In the following interview for Strategic Culture, veteran activist and author Ron Ridenour shares his insights on the prospects of war and peace. Ridenour has lived and worked as a journalist in several countries, including as a press aide to the governments of Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia. He was born in the U.S., “the devil’s own country”, as he puts it, in 1939. Ridenour joined the American air force in 1956 to “fight commies”. However, the failed American Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961 radicalized him. Over the next six decades he has worked as a journalist and anti-war activist all around the world. He has been jailed numerous times for his principles and sacked from jobs in the U.S. mainstream media due to blacklisting by the FBI. See his full bio here. Ridenour has authored numerous books, including Backfire: The CIA’s Biggest Burn, in which he exposes with firsthand knowledge the numerous covert terror plots conducted against Cuba. Our interview covers wide-ranging subjects in international politics and history, including the persecution of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. A central theme in Ridenour’s work and activism is why the United States under its prevailing capitalist system is obsessed with waging war against Russia over the past century. First though, we begin with his views on the recent stunning election victory in Bolivia.
Question: Would you like to comment on the recent election victory in Bolivia? The landslide win by Luis Arce of the Movement for Socialism (MAS) party seems a remarkable victory against the rightwing coup plotters and their backers in Washington who last year ousted former President Evo Morales.
Ron Ridenour: Luis Arce, and running mate David Choquehuanca Céspedes, victory is a victory for the majority of Bolivians, a victory for the world’s poor, the indigenous, and supporters of equality, bread and land for all, and world peace.
It could have been expected if the coup-makers did not fix the election, which, apparently, they did not. It would have been difficult as 55 per cent of the 11.7 million population are Amerindian. With some mestizos identifying as aboriginals, 60 per cent of the country is indigenous. Whites make up only 15 per cent, yet they have a lot of power, land and money. The largest province, Santa Cruz, has a strong racist separatist movement.
While abject racists will not desist being hateful and puppets of the U.S., the new government must put a stop to their violence and subversion.
The coup-makers, especially the “interim president” Jeanine Añez, did a lousy job governing: she lost 30 per cent of export income; became immersed in corruption scandals; treated the coronavirus like her soulmates Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump. She also ordered rightest military and police to murder indigenous protestors. Three dozens were murdered.
Question: You previously worked as an aide to former President Morales, but at the same time you believe he made some critical errors while in office. Can you outline some of those errors, in your view? Do you think the new MAS-led government of Luis Arce will learn from these past mistakes?
Ron Ridenour: The greatest impact of Morales’ 13 years governing are mostly positive. His policies greatly decreased poverty and unemployment; increased life expectancy by seven years; educated Bolivians about the evils of capitalism and its wars; drafted a new constitution, making three indigenous languages official alongside Spanish; and brought stability to a nation used to chaos.
When I worked with him, I witnessed how he listened to his people, and they saw him as a brother not an elitist. Yet in later years, Morales focused power around his personality, reneged on promises, and made contradictory accommodations with some elite interests. He lost a referendum seeking a fourth term for presidency, but maneuvered around that decision. These errors immersed the country in political crises, and split leftists, including some indigenous peoples.
One of his greatest errors was not to have reformed the military and police, by placing anti-racists and pro-socialists in leadership. A year before his attempt to win a fourth term, Morales appointed General Williams Kaliman Romero to head the armed forces. Kaliman is one of six key Bolivian coup plotters who had been trained at the U.S. military School of the Americas at Fort Benning, in the U.S. state of Georgia. SOA was renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation after dedicated American peace activists exposed its torture training methods, which, they say, continue.
Arce was Morales’ minister of finance and economy, and Choquehuanca was his foreign minister. They ran a campaign based on MAS’s program without much discussion concerning Evo Morales. They have no quarrel with the achievements made under his leadership. I got to know Choquehuanca a bit. I see him as an honest man, close to his people, who was able to disagree with Morales. I surmise that both Arce and Choquehuanca will be their own masters and not be subordinate to Morales. They are indigenous nation Aymarans (two million in Bolivia). I hope they make important appointments to other native peoples, especially the largest of them, Quechuas (2.5 million), and some whites. That would help heal some hard feelings.
The new government will drop the phony charges that the coup government leveled against former President Morales, charges of terrorism and sedition, and even “rape” for sexual relations with a 16- year-old consenting girl.
I’m nearly certain that they won’t try to prolong their stay in office in conflict with the constitution, and thereby they will need to prepare other people to be leaders. It is also possible that they might not be so forthrightly anti-capitalism as Morales was most of the time.
The left throughout Latin America has suffered severe losses in recent years. The new leadership will feel the need to bargain with conservative opponents and businessmen.
(See the excellent program promulgated by Evo Morales: 10 Commandments to Save the Planet, Humankind and Life (End Capitalism and Renounce Wars).
Question: What are the political implications for the wider Latin American continent from Bolivia’s return to socialist government?
Ron Ridenour: I think that many leftist parties and groupings will be encouraged especially because it is clear that their northern neighbor had little convincing effect on the majority of Bolivians. They want their own sovereignty. The “embassy of death”, as many Latinos call U.S. embassies, could not turn the tide their way.
Bolivia will resume fraternal relations with Venezuela’s elected government, with Iran and Cuba, which Añez had terminated. No Latino who needs medical care could possibly view Cuban doctors as “terrorists”, which is what that mad woman called those brave and highly skilled doctors and nurses Cuba sent to Bolivia.
This victory could also strengthen ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas).
Question: Turning to other international affairs, it seems that the United States and its European allies are relentlessly pursuing a hostile policy towards Russia. We see new sanctions against Russia issued almost every week by the Western powers over dubious claims, such as the alleged poisoning of dissident figures or alleged violation by Russia of arms controls treaties. In your book, The Russian Peace Threat: Pentagon on Alert, you take a long historical view on what motivates Western animosity towards Moscow. Can you elaborate?
Ron Ridenour: The West, led by the U.S., endeavors to dominate the entire world. That is what “globalization” means. Some of us call that “imperialism”. A strong state that defends its sovereignty is an automatic threat to their global world plan, and Russia is the largest country in the world with nearly unlimited space and natural resources. However, all those goodies are not just for the taking under Vladimir Putin’s governing.
The U.S./UK concocted the “Cold War”, in order to dominate the world post WWII. At the very end of the war in Europe, Churchill even had a plan to invade Russia with nuclear weapons. His “Operation Unthinkable” was stopped, because he lost the July 1945 elections to Labour Party’s Clement Atlee. Labour did not want a new war. Furthermore, U.S. President Truman didn’t have enough atomic weaponry. He needed what he had to drop on Japan, and the Soviets were helping him on the ground in Japan at the same time.
I truly thank all those insiders who gave information to the Russians so they could get their own atomic weaponry fast enough before the U.S./UK could develop more atomic weapons, in order to pull off WWIII.
Skipping over the hot “Cold War” to its end when then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev called his “friend” U.S. President George Bush I the night before he declared the collapse of the Soviet Union. Bush and Wall Street were ecstatic. Russia’s new leader Boris Yeltsin along with his “friend”, and capitalist comrade, U.S. President Bill Clinton decimated Russian sovereignty, increased poverty from 1.5 per cent to 50 per cent – that’s right, half the population – and life expectancy fell by five years from 69 to 64. Those are figures from the World Bank, a bastion of capitalism. Not to mention Yeltsin’s murdering hundreds of people, including parliamentarians, in an invasion of the parliament, in 1993, which Clinton encouraged.
After just one decade of this rape-of-a-nation, Vladimir Putin comes into power. At first, he was willing to be “friends” with George Bush II, helping him in Afghanistan against the Taliban, for one key example. But when Bush could not stop the CIA from conducting proxy terrorist attacks against Russian interests, Putin woke up. Since then the president of Russia has acted as a real president, and an overwhelming majority have supported him.
Putin has also clearly shown those who have their eyes open that he acts to prevent wars. He convinced his ally Syrian President Bashar-al Assad to hand over whatever chemical weapons Syria had, and he actually delivered them to the greatest chemical/biological warfare state in the world, the USA. Putin convinced Iran not to construct nuclear weapons but limit itself to nuclear energy, and now he is trying to get Azerbaijan (along with Turkey) and Armenia to end that armed conflict.
We need to know, to recall, how much the Russian people have suffered from wars to understand that they have no urge to go to war again.
During WWII, the British lost only 1 per cent of its population; the U.S. lost 0.32 per cent of its population.
In the first half of the 20th century – Russia-Japan war 1905, two world wars, the Russian civil war with U.S. and allies invading to support the aristocracy and its White Army – at least 40 million Soviets lost their lives and a similar number were seriously wounded. That number is the equivalent of 40 per cent of Soviets who survived WWII, and half the number of Russians living today. (See chapter 10 of The Russian Peace Threat.)
German Nazis, Italian and Spanish fascists were bankrolled, in large part, by the biggest capitalists in the U.S. The same capitalists who set about to overthrow President FD Roosevelt (The Business Plot, aka The Fascist Plot of 1933-4), exposed by Marine General Smedley Butler.
Henry Ford receiving Hitler’s Grand Cross of the German Eagle, 1938, for his support to the Nazis
It is not the Russians who are a threat to world peace!
While Russia is no aggressor, capitalism always needs enemies, in order to control its populations, and “earn” astronomical profits for the weapons industry, war rebuilding industry, fossil fuel, medical and drug industries. Capitalism cannot exist in a peaceful world nor one in which all people are equal. Owner-classes must stand over wageworkers and slave-workers else there will be no constant profit growth rates for the benefit of the few. So, there must always be inequities, rich and poor, haves and have nots. Racism and jingoistic nationalism are essential ingredients for capitalism to keep people afraid and divided.
None of this can be admitted by any of their politicians. To keep the population in wraps, the owner-class must control the state and politicians. Thus, the mass media must ignore these realities. People must be insecure and fearful of outside forces so they won’t see who is really exploiting and oppressing them. Enemies have to be made up.
The highest-ranking CIA officer to come over to our side, John Stockwell, wrote a book whose very title supports this analysis: In Search of Enemies. His title is analogous to what my own book is about, Russia, the “peace threat”.
Below is a succinct extract about this from Stockwell’s June 1986 lecture available here.
“You have to be asking yourself, why are we destabilizing 50 corners of the troubled world? Why are we about to go to war in Nicaragua, the Central American war? It is the function, I suggest, of the CIA, with its 50 de-stabilization programs going around the world today, to keep the world unstable, and to propagandize the American people to hate, so we will let the establishment spend any amount of money on arms…”
Question: What needs to happen, in your view, for Western nations to adopt a normal, cooperative foreign policy towards Russia?
Ron Ridenour: “Cooperative foreign policy towards Russia” has never been “normal”, not since the 19th century. Yeltsin’s period was abnormal. During the U.S. civil war, Russia’s Tsar Alexander II actually sent two naval fleets to U.S. waters to prevent an armed British-French military collaboration with the racist-slave confederacy. The Tsar had liberated, in fact, all 23 million Russian serfs, in 1861. He saw a similarity with slavery in the U.S., I suppose, while Britain and France were at their colonialist-slavery height.
At that time, capitalism had not developed to the point whereby one country could dominate the world. There were several centers of power, and they all needed allies, which shifted opportunistically. There was no one dominating intelligence agency as today with the CIA and its key allies Britain’s MI6 and Israel’s Mossad.
I think there can be no cooperative foreign relations with Russia as long as the latter remains independent and as long as corporate capitalism dominates the West and other areas of the world.
It doesn’t matter which political party rules, or whether the West’s national leaders are men or women, or whatever color. Obama, for instance, had seven wars going at one time, more than any other president in U.S. history. They all do what Wall Street/City of London demands.
Question: The same applies to Western relations with China, would you agree?
Ron Ridenour: Yes.
Question: Why has President Donald Trump’s past election promise to restore relations with Russia not materialized? Bilateral relations seem worse than ever. Surely Trump had executive authority to renew the New START treaty on strategic nuclear weapons, for example, but he procrastinated on the matter, thereby adding to tensions. Can Trump’s seeming reneging on improving bilateral relations with Russia be all attributed to “deep state” resistance?
Ron Ridenour: Deep State-Pentagon resistance is a part of it. After all, every American president must kowtow to these deadly militarists, something JFK tried to change. They murdered him and his brother, and there was no uprising. The people accepted this lethal coup in broad daylight.
While Trump is unusual in many ways, he is still a major capitalist with his own corporation and he is part of Wall Street. He has to play the game. Much of his clout comes from the same warmongering industries as all other Republican and Democrat leaders.
At first, Trump thought he could make profitable trade ventures with Russia. Some corporations, including some oil-gas magnates, could profit from competitive yet cooperative relations with Russia. However, other powerful capitalists want Russia as an enemy as do the militarists. The fracking industry also views the Russian-German Nord Stream natural gas partnership as a threat to potential profits.
Question: Do you have a view on how a Joe Biden administration, if the Democrat contender is elected on November 3, will impact on U.S. foreign policy and relations with Russia in particular?
Ron Ridenour: Biden-Harris foreign policy will be as always the juggernaut’s. I think they will step up conflicts with Russia. After all, it was the Democratic Party leadership (Clinton-Obama and his CIA director John Brennan) that started “Russiagate”. The FBI is now spreading the new fantasy that both Russia and Iran are intruding in the election campaign. This is pure psychological projection.
Furthermore, if they win, Trump will continue to encourage his racist hinterland. The KKK, neo-fascists, militias will grow. If Harris takes over the presidency from Biden either through sickness, death or the following election, I believe that the racists-fascists will start a race war. That is what the real left, and a conscious working-class in U.S. America must prepare for already now. Part of that preparation is for the left to prioritize building working-class consciousness on the job.
Question: You have written passionately about the persecution of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and how it represents a mortal threat to human rights for all citizens in Western nations. You contend that if Assange is extradited to the U.S. from Britain, he will not receive a fair trial over fabricated spying charges and will therefore be imprisoned for the rest of his life. That infers it is imperative that the British public mobilize to halt his extradition which is slated to be ruled on in January of next year. What can be done to win justice for Julian Assange?
Ron Ridenour: The need to support Julian Assange is the same necessity we all have to protect whatever free press there is left. Every human being, who wants that fundamental right and need, must act, must resist his extradition to the U.S. gulag.
First and foremost, people in those countries whose leaders are conspiring to kill him – U.S., Britain, Sweden, Ecuador, Australia – must stand up and be heard. They must let those snobby aristocratically robed British magistrates and judges dare not let this hero of democracy be tortured to death either in British or American inhumane prisons.
Here are some suggestions to support freeing Julian Assange:
- Write letters-to-editors
- Contact media to cover the hearings
- Organize actions/happenings at U.S./UK government buildings
- Donate to his legal defense fund at this link.
Question: I remember hearing you speak at a public forum in Cambridge, England, to antiwar activists. That was nearly 30 years ago. Are you more or less optimistic for the prospects of peace, justice and international solidarity prevailing than you were back then? What needs to be done?
Ron Ridenour: Optimistic? Absolutely not. At the time of that forum, 1992, I was living in Cuba and working for national media. Fidel was still alive. Cubans were practicing real solidarity, in order to survive due to the negative economic and political consequences of the collapse of the Soviet Union. A decade later, Fidel and Hugo Chavez started ALBA and soon eight Latin American countries were working together, trying to gradually transform capitalist economies to socialist ones. Today, a large majority of Cubans want social welfare with capitalism, trade with and “help” from the U.S. And ALBA is weak.
True, one optimistic development is the anti-racist, anti-police brutality movement of some millions of brave and energetic people in U.S. streets, and many others in some European countries resisting police brutality and left-over colonialism. There are more protesters today than in my youth in the U.S., but there is hardly any direction, hardly any socialist alternatives being advanced. Leaders of the Black Lives Matter are in the hands of the Democratic Party and some of their big capitalists’ payroll.
The Democratic Party is the party that absorbs or smashes real opposition movements. Bernie Sanders and his lot confuse people with a false socialist rhetoric with no real socialist and anti-war substance.
Right-wing nationalism, as always based on racism and divide-and-conquer strategies, is rising violently in many countries. We “real leftists” are not well organized, are not unifying.
I see this historic moment similar to the 1920s-30s in Mussolini’s fascist Italy.
Europeans must reject being dominated by all U.S. governments and Wall Street. They need to retake their sovereignty. They need to come out in large numbers against wars, and also engage in civil disobedience actions. The climate movement must resist wars as the number one polluter of the planet, as well as murdering millions of people, causing other millions to flee and become unwanted refugees. Even most European social democrats have turned their backs on these poor, desperate human beings, because of the wars that create refugees instead of opposing the causes.
The first priority of every person who wishes to live in a peaceful world with justice and equality is to act against wars of aggression for domination and profit.
I wish I could end on a positive note. I can’t find anything better to offer than what our soulmate singer-songwriter the late Leonard Cohen who tells us: “There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in!”