focuses more on this character Yasin, who, people might remember, he was the old man in the wheelchair that the Israelis assassinated with one of these targeted assassinations in the Gaza Strip back in 2004, and as Ray McGovern thankfully never ceases in pointing out, another veteran of the CIA turned peacenik like you, it was a riot in response to the assassination of Yasin in Gaza that ended up with the lynching and the burning of the Blackwater guards in Fallujah, Iraq in April of 2004, and then that led of course to George Bush’s response to that, the first and second battles of Fallujah, which took place in April and then again in November of that year, which really precipitated the civil war and all the sectarian cleansing of Sunnis here and Shiites there on the other side of the line, Phil.
GIRALDI: Yeah. I mean, there should be a law in foreign policy that is basically, you know, Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which is that when you push somewhere it pushes back somewhere else. And that’s what’s been happening to the United States for the last 10 years. We’ve never been able to do anything that is containable. Everything becomes something else which you then have to contain, and then that becomes something else. And it’s been a persistent pattern. I mean, everywhere you look, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya. You know, it just it never ends.
HORTON: Right. Well, and they like to say that, “Well, you know, the Israelis, we have to back them no matter what, and it doesn’t matter who started what or how bad, because they’re the only democracy in the Middle East.” And yet, it’s democracy in the Gaza Strip that led to Hamas actually becoming (laughs) the government of that place, right?
GIRALDI: Yeah. Well, I mean, we encouraged, we demanded that the Palestinians have free elections. And when they had free elections and elected Hamas, we decided that was not a good choice. And ever since then we’ve been basically boycotting them.
HORTON: Yeah, and you know, I don’t really know what was going on, or, I don’t know, can you tell us what you were thinking at the time back in 2005 when Ariel Sharon was pulling the last of the settlers out of the Gaza Strip? I mean, was it obvious in the first place that things were about to get much, much worse for the people of Gaza when he got rid of the Jewish settlers there? It almost seems like they were the shields protecting the Palestinians from what’s happened to them since.
GIRALDI: Well, I mean, when they pulled the settlers out, they trashed all the settlements. So they did a job on a lot of the infrastructure that was there that they had put in. So that was the first sign that, you know, this was going to be a punishment drill. And I think it was I’m not really clear on the history of the first year or so, but I believe that the Israelis did not clamp down economically and in other ways initially. In fact there was even for a brief period a functioning airport, wasn’t there, in Gaza? I don’t think it lasted very long, but initially it was not that way. But then of course you had Israel moving to the right and moving into more hard-line positions, and basically this has entailed increasing the sanctions, as it were, on Gaza every year.
HORTON: Yeah, I mean, now I don’t even think people object, as they usually do, to any kind of accurate terminology to describe the situation in Palestine. They don’t even object to the term siege. It is basically a blockade, right? They turned Gaza into sort of like an Indian reservation or an open-air concentration camp.
GIRALDI: Yeah, I think there’s many, many people who’ve gone to observe Gaza have come up with that exact metaphor, that basically this is an open-air concentration camp, and you see people repeatedly coming out with that description. And, you know, I haven’t been there but I think it’s probably within certain limits accurate.
HORTON: Yeah. And you know the thing of it is too, the American people mostly, and I’m basically thinking back in my own life just back before I was really interested in this subject and really knew anything about it and everything I knew about it came from TV I knew nothing about it. TV will just never explain it.
And even a lot of the articles about it maybe even this conversation sort of assumes people already understand, so we don’t even really explicate out how, hey, you know, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are occupied territory.
And people talk about I see like on Facebook different discussions and things like that on Twitter people talk about the Gaza Strip as though it’s a nation state, like Egypt, and it’s independent and it has a foreign policy and an army and their army is launching this rocket fusillade or whatever, rather than, you know, my analogy is more like this is the rioters in the Attica prison throwing Molotov cocktails over the wall, and then you call that aggression and Governor Rockefeller goes in there and massacres them.
GIRALDI: Well, maybe the better example would be like the Warsaw ghetto surrounded by the Wehrmacht. You know, it’s the whole thing is ridiculous. Yeah, exactly.
In fact, I was having a conversation earlier today with a friend and saying, “Look, if you read the headline in the New York Times or Washington Post or just about anywhere else, you would think these are two adversaries that are facing off and fighting each other, that the Gazans have some kind of army, that they have an air force, that they have a navy.
I mean, they don’t have anything. They have small arms to a certain extent and they have homemade rockets. And the Israelis have jet planes, they have tanks, they have every weapon imaginable, including some that are war crimes, and are prepared to use them.
And so it’s the whole press coverage is just ridiculous. It’s basically shooting fish in a barrel, and that’s what the Israelis are doing.
HORTON: Mhmm. Well, you know, like George Carlin said, “The language always gives you away.” And so to me I think it’s the most telling thing that even the Israelis call them rockets coming over the wall. They wouldn’t dare call them missiles, because just no one is dumb enough to accept that. No, to be a missile it actually has to be dangerous or something. And I know, yes, three Israelis have died in the last six years of rockets coming over the wall or something, but still. I mean we’re basically talking about oh, more Austinites die every Fourth of July playing with Roman candles too, you know?
GIRALDI: Yeah, it’s obviously the disproportionality of what’s happening and what’s about to happen just is astonishing.
And then of course there’s the issue of, you know, the usual chicken-and-egg question of who started it. I mean, the Gazans were talking about a truce and the Israelis targeted killed the guy who was about to deliver it, the military head of Hamas. And, you know, it was a deliberate way to make peace not happen. And, it’s outrageous. And the media in the U.S. eats all this up.
I mean, whatever the line is, that’s kind of what they’re going to use and they don’t challenge it ever. I guess it’s called job security. They don’t want to lose their jobs. But it’s astonishing.
We’ve become a country of idiots, dangerous, psychopathic idiots. I can’t Ron Paul had an expression in his farewell address. He called our country being in the grip of psychopathic authoritarians. I don’t think anybody could have said it better.
HORTON: Nope. Certainly not. As is often the case if you ask me.
And, yeah, I got to say, that’s such an important point, and it escaped my mind to remember to ask you about it, so I’m glad that you remembered to mention that. The article is at Haaretz today, the liberal Tel Aviv daily; it’s called “Israeli Peace Activist, Hamas Leader Jabri Killed Amid Talks on Long-term Truce.” So somebody gave this guy a piece of paper, and it even has, the first paragraph here even says, “It had in it a description of a mechanism where if some idiot starts shooting off rockets, they’ll still be able to communicate over their red phone and prevent it from escalating and still maintain cease fire if they have a cease fire, and all these kinds of things. So somebody gave this Hamas guy a draft agreement for a permanent peace, and then somebody else ordered a drone to kill him. Do I understand that right?
GIRALDI: Yeah, I think that’s essentially what happened. They targeted assassinated him and they knew full well that he was the key negotiator, the key point man on arranging for a long-term truce. It’s just absolutely astonishing. And yet the White House immediately jumps in on the side of Israel and the U.S. media does the same. I mean, it’s like, you know, where are the emperor’s new clothes? You know, where’s the emperor? This is quite astonishing stuff.
HORTON: Right. And, you know, people say that, “Well, you know, Hamas has sworn to destroy Israel” and whatever, but I’ve seen Hamas on the Charlie Rose Show on government TV saying, “Of course we’ll recognize Israel. We just want ’67 borders. Come on. That’s the consensus of all 7 billion people in the world. What are we talking about here? You know? We don’t want to push all the Jews in the sea and whatever. We didn’t even say that.”
GIRALDI: Yeah. Well, and the thing is, you know, Hamas does indeed have in its charter basically that it wants Israel to go away, it wants Palestine to be again Arab. All right, fine, but Fatah had that there too and they took it out when they reached the point where they could talk an agreement.
And of course the Israeli ministers like Avigdor Lieberman who are calling for loyalty oaths from Arabs, calling on them to be expelled from the country, and you know this kind of stuff is recurrent. Lieberman was talking a couple of days ago about killing Abbas if the Palestinians go ahead with this move in the U.N. He’s talking about regime change.
HORTON: Abbas being the leader of Fatah, the ones that they like, the guy that they put in charge after they killed Yassir Arafat.
GIRALDI: That’s right. That they and we put in charge, yeah, exactly. And so they’re talking about killing him. And openly! You know? Where else in the world does a leader of a country talk about killing another head of state?
HORTON: Ah, well, he ain’t quite. (laughs) They’re going to kill him for daring to try to be.
GIRALDI: Yeah. Yeah.
HORTON: All right. So listen, the other biggest deal in the whole wide world that happened this week, and actually this story broke last Friday, is about David Petraeus and his affair and resignation as head of the CIA oh, by the way, everybody, again, I’m talking with Philip Giraldi from the Council for the National Interest and The American Conservative magazine, antiwar.com, and formerly of the CIA. And I saw where you posted a thing on the blog over there at The American Conservative asking if this was a CIA coup, and maybe some of the old boys didn’t really like this guy Petraeus so much and they were the ones who made short work of him. Is that you still thinking that?
GIRALDI: Ah, not really. I mean I was just throwing it out for what it’s worth. What I was trying to do was really was correct the record on Petraeus, because we’ve seen some puff pieces lately in the mainstream media about what a great job Petraeus is doing at CIA, how well liked he is, and it ain’t true.
Petraeus is basically favoring the paramilitary side of the CIA and has been doing so and turning it into a paramilitary organization, and this has been at the expense of the ability of the organization to do analysis and to collect intelligence.
And the people at CIA who are particularly powerful in terms of the internal bureaucracy are the spies. That’s where I used to work. And they don’t like him at all. And the fact is that these are people that are quite capable of, you know, working on how to get things out into the media, working on how to put pressure on politicians of various types they’re very, very good at it. And I would not rule out that there certainly were some people at CIA that were in fact, I would bet all kinds of money that lots of people at CIA knew about the affair and I bet there were lots of people that were kind of interested in seeing how they maybe could work that, but whether they did or didn’t, I don’t know.
HORTON: Yeah. Well, you know, this isn’t confirmation or anything, but I know somebody who knows somebody who said he believes that too. (laughs)
GIRALDI: Well, could be, could be.
HORTON: Might just be. Anyway. So. Now, let’s talk a little bit more about that legacy there, because of course, well, it’s very important, as you say, his legacy at the CIA. You know what, I read a piece, I forget which one it is now, Phil, but it talked about how Admiral McRaven over there at the Special Operations Command, how, you know, he’s Mr. Johnny Badass and everybody likes him and Petraeus wants to be him but can’t be, so that’s what he brought to the CIA was his ambition to compete with McRaven for who’s got the best special forces group, the CIA or the JSOC. What do you think about that?
GIRALDI: Well, that could be. I mean, you know, this guy has an enormous ego, and I think everybody, even his friends, would agree to that. And he’s a bit of a phony. He’s a self-promoter. I was having a discussion with Kelly Vlahos yesterday. We were talking about the extent to which Petraeus has any actual combat experience. I mean, he appears to have none. I think he has a Bronze Star that was awarded under rather dubious circumstances, but this is another guy who’s a desk warrior and has never actually been in combat, and he has, you know, ten rows of ribbons which is three times more than General Patton ever had, in measurement.
And you know this is the kind of creatures that we created, a guy that pushed several strategies which were essentially bogus. His surge in Iraq was bogus. It basically was a phony concept right from the beginning and has produced the chaos in Iraq that we see right now. And similarly the strategy didn’t work in Afghanistan. And yet this guy is kind of being looked at as one of the greatest generals in American history. Of course its the neocons who are saying that, but this is kind of shocking.
See, these guys, you know, these are the career soldiers of the American army, and basically their career is defined by having their ticket punched at various points in their careers and to put in a year or 18 months in one place and have a certain job which then qualifies them to have another job. It doesn’t mean that they know anything. I mean, they, in fact, knowing anything probably would be a deficit because then they would not be interested in continuing these wars. They would realize that they’re pointless.
And so you know we have these incredibly ignorant people setting these policies and getting us involved more and more in military engagements in places that we will never get out of, or we will get out of because we’re kicked out, as occurred in the case of Iraq.
Again, this is if you were a visitor from Mars and you were looking at these things and trying to figure out how the United States self-destructed from the year 2001 until, let’s give us another five years maybe until 2017 or so you wouldn’t believe it as you observing it and writing it.
HORTON: Right. Oh, yeah, no, it’s way too crazy. In fact, you know, I remember thinking after September 11th, “Boy, that Osama bin Laden guy is stupid. He thought that was going to chase us away. All he did was give Dick Cheney license to do anything.” And then I think, I don’t know, months later I read an article by Will Grigg saying, “See, the action’s in the reaction, and they’re trying to get us to do too much, to blunder, and to overreach and destroy ourselves, and so far it’s working.” (laughs) And so
GIRALDI: Yeah, it’s working fine, yeah.
HORTON: That was in the fall of 2001. So it certainly didn’t have to be this way. If only they were reading the right authors, you know?
GIRALDI: Yeah. Well, I mean, and the thing is, it didn’t have to be this way. That’s what’s so astonishing about all this. I mean, okay, I think there was probably a broad consensus in the United States after 9/11 happened that we had to do something in Afghanistan. We had to get bin Laden out of there, we had to maybe get the Taliban out of there. And we did that. We did that within 60 days.
And then then something went off the rails. It was like, why did we stay? And then why did we go into Iraq? If we hadn’t done these things, then none of the consequences that we’re seeing now of this Global War on Terror, or as Obama calls it, Overseas Contingency Operations none of this would have happened. And our economy would be in a lot better shape. People might even have jobs. You know, it’s it would have been a different world.
But, we had people in the top level of the United States government that were either so stupid or they were so driven by what they saw as imperatives to remake the world in some kind of image, that they destroyed their own country.
HORTON: That’s Phil Giraldi, everybody. He’s a former CIA counterterrorism officer. He’s the executive director of the Council for the National Interest, at councilforthenationalinterest.org. He’s a contributing editor at The American Conservative magazine and of course at antiwar.com. Thanks very much for your time, Phil, appreciate it.
GIRALDI: Thanks, Scott.
HORTON: And that’s Antiwar Radio for this evening. Thanks everybody for listening. You can find my full interview archive at scotthorton.org and follow me on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube at /scotthortonshow. We’ll be back here next Friday from 6:30-7:00 Pacific time on KPFK 90.7 FM in LA. See you next week.