Yesterday afternoon, The Eisenthal Report spent an hour speaking with former Senator Mike Gravel in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. TER will be presenting this interview in two parts, followed by some analysis.
Senator Gravel, who represented Alaska in the United States Senate for two terms from 1969 to 1981, is seeking the Democratic nomination for President in 2008. He is 76 years old and lives with his wife in Arlington, Virginia. He is originally from Springfield, Massachusetts; he attended Assumption College in Worcester, Massachusetts and American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts before graduating from Columbia University. Before serving in the Senate, Gravel served two terms in the Alaska House of Representatives, serving in his second term as Speaker of the House.
Senator Gravel is running for President primarily to promote his vision of a more democratic and economically fairer America. It is safe to say that his vision is outside the mainstream – it might best be described as “populist.” He favors amending the United States Constitution to allow the enactment of federal laws by a vote of the people – a process he terms the “National Initiative.” He also favors replacement of the current tax structure with what he terms the “Fair Tax” – a national sales tax. He favors implementation of a single payer national health insurance plan. He also favors an immediate withdrawal of United States forces from Iraq.
The interview began with a question asking the Senator to connect his service in the United States Senate with what he wants to accomplish as President of the United States. Gravel replied that
in the Senate, I was very much considered a maverick. I fought the (military) draft over a five month period…and then brought about with one vote taking on Scoop (Sen. Henry) Jackson in getting the Alaska pipeline through – rather than people trying to sneak it through, which is what the oil companies were trying to do. In addition to that, I was very much opposed to the (Vietnam) war, and when Daniel Ellsberg got the Pentagon Papers to me, I released them.
Gravel went on to discuss the Nixon administration’s efforts to stop the release of the Pentagon Papers, including litigation against the Senator himself. This litigation went to the Supreme Court, which ruled that Senator Gravel – by virtue of his position in the Senate – was entitled to release the Pentagon Papers within the Senate and - because of the “Speech and Debate” clause of the Constitution – beyond the Senate as well.
He connected his experience with the Pentagon Papers to a more recent war, saying that because of the decision in his case, “any member of Congress right now could be revealing information about the phony intelligence that they were fed” in the run-up to the Iraq War in 2002 and 2003. Gravel said that in 2002 he was saying that George W. Bush “was doing the same thing as Lyndon Johnson had done – and that is lying to the American people and taking us into war.” In his view, the difference between Johnson and Bush was that while Johnson “slipped” gradually into war, President Bush “with malice aforethought decided we’d have a pre-emptive war – and he did it on a fraudulent basis by lying to the American people. And now, we’re reaping the whirlwind of that.”
Senator Gravel believes that the United States should withdraw from Iraq immediately – “not six months from now, but now.” He believes that the Baker Commission on Iraq is likely to come out with a plan that seems reasonable that would keep US troops in Iraq for another two years. Gravel asked, “What’s reasonable? What is reasonable when you’re killing American solders every day – when you’re killing foreigners – is to stop.” He believes that the likely Baker plan will be crafted to maintain “American hegemony” over Iraqi oil in the long run.
He believes that the motivations for going to war in the first place were related to Iraq’s oil. One of these motivations in his view was to prevent Saddam Hussein from re-denominating the sale of Iraq’s oil in euros from dollars - something that could have had a disastrous effect on the dollar. He also believes that certain senior US leaders, including Vice President Dick Cheney, wanted control of Iraq’s oil in order to cement influence over the world economy as a whole.
He believes that
the tragedy for the world and ourselves is that they’re using all this treasure for this ill-advised adventure in Iraq to sustain our ascendancy in power over the oil economy in the world which is what is causing global warming when in point of fact we should be using this treasure to get ourselves off this carbon dependency and move into energy alternatives.
When asked whether he was concerned that an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq would lead to an expansion of Iranian influence over Iraq, Gravel said “No. I have no concerns about that.” He believes that concerns about Iranian power are
an American canard. If anyone should be angry, it should be the Iranians being angry at the United States. Who destroyed Iranian democracy? It was the United States of America in 1953 with the CIA. And then we put a tyrant king in, who then took his oil money and kept buying jets so we could recycle our petrodollars. Now you don’t think that Iranians have a beef with us?
Gravel believes that it is in Iran’s interests to help foster a stable Iraq – not to allow the current violence to continue.
When asked about Iran’s nuclear program, Gravel said
who cares? We’ve got nukes. Is there something wrong with them saying that the US, Russia, China, France, and Britain have nukes, so we would have them for defensive purposes. We’ve threatened Iran with nukes – that’s what Sy (journalist Seymour) Hersh discovered. Thank God these patriots in the CIA leaked these plans to embarrass Bush so that he wouldn’t use nukes against Iran.
Gravel believes that concerns about Iran represent “a manipulation by the elites, the people who control our government. The good people don’t understand the dynamics of this, and if even if they do, they don’t have the temerity to stand up and really hit it.”
Senator Gravel has strong beliefs about war in general.
War only begets war. War does not bring peace. We sure saw that after the Second World War. We saw that after the First World War – the ‘war to end all wars’ – there’s never been in history any war that ended with anything but more war.
I asked the Senator about our level of defense spending – around $500 billion annually, or around 4 percent of our Gross Domestic Product (or about the same as the entire economy of The Netherlands). Gravel said
it’s absolutely ridiculous. We spend more than every other country combined on defense. Now either we have a terrible case of paranoia or we want to overwhelm the world with our might so that we can then set up this oil hegemony – and marry it together – and then we rule the world. Now this is American empire and the American people are not interested in American empire. The profit people – the Bushes, the wealthy, the elite – who are all going to make money off of this and decimate the opportunities of the ordinary people of the world – that’s who wants this.
Gravel believes that
the United States of America is on a downhill slide and there’s no recovery unless we change opposite directions. In all of the indices that count – education, health care, the economy – the United States is not even in the top ten. And yet our political leaders have said – and continue to say – that we Americans are the greatest people on Earth. We are not the greatest people on Earth – we’re not any better than anyone else. The sooner that we grow up and realize that, the sooner we’ll have peace. Now we are number one in a few areas; we’re number one in weaponry, we’re number one in consumer spending, we’re number one in personal and public debt, we’re number one in the number of people we have in prison, and we’re number one in delusion.
The Senator believes that other countries are “moving forward.” He points to the gain in the value of the Euro relative to the US Dollar. He also points to the fact that "Japan, South Korea, China, and Taiwan own 40 percent of American debt.” He criticizes fellow Democrats who favor devaluation of the Chinese Won in response to their ownership of American debt – and continuing trade deficits. “Who are we to tell them to devalue the Won? They’ve got 600 million people living in poverty. They’ve got problems that they’re handling very well – better than we could ever think of handling in this country.”
Gravel criticized the practice of international sanctions.
Sanctions don’t work – they never have. Look at the sanctions we had for over ten years on Iraq – this cost the lives of 500,000 Iraqi children because of the lack of clean water and medicine – we haven’t lost that many casualties in this war – and I’m sure that Saddam Hussein never missed a meal during that time. We’ve been sanctioning Iran since the embassy fracas. Did it work? Has it done any good?
Gravel believes that Iran would be within its rights to request a lifting of sanctions in exchange for their assistance in stabilizing Iraq.
To be continued.