State, War, and Economy A transcript of the Lew Rockwell Show episode 304 with Robert Higgs

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by Robert Higgs

Recently by Robert Higgs: How U.S. Economic Warfare Provoked Japan’s Attack on PearlHarbor

     

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ROCKWELL: Well, good morning. This is the Lew Rockwell Show, and how great to have as our guest this morning, Professor Robert Higgs. Dr. Bob Higgs is a senior fellow in political economy at the Independent Institute. He’s editor of their Independent Review. He’s an associated scholar of the Mises Institute. He received our highest award, the Schlarbaum Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Liberty in the tradition of Ludwig von Mises. He’s a columnist for LewRockwell.com and he’s the author of many books — Opposing the Crusader State; Crisis and Leviathan; Against Leviathan; Resurgence of the Warfare State; Depression, War, and Cold War; Neither Liberty Nor Safety. And his latest book is Delusions of Power: New Explorations of the State, War, and Economy.

And, Bob, just before I let you get started, I just want to mention what a hit you were at the Mises University with your opening talk on warfare, welfare and the state. The kids were just wide-eyed, paying attention to every word. And, of course, we had the same reaction to all the people who were watching it on YouTube. So thanks for being a faculty member again this year and for all the work you’re doing. And tell us about this latest book.

HIGGS: Well, this one is a collection of some things I’ve written in the last few years, Lew. That’s been the general rule of my books for some time now. And because of the way my professional life is set up, I don’t have an opportunity to write ordinary books, which are sort of coherent, beginning-to-end treatises. But I am able to continue writing essays and articles, and so every once in a while I have the feeling that some of them have had enough substance that they deserve to be collected. And so I try to find those that bear on a common theme and put them between covers in a way that will have some coherence. And I hope that these trees add up to some kind of forest. But at all events, that’s the nature of this book. And some of the chapters in it should have been familiar to you because they were originally published in one form or another by the Mises Institute. So it was an opportunity for me to take some fragments that have appeared in many different places, and might not have been noticed by any particular reader, and pull them together.

ROCKWELL: Well, it’s wonderful. And, of course, obviously, there’s no hotter topic or more relevant topic than the warfare state and what it’s doing to the world and to us and what it’s doing to our economy. This is the right book for the right time, isn’t it?

HIGGS: Well, unfortunately, Lew, the state, war and economy are perpetually of great interest, or should be of great interest to everybody. And certainly, right now, we are in the thick of crises. Certainly, the economic debacle that came to a head in 2008 is far from over. And the United States continues to project its armed forces and other influences all over the world and to just get Americans into trouble without any relief at all. And right now, of course, it’s trying to displace the regime in Syria and replace it with what it thinks will be a superior one, from its point of view. But as usual, of course, it looks as if the US decision makers are clueless about the people they’re supporting in this civil war in Syria. So once again, we’ve got the blind leading us into more of these endless swamps of imperialism around the world. And so these sorts of things are topics for my latest book here and I’ve tried in various ways to open new windows on how to understand them.

ROCKWELL: Bob, how much of a role does just the old divide-and-conquer apply? I mean, is it possible that they’re just seeking to destroy Syria for purposes of easier ruling and then to bring down other areas?

HIGGS: I think one of the more plausible hypotheses that’s being advanced actually originates with a prominent Israeli official, and that is the idea of simply destabilizing and more or less throwing into chaos all of the countries that are major enemies of Israel. So, you know, regardless of who wins, if Syria can be turned into enough of a mess, then that benefits the Israeli government, or at least the Israeli government thinks it does. So I wouldn’t rule out that kind of thinking.

But I also am more or less convinced that the people who make decisions in the office of the president and the State Department and the Pentagon actually have persuaded themselves that they can change the world in a way that’s beneficial to the United States and very often to the world. Some of them might genuinely believe that they’re going to go out into places they know practically nothing about and make them better places for the people who live there. And this kind of pretense of knowledge has just led them, of course, from one disaster to another from the standpoint of the American people and the people that are directly involved at the end of the bayonet.

ROCKWELL: And, of course, it is the bayonet that they’re seeking to use to make them better.

HIGGS: Of course. It’s always that. You know, they’re willing to use non-military means if they’ll work. But, of course, they always keep, as the saying goes, “on the table” the option of using what Madam Albright once called “those wonderful armed forces,” the ones that she didn’t think got used enough.

ROCKWELL: Do you think that — I remember Roger Garrison saying once that, “Sooner or later, every president makes you nostalgic for his predecessor.”

(Laughter)

So if Romney gets in, is it possible that he’s even more war-like than Obama?

HIGGS: Oh, I think it’s possible. Yes, I do. I think it’s possible. I mean, right now, it’s difficult to see a great difference between the two in foreign policy views or, for that matter, in much of anything else. But I think it’s certainly possible that Romney could be worse. We don’t have anything to my knowledge in his record or his views or the people who are advising him to suggest that he’s certainly going to be better as a foreign policy and defense decision maker.

ROCKWELL: And we see, of course, what the Republican has done to Ron Paul. They definitely don’t want to hear another view.

But what about the American people? Are you, amongst students and so forth, are you feeling any optimism about people starting to dissent, starting to question all that the regime is doing overseas and, for that matter, to us here at home?

HIGGS: I see some upwelling, Lew, but, at the moment, I just don’t see its sufficient penetration of the influential circles of society. You know, lots of people obviously are upset. And Ron Paul has done a great deal to mobilize millions of people. But, you know, in a country of 315 million and maybe a few thousand of them who actually have influence at the top levels of politics — you can mobilize millions of people and still not have much effect on the outcome of political events. So, yes, I’m pleased by what seems to have begun in the last few years but unless it becomes much bigger and more powerful, penetrates the consciousness of more people, I can’t see that it will have much effect on the course of events.

ROCKWELL: So is the US, after all, no better than the Assyrians or the Babylonians or the British —

(Laughter)

— or the Romans or the Egyptians or the Persians and the Medes and so forth?

(Laughter)

It’s just another predatory empire?

HIGGS: You give me a hard choice, Lew.

(Laughter)

ROCKWELL: With atomic bombs, of course, in its fists.

(Laughter)

HIGGS: Each one of those —

(Laughter)

— particular regimes had its own special ugliness and — (laughing) — and we can certainly find things that make the US empire the ugliest if only because it had the means to be that ugly. I don’t know whether the Assyrians of old would have used nuclear weapons on civilians or not. But when the United States had those weapons in its hands, we know that it went ahead and used them to slaughter hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, totally indefensibly. So that kind of action has no real parallel in previous empires but that may simply be because the technology was not available to the fiends of old.

ROCKWELL: Bob, the US/Israeli continuing verbal and covert assault on Iran, which, of course, I guess, if Romney gets his way, and maybe Obama, too, will become an invasion or a massive bombing. Both the Israeli and the Americans are always careful to say, “Nothing is off the table.”

HIGGS: Right.

ROCKWELL: Which I take to mean atomic weapons. And —

HIGGS: I think that’s the way to decipher the code. You know, I think it’s pretty clear that the US and Israel, at least the people who make decisions for those states, do not want to allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon of any kind. And, you know, there’s just so many questions that one would ask to follow up on that matter. But, you know, if you just take that as a point of departure, it seems to be the basis on which they’ve decided that if Iran appears to be close to obtaining a nuclear weapon, then they will use whatever it takes to destroy that capacity.

I suspect — I’m not a military technologist — but I suspect that they would probably begin with a kind of massive bombing using these so-called bunker-buster bombs that have been developed. And if the non-nuclear ones didn’t get the job done, they might decide to follow up with nuclear weapons. Now, I don’t put anything past these people. They have nuclear weapons. They talk about using them. They’re equipped to use them. There’s no reason whatever to think that they simply would shrink from using them. I don’t give them any points for moral scruples. And so if it comes to that, it will be horrible, but I don’t think the probability is zero.

ROCKWELL: I remember one of the early Neo-Cons, Herman Khan, wrote a book called Defending the Undefendable in which he talked about not only should nuclear weapons be used by the US against its enemies but it would be a wonderful thing. It would be a wonderful thing for the world and —

HIGGS: Oh, yes.

ROCKWELL: — it should be just a normal resort for anybody who questions US hegemony. Nuke them!

HIGGS: Well, this was actually expressed in the film Dr. Strangelove in one of the speeches by General Buck Turgidson where, you know, he assured the president that if we went ahead and attacked the Russians first, then our losses would be “only 20, 30 millions, tops”!

(Laughter)

And he’s bragging about that.

ROCKWELL: Yes.

HIGGS: But, although that was kind of darkly funny in the film, that was entirely based on the thinking of people working for RAND and working for the Air Force and people working in the Pentagon in the 1950s and ’60s. These people actually were madmen, in my judgment. The kinds of strategies, even tactics that they planned for using were the sorts of things that only lunatics would even consider using. And yet, this was all in a day’s work for these people.

ROCKWELL: And the level of insanity, has it diminished? I mean, it seems to me we still have crazy people perhaps making these decisions, certainly contributing to these decisions.

HIGGS: I actually think there has been some diminution of that level of madness from the peak years of the Cold War. I don’t at all think that sane people are in charge at the Pentagon and the intelligence apparatus and in the office of president. But nonetheless, I think some of the usual topics of discussion like from the days of mutually assured destruction and massive nuclear retaliation, I think those things are a little farther down the list of priority topics now than they were in the ’50s and ’60s.

ROCKWELL: Yes. At least they don’t teach children, as they did you and I when we were in school, to get under the desk to protect yourself from a nuclear blast.

(Laughter)

HIGGS: Yes. You know, I don’t think I’ve mentioned to you, but when I was a kid growing up in the ’50s, I used to actually have nightmares about a nuclear war because they showed films at school of hydrogen bombs exploding. And the images in my mind of those films were horrible, and I couldn’t get them out for years, and they terrified me. And I rather suspect — (laughing) — a great many children growing up in the 1950s suffered the same kinds of terrors.

ROCKWELL: And we were told that Boston and Cambridge, where my school was, would be targets.

HIGGS: Yes, Ground Zero — (laughing).

ROCKWELL: I mean, we definitely — but get under the desk.

HIGGS: Yes.

(Laughter)

ROCKWELL: Tell us what you think is going to happen about Iran. I mean, what’s your — I know, you know, nobody can know for sure, but you know as much as anyone. What’s your guess as to what’s — are they going to go to war against Iran or will it continue to be these horrendous sanctions and threats of war and, of course, covert operations? There are all kinds of covert troops in there now.

HIGGS: In my best guess — and that’s all it is, Lew — is that they’re going to continue to maneuver around this, at least in the short term. I think, you know, prior to the election, Obama probably very much does not want this kind of bad news to hit the fan. Because I don’t know how stupid they are among the people advising him on these matters right now, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that if there’s a big attack by Israel or the United States on Iran, the consequences for the world economy will be horrendous. And it’s going to destabilize the entire Middle East and the entire world financial system, which is in none too good of shape already. And it’s just going to be awful. It won’t be, in my judgment, at all comparable to the US attack on Iraq for a variety of reasons. And so if they have a clue about just how horrible the consequences will be of such an attack, then I think that that appreciation will give them pause. It certainly ought to because — (laughing) — even if they wait until Obama is reelected and then decide to carry out the attack, hell is going to break lose. And that is not the way for Obama to accomplish any of his objectives in his second term.

So I hope that there’s enough sense among these people to deter them from this kind of precipitous madness. But, again, I really don’t know how sane they are.

ROCKWELL: Yes. Take a guy like Netanyahu, he’s like an attack dog and he’s saying, “Let me go, let me go, let me go,” but really saying, “Don’t let me go. Don't’ take me off the leash.”

(Laughter)

Or does he really want the war? I mean, does he actually think it’s even good for Israel or, let alone, anybody else?

HIGGS: It’s very difficult to know what’s going on, Lew, because the Israeli leadership and the US leadership are both playing to domestic audiences and they’re also playing against one another, and there’s all kinds of gaming going go on and rhetoric that is false or insincere. And so it’s just a mess for someone who is trying to figure out, where does anybody stand on this matter. It’s clear that some people have an interest in making certain kinds of noises about it. That’s why I think all serious candidates for the presidency in the US insist that all options are on the table, and, you know, in no event will the US fail to stand with Israel, blah, blah, blah. That’s domestically in their interest because if a candidate for the presidency did not make those noises, he would suffer a drastic reduction in funds. And that’s what it boils down to. And so, no serious candidate is willing to pay that price.

But at the same time, we can’t be sure how these governments, once they have the power, once someone’s been elected or reelected will size up the situation at that point because then their political strategy will have to take into account other things, whereas, right now, it takes into account mainly the coming election.

ROCKWELL: That’s actually an optimistic —

(Laugher)

That’s actually an optimistic view of things, isn’t it?

HIGGS: Well, you can always come to me for —

(Laughter)

— optimism, Lew.

(Laughter)

ROCKWELL: Well, Bob Higgs, thanks a million for all you do, all your great work for peace and freedom, which, of course, are issues that are joined at the hip, as much as some people might like to separate them. And congratulations on your new book, Delusions of Power. We’ll link to that, to all your other books, your YouTube channel and your Facebook page and so forth. And great to have you on the show.

HIGGS: Oh, it’s great to talk to you, Lew.

ROCKWELL: And congratulations on your new Dachshund puppy.

HIGGS: Oh — (laughing) — thank you very much — (laughing).

ROCKWELL: Bye-bye, Bob.

HIGGS: Bye.

ROCKWELL: Well, thanks so much for listening to the Lew Rockwell Show today. Take a look at all the podcasts. There have been hundreds of them. There’s a link on the upper right-hand corner of the LRC front page. Thank you.

Podcast date, August 28, 2012

Robert Higgs [send him mail] is senior fellow in political economy at the Independent Institute and editor of The Independent Review. He is also a columnist for LewRockwell.com. His most recent book is Neither Liberty Nor Safety: Fear, Ideology, and the Growth of Government. He is also the author of Delusions of Power: New Explorations of the State, War, and Economy, Depression, War, and Cold War: Studies in Political Economy, Resurgence of the Warfare State: The Crisis Since 9/11 and Against Leviathan: Government Power and a Free Society.

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