FAIR co-founder Jeff Cohen says that if it were not for Bernie, Hillary would be running high with her foreign policy experience narrative, uncritically upheld by the mainstream media
SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. The Democratic presidential candidates’ debate that took place on Saturday between Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Martin O’Malley, it was mean to be about domestic issues, but got partially eclipsed by the attack that took place against innocent Parisians on Friday. Therefore the debate dedicated half an hour to their reaction to Paris and to U.S. foreign policy in the region, particularly in fighting IS. Let’s have a look. MODERATOR: –legacy be that it underestimated the threat from ISIS. HILLARY CLINTON: Well, John, I think that we have to look at ISIS as the leading threat of an international terror network. It cannot be contained. It must be defeated. There is no question in my mind that if we summon our resources, both our leadership resources and all of the tools at our disposal, not just military force, which should be used as a last resort, but our diplomacy, our development aid, law enforcement, sharing of intelligence in a much more open and cooperative way, that we can bring people together. But it cannot be an American fight. And I think what the president has consistently said, which I agree with, is that we will support those who take the fight to ISIS. That is why we have troops in Iraq that are helping to train and build back up the Iraqi military, why we have special operators in Syria working with the Kurds and Arabs, so that we can be supportive. But this cannot be an American fight, although American leadership is essential. BERNIE SANDERS: I would argue that the disastrous invasion of Iraq, something that I strongly opposed, has unraveled the region completely and led to the rise of Al-Qaeda and to ISIS. Now, in fact, what we have got to do, and I think there is widespread agreement here, is the United States cannot do it alone. What we need to do is lead an international coalition which includes very significantly the Muslim nations in that region who are going to have to fight and defend their way of life. MODERATOR: Quickly just let me ask you a followup on that. Senator Sanders, when you say the disastrous vote on Iraq, let’s just be clear about what you’re saying. You’re saying Secretary Clinton, who was then Senator Clinton, voted for the Iraq war. And are you making a direct link between her vote for that war and what’s happening now for ISIS? Just so everybody can be clear [inaud.]. SANDERS: I don’t think there’s any, I don’t think any sensible person would disagree that the invasion of Iraq led to the massive level of instability we are seeing right now. I think that was one of the worst foreign policy blunders in the modern history of the United States. PERIES: Now joining us from Ithaca to discuss the candidates’ position on the war against ISIS is Jeff Cohen. He is the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, and he was the founder of the media watchdog FAIR. He’s also the co-founder of RootsAction.org. Jeff, very nice to have you with us. JEFF COHEN: Great to be with you. PERIES: Jeff, your take on Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Did Bernie make the right moves on behalf of progressives in terms of his position on ISIS and war in the Middle East? COHEN: Well, the one good thing about Bernie Sanders being in that debate on that issue is that he was able to raise Hillary Clinton’s support for the invasion of Iraq. If you look at the media coverage, mainstream media coverage, before and after the debate, all we ever hear about is Hillary Clinton’s experience. And I think Bernie Sanders was able to puncture it a little, not only by bringing up that she supported the invasion of Iraq, but that she didn’t seem to learn anything from it. And I think–you know, Bernie Sanders can sometimes be off-key on foreign policy, is not as fluid. Some progressives have criticized him for his lack of progressiveness on foreign policy. But he made a point I’d never seen in a U.S. debate, which was that this willy-nilly regime change that the U.S. has always engaged in, you know, Iraq, and Bernie Sanders brought up the overthrow of Salvador Allende in Chile, he brought up the U.S. coups against governments in Iran and Guatemala in the ’50s. And I think what Bernie Sanders was alluding to is a point I wish he made explicitly, that for all of Hillary Clinton’s experience in foreign policy, she didn’t just support the invasion of Iraq. Years and years later in the Obama administration, having apparently learned nothing, that regime change in certain countries will bring about complete chaos and [inaud.] of terror groups, she was one of the strongest people pushing for the invasion of Libya. You know, the overthrow of Libya, the regime change in Libya, which has brought even more chaos to the region. So I thought it was helpful that Bernie Sanders was able to raise this issue of regime change and put it at the doorstep of Hillary Clinton. PERIES: Jeff, and yet in this critical moment that kind of history lesson people kind of overlook that, particularly since Hillary came across as commander-in-chief in the sense that she said not only do we have to contain ISIS, we have to destroy them. She came across in a way that people wanted to hear a president or a commander-in-chief dealing with the situation. What do you make of her response and Bernie’s? COHEN: Well, again, I don’t–in a, if Bernie were more fluid on foreign policy, Hillary Clinton would look completely inadequate for the task. Because Hillary Clinton had power in the Obama administration. And she was always on the side, the hawkish side, the intervening side. The side that wanted regime change in Libya, which has been no better for the people of Libya than regime change in Iraq had been years and years earlier. So I mean, I’m one of these who looks at the debate, and then I see the pundits afterwards. You know, and by the way, the panels on CNN and MSNBC right after the debate, they always include Clintonites and they never include an out-and-out Bernie supporter. Never. And so I’m one who’s watching the debate, and I’m thinking through all that I know about Hillary Clinton, including some points that Bernie brought up. And I just, I don’t see someone who’s fluid in foreign policy. I just see someone who’s good at the rhetoric of toughness, which I guess she’s going to have to wield if she’s the nominee against the GOP nominee. PERIES: And what do you make of Bernie Sanders’ comments about Saudi boots on the ground? COHEN: About having boots on the ground? PERIES: About the Saudi Arabian boots on the ground. COHEN: Oh, yeah. Well, again, you–Sharmini, you’ve raised something that really is cringeworthy that Bernie said, which is the Saudis, among the countries that have to get their hands dirty in the Middle East. I mean, Saudi Arabia is bombing civilians in Yemen every day. And it’s horrific. Saudi Arabia, elite funders, private funders at the highest levels of Saudi Arabia, fund terror groups like ISIS. So it’s really off-key. I mean, what we really need is a debate where someone will get in there on foreign policy, and do on foreign policy what Bernie’s done so brilliantly on domestic policy, which is turn the tables of the debate. These premises are all wrong. The U.S. war on terrorism has created more terrorists than it’s killed. The regime change has brought chaos to people in the region, and made us less safe. You would want someone who could bring this total critique of what’s happened since 2001 in the so-called war on terrorism, because it has bred terrorism. And never is that more clear than in the bombings in Beirut and the bombings in Baghdad and the killings in Paris. PERIES: Jeff, thank you so much for joining us. And let’s take up this issue of some of the domestic issues you just mentioned in our next segment. COHEN: Sounds great. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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