With that, Johnson launched into a critique of the Bush administration and U.S. foreign policy: How could President Bush have asked Congress after the Sept. 11 attacks, "Why do they hate us?" He needed only to look at members of his own administration, Johnson said, who had served in previous administrations that supported the likes of Manuel Noriega, Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. "It's a remarkable litany of characters we have decided have worn out their usefulness for us," he said.
Johnson spoke of the many military bases the U.S. maintains around the globe and the animosity the bases engender in so many countries. He could understand such a strong global military presence during the Cold War, when the U.S. needed to contain the spread of communism. But why did the U.S. continue to maintain such a vast military presence at such a high cost? There was only one answer, he said: empire.
How would Americans feel, he wondered, if they found themselves in the position so many citizens of other countries are now? "If we had a division of Turkish troops in San Diego," Johnson said, "we'd have a few patriotic young [American] men who would kill a couple [of Turks] every weekend."
Johnson said he fears America's aggression will come back to haunt the country. He spoke of the rise of China and the costs of the U.S. military bases. He invoked the fall of the Roman Empire and recalled how rapidly the empires of Japan, Germany and the Soviet Union had fallen in his own lifetime. He worried about the military industrial complex, which he fears will only grow stronger and more dominant in guiding U.S. policies abroad in the years to come. "I'm 72 years old," he said. "Given the pace of events, I think there's a good chance I'll live to see the end of the American empire."
When Johnson asked for questions, one woman wondered how he could offer such a grim forecast with so little hope. Johnson nodded. He had heard the complaint before. "My wife keeps saying to me, 'You cannot go on without ever having a hopeful message,'" he said. The truth is, Johnson isn't too optimistic, but he maintains a sense of humor.
"Plan your escape route," he has joked. "Think about Vancouver."