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This is part of a series of planned interviews with journalists, historians, geo-political experts, and politicians asking the question “What would a rational American foreign policy look like?”

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Welcome back to the next segment of our interview with Aijaz Ahmad, where we ask: what would be a rational foreign policy for the United States? Aijaz, one of the fundamental principles espoused in US foreign policy and both candidates talk about over and over again is the need to keep a strong American military. If you’re weak on military issues, you’re assumed to lose an American election. And the threat is terrorism. Before, the threat was communism, now the threat’s terrorism, and for those reasons we need to be able to project US military power. What’s wrong with the assumption?

AIJAZ AHMAD, SENIOR NEWS ANALYST: The first thing that is wrong with it, actually, Paul, is that, in my view, a basic distinction has to be made between what we might call, as the phrase goes, international terrorism and use of violence in various places by various agents from their local and regional purposes. Now, by international terrorism I mean essentially al-Qaeda—people who do not represent any political forces, who are elite, millenarian formations, and who are committed to carry out acts of violence across international borders. They are the relatively few, and those can be isolated. And all the would-be competitors of the United States are cooperating with the United States in that, whether it is European or Asian or Russian or whatever. So that can be a cooperative international action.

JAY: To fight this type of terrorism.

AHMAD: Yeah. But I want to make two other points on it. One is that when September 11 happened, the United States had a very clear choice to use it, to regard it as international high crime by certain private individuals who did not represent a state, in that it would have had immense support from all over the world, or to use it as an occasion to launch an endless war, which President Bush said in September 2001 would be fought over 40, 60 countries. The US took that option. By contrast, for example, a very major terrorist act was committed in Madrid later. What did the Spaniards do? They elected a new president, because that president had committed himself to withdrawing troops from Iraq, Spanish troops from Iraq. They recognized that the reason we are getting this is that our troops are in Iraq, which goes back to something that Osama bin Laden said. He asked an Al-Jazeera journalist, why don’t we bomb Sweden?

JAY: If the enemy is freedom. Yeah.

AHMAD: Yeah. If the enemy is freedom, if the enemy is the West, if the enemy is Christians, if the enemy is whatever. Why not Sweden because [inaudible]. So even when you are talking of international terrorism—.

JAY: US policy does not distinguish between a Hezbollah, a Hamas, and an al-Qaeda.

AHMAD: That was precisely what I was implying when I said you have to make that very profound distinction. Hezbollah is a major political party in Lebanon. Even when it uses violence, it has local and regional objectives. Hamas won the elections in Gaza. I don’t have to like Hamas. I don’t like Hamas. I don’t have to like Hezbollah. The point is that Hezbollah is probably the largest political party right now in Lebanon. Hezbollah has won that. They use violence to obtain certain results, which I think they would not obtain through violence [sic]. That’s a different matter. But they should not be treated as terrorists. Now you have come to a point where anybody who has any kind of aspirations and uses violence, you call them terrorists. Nelson Mandela used to be called a terrorist.

JAY: Even attacks on either American or other soldiers is called terrorist, which in any traditional sense of the word is not terrorism.

AHMAD: Absolutely. You know, it’s an army engaged in military occupation. An act against it is maybe whatever, but it’s not terrorism. So, first of all, you have to have a very clear and concise definition of what constitutes terrorism. You have to distinguish between those people who commit acts of terrorism, according to that definition, across international borders and those who don’t, those who threaten Americans on American soil and those who do not. If Hezbollah or, someday, Hamas uses violence against the United States, you have to ask them why did they just—Hezbollah would not have used any violence against the United States if United States Navy was not there in the Port of Beirut.

JAY: So, concretely, what should the US do in regards to terrorism?

AHMAD: Here, I think, as in every other aspect of a rational foreign policy, United States must resist at all costs the temptation to act unilaterally. Terrorism is something that—the kind of terrorism we are talking about is something that threatens not only the United States; it threatens Russia, it threatens China, it threatens Iran. Iran has arrested hundreds of al-Qaeda operatives. There’s no reason for the United States to act unilaterally. It must act in unison with the international community. And when I say international community, I do not mean western powers; I literally mean countries of the world, and especially countries of Asia, where these forces are largely located, and who threaten states in Asia—India, China, Russia, all of them.

JAY: In the next segment of our discussion, we’ll talk about sort of the economic heart of the problem—oil. Please join us for the next segment of our discussion with Aijaz Ahmad.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Based in New Delhi, Aijaz Ahmad has appeared many times on The Real News Network; he is Senior Editorial Consultant, and political commentator for the Indian newsmagazine, Frontline. He has taught Political Science, and has written widely on South Asia and the Middle East.