James Petras: Imperialism Cannot Be Trusted to Abide by Its Agreements
Dr. James Petras who has been alongside three outstanding leaders of the world – Chile’s late Salvador Allende, Venezuela’s late Hugo Chavez and Greece’s late Andreas Papandreou – as an advisor warns that the United States and other imperialist powers should never be trusted.
The following is a transcript of a recorded interview with professor James Petras by Marwa Osman.
Q: How do you assess the influence of Zionism in setting the agenda for Western governments?
A: I think Zionism has become a very important influence on western, European and US diplomacy, particularly to the Middle East and in particular any questions relating to Israel’s foreign policy. In the US I think it is extremely important. Zionism has set the agenda for the US, it has helped elect officials, it has intimidated critics, it has received enormous funds from the US government and in general we can say that Israel dominates the US policy in the Middle East. The Zionists played a very important role in organizing the invasion of Iraq, they were involved with the war in Afghanistan, they are currently involved in the war inside of Syria, and they have deep positions within the state department and within the Pentagon. In the Pentagon, they have been very prominent in encouraging the US to escalate its wars and destroy the Muslim population in that region. In the treasury department, Israeli Zionists have been influential in imposing sanctions against Iran and I think the agreement was made between Iran and the US despite the pressure from the Zionists and they continue to harass any policy which would implement the Iran-US agreement, that is, what would facilitate trade and investment. So in general, England, France and the United States are very much influenced by Zionist policy regarding the Islamic countries and I think this is a major hindrance to any accommodation and understanding that would lessen the prospect of war and focus attention on the role that Israel plays along with Saudi Arabia as an enemy of the Islamic people and of the population as a whole.
Q: How do you think Zionists have managed to keep such an influence away from the public’s eye and basically away from the media?
A: I think that Zionist influence in the media is enormous. If you look at the major television networks bearing common that Zionists are in the leading positions like CBS, NBS, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal are very much controlled and influenced by owners and writers tied to Israeli interests. The Financial Times is also no exception to that and that has played a major role in influencing the public opinion and beyond that we have the fact that many Zionists have penetrated the government and they are simply a lobby pressuring the Congress and that plays a role also. Zionists contribute over 60% of the funding of the Democratic Party and about 35 to 40% of Republican Party funding so they influence the government directly and they influence the media and they influence the congress and the electoral process. All of this is accompanied by ferocious attacks on critics of Israel. We have seen many writers and academics who have lost jobs in medical and other professions who have criticized Israel and have been subject to harassment and some have even suffered violent threats against their lives and certainly against their employment.
Q: What are the highlights of your first hand observations during the years you served as an advisor to Andreas Papandreou? Have things changed for the better now?
A: Things are much worse now. When I was in the government back in 1982 till 1985, we implemented a policy much more balanced, criticizing the Israeli aggression against the Palestinians. We saw the Palestinian President at the time, Yasser Arafat, who visited Papandreou and they exchanged similar ideas on the Liberation of Palestine. Papandreou did not pursue his radical commitments that he made in the campaign but he did implement many reforms dealing with women’s rights, with expanding the health programs and the higher education programs. In other words he was an effective social reformer but he did not pursue the maximum agenda which was to withdraw from NATO and from the European Union although he threatened to but it was mainly a bluff. So one can say that in comparison to the current period, Papandreou was certainly much more of a reformer much more effective developing an independent foreign policy than the current governments of Greece. It’s a shame to say that Greece is going backwards rather than at least standing with the independent programs of the past.
Q: Why did the US decide to overthrow the government of President Salvador Allende? Can you depict the depth of US involvement in toppling Chilean government based on your own observations?
A: A number of things that I think are very crucial. One was when the Allende government was democratically elected it proceeded to nationalize the major industries like the copper industry, banks and some of the major industrial plants or turn them into worker represented institutions. So the first objective for Washington, particularly Henry Kissinger, was to undermine the independent economic policy of Chile. The second thing is that Chile served as a democratic alternative in Latin America, an independent foreign policy with good relationships with all of the progressive governments including Cuba and Washington did not want an example in Latin America of a democratically elected socialist government with an independent foreign policy with a critical stance on imperialist wars overseas including the war against China, the US support for the Shah etc. So I think Allende and the socialist government in Chile was overthrown through Washington’s direct involvement with financial aid, with pressures within the Chilean military to eliminate democratically oriented generals and also to pay for certain strikes particularly in the transport industry with the truck owners who were paid very substantial amounts by US CIA officials to paralyze the economy. I was an advisor to the government of Allende at the foreign ministry and I attempted to inform them on the role that Washington was playing in sabotaging the Chilean autonomy in the military. The problem was that the US had a great influence on the military and the military that was allied with the US was not purged and the democratic military officials eventually were ousted and that allowed the coup to move forward.
Q: Comparing the governance model of Allende with Chavez, you believe the reason for Chavez’ success was his structural renewal of the Venezuelan political system while Allende failed to meet its necessity. Do you think this is the reason behind the failure of the uprisings in some Arab countries, while the same fact served as a main factor for the victory of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution?
A: I think both in the case of Imam Khomeini and Chavez, they moved very directly to eliminate the potential of the coup forces in the military. Imam Khomeini got rid of the generals and conspirators of the Shah within the military and therefore eliminated the possibility of intrigues and a military coup. Chavez did the same thing. When he was elected the first thing he did was to evoke a new constitutional assembly and a new constitution was formed and Chavez was very influential in the recruitment and promotion of democratically constitutionally oriented military officials so when Washington promoted the coup against Chavez it was defeated. They only captured a small minority of the military and unlike Allende who believed that the military was a democratic force not taking account of the long term ties to the United States under the previous right wing government. I think that the changes in the military and in the constitution were crucial to the advancement in Iran and Venezuela by making the military and civilian electoral processes work hand in hand. There are many other reasons for the failure of the uprisings in different Arab governments. They failed to mobilize the masses, they relied on simple maneuvers in parliament and elections. They didn’t attempt to organize an independent military that would be nationalistic anti-imperialist. Many of those so called progressive Arab governments were themselves very corrupt and thought they could make deals with the United Sates and I think ultimately fooled themselves and left their countries vulnerable to military coups, US interventions etc. It is hard to believe that if 1 million Arab fighters were recruited in Iraq, they couldn’t have prevented an invasion but Saddam Hussein was too much manipulated by Washington thinking that he could make deals with Washington against Iran and other adversaries with other Persian Gulf countries and he was wrong.
Q: How did you see the mindset of President Papandreou, President Salvador Allende of Chile, and President Hugo Chavez in their fight against US dictatorship?
A: Well I think Papandreou was committed to winning the vote and the only way to win the public vote was by taking public opinion. Greece had suffered a military dictatorship like the Shah of Iran. In the early 60s and late 70s Greece had been under right wing governments which hindered Greece’s independence in its foreign policy. They prejudiced Greece’s living standards and in that sense Papandreou was able to understand the dynamics of civil society and to win an election. Now the problem with Papandreou was that he thought he could work within the capitalist system, he thought he could modify capitalism to make it more responsive, he thought he could work with the European Union and NATO and bring them in a more progressive direction and so while he pursued reforms he misread the natures of the limitations imposed by the structure. So on the one hand he would take positions but would take right turns. So it was a very paradoxical situation; I know I used to visit Papandreou to advise him on policies and he would take notes on paper of what I would suggest as an independent anti-imperialist policy and I thought I was having a major influence but when I left the office his secretary told me that I was followed by the US ambassador, so he was playing both sides by using a lot of my advice and criticism on the one hand to make speeches in parliament and on the other hand make practical decisions aligned with his conferences with the US embassy. Now with Chavez, it was a much different story. Chavez was much more committed, honest and in tune with the people. I was in many meetings with President Chavez, I spoke with him in the Sorbonne in Paris where we shared a platform. He was very much committed to fighting imperialism and he was the only major president in the west that opposed the war on terrorism. He said it shouldn’t be a war on terrorism, it should be a war on poverty and misery that create violent confrontation. For opposing Washington’s policies in the Middle East he became a target. Now I think President Chavez was a brilliant political and social analyst but I think he made mistakes by depending too much on the oil industry and social programs when he should have diversified the economy by focusing on being less dependent on oil and more on developing Venezuela as a diversified economy and one that was capable of being more self-sufficient. Allende was a contradiction in the sense that he was very democratic, very socialist but had weak understanding of the military basis, of popular basis for sustaining the government. He believed that every government would respect democracy and of course he was very naive. Washington never paid any attention. They used democracy as a tool to destroy the government. They exploited the weaknesses of the electoral process, they destroyed the independent military and carried out the coup which led to about 15 years of dictatorship and a reversal in all the major changes in agriculture reform, national ownership of the media and resources etc. So I think one has to have a more comprehensive look. You cannot trust imperialism to abide by its agreements.
Q: Are there any interesting memories during the years as their advisor to recall?
A: A lot of it depends on the issues. I once went swimming with Papandreou and when we were swimming I saw that there were people in scuba suits and I asked him why these people were swimming around and he said these are my bodyguards because we received intelligence information that the Mossad may try to assassinate the President Papandreou while we were swimming. So I found that amusing that the president of a country engaged in a vacation with me and at the time took the concern and right to defend himself even under water. Now with President Chavez, I was very impressed by his capacity to not only to engage in serious discussions but also had a very bright kind of a touch with the people. When we finished a major meeting he met with different admirers and audiences and some of them were from his region of the country and President Chavez engaged in a song contest with some of them. I was amused by the fact that Chavez knew the popular songs that corresponded to the audience that attended him in the informal session. And finally with president Salvador Allende, I remember my first meeting with him and it was in the middle of the Vietnam war and I was part of the anti-war movement and I had just come from the United States and I asked President Allende if he could give a statement and he immediately sat down and taped a rousing speech in defense of the Vietnamese and against US imperialism. I was very respectful because he was at that time playing a leading role in the government and taking the time to engage in international solidarity with the American people’s struggle against the war. And clearly Allende distinguished between the progressive American people and the imperialist government in Washington.
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