The transcript of Dialogos Radio’s interview with analyst Alexander Mercouris, co-founder of TheDuran.com. This interview aired on our broadcasts for the week of March 8-14, 2017. Find the podcast of this interview here.
MN: Joining us today on Dialogos Radio and the Dialogos Interview Series is London-based writer and geopolitical analyst Alexander Mercouris. With a long career in the Royal Courts of Justice in London, where he specialized in human rights and constitutional law, Mercouris is now a frequent guests on a number of television news programs and writes for several outlets, including TheDuran.com, which he has co-founded. Mr. Mercouris, thank you very much for joining us today.
AM: Thank you very much for having me.
MN: To get us started: Recently, United States president Donald Trump gave his first speech before a joint session of Congress. Despite the intense negativity on the part of much of the mainstream media towards Trump and his administration, this speech received many positive reviews from these same journalists and commentators. What are your impressions of Trump’s speech and the reaction to it? Do you believe it signifies a change in the stance of the media towards Trump, or does it perhaps signify a change in the direction of the Trump administration itself?
AM: I don’t believe either is the case, actually. I believe that the media is as relentlessly hostile to Mr. Trump as it’s always been, and I also think that there’s been no substantial change in the direction of the Trump administration either. If you analyze the speech carefully, you will see that both on his domestic policies and on his foreign policies he didn’t actually give an inch.
However, the reason why it was received more favorably than some of his other speeches is because on this occasion he was very careful to put his case in a measured way that is conventional to an American political audience. So, he said many of the things that the American political elite expects a president to say. He talked about the United States as the country of freedom, he spoke about democracy, he spoke about the role of the United States in ways that an American political elite audience expects and which he has not done previously. And I think the reason he did that was because he needs the support of the members of his own party in the Congress to carry through his very controversial and radical program, and I think during his speech he made a very big step towards getting it.
MN: The Trump administration is seeking a $54 billion increase in the defense budget of the United States. Do you believe that this proposed increase in defense spending contradicts Trump’s rhetoric in favor of better relations with Russia and against regime change globally, or do you believe that it is an effort on the part of the Trump administration to get the armed forces on its side?
AM: I think the second is actually the truth. I don’t think Mr. Trump actually intends this military buildup to pressure, or is in contradiction to his policies either towards Russia or in his general opposition to regime change. However, the U.S. military—and we’re talking about a very large organization here, millions of people if one includes the families of the people who serve in the armed forces—were a major electoral constituency of Donald Trump in the recent election. And, the U.S. military has been feeling like it is under a great deal of pressure in recent years as it has been asked to do perhaps too many things. So, he has agreed to increase defense spending, much of which I suspect will go into improving conditions for U.S. servicemen and their families. And of course, it’s also won him the support of the many senior military officers that he is bringing into his administration. This is an important political constituency for him, and it is one he is winning over.
The danger of this policy that though I don’t think he intends it to be aggressive towards other countries, other countries may not see it that way. They may see this buildup and they may say “what is the United States about? It already has this huge military. It’s now adding even more military on top of that. What is its purpose? What is the intention of all this extra firepower? Are we really looking at a more peaceful administration?” And I’m afraid I think that is something that President Trump needs to think about and possibly explain when he contacts other foreign leaders, always assuming, of course, that my analysis of his intentions is correct.
MN: You’ve written in a recent article of yours that the real story and the real cover-up of the recent presidential elections in the United States is the wiretapping which the outgoing Obama administration reportedly engaged in against the incoming Trump administration, and that the anti-Russia hysteria is meant to serve as a cover-up for this story. Could you elaborate on this?
AM: I think that there is no doubt at all that over the last year we have seen a relentless surveillance campaign carried out on Mr. Trump, on his associates, on all sorts of people involving the Trump campaign. We’ve also seen an orchestrated campaign against them in the media, on the part of the media that was allied during the election to Mr. Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton. And of course, we’ve also seen the Democratic Party in Congress and elsewhere support this campaign, and we’ve also seen members of the U.S. security services, which are part of this campaign, also vocally speaking up about it.
Now, this is a sustained interference by the previous administration and its political allies and by sections of the security sections, in the conduct of the U.S. election. Nothing like that has ever happened on anything like this scale before. And if it is exposed, to what extent it has been happening, it will inevitably provoke many questions and perhaps also legal questions, because one has to ask whether it is appropriate during an election to subject people who are not guilty of any wrongdoing, to this kind of surveillance. In order to do that, we have seen a huge campaign going on alleging that these people were placed under surveillance because they had some kind of contacts with Russia, though it is important to say that no evidence of that has ever been produced. So that is why I feel that the Russia part of the campaign is the smokescreen, the surveillance is the actual scandal.
MN: In another recent piece of yours, you’ve written that the new Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions, was correct in recusing himself from any investigations against Russia. Why do you feel that this is the case?
AM: I should make it very clear that I don’t think that Mr. Sessions did anything wrong at all. The accusation against him is that he met the Russian Ambassador on two occasions. Both of these occasions took place in a perfectly public setting. One was at a conference involving the Heritage Foundation, to which many ambassadors were invited and where the meeting took place only briefly. The second meeting was in his office in Capitol Hill with possibly three and definitely two aides present, both of those aides being United States Army colonels. Certainly not, it seems to me, any possibility that either of these meetings was in any way suspicious or that any sort of conspiracy was going on.
Having said this, the fact remains that Mr. Sessions had some connection to the Trump campaign. It is also the case, whether one likes the fact or not, that there are allegations swirling around how the Trump campaign had contacts with Russia. In light of this, one cannot avoid, it seems to me, a situation where he has to recuse himself to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. So that is all that has happened. It is by no means unusual in these situations. No one should assume from this that there is anything wrong or suspicious in what Mr. Sessions did. I think he did the right decisions and I think that it will be seen over time that the decision that he took was the right one, and I am confident that when this process is completed, his stand will be completely vindicated.
MN: Early last year here on Dialogos Radio, we had the opportunity to speak with another well-known analyst and commentator, Paul Craig Roberts, who described for us what he felt was a battle which was brewing between the globalist, neoliberal faction in Washington, and the old foreign policy establishment. More recently, French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen stated that there is a battle between the globalists and the patriots, as she described them. Do you believe that this is what we have been seeing in recent months, with the attacks against the Trump administration, against Brexit, and against candidates such as Le Pen?
AM: I think there is a great deal of truth to this. I would make one particular modification: I think that one has to speak of the globalist establishment as the establishment. The people who Dr. Roberts referred to as the “old establishment” are not the establishment any more. They are the outsiders. They are the people of the past, who are, however, finding certain people in the present who are listening to them and who are now gaining influence again.
So yes, we are talking of a battle, we’re talking of a battle between globalists, people who believe in the West as a kind of universal civilization, about the United States as a kind of exceptional state that is at the forefront of that civilization and is acting as the crusader around the world for that civilization, and we are talking against them, of more and more people who adhere to more traditional and, I would say, conventional foreign policy positions, which is the foreign policy is about defending national interests, not about defending universalist values, and that a country should model its foreign policy around its own interests and be realistic about those. So we are seeing this huge battle underway. It is underway to a huge degree in the United States, it is starting to spill over into Europe, and I believe this battle will grow.
MN: Having mentioned the establishment, you have described the media’s behavior in recent months, and particularly following the Brexit referendum result and the electoral victory of Donald Trump in the U.S., as a campaign against free speech, with accusations of so-called “fake news” and “alternative facts” being thrown about. What do you believe the media’s endgame is in all of this, and do you believe that the mainstream media has helped or hurt its credibility with these actions? Do you also believe that people are still buying what the mainstream media have to say?
AM: Several questions here. The first thing to say is that I have no doubt at all that the agenda here is to make the views of the globalist establishment—we can use Dr. Roberts’ language—to make those the unchallengeable orthodoxy. In other words, to close down discussion so that the universalist, exceptionalist, globalist views that have become the establishment and which have been accepted by the media establishment—which we must always remember is part of the foreign policy and political establishment in the West now—to make those views unchallengeable and to make them the only ones which are acceptable. And what we see in this campaign about “alternative facts” and “fake news” is an attempt to delegitimize alternatives to this orthodoxy. This orthodoxy which, at the moment, is being so powerfully challenged. So, it is in effect a defensive reaction by the media and the establishment against a challenge that it never expected but which it is now encountering.
To answer your last question, I think it damages the credibility of the media extremely, because it makes the media a part of a partisan conflict within, if you like, the two different establishments. It makes it appear more a propaganda instrument for one, than an accurate reporter of the news.
MN: Recently, and looking towards the east now, we’ve seen the nationalization of Ukrainian businesses in the Donbass and Lubansk Republics, and the recognition, on the part of Russia and Russian president Vladimir Putin, of passports and official documents from these republics. Do you believe that we are seeing decisive steps being taken towards the full independence of these two republics?
AM: I think that a particular tipping point has been reached. The situation is that we have an agreement, the Minsk Agreement, which was negotiated with great difficulty in February 2015, which was supposed to provide a road map towards a settlement of the Ukrainian conflict. The present Ukrainian government is not interested in pursuing this road map, because that would create a kind of Ukraine which is different from the sort of Ukraine that it wants. So the result is that we have an impasse that has been created, and as a result of that impasse, we are now seeing a movement away from the attempt, by the Russians and by people in the Donbass, to work towards the Minsk Agreement, towards perhaps what is the more natural outcome, which is a separation of the Donbass from the Ukraine, which will become increasingly more effective. I’m afraid I think that point has been reached and I don’t think that momentum is stoppable anymore.
MN: The Ukraine, on the other hand, seems to find itself facing more and more difficulties, including the possibility of being cut off from energy sources in the Donbass, increasing political instability, and what seems to be less than warm support from the Trump administration so far. Some commentators have even questioned the very survival of the Ukrainian state or have described it as a failed state. What’s your take on the Ukraine and what is currently happening there, and the future of this state?
AM: I think that the Ukraine’s situation is becoming increasingly problematic, and the reason for this is that we have in the Ukraine a political movement and a government which, to an extreme degree, is putting its ideological goals above the practical realities that it faces. It is sacrificing the economy of the Ukraine and the society of the Ukraine to achieve ideological goals which are unachievable. Now, when you have that kind of situation where there is a flight from reality on the part of a government and a political movement that is in power, it is very difficult to speak with any confidence about a viable future.
So, though I think there is still some space politically for the Ukraine to pull its act together, I’m afraid that space is fast running out, and unless certain very serious decisions are made very soon, both in the Ukraine itself and by its Western sponsors, I’m afraid we may very soon reach the point of no return for the Ukraine.
MN: Turning now to Syria, we recently saw the full liberation of Palmyra. What is the current status of the conflict in Syria, what was the role played by Russian and Iranian forces, and where has the battle against ISIS now shifted?
AM: I think the intervention of Russia and Iran, but especially of Russia, has been decisive. If we go back to 2015, before the Russians intervened, the situation was very clear that the Syrian government and the Syrian army was on the backfoot. They had lost control of most of central and eastern Syria, they had lost control of the critical northwestern province of Idlib, they were under pressure in all directions. Since Russia intervened so decisively, and Iran perhaps to a certain degree that we perhaps are not fully informed about, that situation has completely reversed, so that the Syrian government is now in control of all the major urban centers in Syria, it has regained full control of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, it is in full control of all its major economic areas, and it is on the offensive both against ISIS in the east of the country, with the capture of Palmyra being a sign of that, and it is increasingly taking the offensive in areas to the west of the country, where other jihadi rebel groups have been fighting against it.
So one has to say that increasingly it looks like an unstoppable momentum is being created around an eventual victory for the Syrian government and the Syrian army. Having said this, there are still many external players in Syria. There is Turkey in the north of Syria, which has its troops there. There’s the United States, which is heavily involved in Syria, and to a lesser extent now, I think there are the Gulf Arab states, which have previously supported and which, to some extent, continue to support sections of the opposition. I think what we will see is a concerted effort by the Russians, and to some extent the Iranians, to capitalize on the successes they have achieved, to achieve some kind of constitutional settlement in Syria that will end the conflict there but which will essentially leave the present political and governmental structure in Syria intact, as suits their interests.
MN: Turning now to Europe, we seem to be seeing a game of political ping-pong being played now between the House of Commons and the House of Lords in Great Britain, regarding Brexit. British Prime Minister Theresa May has nevertheless maintained that Article 50 will be invoked by the end of March. Do you believe that May will keep this pledge and that Brexit will proceed, and do you believe that following the House of Lords vote, that any Brexit legislation that ultimately passes will be watered down in any way?
AM: I am confident that Theresa May will in fact move for Article 50 at some point this month. She has put at stake, to a very great degree, her political prestige on this, and I think she will be extremely anxious not to delay that deadline. Moreover, I do not think that these latest decisions in the House of Lords, which I regard as reversible, are going to put pressure on her to delay that.
Now, as to what happens in the future, it remains to be seen. My own personal view is that the direction towards Brexit that Britain is now taking will not be significantly diluted. I think we will see what is called in Britain a “hard Brexit,” which involves Britain not only leaving the EU’s political institutions, but its economic institutions and its single market as well. I expect Britain also to reimpose controls on its borders and, in effect, to sever itself from the European Union completely. I think that the political momentum behind this is unstoppable, and I don’t think that all the various political and legal barriers that some are still trying to create in Britain to that outcome can succeed.
MN: This does seem like it will be a year of significant political developments throughout Europe, and notably, we may see major political shock waves emerge out of the upcoming elections in countries such as France and Germany, where Eurosceptic parties and candidates are making significant gains. What would, for instance, a Le Pen victory in France or a Wilders victory in Holland or an AfD victory in Germany mean for the future of the European Union and the Eurozone?
AM: I think that we have to look at these three outcomes separately. First of all, I don’t personally think that there is any real possibility of an AfD victory in Germany. I think if we look at the polls, the AfD has grown remarkably over the last few years, but it is polling around 10-15 percent of the vote. I cannot imagine it winning outright an election there. Whoever wins in Germany, it will still be, I think, one of the establishment, mainstream, pro-European parties.
However if we look elsewhere, in the Netherlands and in France, there are more possibilities. I’m not sure how strong those possibilities are, but there are more possibilities of either a Wilders win or a Le Pen win. Now, if we’re looking at the Netherlands, it is an important country but it is not a crucial one. I think the European Union can get by despite a Wilders victory in the Netherlands. If Marine Le Pen wins in France, then I will be frank, I think that is an existential crisis for the European Union and the Eurozone. Not just because of what Marine Le Pen has said about the European Union and about the Eurozone, in particular that she wants to leave the Eurozone, but because of what has been said about her. It is inconceivable to my mind that the political leaders of Germany or of other countries, who have called Marine Le Pen a fascist and even worse things, could successfully politically collaborate with her. So we will be looking at a crisis within the Union, the like of which we have never seen before, and it is very difficult in that kind of situation for me to see the already very fragile Eurozone surviving that sort of outcome.
I must say that I think because it will be such an existential crisis for the European Union, all the stops are going to be pulled out to stop it from happening. So we’re going to see an extremely fierce election campaign in France, with everything being done to prevent Marine Le Pen winning, and I have to say that, on balance, I don’t think she will.
MN: The SYRIZA-led government in Greece recently congratulated itself on an agreement which it reached with the troika of European and international creditors, in which it claims that, beginning in 2019, no new austerity measures will be implemented, as a result of so-called “equivalent measures” and with the caveat that Greece will meet all of its strict fiscal targets from now until 2019. What are conditions like on the ground in Greece, in your view, and do you believe that the country can handle at least two more years of austerity and continued membership in the Eurozone?
AM: There’s three things to say here. Firstly, I have been recently in Greece, I saw the situation there, and my own personal view is that the situation on the ground is going from bad to worse. I found the hardship the people in Greece are suffering to be, frankly, off the scale, and I think that anybody who believes that the situation in Greece is improving is engaging in complete delusion. I would also say that there has recently been a spate of articles in the international media, including some very interesting articles in the Financial Times in Britain, which have been saying the same thing, and that also seems to be the view increasingly of people within the International Monetary Fund. So that’s my view about the situation in Greece.
The second thing is, I think extending this situation for a further two years would be disastrous even if it ended in two years. I don’t think it is going to end in two years. We heard claims about how there is light at the end of this tunnel before, at the time of the “bailout” agreement in 2015 there was some talk that there was going to be relaxation on repayment conditions which never happened. I don’t believe there will be any significant end to austerity in two years’ time.
I’m afraid I think the reality is that Greece is trapped in this permanent austerity tunnel. I think the sooner people in Greece understand this the better. I think that people in SYRIZA and in other parties who are pretending otherwise, are not being honest with the Greek people. And I think the sooner we have honesty about this issue the better, because the lack of honesty is making it difficult to make the decisions that need to be made.
MN: You are, of course, one of the co-founders of TheDuran.com, which is a new initiative, founded less than a year ago, and which during this short period of time, has been accused by some of publishing so-called “fake news,” and of being a Putin puppet or even a Trump puppet. How do you respond to these claims and how do you believe The Duran differentiates itself from mainstream news and analysis sites?
AM: I don’t think we are any kind of “fake news” site. What I do think we do is that we do publish news which is different, sometimes, or shall we say, opinions which are different from the ones that mainstream media publishes. And sometimes, we publish news that the mainstream, or shall we say the establishment media, does not publish.
I will give an example of this. If we look carefully at the situation in Syria, last autumn there was—I don’t think there’s any question about this, it’s been confirmed both by American officials and by Russian officials—a very dangerous confrontation between the Americans and the Russians in Syria, which could have very easily ended in a military conflict between the two militaries of those two countries. The establishment media has barely reported that fact, though it is a matter of public knowledge. We reported it.
I have to go back to the points that I made previously, that what we are facing in the establishment media is an attempt to impose a single truth, which is the globalist, exceptionalist truth, as the only truth. We challenge that. We report things the mainstream doesn’t report, we analyze things which mainstream media does not analyze. We do not make things up, but the fact that we analyze things they don’t analyze and that we report things that they don’t report, puts us, if you will, in the target.
Coming back to an earlier question, what we do fulfills an important function. We think that it is a free speech function, and trying to silence sites like ours, which report news and analyze facts which others do not report and do not analyze, is an attack on our freedom to speak out these things, and denies people the benefit of that freedom.
MN: Well Mr. Mercouris, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us today here on Dialogos Radio and Dialogos Interview Series, and for sharing your analysis and insights with us.
AM: It has been a great pleasure.
Please excuse any typos or errors which may exist within this transcript.