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The Obama-Biden worldview with Eric Margolis, Phyllis Bennis and Paul Heinbecker Pt4
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Welcome back to the next segment of our discussion on US foreign policy, Obama, Biden, and McCain. In the studio with me is Eric Margolis. He has a new book coming out called American Raj. In Washington is Phyllis Bennis, and she has a new book coming out called Understanding the US-Iran Crisis. And in Washington is Canada’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Paul Heinbecker, and he has a book out as well. And his book is called The UN: Irrelevant or Indispensable? Paul, you were there at a rather critical moment to find out whether the UN was irrelevant or indispensable, and it felt indispensable at the time the Iraq War debate was taking place. That moment Colin Powell spoke, it felt like what was going to be decided at the UN mattered, but it seems like it turned out to be irrelevant, ’cause the US invaded Iraq anyway. So what’s your experience there?
PAUL HEINBECKER, CENTRE FOR GLOBAL RELATIONS: Well, I think what I’d say on that is that it turned out, actually, to be relevant, because what the US was looking for in the UN Security Council when Colin Powell spoke there was endorsement: they wanted to have the international community endorse the war. And the British particularly wanted it, but Washington wanted it as well. I was there for that speech, and it’s one of the most disappointing moments in my life. There were a few people who might have made a big difference. Tony Blair was one and Colin Powell was the other. And anyone who is familiar with what the UN weapons inspectors were reporting back—that is to say, that they weren’t finding anything—had to be very, very upset by what Powell said, because, you know, prior to that session, the UN reported that it had accounted for every Scud missile but one. It was all but certain—and this was said by ElBaradei at the atomic energy commission—that there was no nuclear weapons program, that except for a few tons of [VX] gas which they couldn’t account for, there was no chemical weapons threat. And insofar as biological weapons threats are concerned, that can never be ruled out, of course, because your next-door pharmacy could be up to something. But fundamentally the UN was saying, “We’re not finding any weapons of mass destruction,” and there was not a credible cassus belli. And it was evident to us. And the presentation of Colin Powell began with his words, “Ladies and gentlemen, these are facts, not conjecture. This is the best intelligence there is.” And he went on to say a number of things which were on their face not credible. And this was the man who, a week before at Davos, had said to the Archbishop of Canterbury that the United States, all it asked for was a little bit of land to bury its people in, that it deserved the respect of every man, woman, and child on the planet. And, you know, the world wants to respect the United States, but when it saw Powell’s presentation, then it wasn’t possible anymore.
JAY: Alright. Phyllis, what Paul says was not only known to the Canadian ambassador; it was known to governments around the world; it was even known in US public opinion—people wanted the inspections to conclude. But in spite of that, the war takes place mostly, not just with the Republican Party foreign policy establishment on board, but the whole Democratic Party establishment jumps on board, including Joe Biden, with the exception, to his credit, of Obama. So what does this mean now? We’re in Iraq now. What’s the Obama plan, what’s the role of Biden, and what are we going to expect?
PHYLLIS BENNIS, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: Well, I think that what’s the Obama plan is not completely clear. Some parts of it are clear and have been from the beginning. It was the same plan as that put forward by Hillary Clinton, which is to withdraw a significant number of US troops from Iraq, what they call the “combat troops.” I would like to know which US troops in Iraq today do not consider themselves combat troops. There are today about 150,000 US troops in Iraq. The Obama plan would withdraw enough that somewhere between 35,000 and 80,000 troops would be left behind. That would take place over something like 16 months. Those left behind would be doing things like training the Iraqi military. Training them to do what, we don’t talk about. They would be carrying out counterinsurgency attacks. They would be guarding the 1,000- to 5,000-person embassy—the largest embassy in the history of humanity—that’s now being constructed in Iraq. They would be maintaining the fifteen or so major bases in Iraq, five of which are giant mega-bases, as well as the dozens more small military bases. So it would leave a permanent occupation force of perhaps as many as 80,000, according to Obama’s own people, in Iraq. Now, that is different, of course, than the position of John McCain, who would leave essentially all the troops that are there now for an indefinite period of time. What’s really interesting going on right now is the debate between the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and the Bush administration over the terms of an extension of the permission that Iraq would ostensibly be granting to the US to leave its troops. Now, the reality is the Iraqi military and the Iraqi—sorry, the Iraqi government don’t really want the US troops to leave. They don’t have the level of credibility and legitimacy domestically to stay in power, but they are stuck with having to act as though they want the US troops to leave to gain that power. What happens after the election, after the US election, is going to be very unclear, because it’s certainly possible that that agreement may not even be resolved by the time of the US election. So that’s going to be one of the early things that Obama and Biden—. And, of course, Biden, who supported the war from the very beginning—in fact, he called for war against Iraq as far back is 1998 during the sanctions years, way before the Bush administration came into office. He was one of those pushing Clinton to go to war then. To his credit, since that time, he’s come out strongly against how the Bush administration has waged the war, but he has never supported the idea of a full end to occupation. So he’s going to be giving credibility to Obama’s view that the occupation in a smaller form should remain permanent.
JAY: Right. Eric?
ERIC MARGOLIS, ANALYST, TRNN: Well, I don’t think many Americans appreciate to what degree oil motivates American foreign policy. The US is everywhere. Kevin Phillips, an analyst who I much admire, said in his recent book American Theocracy that American troops abroad have become pipeline-protection troops. And the same can be said of the NATO troops. But look, here’s Washington’s plan—and I say Washington because I think Obama would sign on to this plan too. Washington’s plan is to duplicate the old British imperial policy for ruling Iraq, which having a puppet ruler who toes the line, having a puppet army of sepoys who enforce local order—that’s counterterrorism—and then allowing free rein to the American oil companies, like the old British Petroleum company, to exploit Iraq’s huge oil reserves. And then the Americans would stay in these bases out in the desert, and American Air Force would be the primary enforcer of US power, as was the RAF in Iraq, and whenever the tribes revolted against British rule, the RAF would come over and bomb them, including Winston Churchill, who authorized the use of poison mustard gas against Kurdish tribesmen in Iraq. So this is the model of imperial rule in Iraq. Washington is doing exactly this, making all the same steps. And I tell you, as oil prices go up and shortages arise, there’s going to be more and more pressure to hold onto Iraq. Look at the big hubbub about offshore oil drilling. Whatever happened to the ecologists? They’re running for cover. Iraq is going to become vital to US national interests.
JAY: Paul, McCain says he also wants to get out of Iraq, but only after winning. He accuses Obama of willing to get out of Iraq without winning, which I guess means McCain is not going to get out of Iraq unless the US position is dominant and in some way then get out. Is Obama willing to manage a real withdrawal that won’t leave the United States in a dominant position?
HEINBECKER: I think the reality is that the United States, even in Iraq, is not going to be able to just quietly stay in its bases and dominate things. It’s not clear to me how long the Sunni and Shia relationship will stay as quiescent as it seems to be now. It’s not clear what will happen if the Sunnis think that the Americans are genuinely going to stay, and nor is it clear what will happen if the Shia decide the Americans are really going to stay. It may be possible for the United States to reside in or, you know, put its forces into the Kurdish part of the country, because that offers the Kurds some protection from their other neighbors who are not happy with them, that is to say, Iran and Turkey particularly, Syria to some degree. But it’s not obvious to me that, whatever the policy is, that it’s going to be just that simple to create a kind of imperium there. You know that it didn’t work for the British, ultimately—it did for awhile, but it didn’t work, ultimately. And I don’t think that that’s the kind of world—you know, if we’re heading into a kind of balance-of-power world, we should remember what happened the last time the balance of power collapsed: we had two world wars and 60 million people killed. So what’s really needed in this circumstance is a return to governance. It’s back to the future for the United States, for the kind of foreign policy that the US had in the ’40s and ’50s, where it was much more creative and it was much more sensible about other powers and about finding some way of governing international relations that wasn’t going to blow itself up.
JAY: Eric, final word?
MARGOLIS: Well, Iraq is going to continue to fester, and as it does, Iran is assuming, every day, more and more influence in Iraq. So we have a confrontation there, with growing fury against the United States right across the Muslim world. As Paul just so rightly pointed out, we have this huge, volcanic crisis mushrooming up in Pakistan, and we have India, America’s new golden-haired boy, which America has taken off the rogue list, it is now helping with nuclear technology, which is quietly building intercontinental ballistic missiles that can have only one target, and that is North America. So America’s has multiplex challenges, and I really wonder if Washington, which has blundered so egregiously for so long, is going to be up to handling them.
JAY: And let me just clarify something you just said. Indian missiles are targeted at—.
MARGOLIS: India is building intercontinental ballistic missiles with very long range that can have only one possible target, in my view, which is North America. I don’t think the Indians are going to target Brussels or Rome in a war. What do they need ICBMs for? Two-thirds of the country lives in poverty.
JAY: I think this is going to have to be another show.
MARGOLIS: That’s a whole separate segment that we should talk about.
JAY: A whole ‘nother show. Phyllis, final word?
BENNIS: Well, I think one thing that’s important to recognize is that Biden, while he’s criticized the way the Bush administration has carried out the war, he has called for perhaps the most dramatic proposal for what to do about Iraq, and he has actually been promoting the idea that the US should impose a three-part division on Iraq, taking the words of Caesar, the opening lines of Caesar’s Gallic Wars: “All Gaul is divided into three parts.” Substitute the word “Iraq” and you’ve got Biden playing Caesar. Now, in the recent months since the so-called surge, he has quited down and has not been as aggressive in pushing for that position. But that’s been his position. He has more than anyone else in Washington, along with the former ambassador Peter Galbraith, have been the ones who have been pushing for this idea of the US right to divide Iraq into three pieces as a solution. Now, if that is something that Biden intends to impose on a Middle East in the name of a Barack Obama administration, I think we are in for serious trouble. On the other hand, Obama, if he wins, will win because of antiwar supporters, people who believe that he will bring an end to the war. That’s going to be enormous levels of political pressure, and hopefully they will be enough to hold him accountable to that antiwar sentiment.
JAY: We shall see. First, I guess, he has to win in an election. Thank you very much, all of you, for joining us, and I look forward to doing this again. Thank you for joining us. And over my shoulder here, as usual, you’ll see a donate button. If you would like to see more of The Real News Network, take your mouse and click there. Thank you very much.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.