Ralph Peters, the iconoclastic author and military strategist has been very vocal of late regarding US national security policy and the growth of the global jihadist movement. A former US Army intelligence officer and enlisted man, he is a prolific and very successful author of over thirty works of both fiction and non-fiction, including the essay anthology Lines of Fire: A Renegade Writes on Strategy, Intelligence and Security. Breitbart’s national security editor Sebastian Gorka spoke to the author about the current threats to the Republic and what should be done about them. Here are parts one and two of the interview, and the third installment is below.
BREITBART: Let’s cut to the current geostrategic situation. Let’s envisage there’s a snap election tomorrow, America has a new Commander-in-Chief. What is Ralph Peters’ delineation of what the real threats are? What are the top 1 or 2 real threats to US National Security and what should be done about them immediately?
PETERS: Well, you can’t just say the top 1 or 2 because the international security situation has deteriorated so badly under Obama. All the vultures are piling on the carcass now, and so it becomes a question of where do we start? If you had asked the same question 5 o 6 years ago, I could have given you some very clear answers.
But one of the most pressing threats is the wildfire spread of Islamist fanaticism and the emergence of a proto-Caliphate in the heart of the Middle East. That should absolutely worry everyone.
BREITBART: What do you say to those conservative isolationists who say it’s fine if they’re killing each other, let’s just ignore it?
PETERS: Yeah, well, I have no problem with them killing each other. But some of them want to kill us too.
If the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Islamic State fighters are killing each other, fine. But meanwhile, we can’t look at the lesson of 9/11– or December 7, 1941, of Pearl Harbor– and say that will never happen again. To paraphrase Trotsky, you may not care about global affairs, but global affairs care about you. I would personally love to retreat to the bunker. But my God, we’ve learned time again that that you cannot do it.
There are people that genuinely, genuinely, want to harm the United States. And also, one of my maxims is when America is strong the world complains, but when America is weak the world suffers. Like it or not, if we don’t take the lead, no one else will do so on the side of the good guys. Isolationism is a very seductive argument, it’s very seductive, but it just doesn’t work. Does that mean we should be willy-nilly involved everywhere? Of course not. I hate these false dichotomies that say you’re either all in or you’re all out. The world is more complex than that; you have to operate in grey areas. We could do a better job of choosing how, and when, and where to intervene, but the idea that we can simply disengage from the world is absolutely ludicrous. Because while nature may abhor a vacuum, malevolent powers love them. And there are plenty of malevolent and potentially malevolent powers out there. Look at Putin right now. If Putin didn’t look at Obama and see a weak, indecisive president, he wouldn’t have done half the things he did.
BREITBART: But he’s not in the same league as the proto-Caliphate types, right?
PETERS: No, I think the proto-Caliphate guys are number one. I think number two is the Iranian nuclear program, simply because if they develop nukes, we’ll be in it one way or another.
BREITBART: So what should we do about both of those?
PETERS: The first thing is we should have– tragic phrase, “should have”– intervened in Syria early on before the radicals got out of hand. But now, the paradox is that in one respect, Islamist extremists have become more vulnerable as they become more successful because they have to govern. They present a broader array of targets, as the Taliban did in 2001. So, we should absolutely commit US airpower, heavyweight US airpower, against the Islamic State. And that’s not the same as supporting the Baghdad government. Forget about the Bahgdad government. Iraq is not coming back– it’s gone, it’s over, it’s done, it’s finished. But concentrate on our enemies. As long as Islamist terrorists threaten the United States, we have to go after them.
Another example of soundbite nonsense is people saying “we can’t play whack-a-mole.” Well if you don’t play whack-a-mole, you’ll get nowhere, because historically whack-a-mole is what you have to do. Until they come out in battalions, and regiments, and brigades and divisions, you’ve got to play whack-a-mole. That’s just the reality. If you don’t play whack-a-mole, their numbers continue to increase. There’s all this nonsense about, well if you kill them, they just become martyrs. I have not seen any demonstrations lately in remembrance of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. I don’t see any “Remember Osama” demonstrations. So we don’t understand the psychology, we don’t understand that when these terrorists can present themselves as succeeding, as backing down the United States, saying; “the Americans are afraid of us, see we’re getting stronger”, that’s the recruiting tool, and not martyrdom.
It’s all very complex, but I would say the first threat is these proto-Caliphate and other Islamist extremist terrorist groups. Second, Iranian nukes. Third? In the immortal words of Cyndi Lauper, “money changes everything,” and its China. China is an absolutely ruthless economic power that is probably slowing down. And I said back in the 1990s, you can worry about a successful China, but you better worry about a failing China. As China slows down, they will become ever more ruthless: industrial espionage, etc, you name it.
A close fourth is Putin and his quest for greater regional hegemony, simply because I think he is a brilliant man in many ways, but he is also the type that is subject to ultimate miscalculation.
BREITBART: On China, can I just tease you out? So if they’re slowing down economically, does that lead to an expectation that this would make them more militarily aggressive?
PETERS: Well, it’s something that makes them more economically aggressive. You have a de facto trade war already between us and Beijing as they use subsidies and other tools against us. But it makes them more economically aggressive, and potentially more militarily so. Especially if there were a contraction or a stasis within the Chinese economy, foreign military adventures would represent a very good diversion, a playing of the patriotic card.
So there’s that, but also closer to home, the insecurity on our southwestern border is usually treated as a domestic issue, but it’s not. It’s a foreign policy and security issue because, if you ran the numbers since 9/11, gang members from Latin America, especially Central America, and cartel drug members, in our cities are probably responsible for more deaths of American citizens than Islamist terrorists.
BREITBART: I remember a piece that you wrote a few years ago that really changed my outlook completely, where you made the argument, I think it was in comparison with Afghanistan or maybe Iraq, that really for the long term future, Mexico is much more important to the United States than these other countries.
PETERS: Well it is, when you talk about importance across the board as opposed to merely a threat. And this lack of understanding Mexico’s importance to America stuns me. For instance, find me a US military officer who can name three presidents of Mexico in the last century. Find me one who understands that the Mexican Revolution was a brutal war that lasted almost a decade– and by the way, by 1916 the Mexican Federal Army was much more sophisticated and better equipped than the US Army on the eve of its entry into World War I.
The Mexicans make a myth of their history as we do of ours. But, this is a nation that’s over a third the size of the United States in population, approaching half at some point soon. It’s right on our border. It’s a critical trading partner, as is Canada of course. And it is the conduit, not just for trade, but for illegal immigration, for potential terrorist infiltration, and, obviously, for drugs. So if you look at the positive, negative, and everything in between, there’s just no question about it.
It’s amazing how little we generally know about Mexico. We know Pancho Villa. He was a bandit, right? Well no, at one point he led 35,000 men in an organized military force. Mexico is a country with an incredibly rich history that pre-dates our own history by over a century. What on earth does the average military officer know about Latin America? Unless he is a Latin America Foreign Area Officer destined to top out as an 05 (Lt. Colonel, Ed).
This goes back to my earlier point. I don’t want an intellectual officer corps, but I want a well-read officer corps, and there’s a difference. I don’t want an officer corps that’s wallowing in theory, all of Petraeus and his bunch. But I want an officer corps that reads history, that is culturally somewhat attuned to at least a few parts of the world, and preferably speaks at least one foreign language even if it’s only Spanish. It’s hard, as I said, to have a wide-ranging conversation with military officers–or with Washington apparatchiks, for that matter. Original thought, creativity and curiosity have been bred out of them. We have made an ideal of mediocrity.
BREITBART: Given that our readership is made up of conservatives, but mostly younger conservatives, is there anything else, any message you’d like to send the reads of our National Security vertical?
PETERS: Yes: it’s your duty as a citizen to be physically fit. Not just for military service, but as an American.
You know conservatives need to live up to the talk, take responsibility for your own fate, for your own health, for your own education, for your own family, for your own retirement, don’t just talk the talk.
I get sick and tired of conservatives, who attack the federal government, but if their Social Security check is late… We as individual citizens need to return to a culture of personal responsibility.
Read Part One here.
Read Part Two here.