Jonathan Schell examines how much the candidates differ on issues of foreign policy
VOICE OF PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Jonathan, we’re just days before Super Tuesday, and many people still haven’t made up their mind. On the Democratic side, Obama and Clinton, and on questions of foreign policy, what do you see as the differences between them? What’s the same?
JONATHAN SCHELL, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: Well, you know, I’ve just spent a couple of hours looking over their foreign policy statements, articles, speeches, debates, and so on and so forth. And what stands out very sharply to me is the remarkable continuity that exists between Republicans and Democrats on the one side, then even the Bush administration on the other side. There are a couple of assumptions that seem to have remained in place maybe for the last 30 or 40 years. The first one is that the United States is really running the show on a global basis. And the second is that the principal way of doing that is through its overwhelming military force. And there are some shades of emphasis. The Democrats want more diplomacy; the Republicans want to rely more on military force. The Democrats think they’ve kind of lost that leadership; the Republicans think we still have it. So the Democrats are out to restore it; the Republicans think it’s already there.
JAY: When I talk to people, including people who consider themselves liberal who were opposed to the Iraq war, but they still see this great struggle in the world between the forces of democracy, the forces against democracy, and they see the US role as a policeman, as a necessary role against these kinds of undemocratic forces. That seems to go to the very heart of both parties’ leadership, as you’re saying. But is that not the case? I mean, does the world need America’s police force?
SCHELL: Well, just to set the stage, let me read you two quotations that I’ve pulled out. My first one is from John McCain—actually, he’s quoting Ronald Reagan here. But I’ll just give you the tone of the thing. He said the American people have a great genius for splendid, unselfish actions. Into the hands of America, God has placed the destinies of an afflicted mankind. We are indeed and we are today the last best hope of man on earth. In other words, this kind of messianic conception of America is really in charge of the world in general. Now let me just read to you what Barack Obama has to say about this, and you’ll see the slight difference but also the continuity. I still believe that America’s the last best hope of earth—there it is again. We just have to show the world why this is so. This president may occupy the White House, but for the last six years, the position of leader of the free world has remained open, and it’s time to fill that role once more. Now, of course, Obama wants to emphasize diplomacy more, but keep in mind that he, like all candidates, Democrat and Republican, would increase the military forces of the United States, in this case by 80,000 troops. So it’s almost as if to say we’ve made a few mistakes, we’ve departed from the paradigm in some unfortunate ways, such as the war in Iraq, but that the basic mission remains the same, and the basic means, which, the end of the day, when all is said and done, is military force, is going to be the same. Well, once again, there is a list of particulars that he and Hillary both go into, which is different from the Republican list of particulars. They do talk about global warming, and they have some plans, things to propose on that score. They do talk about getting out of the war in Iraq, but here too they’ve left themselves a great deal of wiggle room. Let me mention Obama again, because he probably has the most forthcoming plan for getting out. But he would remove combat troops within 16 months, but he would leave a rather large other force there for purposes of, number one, opposing terrorists; number two, defending American interests; number three, training and equipping Iraqi forces. Now, if you stop to think about it, those are pretty much the three missions that the troops already have in Iraq. And so I don’t mean to doubt his will to get out of the war, but he’s left himself plenty of wiggle room in case it turns out to be difficult. And what none of the Democrats have really stated is that as even as the things go bad or even things go south in Iraq, which is a very distinct likelihood that the withdrawal would continue. So it’s a very conditional and equivocal promise to end the war in Iraq.
JAY: When I talk to people who are getting ready to vote on Tuesday and ask them, “Is the difference policy between Obama and Clinton? Or is it about personality, who can win? Who gets people excited?” the common opinion right now is policy really isn’t that much different. I mean, do you find any marked differences between Obama and Clinton on foreign policy?
SCHELL: Well, there are some. For instance, if you look at the lineup of their advisors—and this shows you both the differences and the narrowness of those differences—you know, you’ll find on Hillary Clinton’s side Richard Holbrooke, who supported the war in Iraq, favored it from the beginning. And in the Obama campaign you’ll find Tony Lake, who was not a supporter of the war, so that’s a rather significant difference. But both were high officials in the Clinton administration, and probably in terms of their view of what the overall foreign policy of the United States should be would pretty much accord with this consensus that I’ve just been mentioning. So there’s not a great deal of difference there. Now, Obama does have some slightly less mainstream advisors in addition, so there isn’t no difference. You know, it’s interesting this idea of change that Obama has introduced here. Here’s Obama talking about change, because in the end the choice in this election is not between regions or religions or genders; it’s not about rich versus poor, young versus old; and it’s not about black versus white. It’s about the past versus the future. Now, with all respect, the future is going to come whether one person or another is elected or not, and the past is going to fall behind us, whether any politician is elected. And so it’s almost as if this call for change is a sort of strangled cry to articulate the idea of moving in a sharply different direction, but without quite bringing forth the particulars.
JAY: On the question of Iraq, certainly Obama was against going in, publicly [inaudible]. Is that a reflection that one could expect something different than Clinton or not?
SCHELL: I think it is a real reflection of a real difference, because at a moment of really major choice to be made, Obama did have the instinct and the judgment to say no to that war, and Hillary Clinton made the other decision. So I think it certainly does reveal something about the kind of decisions that the two people are likely to make, especially in regard to the use of force. But those differences narrow rather sharply, as I’ve mentioned, when it comes to what to do next about [inaudible]. I might mention one other thing that I think’s very important. I’ve been talking about, you know, a continuity with decades past in American policy. But also there’s some continuity with some rather sharper changes that George Bush made after September 11, 2001. And that’s especially true in regard to nuclear proliferation, because Bush really effected a revolution in American policy there, turning away from diplomacy in general and towards force in general as the solution to that problem. Of course, the Iraq war was one fruit of that, even though it turned out that Iraq, of course, didn’t have those nuclear weapons or weapons of mass destruction. But we got stuck with the policy, even as the Iraq war was failing. And it’s the same policy that we see directed towards Iran. And, once again, of course, Obama talks more about diplomacy, and so does Hillary Clinton. Yet at the end of the day, both want to increase the military forces of the United States as if our problem had been that we didn’t have enough military force. And both refuse to take any option off the table, meaning military force in regard to Iran. So we’re kind of still stuck, so to speak, within the framework of that change in Bush policy. Nobody has challenged it in a fundamental way.
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