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"My Country, the US, Has Become Unrecognizable"

Updated: Jul 11, 2023

Jeffrey D. Sachs | July 8, 2023 | Transcript of speech to SHAPE (Saving Humanity and Planet Earth)

View full video of speech at the bottom of the story

My country, the U.S., is unrecognizable. I’m not sure who runs the country. I do not believe it is the president.”, says Jeffrey Sachs in a speech at a Saving Humanity and Planet Earth (SHAPE) seminar, Melbourne, Australia. “U.S. actions are putting us on a path to war with China in the same way that U.S. actions did in Ukraine.”


Good afternoon to everybody. I want to thank you for inviting me and to thank SHAPE for its leadership. I just had the privilege to listen to Alison Broinowski and Chung-in Moon. We have been treated to brilliant and insightful statements. I absolutely agree with all that has been said. The world has gone mad but especially the Anglo-Saxon world, I’m afraid. I don’t know whether there is any sense in our little English-speaking corner of the world. I’m of course speaking of the United States, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

There’s something profoundly disheartening about the politics of our countries right now. The deep madness, I’m afraid, is British Imperial thinking that has been taken over by the United States. My country, the U.S., is unrecognisable now compared even to 20 or 30 years ago. I’m not sure, to tell you the truth, who runs the country. I do not believe it is the president of the United States right now. We are run by generals, by our security establishment. The public is privy to nothing. The lies that are told about foreign policy are daily and pervasive by a mainstream media that I can barely listen to or read anymore. The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and the main television outlets are 100 per cent repeating government propaganda by the day, and it’s almost impossible to break through.

What is this about? Well, as you’ve heard, it’s about a madness of the United States to keep U.S. hegemony, a militarised foreign policy dominated by the thinking of generals who are mediocre intellects, personally greedy, and without any sense because their only modus operandi is to make war.

And they are cheer-led by Britain, which is unfortunately, in my adult life, increasingly pathetic in being a cheerleader for the United States for U.S. hegemony and for war. Whatever the U.S. says, Britain will say it ten times more enthusiastically. The U.K. leadership could not love the war in Ukraine more. It is the great Second Crimean War for the British media and for the British political leadership.

Now, how Australia and New Zealand fall for this idiocy is really a deep question for me and for you. People should know better. But I’m afraid that it is the Five Eyes and the security establishment that told the politicians, to the extent that the politicians are involved in this, ‘well this is how we have to do it’. This is our Security State and I don’t think our politicians necessarily have much role in this. By the way, the public has no role in U.S. foreign policy at all. We have no debate, no discussion, no deliberation, no debates over voting the hundred, now $113 billion, but in fact much more money spent on the Ukraine War.

So far there’s not been an hour of organised debate even in the Congress on this, much less in the public, but my guess is that the your security establishment is really the driver of this in Australia, and they explain to the Prime Minister and others: ‘you know this is the utmost National Security, and this is what America has told us. Let us, your security apparatus, explain what we’re seeing. Of course, you cannot divulge this to the broader public, but this is, at the essence, a struggle for survival in the world’.

Everything I see myself, and I’m now 43 years in this activity as an economic advisor all over the world, suggests that this message is nonsense. One thing that would be interesting for people to look at, in order to understand these developments, is a very telling article by a former colleague of mine at Harvard, Ambassador Robert Blackwell and Ashley Tellis, written for the Council on Foreign Relations in March 2015. I want to read a couple excerpts from it because it laid out the plan of what’s happening right now pretty directly. This is how things work in the U.S., in which future plans are laid to out the establishment in such reports.

We’re basically told in 2015 what’s going to happen in US-China relations. The deterioration of relations was planned — it’s not ad hoc. So, here’s what Blackwell and Tellis wrote in 2015. First, “Since its founding, the United States has consistently pursued a grand strategy focused on acquiring and maintaining preeminent power over various rivals. First on the North American continent, then in the Western Hemisphere, and finally, globally.” And then argues that “preserving U.S. primacy in the global system ought to remain the central objective of U.S. grand strategy in the 21st century.”

So, what’s the U.S. goal? The goal is very straightforward, it is primacy of the United States globally. Blackwell and Tellis lay out the game plan for China. They tell us what to do.

Here’s the list, though I’m only excerpting: “Creating new preferential trading arrangements among U.S. friends and allies to increase their mutual gains through instruments that consciously exclude China.” This is the game that Obama already started with TPP, though he couldn’t get it through domestic political opposition. Second, “create, in partnership with U.S. allies, a technology control regime vis-à-vis Beijing,” to block China’s strategic capabilities. Third, build up “power-political capacities of U.S. friends and allies on China’s periphery,” and “improving the capability of U.S. military forces to effectively project power along the Asian rimlands despite any Chinese opposition.”

What I find especially remarkable about this list is that it was made in 2015. It’s the step-by-step plan of action actually being carried out. This foreshadowing of US policies by way of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) is well-known in recent history. In 1997 in the CFR’s journal Foreign Affairs, Zbigniew Brzezinski laid out with precision the intended timeline for NATO enlargement and specifically the intention to include Ukraine in that NATO enlargement. Of course, that NATO enlargement plan has led us directly to the Ukraine War, which is indeed a proxy Russia-US war over NATO enlargement.

Now the friends and geniuses that brought you the Ukraine War are on their way to bringing you a new war in your neighbourhood. As Professor Moon noted, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation is starting to open its offices in East Asia, which is not exactly the North Atlantic.

So, this is where we are. It’s not absolutely simple to see through for one main reason, at least in the U.S. I’m not sure what it’s like in Australia but I expect that it’s the pretty much the same as in the U.S., where we have no honesty or public deliberation about any of this. The policies are owned entirely by the security establishment, the military-industrial complex, the network of “think tanks” which are in fact non-think tanks in Washington, with almost all funded by the military-industrial complex.

They military industrial complex and its corporate lobby have taken over the East Coast universities where I teach. I taught at Harvard for more than 20 years, and now I teach at Columbia University. The influence of the intelligence agencies on the campuses is unprecedented, in my experience. All of this has happened without much public notice, almost a silent coup. There is no debate, no public politics, no honesty, no documents revealed. Everything is secret, confidential and a bit mysterious. Since I happen to be an economist who engages with the heads of state and ministers around the world, I hear a lot of things and see and see a lot of things that help me to pierce through the official “narratives” and pervasive lies.

You will not find any of this in our public discourse. And just a word, if I may, about the Ukraine War. The war was completely predictable, and resulted from a U.S. plan for hegemony based on NATO enlargement that dates back to the early 1990’s. The U.S. strategy was to bring Ukraine into the U.S. military orbit. Brzezinski, again in 1997 in his book The Global Chess Board, laid out the strategy. Russia without Ukraine is nothing, he argued. Ukraine, he wrote, is the geographical pivot for Eurasia. Interestingly, Brzezinski warned American policy-makers to ensure that they don’t push Russia and China into an alliance. In fact, that would be so antithetical to U.S. interests that Brzezinski clearly believed that it would never happen. But it has, because U.S. foreign policy is incompetent as well as profoundly dangerous and misconceived.

During 1990-91, I happen to have been an advisor to Gorbachev, and during 1991-94, to Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kuchma, spanning the late days of perestroika and the early days of Russian and Ukrainian independence after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. I watched very closely what was happening. I saw that the United States was absolutely uninterested in any way in helping Russia to stabilise.

The idea of the U.S. security establishment from the early 1990s was U.S.-led unipolarity, or U.S. hegemony. In the early 1990s, the U.S. rejected measures to help stabilise the Soviet economy and then the Russian economy, while it also began planning NATO enlargement, in direct contradiction to what the U.S. and Germany had promised Gorbachev and Yeltsin. So, the issue of NATO enlargement, including to Ukraine, is part of a U.S. game plan that started in the early 1990s, and eventually led to the Ukraine war.

By the way the U.S. was deeply involved in the overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Russian president in 2014. Yes, this was a coup, and to an important extent, a regime change operation of the United States. I happen to have seen a part of it, and I know that U.S. money poured into supporting the Maidan. Such U.S. meddling was disgusting and destabilising, and all part of the game plan to enlarge NATO to Ukraine and Georgia.

When one looks at the map it’s indeed Brzezinski’s 1997 idea: surround Russia in the Black Sea region. Ukraine, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Georgia would all be members of NATO. That would be the end of Russian power projection in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. So it went for these “security” geniuses.

Putin put forward diplomatic responses that were repeatedly rejected by the U.S. and its NATO allies, including the Minsk II Agreement endorsed by the U.N Security Council, but then ignored by Ukraine.

On December 17, 2021, Putin put on the table a perfectly reasonable document as the basis for negotiation, A Draft U.S.-Russia Security Agreement. At the core was Russia’s call for an end to NATO expansion. Tragically, the U.S. blew it off. I called the White House at the end of December 2021, spoke with one of our top security officials, and pleaded, “Negotiate. Stop the NATO enlargement. You have a chance to avoid war.” Of course, to no avail. The United States’ formal response to Putin was that NATO enlargement was non-negotiable with Russia, a matter in which Russia has absolutely no say.

This is a mind-boggling way to pursue foreign affairs because it is a direct road to war. I hope everybody understands this war in Ukraine was close to ending as early as March 2022 with a negotiated agreement just one month after Russia invaded on February 24th. The negotiated agreement was stopped by the U.S. because it was based on Ukraine’s neutrality. The U.S. told Ukraine to fight on, end negotiations, and reject neutrality.

And so we are in a war that continues to escalate towards possible nuclear war, which is what would happen if Russia were to suffer deep defeats on the battlefield. Russia is not losing on the battlefield just now, but if it did, it would likely escalate to nuclear war. Russia is not going to be pushed out of the Donbas and Crimea and go meekly go home with apologies. Russia is going to escalate if it needs to escalate. So, we are right now in a spiral that is extremely dangerous.

Japan plays utterly into this spiral. And Australia does as well. It’s so sad to watch Australia accepting to be used in this reckless way. To pay a fortune for new military bases in a reckless, provocative, and costly way, that will feed the U.S. military-industrial complex while weighing heavily on Australia.

Such U.S. actions are putting us on a path to war with China in the same way that U.S. actions did in Ukraine. Only an Asia-Pacific war would be even more disastrous. The whole idea of the U.S. and its allies fighting China is mind-boggling in its implications, its stupidity and its recklessness. All of this is utterly divorced from Australia’s real security interests. China is not a threat to Australia. It is not a threat to the world.

I don’t know of a single overseas Chinese invasion in its history, by the way, except when the Mongols briefly ruled China and tried to invade Japan. Other than the Mongol invasion, defeated by a typhoon, China has not launched overseas wars. It’s just not part of China’s statecraft, nor would such wars be in China’s national interest.

What worries me about the world is a deeply neurotic United States (in)security leadership that aims to be number one, but that can’t be number one in the way that it believes. This is pathetic, yet is applauded each day in London, a place that still dreams of the glory of global empire from a long bygone era.

Permit me, in conclusion, to take one minute to say what should be done.

First, the war in Ukraine could end the day Biden steps up and says NATO will not enlarge to Ukraine. The basis for a negotiated security arrangement has been there for 30 years, but has been rejected so far by the U.S.

Second, the idea of opening NATO offices in Asia is mind-boggling in its foolishness. Please tell the Japanese to stop this reckless action.

Third, the U.S. approach to arming Taiwan is profoundly dangerous, provocative and deliberately so.

Fourth, what is needed most in the Asia-Pacific is regional dialogue amongst Asia-Pacific nations.

Fifth, the Asia-Pacific should build on RCEP [Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement]. RCEP is the correct concept for the region to bring together China, Korea, Japan, the ten ASEAN countries, Australia and New Zealand in a coherent framework, especially around the climate challenge, energy policy, trade policy, and infrastructure and investment policy. A well-functioning RCEP would do a world of good, not only for the 15 countries in RCEP but for the entire world.

Sorry to have run on so long but it’s so important what SHAPE is doing. You’re completely on the right track and all best wishes to your efforts.

Watch the full seminar featuring Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Dr Alison Broinowski, Professor Chung-in Moon, Professor Victor Gao, Professor Richard Falk, Professor Chandra Muzaffar and Professor Joseph Camilleri here:


Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, is Director of Columbia’s Center for Sustainable Development and the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. He has served as Special Adviser to three UN Secretaries-General. His books include The End of Poverty, Common Wealth, The Age of Sustainable Development, Building the New American Economy, and most recently, A New Foreign Policy: Beyond American Exceptionalism.

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John Woodford
John Woodford
11 Jul 2023

To this great essay I'll add Michael Brenner's in Consortium News: ttps://

As he notes: "Fading prowess is one of the most difficult things for humans to cope with — whether it be an individual or a nation. By nature, we prize our strength and competence; we dread decline and its intimations of extinction. This is especially so in the United States where for many the individual and the collective persona are inseparable.

"No other country tries so relentlessly to live its legend as does the U.S. Today, events are occurring that contradict the American narrative of a nation with a unique destiny. That creates cognitive dissonance.

"Americanism acts as a Unified Field Theory of self-identity, collective enterprise, and the…

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