This is interview #18 in JohnsonForAmerica.com’s “Important Voices” series, where we talk with key figures, such as elected officials, candidates, authors, commentators, and policy experts, about the issues of the day. A new interview is released every Monday and every Thursday, so check back often!
Our guest for today’s Important Voices interview is Karen Kwiatkowski. Karen is a retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel whose assignments included duties as a Pentagon desk officer and a variety of roles for the National Security Agency. Since retiring, she has become a noted critic of the U.S. government’s involvement in Iraq. Kwiatkowski is primarily known for her insider essays which denounce a corrupting political influence on the course of military intelligence leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Lt. Col. Kwiatkowski has an MA in Government from Harvard University and an MS in Science Management from the University of Alaska. She has a PhD in World Politics from The Catholic University of America. She has also published two books about U.S. policy towards Africa: African Crisis Response Initiative: Past Present and Future and Expeditionary Air Operations in Africa: Challenges and Solutions.
Josiah Schmidt: How did you come to hold such a liberty-oriented philosophy?
Karen Kwiatkowski: I was raised in a home that valued Goldwater conservatism. We all thought Reagan was the promised Goldwater presidency, but I gradually came to see the state itself as the enemy of freedom. I read Ayn Rand’s novels in 1990, a few years later joined the Libertarian Party and shortly thereafter discovered LewRockwell.com. I adhere to a Rothbardian view, and hold to a anti-state, pro-market, and anti-war perspective–something that puts me at odds with the present-day Libertarian Party to some extent. But what I discovered is what many people and philosophers have discovered over many centuries–liberty is the natural productive and peaceful state of man, and the enemy of that liberty is the state, in all of its various political forms.
Josiah Schmidt: As a retired USAF Lt. Col. with experience in the Pentagon and the NSA, how much do you think the government is overreacting to the “threat” from Iran?
Karen Kwiatkowski: Washington, and the Pentagon to a lesser extent, wants to maintain and extend U.S. military/economic influence throughout the Middle East. Overstating and creatively defining a “threat” to the United States by Iran is part of a political agenda, pushed by neoconservatives as well as conservatives and liberals who care or depend upon the petrodollar-based financial sector. There is also a military/Pentagon planning agenda, one based on justifying and strengthening the rationale for our overextended military, already ensconced in several locations around Iran. Throughout the Middle East (Kuwait, Iraq, Qatar, Afghanistan, Diego Garcia, Yemen, Oman, Turkey, Bosnia, Kosovo, etc) the U.S. has created a post Cold War system of US basing and deployment that is similar in relative cost to what we maintained in Germany, Italy, and Japan after World War II. Yet, there is no substantial public justification for this present-day security apparatus, as there was in the years after WWII, with the apparent rise of nuclear-capable communism in China and the USSR. Instead of anti-communism, our global military posture is explained to Americans as being about the Carter Doctrine, free flow of oil, and defense of nuclear-armed Israel. None of these reasons are compelling to the average American–hence threats of Islamic terror and WMD must be heavily cultivated and promulgated. Iran as a “threat” is part of this political and military-justification agenda, and nothing more. Using the same arguments as being put forth for Iran as a WMD and Islamic “threat,” we should be far more frightened of our ostensible ally Pakistan, or even Israel’s warlike Likud Party–but these are usually not mentioned as threats to the United States or her interests.
Josiah Schmidt: Do you think that pro-war neoconservatives really believe their own rhetoric?
Karen Kwiatkowski: I certainly do not know. Some neoconservatives are devoted Zionists (Jewish as well as Christian), desiring a permanent religious state in the land of Israel, as geographically large and militarily powerful as it can possibly be. These neoconservatives believe deeply in the righteousness of the general cause of an expanded and supreme Israel in the Middle East – and support US policies that may assist in that direction. This belief, like most cherished beliefs, is emotional and hence not subject to logic or susceptible to being altered by actual facts. However, many leading neoconservatives are not devoted Christians or Jews, but rather just politicians and political beneficiaries. They advocate what most Americans see as an expensive, unwise, and ultimately doomed US military and political presence in the Middle East for reasons other than the advertised “fear of terror” or forced changes to the American way of life that might come from the Middle East. For this group, I think it is about maintaining political relevance at home, making money through investments benefitted by US policy, and to some extent, seeking to change the nature of domestic American politics to ensure that the United States continues to spend lots of money overseas and on security establishments–again, pocketbook issues for so many neoconservatives and others. For this latter group, the rhetoric is just a means to an end.
Josiah Schmidt: What kind of corruption and misinformation did you witness in the run-up to the Iraq War?
Karen Kwiatkowski: I’ve written on that in detail at The American Conservative back in Dec 2003 and elsewhere. Basically, actual intelligence as well as false intelligence gained from friends who had not been correctly vetted by the CIA (Chalabi, Curve Ball et. al.) was used by non-intelligence policy apparatchiks in OSD (Feith et. al.) in conjunction with the staffs of certain members of Congress and the Vice President’s office to justify what we know today to be an illegal war of aggression on Iraq. The intelligence system and the system of public information was perverted, successfully perverted, to produce popular opinion and political will in the Congress to go along with the toppling of our former man in Baghdad, Saddam Hussein. Lies were told, and repeated, and the source of those lies was not measured intelligence, but factoids taken out of context, as well as actual fabrications. This information was poured out to the public in presidential speeches, mainstream media articles and exposes, and DoD policy documents. I worked for one of the main offices in the Pentagon that was pushing out the politicized factoids, and witnessed what the Office of Special Plans was doing within and outside of the Pentagon. Basically I saw up close what government does best–lying boldly, broadly and with confidence.
Josiah Schmidt: Do you think this kind of dishonesty in government was a Bush administration problem, or is it part of a broader problem with the way government is structured?
Karen Kwiatkowski: This dishonesty is part and parcel of the state–a parasitic yet powerfully institutionalized minority existing off the acquiesence and ignorance of those who actually live productive and peaceful lives. I think every government lies, creatively, actively and often aggressively. Think of FDR or LBJ. The image put forth of the Kennedy administration–all love and light, a stark contrast to the reality. It is interesting that in the age of the Internet and recording technology in everyone’s hands that modern American governments, as seen in the Bush and and Obama administrations, are as successful in lying about domestic and foreign policy as they are. It is not a part of the way government is structured, nor was it native or unique to the Bush administration. But it is related to the way states attempt to survive, and do survive. Interestingly, the internet is causing average people to realize that it is correct to doubt what our government and its mainstream media says, and to grant the state with the basest and most self-serviong of motives, be it in war, taxation, jobs programs and bailouts. Americans in general have become reluctantly aware that the state is the enemy of progress, and it is the center of dangerous kinds of financial and moral corruption. But you really could not design a government form that would be immune–our own Constitution, if followed to the letter, is extremely good. But of course, it is not followed in the least bit. If it were adhered to as the top level law of the nation, Washington, DC would still be a poorly funded ceremonial capital and real power in this country would be found in widely distributed and variable form. We would all be wealthier and freer, our politicians and their hangers-on poorer and more constrained, under a Constitutional system.
Josiah Schmidt: What is the future of the American government’s involvement in the Middle East, in your opinion?
Karen Kwiatkowski: Ultimately, it will disappear, much as the British and the Ottoman Empire’s influence disappeared. In the near term, I think US involvement will continue, remain complex, complicated, and largely unquestioned by the political mainstream. At some point, we will be unable to fund our adventures in the Middle East, and a domestic political and economic collapse at home will make whatever we are doing in the name of the US in the Middle East irrelevant. Those making money over there in security and diplomatic ventures may change hats, and employers, much as Blackwater and the Houston based defense constructors and contractors have shifted to focus on more domestic US security and prison work as they see the unsustainability of profits in the Middle East. In fact, Halliburton moved their headquarters to Dubai a few years ago, and Blackwater changed its name to Xe and has shifted focus to include more clients and wider definitions of security services. As the petro-dollar morphs into a petro-basket that emphasizes non-dollar currencies, the benefit and consequences of US manipulation of the Middle East become increasingly counterproductive and less interesting to those who shape American foreign policy. Angry populist domesticism will reign, defunding the empire even as it brings our door-kicking and urban warfare skilled military home.
Josiah Schmidt: Ron Paul gained attention in 2008 for attracting more support from men and women in uniform than any other presidential candidate. Why did you support Ron Paul that year?
Karen Kwiatkowski: He was the only honest politician in the field, and his brand of peaceful libertarianism and old style conservatism (the Old Right), I believe is the only answer if this country is to long survive. We the people will survive no matter what — but under the philosophy and political leadership of a Ron Paul, we might transition back to Constitutionalism in a more ordered, safe and productive way.
Josiah Schmidt: What can we, as private citizens, do to help end the wars?
Karen Kwiatkowski: Stop paying for them, stop sending our children to fight them, stop glorifying the militaristic state, stop supporting the troops, and try to learn a little history so we won’t be so susceptible to state fear-mongering. These wars are a waste and counterproductive, and they eventually will end, whereupon we will regret, like we always do, that they didn’t end sooner. The most important thing is to clearly oppose them in our own minds, and the rest will follow in our lives and politics.
Josiah Schmidt: What advice would you give to libertarians who are in or are about to join the US armed services?
Karen Kwiatkowski: My first reaction is to say “Don’t do it.” However, the military does in fact create libertarians where they didn’t exist before, as average good Americans in the military witness lies, waste, and corruption of the Constitution in the name of national defense. Learning how to use weapons is an exceptional skill that Americans should have, and some enlistees will be able to learn this in the military. Traveling around the world is often thought-provoking for young people, and they learn for the first time to question the way they thought things had to be. Exposure to other Americans who may think differently from you, and networking widely is another aspect of the military that could be beneficial for our country’s future survival. As gangs go, the military is not the worst gang available. But overall, I discourage people from joining any gang at all–instead I’d advise learning skills and creating habits that are independent of the state, and truly productive. Certainly, no young person should be told that they are defending freedom by joining the military–that is the last thing they will be doing in the current era.
Josiah Schmidt: Anything else you’d like to say to our readers?
Karen Kwiatkowski: It may sound as if I am negative on the future of our country and on politics–but in fact I am only negative on the future of the state. For mainly financial reasons, the American state is in its death throes–but like any creature, this is when the state is at its most desperate and most dangerous. Politics to me is nothing more than human community, on a larger scale. If our politicians are wise, humble, and peace loving, if they are willing to be bound by law (the Constitution), then to that extent, we should support them in and out of office. To the extent that our politicians are unwise, arrogant, war-loving and unwilling to be bound by law, we should get rid of them, and certainly we should actively oppose and disobey them until we can vote them out. If they cannot be voted out (and so many cannot) they should be publicly condemned, disregarded and their power minimized–our consent must be actively withheld. Americans are not well-trained in how to actively withhold our consent, how to nullify bad government–but this is something we need to learn, and practice daily.
Josiah Schmidt: Agreed. Thank you very much for answering our questions, Karen.