Prof. Gary Leupp: « U.S. imperialism existed before Daesh, and will likely outlive it. »

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Gary Leupp

Professor Gary Leupp, Historian. DR.

Mohsen Abdelmoumen: How do you explain that Hillary Clinton maintains her candidacy for presidency of the United States while she has lost an ambassador in Benghazi in Libya when she was Secretary of State and that she makes headlines with the scandal of her emails?

Pr. Gary Leupp: Clinton is an establishment figure, who has widespread support on Wall Street, from the Democratic Party leadership, from the mainstream U.S. press, from fans of her husband the former president of the U.S., from African-Americans who see her and her husband as their advocates, and from women who simply want to see a “strong woman” in leadership.

Remarkably, the media and her political critics in this country give little attention to her record as U.S. senator or her tenure as Secretary of State. They do not focus on her advocacy of arming the “opposition” in Syria, which was kept in check by a more cautious Obama, nor her responsibility for the disastrous U.S. air assault on Libya in 2011 that produced utter chaos in that country. Instead they focus on the relatively minor “Benghazi Affair” and use of her private cell phone for official business.

In brief, I would explain the fact that she maintains viability as a candidate to the utter bankruptcy of the U.S. electoral itself, which is controlled (like the press, which creates public opinion) by big money at every level.

In your opinion, why the bombardments of the coalition led by the United States against Daesh-ISIL in Iraq have failed?

First of all there has been a relatively low level of bombardment, compared, say, to the “Shock and Awe” campaign used to destroy Iraq in 2003. As the former British ambassador to Syria was telling RT television a few days ago, the Russian attacks on Daesh and related forces have accomplished more in 4-5 days than the “coalition” attacks in as many months. Also the U.S. seems to be confused about the nature of the forces on the ground in Syria, making a distinction between the “moderate opposition”, sometimes just called the “opposition”, and the Daesh-ISIL and the al-Qaeda chapter called al-Nusra, thereby obscuring the fact that the bulk of the “opposition” is in fact these radical forces.

Even many mainstream journalists are noting that 80% of the “opposition” including those in the motley, poorly-coordinated collection of groups that comprise the “Free Syrian Army” are aligned with Daesh.

Within the U.S. leadership, there are clearly differences of opinion on how to proceed. These became apparent when Clinton published her memoir drawing attention to her hawkish stance on Syria while secretary of state, and Obama’s opposition to increasing aid to the opposition that might in fact be “unreliable.” You see that division is the pessimistic statements of even Obama and Joe Biden about the possibility of “shopkeepers and teachers” confronting either the Assad regime or the ISIL and al-Nusra Islamists, versus the politicians calling for U.S. boots on the ground. The abject failure of the announced program to train 5000 Syrians to fight Assad, now abandoned after various embarrassments; and the earlier 2013 threat to assault Syria on the grounds of Assad’s supposed deployment of chemical weapons, withdrawn at the last minute due to Russia’s deft intervention indicate an administration mired in confusion in how to proceed.

President Putin said that the Americans have found water on Mars but were not able to locate the positions of Daesh-ISIL. What do you think about this?

There is plainly a difference of opinion between Moscow and Washington – both of whom surely possess roughly equal degrees of intelligence about Syria – about who constitutes Daesh-ISIL. The U.S. media’s constant mantra since Russia began air strikes is that Russia is not really targeting ISIL but rather “the opposition.” But this “moderate” opposition is largely a figment of Washington’s imagination, in my opinion.

Moscow for its part seems to apply a broad definition to the ISIL-aligned forces. This is just a manifestation of the complexity of the situation and the multiplicity of forces on the ground. But Russian TV does deny striking the non-ISIL, non-Daesh “opposition.”

Daesh-ISIL isn’t it vital for the US imperialism?

I am not sure how to interpret this question. U.S. imperialism existed before Daesh, and will likely outlive it. I would say it is an embarrassment for U.S imperialism, an unanticipated repercussion of the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the foolish policies of the occupation in alienating the Sunnis that resulted in al-Zarqawi establishing a foothold in Anbar Province and creating the precursor of ISIL. Not so long ago Obama was dismissing it as a “junior varsity” sports team. Now it has shown itself to be much more ferocious that the mainstream al-Qaeda.

By supporting any forces within the armed opposition in Syria, the U.S. is in effect aligning itself with al-Nusra. Gen. Petraeus has actually, publicly, suggested a U.S. alliance with this al-Qaeda branch – which would bring things full circle since 9/11 – versus the, even worse, ISIL.

Information evokes a tactical redeployment of the terrorist group Daesh-ISIL towards Libya. Isn’t the intervention of NATO in 2011 in Libya the source of the destabilization of Africa, even of Europe?

It is surely one of the key sources. The destabilization of Syria has produced even more refugees in Europe. The destruction of Libya obviously produced the Tuareg exodus into Mali and the destabilization of that country, that has produced (once again) French military intervention.

Does neocon ideology have forever changed the foreign policy of the United States? Do you think we live in a cold war which does not say its name?

Neocon ideology—in a nutshell, the advocacy of ongoing U.S. military intervention anywhere in the world based on a sense of moral superiority and taking advantage of the temporary military supremacy of the U.S., aimed towards the continuation of post-Cold War U.S. hegemony, with the support for Israel and smashing of its enemies as its central tenet—has driven U.S. foreign policy since at least 2001.

It has been challenged over time. It was at its acme when Cheney was vice president and his powerful secretive office was a neocon hub. But its influence weakened, along with Cheney’s, during Bush’s second term and during the Obama years. Still it remains powerful in the Obama State Dept., as witness to role of Victoria Nuland in the “regime change” in Ukraine.

We notice an alliance between the neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine and the fascists Daesh ISIL. Are we in a historical process that sees the return of fascist movements and the lack of resistance of progressive movements?

I am not aware of that particular alignment, which I think would be uncomfortable for all involved. But I do think the Right Sector and Svoboda represent a recrudescence of fascism in Europe, a fact ignored by the U.S. mainstream media.

What is your reading on the agreement of the Iranian nuclear?

The U.S. neocons were able to arrange an IAEA vote accusing Iran of once pursuing a nuclear weapons program; NATO nations voted as a bloc to declare Iran “in violation” of the Nonproliferation Agreement although many nations including Russia and China abstained. This led to UN-approved sanctions. Iran having consistently insisted it has no such program negotiated with the 5+1 nations to allay any fears, to get the sanctions removed. It is by and large a good and rational thing. The fact that the members of the Republican Party in the U.S. all opposed it is an indicated of total ignorance.

How do you explain the allegiance of the USA to Israel?

In a recent poll, 55% of people in the U.S. supported the view that “God gave the land of Israel to the Jews.” Among Jewish Americans only around 40% thought this. Over 80% of Evangelical Christians believe it, though. The Jewish population in the U.S. is under 2%, and it is divided and includes firm anti-Zionists. The problem is fundamentalist Christians who believe the Old Testament literally, and believe that they must, as a religious obligation, support Israel based on a particular reading on the religious text Genesis 12:3. They have a lot of political clout; politicians of some states more than others fear alienating them. And the Israel Lobby has huge financial resources to influence politicians’ opinions, affect votes, and punish those who stray from the line of support demanded.

As historian, on what subject do you work now?

I am primarily an historian of Japan, and am editing a book on early modern pre-1868 Japanese history. But in my political columns I engage various issues of world history, as best I can.

Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen


Gary P. Leupp is Professor of History, specialized in the history of Japan, in Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. He received his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. He teaches courses on Japanese history with a primary research interest in labor, class and gender in the Tokugawa period (1603-1868). He holds too a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is a contributor to CounterPunch‘s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: the Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan;Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press).

Published in Oximity, October 17, 2015:

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