The Obama-Biden worldview with Eric Margolis, Phyllis Bennis and Paul Heinbecker Pt3


Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Welcome back to our discussion on US foreign policy. I’m joined in the studio by Eric Margolis in Ottawa; Paul Heinbecker, Canada’s former ambassador to the United Nations; and in Washington, DC, joined by Phyllis Bennis from the Institute for Policy Studies. The Bush-Cheney administration has been rather aggressive, obviously, in its rhetoric and possible plans for Iran. Almost every day we read the talk about Joe Lieberman, McCain’s running-mate, urging and supporting an Israeli attack on Iran. When McCain was in Israel and in Iraq, he talked about how Iran trains al-Qaeda operatives. Both Lieberman and McCain have used the rhetoric that Iran is going to have nuclear weapons and give them to terrorists that are going to come to use them against the United States. But early on in the campaign, Joe Biden was very careful in his language about Iran and said, in fact, if you don’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons, don’t threaten regime change. And Biden was very circumspect in these threats. In fact, Biden wasn’t threatening. Now, recently, we hear Obama sounding more and more threatening, especially at the AIPAC conference. So, Phyllis, tell us what to expect, first of all, from the McCain camp vis-à-vis Iran, and then from Obama.

PHYLLIS BENNIS, INSTITUTE FOR PUBLIC POLICY: Well, I think it’s easier to look at what the McCain camp stands for. I think that Senator McCain was perhaps the clearest of all candidates when he was asked what would he do about the challenge allegedly facing the United States as a result of Iran’s nuclear program, which we should note is not a nuclear weapons program, according to the National Intelligence Estimate of the United States and the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency. Both agree Iran doesn’t have a nuclear weapons program. But when he was asked what he would do about Iran, he smiled, he took one step back, and he sang a little song based on the Beach Boys’ old 1960s song Barbara Ann, and he sang, ♫ bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran ♫. And it was a stunning moment, because he didn’t get embarrassed and say, “Oh my God—was the camera running? I didn’t mean that.” There was no sense of that. He meant it. He said it deliberately. He was clearly looking for an opportunity to sing his little song. And I think that’s what makes that very clear. Now, let me just say one thing about Obama, who has taken a very different stance, saying from the beginning that he would begin direct talks with Iran, but at the same time saying that he would not take a military option off the table. So he’s really playing both sides here.

JAY: In fact, Biden I think’s actually been more clear-cut on this. Biden’s actually not wanted to even talk about a military option in Iran. So, Eric, a little bit from you on what to expect from McCain and what might we expect from an Obama administration towards Iran.

ERIC MARGOLIS, THE REAL NEWS ANALYST: Well, I agree with Phyllis a hundred percent. McCain has shown frightening behavior, almost psychotic behavior, towards Iran, this kind of foaming at the mouth, even though Iran has no nuclear weapons. He’s not threatening anybody. It’s become a mania, an obsession now. It’s replaced Iraq and al-Qaeda as the new obsession of the administration. There was a very strong war party that is determined to provoke war with Iran no matter what happens, and McCain is clearly in this camp, and so are all of his major neoconservative advisors. That’s one of their raison d’êtres. Obama, it’s true, first came out sensibly and said we should negotiate with Iran. But then there was such a furore against him, so much pressure, that he’s began backing off. But as for Biden, it was very courageous of him to take that stance. To paraphrase Kipling, if you can keep your head while all about you are hysterical and baying for war, it is a very brave act, particularly when your Senate campaign is funded by political contributions. But what worries me so much is that what we’ve seen in recent days, McCain’s two horsemen of the apocalypse, Senator Graham and Lieberman, were out touring Georgia, calling for a severe reaction to the Soviet aggression, and we’ve got to stop Soviet aggression—even though they were in favor of invading Iraq and Afghanistan, wanted to go to war with Iran. And they’ve been urging sanctions and isolation of Russia. I mean, they’re really war beaters, and they are speaking for McCain, and they give us a very good preview of what McCain’s policy is going to be like. He has called for two things. He’s called for confrontation of Russia and China, and he’s just the other day announced in a speech—I think it was the American Legion, a veterans group—he said, “We are going to fight evil,” and evil of course is codeword for Muslims and anybody else who disagrees with US policy.

JAY: Paul Heinbecker, you’ve looked these neocons in the eye at the United Nations during all the debates leading up just before the Iraq War, representing Canada, that stayed out of the Iraq War. So what might you expect from McCain on Iran? And then what might you expect from Obama and Biden?

PAUL HEINBECKER, CENTER FOR GLOBAL RELATIONS: I think I agree with what my colleagues have just said, except that I think that even McCain in office, one imagines, would find the restraints of power significant. It’s very hard for me to believe—and I think, you know, there have been recently very few checks and balances in US foreign policy. But I think there is one check and balance in US foreign policy now, and I think it’s the US military. I don’t think the US military thinks it’s a realistic proposition to take on a war on Iran right now, or maybe in any circumstance. You know, we’ve just come through a war with a country of 25 million inhabitants, and we’ve seen how difficult it was to deal with that and to prevail. Well, you know, Iran is 65 million inhabitants and better-armed, and it has bigger friends. And it kind of takes everybody’s eye off the real issue, which is not Iran; the real issue is what’s going on inside Pakistan. The end of Musharraf, the end of the coalition government, the rise of the Taliban in Pakistan, the continuing rogue independence of the Pakistan intelligence services and the roles they’re playing in Kashmir and in Afghanistan, and in a nuclear-armed country, I think that’s where the real issues are; and I think all of the emphasis that’s being put on Iran by the United States, by Israel also—you know, there’s a lot of pressure on Washington coming from Tel Aviv to do something before the election or before the Bush administration leaves office—I think all of that is really missing the point. But were they ever to act against Iran in a military way, in a major attack on Iran, I think that, you know, then the Muslim world would be up in arms, literally and figuratively, against the United States, and it wouldn’t be just the 65 million, it would be the 1.2 billion Muslims who would be seeing themselves as being attacked in this circumstance. So this is really crazy stuff. And that’s why somebody like Biden, with that sort of judgment, and Obama himself, who I think, despite the fact that he said he’s not taking any military options off the table, I don’t think anybody can do that. Certainly that isn’t his first instinct. And, you know, you get McCain trying to kick the Russians out of the G8, as though that were an American decision to make. He wants to have a kind of a league of democracies, so that you don’t have to work on the serious problems with the Chinese and the Russians and others who may not fulfill your definition of democracy. But that’s the real world, and as I said at the beginning, it won’t be dominated. They will not allow themselves to be dominated. This is going to take a much more agile foreign policy and a much more circumspect view of the world, a principled one, a strong one, a powerful one. But it isn’t going to be a case where the US is going to be able to dispose of things the way some people there might like.

JAY: Well, in the next segment of our discussion, let’s pick up again on this question [inaudible].

BENNIS: I’m sorry. I just felt I must respond to one thing that the ambassador said.

JAY: Yeah, sure.

BENNIS: I have a new book that’s just coming out on the question of the US-Iran crisis. And one of the issues I was dealing with was the view among European governments that was almost word-for-word what I heard from the ambassador just now, coming from Canada, the view that even the Bush administration or maybe even McCain are not that crazy. And the problem is what we’re dealing with here is—I think it’s true they’re not crazy, but they are driven by ideology. And where I do agree with the ambassador is that there is far less of a threat from realist views like that of Biden or even Obama. But if there is any kind of a provocation that any kind of a Tonkin-Gulf-style effort to make it look like Iran has attacked us, the opposition of the military will collapse, and the public opposition, which is quite wide but very, very thin, will collapse in a moment. And because of the history of the US military never having—to its credit, and it’s something I’m very grateful for—never having even considered going against civilian leadership, if there was a demand from the White House that the military respond to something that was claimed to be an attack on the US, I have no doubt that it would happen. So I think it’s very dangerous that there is a view in Europe or Canada or elsewhere that says they’re not that crazy, because it isn’t about being crazy—it’s about being driven by ideology. And I think that remains a very, very serious danger.

JAY: Paul, do you want to respond [inaudible]?

HEINBECKER: I’d say being driven by ideology is actually being crazy, I think. What I would add to that is what Eric Margolis said earlier, and that is that the United States desperately needs a media that retains its own sense of judgment and doesn’t just sign up every time there’s a crisis. The coverage of Georgia has been so one-sided as to distort the picture almost completely for American readers and American viewers.

JAY: With that small ad for The Real News Network, we’ll move on to the next segment after the break. We’ll pick up on the question: perhaps the first place US foreign policy is going to have to accept a world that won’t accept dominance is Iraq. I don’t think what’s turned out in Iraq is at all what was planned by US foreign policy, never mind the chaos and everything else, but perhaps the emergence of an Iraq that—it wants to set a date for kicking them out. So please join us for our next segment of our discussion on US foreign policy. Thank you for joining us.

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