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Norman Solomon says Obama’s oval office speech about gun control and terror leaves out who is the target of our foreign policy, and the barbaric practices of our allies like Saudi Arabia

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. In a rare Oval Office address on Sunday evening, President Obama laid out his plans to deal with the potential terror attacks here in the U.S., like that of San Bernardino, California last week, and he laid out how he plans to deal with ISIS. Let’s have a look at what he said. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We will destroy ISIL and any other organization that tries to harm us. Our success won’t depend on tough talk, or abandoning our values, or giving in to fear. That’s what groups like ISIL are hoping for. PERIES: Now joining us from California to discuss the speech is Norman Solomon. Norman is the author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He’s the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, and co-founder of Now just written an article on the speech itself, titled Obama’s Speech Translated into Candor. You can find it on the Real News Network in the columns section. Norman, thank you so much for joining us today. NORMAN SOLOMON: A pleasure, Sharmini. PERIES: Norman, let me begin with just getting your general take on this speech, and the kind of thrust it deposits in our psyche. SOLOMON: Well, I think Obama threaded his usual needle, a kind of liberal domestic and liberal interventionist foreign policy. Here’s a guy who talks about gun control, and doesn’t seem very interested in controlling the guns that are pointed at a lot of countries in the world out of the Pentagon. He’s talking about the need to curb domestic violence, but as the New York Times briefly in passing noted over the weekend, there have been as many deaths due to white supremacist murder in the United States in recent years as from what gets labeled a terrorist, which is to say, Islamic fundamentalist murders, about 45 each. So Obama was partly pandering to the right-wing drift of militaristic sentiment in the media these days. But also trying to sort of put a brake on and saying, I’m going to define what the proper response is, which he said included adhering to what he terms our values. PERIES: And in any of this speech, nowhere does he ever question our current foreign policy towards the Middle East or towards ISIS, and what we are doing in Syria. None of that is ever questioned. In fact, it certainly continues to perpetuate the war and wars in the region. Give us a bit of what he said, and your response to it in relation to the Middle East. SOLOMON: Questioning or self-reflection is really not on the presidential agenda. And you know, the successor Obama is to Bush, who was criticized in some quarters for dividing the world into good versus evil, Manichean, black and white, et cetera. And yet Obama has done in his own style, perhaps less crude, much the same thing. From the president’s speech out of the Oval Office, as from the pronouncements from the administration generally, you would never know that the U.S. government is supporting a Saudi regime that in the last year has beheaded 150 people with swords, that has been repressing people violently, has been slaughtering people from the air in Yemen. That the U.S. is supporting dictatorships throughout the region and the world in many cases. But not raising a peep about them, because they’re aligned with or in concert with U.S. foreign policy and economic interests. So what we’re getting, quite contrary to the lofty [Cairo] speech Obama gave several years ago, is pretty much the same old realpolitik. And so while it’s the sort of butter-won’t-melt-in-my-mouth pronouncements coming from Obama out of the White House, the reality is pretty much the same, that Obama has made common cause with dictators, and actually those who could be called terrorists, in the field like the al-Nusra front in Syria, with a fixation out of this administration for regime change. They want to bring down Assad in Syria, but the problem is, among the problems is, that Obama is backing both sides in the civil war in Syria, and basically eagerly fighting with shipments of huge amounts of weapons, and now some troops on the ground, and a lot of bombing. Fighting a proxy war, which is terribly destructive for people in Syria and throughout the region. PERIES: Now, I thought one of the very interesting things you point out, Norman, in your article is the violence here right at home in terms of right-wing terror on civilians in this country, as well as the kind of attacks on African-American communities in this country. All of that is somewhat ignored, because our gaze is really out there in terms of the war. But the kind of war that’s going on on our premises here, unless it’s so-called terror from external sources, we don’t actually discuss it. And I thought that was a brilliant point you made, and I was hoping you could elaborate on that. SOLOMON: Well, Obama’s speech both perpetuates and panders to, internalizes if you will, the terrifically destructive double standards that are streaming out of the corporate mainline media in the United States, echoed by people in power in Washington. And that is that terrorism is defined very narrowly and selectively. So if a church is set on fire, or firebombed, a church populated by activists, African-Americans, then that’s not defined as terrorism. When Muslims and people of Asian descent or Middle Eastern descent are maimed and killed because of their ethnicity, their religion, their appearance, that is not defined as terrorism. But when people are killed by those who profess the Muslim faith, then that’s terrorism. Those sort of double standards are just so rigorous and absurd and Orwellian that they play into the very forces which the administration claims it’s trying to counter. Those in the Middle East who say that the United States is at war with Islam, and therefore Islam needs to be at war with the United States. We really have to fight for, struggle for, a transformation of media discourse, public understanding, and U.S. government policy so that we have a single standard of human rights, that we don’t use the term terrorism manipulatively or selectively, and that we reexamine, fundamentally, the way in which the United States is engaged in bombing and warfare in literally a dozen countries and more around the world. The rationales are that the leaders of ISIS or whatever are going to be killed, and therefore ISIS will be defeated in this case. But the experience, as in Afghanistan with the Taliban, as in Iraq in the past dozen years now or so, is that that doesn’t work. That when you, even if you set aside, as you should not, the numbers, the large numbers of civilians who are killed, maimed, and terrorized by drones and other U.S. bombing efforts, the fact is when certain leaders are killed of these insurgent and anti-U.S. forces, others are simply promoted to take their place. And as Andrew Cockburn in his brilliant book Kill Chain documented earlier this year when the book was published, there are clear records where the targeting and, quote-unquote, “successful killing” of high-level individuals in the Taliban, in ISIS and so forth, simply makes things worse. In Afghanistan, when the U.S. has been able to knock off specific leaders, the ones who come back in are even more ferocious, more murderous, younger, and vigorous. Want to prove their credentials. And the situation escalates. So rather than continually trying to up the ante and out-murder the other side, U.S. foreign policy desperately needs to be moved in another direction. That’s not only for the sake of the people in the countries being targeted by the Pentagon, but really it’s for the sake of those of us in the U.S. as well. Because it’s true that in essence what goes around comes around. As the poet W. H. Auden said, those to whom evil is done do evil in return. PERIES: All right, Norman. That’s a good place to end. I encourage all of you to read Norman’s article on our columns section. It really goes into some other areas, as well, that you will find interesting. Thank you so much for joining us, Norman. SOLOMON: Thank you. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Norman Solomon is the co-founder of, and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.