Johan Galtung interview: Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East

Published on Pambazuka, Sept. 23, 2010.

In this wide-ranging interview, Johan Galtung, considered as the father of peace studies, talks on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Middle East peace talks and why Obama is losing his base. The interview is a transcript of a two-part interview with Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman. In February 2011, Pambazuka Press will publish ‘Experiments with Peace’, a book in honour of Johan Galtung at 80. ‘Experiments with Peace’ features forewords by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Narayan Desai, along with chapters from 34 other leading contributors in celebration of peace and non-violent struggles for justice and the peaceful resolution of conflict … // 

… Amy Goodman: Johan Galtung, you dedicate this book, your latest book, ‘The Fall of the US Empire – And Then What?’, ‘to a country I love, the United States of America’. You write, ‘You will swim so much better without that imperial albatross around your neck. Drown it before it drowns you, and let a thousand flowers blossom!’ How…

Johan Galtung: I mean every word of it. I can even tell you that when I give talks about this, many places in the US, I put hand on heart and say, ‘I love the US republic, and I hate the US empire.’ You see, to many people, this doesn’t make sense. It’s called anti-American. No, no, no. I’ve had, I’ll tell you, people coming up to me saying that that remark relieved them of an enormous problem, namely, ‘I have so much difficulties with our foreign policy, our economic penetration, our cultural arrogance, our political manoeuvering and arms twisting, and yet I love my country.’ And what I try to say is that these are two different things, and the albatross is around your neck. Get rid of it. Give it up. Do the following four things. Very quickly.

Economically, trade for mutual benefit, fine, but equal benefit. And that means to examine the impact of your economic deals down to the last bottom, not only in a third world country, but maybe also in your own. Maybe you need some retraining of your economists to do that.

Militarily, pull your bases back. Eight hundred in 150 countries is madness. And instead of all that, conflict resolution, conflict resolution, conflict resolution. There are so many places in the US now where the young generation is being trained in it. They’re doing brilliant steps forward. A department of peace was suggested by Dennis Kucinich, and I think about 64 congressmen and women are behind it, something like that. A brilliant conception. And I’ll tell you one thing. If the US had that one and even permitted it to shine, as the famous castle up on the hill, all the love for the US around the world would return. It would be just fabulous.

Now, third thing, politically, no more arms twisting. Negotiation with the cards on the table, no threats, no nothing. No secret call by the US ambassador to UN, or whatever it is, to call in somebody and tell them that ‘if you do this and that, if you insist on this as your bargaining position, we will do something’, and so on. I know so many such stories.

Point four, get down from the idea of having a separate mandate from God, even a mandate to kill. The word is dialogue. The word is simply to say we have something that we can contribute – and you have from this marvelous, generous country. But others also have something. For instance, it seems that the Muslims have some good ideas about banking, like not lending more than 30 percent of your capital. Well, if your upper limit is 2,400 or something like that, then you’re a little bit high. And if that limit is considered too high and is abolished in 2004, and the sky is the limit, down it came. And it’ll come down again. US is today probably heading for a rather important crash and, in all probability, for a major devaluation of its currency.

Well, let us leave that aside. Let us just say new economic relations to other countries; conflict resolution instead of bases and invasions and interventions and special forces all around the world; negotiations with open cards, without tricks; and dialogue. Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. All of the Americans I know very well, and many of them Jewish Americans, have extremely good talents for this. Why couldn’t that be more the tone and the tenor of US policy?

Amy Goodman: We have two minutes before the satellite ends. Johan Galtung, as you leave the United States, what do you want to leave US people here in the US with? Your thoughts?

Johan Galtung: We’re making the distinction between the empire and the republic and that the republic could do beautifully without the empire, like so many others have done before them. I can give you general public opinion studies around the world, let us say, in Muslim countries. About 85 per cent love the United States of America, like I and my Japanese wife do. About 85 per cent hate US foreign policy. You see, take that seriously. Just have a look at your military, economic, political and cultural foreign policy. They can be changed. It’s even relatively easy. Make yourself a normal country. No exceptionalism, please. A normal, wonderful country. Maybe you will find it in your interest to make North America a region, a Mex-US-Can, a Mexico, United States, Canada. That could also be a shiny light, with Mexico as a bridge to a Latin America which is now finding its own ways outside the Organisation of American States, a Latin American region. Well, put your fingers in the earth, find out where you are, and you will find marvelous rounds forward for an ever-better American republic.

Amy Goodman: Johan Galtung, founder of peace studies. His latest book is called ‘The Fall of the US Empire – And Then What?’ You can get a DVD of today’s broadcast at

(full interview text).

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