Why will the Democrats, from the president down through the ranks of the party that controls Congress, not give peace a chance? When members of the party’s progressive caucus recently issued a call for Biden to negotiate with Putin, they were forced by the party leadership and its cheerleader chorus in the media to meekly back down and rescind their letter to the president. The message was: How dare they suggest a path of negotiation followed by every president, irrespective of party, to pursue a peaceful alternative to the inevitably indiscriminate killing of war?
Suddenly, the example of President Kennedy’s Cuban missile crisis dialogue with Khrushchev and Nixon’s visit with Mao during the Vietnam War were deemed off limits. Or Trump attempting to diffuse tension with nuclear-armed North Korea. Diplomacy is not to be considered even as a tightly restrained suggestion in a letter by 30 Democratic members of Congress to the leader of their party, our current president.
In this week’s Scheer Intelligence, former eight-term Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a Democrat, states, “I read the letter several times, and it mentioned diplomacy about a half dozen times, he tells host Robert Scheer. “And what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with trying to end a war where the U.S. has already spent upwards of $60 billion, where Ukraine is being wrecked, at least 15,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed. Tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and Russian soldiers killed. This thing has all the signs of spiraling out of control and so it was appropriate for members to send that letter to the White House and to see the leadership’s response was not just disappointing but alarming.”
Alarming, in Kucinich’s world view because the NATO financed proxy war with Russia is a prelude to an even more ominous confrontation with China. As Kucinich warns: “What we’re seeing both in the ratcheting up of tensions with China and the continued prosecution of the war in the Ukraine, which is squarely aimed at trying to displace Russia as a world power, what we’re seeing in that is a misguided attempt to assert American hegemony. And that era is over. The world is changing. We cannot pursue policies by force. And when we tried to do it over the past 50 years, it’s generally been a disaster. So, I think that this is an inflection point, the Democratic party slapping down 30 Democrats who said, ‘Look, let’s try for peace, let’s negotiate. Because if you don’t negotiate, you’re going to escalate.’ And that’s the path that we’re on right now, escalation.”
Host: Robert Scheer
Producer: Joshua Scheer
Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence where the intelligence comes from my guest and not only intelligence, but experience. Dennis Kucinich, eight terms, that’s 16 years in the United States Congress where he tried to establish a Department of Peace, where he was a consistent voice for giving peace a chance. And I think this is for my money, Dennis, I’ll just begin with you there, I’ve never known a time, and I’m an 86 year old guy, where you didn’t have people in both parties speaking up for negotiation. My God, Richard Nixon went and talked to Mao in the middle of the Vietnam War. So how did we ever get to a moment where a few, what 30 Democrats, dare suggest negotiation and they get slapped down and apologize. What’s going on? Is the Democratic party a war monger party? At least there’s some sign that Republicans want to use diplomacy or cut back a bit.
Dennis Kucinich: Well, it is unusual to see the Democratic Party coalescing around a message of war instead of permitting a discussion to arise, which advocates diplomacy. When you think about it, these 30 members of Congress who signed the letter to the White House, I read the letter several times and it mentioned diplomacy about a half dozen times. And what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with trying to end a war where the U.S. has already spent upwards of $60 billion where Ukraine is being wrecked, at least 15,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed. Tens of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and Russian soldiers killed. This thing has all the signs of spiraling out of control and so it was appropriate for members to send that letter to the White House and to see the leadership’s response was not just disappointing but alarming.
Scheer: Well, tell us why it’s alarming, because look, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, I can’t think of a time going back to Woodrow Wilson or something where no one wanted to give negotiation a chance. And when Nixon went to China to talk to Mao, it was in the middle of the Vietnam War. We had supported the South Vietnamese and clearly this was going to be the beginning of the end. And this whole idea that you can’t talk to Putin, I’ve never known a moment like this. I mean, even building up to World War II, there were constant negotiations and talks. What is it? Is this all domestic politics that the Democrats are playing?
Kucinich: Yes, but it’s more than domestic politics. Let me try to sort it out for you and your listeners. First of all, there’s a belief among democratic leadership that you must maintain consensus on key issues in order to support the White House when you have a Democratic president, so that’s an element here. But I have never seen such a fierce effort to throttle anyone who goes away from the party line and it becomes more egregious when the issue is war or peace. And that’s why I’m speaking out, because if the Democrats don’t allow the voices for diplomacy to be heard, it means that we’re certainly headed for a wider war with the White House being currently constituted as it is.
Scheer: Well, but this is not kidding around. I mean, my god, Kennedy negotiated with Khrushchev. I mean, this whole idea, first of all, the virtue, it’s always oh, we are supporting Ukraine. The same argument that was made about Vietnam, where after all we had backed Ngo Dinh Diem, we had gotten South Vietnam all feeling as it was an independent country. We were participating in the Ukraine in a coup. We have a lot of responsibility for what’s happening. But leaving that aside, the idea that we could be in a situation of the possibility of a nuclear war that ends civilization and that you are not going to talk to the people who also hold 5,000, 6,000 of these bombs that could destroy civilization, I don’t get it. At least Barbara Lee spoke out on the Iraq War. Not too many did. But the idea that the Democrats, they seem almost to welcome the war…They all voted for big military budget.
Kucinich: The institutional memory of Congress seems somewhat impaired right now because members of Congress need to remember that President Carter used diplomacy to achieve the Camp David Accords with Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. And in Dayton, the war in the Balkans ended with the U.S. diplomacy playing a part. And you look at Senator Mitchell and his efforts to bring about the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 ended 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland. I mean, the U.S. does use diplomacy, and I think if we probe a little bit deeper as to why there was such a fierce putdown of this effort on the part of a few dozen Democrats to ask the White House to move towards a diplomatic solution, if we probe that a little bit deeper, we’re going to find a foreign policy that is misdirected, that is part of that march of folly, which Barbara Tuchman talked about years ago, which can only lead to disaster for the United States and the world.
And Ukraine is being turned into a game board where Ukrainians are sacrificing life, limb, home, hearth, their society, in this war that’s being waged by great powers to try to manipulate energy supplies and in a game of nations. And this is really a dangerous moment. And this put down of Democrats just simply for asking for diplomacy is a powerful signal that needs to… People need to pay attention to what this means, it means that Democrats are buying all in on continuing to prosecute this war against Russia. And yes, it’s a proxy war, but it is a very expensive one and it’s causing a loss of life of innocent Ukrainian people. And it’s time to go to the negotiating table and it’s time to remember we have the capacity to do that.
Scheer: I have to push this a little further though, whether the Democrats are not the war party. It is true, Bush II got us into Iraq, but generally the Democrats…We used to have a conceit, it was these Republican neo-conservatives who got us into Iraq. They were the bad guys. Well, most of those neo-conservatives had been Democrats, they moved over.
Scheer: Now they seem to have gone back to the Democrats, they’re happily ensconced Biden State Department. And the fact of the matter is as reckless as Trump was, and I sure to hell was scared when he was president, he did meet with the leader of North Korea. You can say, well, it didn’t have a breakthrough for peace, but there’s been much more restraint on the part of North Korea. But he met with them, met with them in Singapore. And the idea that we somehow give the Democrats a pass, I wonder whether on the war-peace issue they are the lesser evil. The fact of the matter you can’t get… Look at what the people who lined up behind Pelosi going to Taiwan. Why in the world, you got the whole problem of the Ukraine, you want to stoke a war with China? And look at how aggressive Biden is being in slapping all these sanctions on China and condemning China for everything in the world. [inaudible 00:09:16].
I don’t expect you to agree with me on this. You’re much closer to these people and all that, but I really wonder whether the Democratic party has any kind of peace sensibility, any kind of concern. You’re hearing more voices for peace from the Republicans than you are from the Democrats.
Kucinich: Well, I mean, I’m concerned about that because during my time in Congress, Bob, I led Democratic efforts against wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria. I worked to end the war in the Balkans and to divert war against Iran. So what’s happening now though is that Democrats seem to be making support for the war as a test to party loyalty. And that is totally wrong. It is dangerous. And that’s why I’m speaking out. You mentioned China. I too am concerned that was not well thought out, that trip to China, and for anybody who thinks that the White House was not aware of it or wasn’t aware of the planning, look, you can’t just commandeer Air Force jets if you’re a member of Congress or even the Speaker of the House. This has to be done in cooperation with the State Department, and the Department of Defense, and in all kinds of levels of government.
Scheer: We’re talking about Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan followed by a group of Democrats to show support for her. Even Ed Markey, who’s been usually a voice for peace, senator from Massachusetts.
Kucinich: Well, just suffice it to say, that what we’re seeing both in the ratcheting up of tensions with China and the continued prosecution of the war in Ukraine, which is squarely aimed at trying to displace Russia as a world power, what we’re seeing in that is a misguided attempt to try to assert American hegemony. And that era is over. The world is changing. We cannot pursue policies by force. And when we tried to do it over the last 50 years, it’s generally been a disaster. So I think that this is an inflection point. The Democratic party slapping down 30 Democrats who said, “Look, let’s try for peace, let’s negotiate. Because if you don’t negotiate, you’re going to escalate.” And that’s the path that we’re on right now, escalation.
Scheer: Well, this word hegemony is really interesting because the Democrats actually are more aggressive than the Republicans. After all, Richard Nixon, who I did interview after he was president, but I was certainly critical of him when he was President, he actually, if you look back on it, we wouldn’t have had the opening to China if we left it up to Democrats. I mean, you could say it was easier for a hawkish Republican to do it, but I remember when we didn’t want China to be in the UN. Mao Zedong was described as the most evil figure in history. And yet, Richard Nixon went over there with Henry Kissinger and talked to him. Now if you suggest you should pick up the phone and talk to Putin, my God, you’re a traitor. And the vitriol that was shown towards these progressive Democrats, I think there were 30 of them who signed that letter, including Jamie Raskin, who certainly took on Trump on Russiagate and all that, which I thought was pretty excessive, his rhetoric and all that, but still they’re slapped down as unpatriotic.
And you’re in an Orwellian situation now where it seems to me this word, hegemony, really has to do with America’s need for an enemy. We have big economic problems. We don’t know how to deal in a multipolar economic world where other people get to influence trade, and prices, and so forth. And so we’re doing what Orwell predicted, we have to have an enemy. Putin is the convenient enemy. Now China is going to be added to that and it’s really sick is the only way I could describe it. But what’s particularly frightening is we can’t even debate it. I mean, the very fact that we are having this discussion can be used by people to demand that search engines not reference us, or that the show be ended, or what have you. They make you a non-person for even daring to have this kind of discussion.
Kucinich: Well, I will say having led the effort against the Iraq War from its inception, I understand what it’s like to be the object of obloquy simply because you stand up for the truth. And the political system is set up to exclude anyone who dares challenge the prevailing orthodoxy, particularly about war. And yet, challenge it we must, because this trajectory that we’re on unless it is corrected through negotiations will end up in a much wider war. And we’re slowly reaching that precipice from which one mistake, one mishap could trigger something much broader in terms of conflict. And the fact that the leaders don’t recognize that right now shows that we have a failure of political leadership. Diplomacy is difficult. It requires intelligence and patience, but the only way that wars are going to end, can end, is at the negotiating table. And if the United States…
Scheer: Or in the end of humanity. For God’s sake, these people seem to be giddy. We’ve lost, even in the worst days of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, whoever you don’t like, and this is why I go back to Wilson and getting us into World War I, there was a recognition that the fate of humanity is that issue here. There is not going to be a wider war with Russia. If they take out, with these weapons now, and they take out some city in Russia, or so forth, the pressure to use these other… We’ve already called these people war criminals. We’ve already said they’re going to face terrible judgment. They’ll be executed, I guess. And then we can’t talk to them, we’re demanding regime change.
Well, at some point they’re going to be under pressure to respond. And there doesn’t even seem to be any consciousness of the seriousness of the moment. If you go back and look at the missile crisis, the people around Kennedy, beginning with Kennedy, were very well aware of the consequence and fortunately so were the Soviets. You don’t get that sense now. It’s like some kind of war game that were watching on video.
Kucinich: … That observation you just made about how a synthetic experience, a vicarious experience, can somehow serve to diminish the impact of what might happen in the real world, this is the kind of stuff that Jerzy Kosiński was writing about in “Being There” where his character, played by Peter Sellers, was watching everything on TV and then when he went out into the street and was assaulted, he grabbed a channel changer and tried to change the channel because he was trying to change the reality that he was confronted with the channel changer. I think that we are losing our ability to discriminate about the real impact of war and how it’s destroying people. We’re getting messages on TV, but we’re seldom seeing the broadest human impact in a way that affects everyone. And it’s affecting people in this country too because of the money that’s being spent on it and because we’re being driven towards a broader war without people truly understanding implications.
And without understanding, going back to the purpose of this call, that when congressional activists who want to see an end to this war are castigated just for advocating diplomacy, this is dangerous, it is foreboding, it portends more war, and it brings us into that soft circumference of a global conflict, which could change the whole nature of our planet.
Scheer: Let’s talk about, you mentioned the economics, the money, and so forth. Let’s talk about two aspects. One is the military industrial complex that Republican general turned President Dwight Eisenhower warned about. The big winners here of the $60 billion and more that’s going to be spent and the huge military budget that Democrats gleefully vote for, there’s no limit to it, that’s the military industrial complex. A lot of people are getting rich, or a small group of people.
Kucinich: A small group of people are getting rich over a lot of money.
Scheer: Yeah. And that’s left out of the equation and that’s also true of the destruction of the Ukraine. We’re going to have to pay for rebuilding and so forth, as well as of course the horrible human cost. So there’s almost no attention to war as a destructive force, no matter who’s wielding it and for what aim. And the other is the surrogate here, I think, you mentioned surrogate war, is not the traditional oone necessarily of having a nationalist movement in Vietnam or the Ukraine wanting its nation state. The real argument here is to put China, Russia, India, Brazil, this gets back to the whole question of hegemony and the equation of U.S. power economically, politically, militarily, with freedom, with democracy. That’s what they’ve managed to do. They’ve said America’s unipolar power in the world is the requirement for democracy. And anybody else, the Chinese, the Russians, India, Brazil, anywhere else in the world, Saudi Arabia, anywhere else that they’re striving for their economic interests and so forth, that becomes the enemy.
And I think that in a way Russia is being used as a surrogate and the real enemy here is China. And that was in major Defense Department calculations that the real enemy is China. And what is the crime of China is that they’ve lifted 300, 400 million people out of poverty, that they actually want to make high end goods. And we have said, oh, that’s inherently a military threat. So let’s just spend a little time, how did China, which saved us during the pandemic, they supplied us with most of the goods that we consumed through Amazon and elsewhere, why are the Democrats going along with China suddenly being… That was what the significance of Nancy Pelosi going, she raised the whole question of Taiwan as if now that’s the signature issue, when it was Richard Nixon who said, let’s but that in abeyance, why are they stoking, not just a Russian there bear, but China?
Kucinich: Well what’s happened as a result of this, because we can go right to consequences. We have brought China and Russia into an alliance. We have seen India, Brazil, South Africa, now Saudi Arabia and other countries coming into a non-aligned movement, which is basically saying, we’re going to conduct our business away from involvement with the U.S. We’re separating ourselves from the broader world community with this aggressive behavior. Now people will say, “Well, Russia invaded Ukraine.” That is true. But very little is discussed about 2014 when the U.S. overthrew the Russian government and engineered a coup that then resulted in Ukrainian troops being equipped to attack the eastern part of Ukraine, Donetsk and Luhansk, where you had millions and millions of Russian speaking peoples who happened to be Ukrainian citizens. So this broader historical context, when you look at it, it cries for a resolution that was attempted to be reached at Minsk, but that agreement was basically ignored between Russia and other states.
We really have to ask ourselves, where does all this go? I know some members of Congress are condemning those who signed the letter asking for diplomacy as the dupes of Putin, but what is it those members are advocating? They’re advocating that we don’t talk to Russia, they’re advocating that we keep pressing the war, they’re advocating what? They’re not accepting consequences of where this goes. We’re not talking about Iraq, which couldn’t fight back, about Libya, which couldn’t fight back. We’re talking about Russia, which has more nuclear weapons than the United States and we’re acting as though this is not a factor. And we need to come to the realization that it is a multipolar world. It is no longer unipolar. We can no longer dictate policies to people thousands of miles away and expect they’re going to jump to it. We really need the skills of negotiation and diplomacy to be on the ascendant in order to protect our country in order to protect the planet.
And right now, we seem to be looking at modern day versions of barbarians who are simply interested in accelerating conflict. And in this case, we certainly have a country, Russia, led by people who are ready to engage in such an acceleration and that’s why we had best be very careful.
Scheer: We’re going to end this, Dennis, I just want to ask you, you’ve been a peace advocate all your life and even on domestic issues trying to bring peace to Cleveland and unify people when you were the youngest mayor of an American city. And peace has been thrown out the window, people are embarrassed. I don’t see even a single protestor in downtown LA give peace a chance; where’s John Lennon’s spirit? No peace is now equated as it was in Germany with being a traitor. There’s a view now that anybody who talks about the risks of war is trying to undermine us. We have actually equated a military alliance called NATO with the standard bear of democracy. It’s no longer the possibility of the UN acting in this way. No, NATO is now our way or the highway. And the problem is, as you point out, there are a lot of other power centers now, there are other people who have weapons, but they also have economic muscle and power.
And taking it back in a few minutes just to Nancy Pelosi, who you know well, you worked with her, tried to anyway, what was she thinking when she went to Taiwan? Why in the middle of all this tension in the world, instead of dealing with okay, how do we get American jobs back and also benefit from economic development and have trade? We have Nancy Pelosi saying, oh no, we’re going to bring up the Taiwan issue and we’re going to really provoke China. And we now have an incredibly tense situation with China, which actually threatens our economy as well as world peace.
Kucinich: Well, let me offer…
Scheer: Give me an editorial now, Dennis.
Kucinich: No, let me offer perspective that this was not even her idea, that the White House asked her and because she wants to support the president that she went. But they also had the plausible deniability that well, she’s the Speaker and she went on her own. No, this was a coordinated effort and this was done on behalf of the Administration and with the permission and encouragement of the White House. I mean, anybody else who thinks otherwise is naive. She has always been a strong supporter of whoever the president was, if that president was a Democrat. And so that’s kind of where we are with that one. But as you put it, beyond the machinations, we’re in no position to threaten China. China has the largest Coast Guard in the world, the biggest Navy. They make more steel than any their country in the world.
The idea of being able to negotiate and navigate straits there and getting in between Taiwan and China doesn’t make any sense. And this latest initiative out of the White House, this presidential executive order, which said that no one’s to do any high tech business with China comes close to an embargo type situation where it borders on an act of war. I mean, people are being reckless with the power of the White House. And I really think that it’s time that this be called to an accounting. And so I’m doing what I can to start the discussion beginning with the fact that members of Congress who have taken a stand for diplomacy are being cast aside. And I’m going to do what I can to make sure we keep that discussion going. And perhaps it’s time not only for the Democratic party to rediscover diplomacy, but perhaps it’s time for those of us who care enough to start to reshape that party.
Scheer: So last word though, Dennis, I tell you, I’m more afraid now than I’ve ever been and I’ve been covering or writing about these things. I’ve witnessed a number of these wars in person as a journalist, but I never seen a time where you, and this is not just the United States, you look at Western Europe, you look where you used to have in Germany concern about, now they’re rearming in Germany, France, everywhere, people seem to want war. And we don’t even have a peace movement anywhere that you see visibly in the world, let alone a department of peace which you wanted to create. I’m going to give you the last word here, Dennis, but you’ve been our major advocate for peace on a congressional level. And now your colleagues, I don’t think there was one of them that voted against this war the way Barbara Lee did about the Iraq War. What would you say to your colleagues if you were there now?
Kucinich: That we must understand that the United States has the power to bring an end to war using our negotiating ability. That if we fail to use that and if we press ahead with aggression using Ukraine as a proxy and the lives of the people of Ukraine as chips in some kind of an international game of nation, we are missing an opportunity to try to avert a much wider war. And beyond that, is there anyone out there that thinks we have the capacity to fight Russia in the West and, excuse me, Russia in the East and China in the West. I mean, it is idiocy that’s masquerading as state craft.
Scheer: Right, and it also might be the end of human existence on the planet in my-
Kucinich: No, I’m going to focus on diplomacy as a means of making sure we’re all still around.
Scheer: … Okay. Thank you, Dennis. Scary words, but I think unfortunately accurate. Thanks for doing this. I want to thank Laura Kondourajian and Christopher Ho at KCRW, the NPR station is Santa Monica that hosts this show. Joshua Scheer, our executive producer, who full disclosure once worked with Dennis Kucinich or for Dennis Kucinich in his office, early supporter who campaigned for you in Cleveland.
Kucinich: And when Josh was in Cleveland, the baseball team was in the World Series.
Scheer: Oh yeah, that’s right and both of you were fanatics. Good thing they changed their nickname though. Okay. And I want to thank the JKW Foundation and in memory of Jean Stein, who I know Dennis knew and respected, terrific writer, for giving us some funds to help do this show. See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.