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Most of the media referred to Senator Barack Obama’s ongoing tour as an effort to “burnish his foreign policy credentials” or to “show he’s got what it takes to be Commander-in-chief.” To that extent ,the Obama tour was moderately successful. We spoke with Phyllis Bennis, fellow for the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC and asked her about the implications of the Obama tour.

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Obama tour: no gaffes, no commitments

JEFFREY DVORKIN, TRNN: Senator Barack Obama’s trip to the Middle East and to Europe was important not so much for what it tried to accomplish as about what it succeeded in avoiding. Most of the media referred to it as an effort to burnish his foreign policy credentials or to show he’s got what it takes to be commander-in-chief. Phyllis Bennis is a fellow for the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., and she’s the author of a forthcoming book on US-Iran relations. I asked her if the Obama tour had inadvertently raised expectations in the Arab world about what an Obama administration might accomplish.


DVORKIN: Phyllis, the Obama tour of the Middle East and now of Europe seems to have been a great success by a lot of media reports. What do you think the effect has been inside the Muslim world, especially in Iraq?

PHYLLIS BENNIS, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: Well, I think for a certain sector of Iraqi society, people close to the government, people like Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, it was a huge success. The proposal put forward by Barack Obama was something that al-Maliki could embrace, could endorse, and gain credibility with the Iraqi public in advance of the elections that are scheduled—well, they were scheduled for October. It now looks like they might happen in December, but it’s not at all clear, because the Kurds are protesting. It might be into next year. But whenever they happen, al-Maliki knows that if he does not come out against the US occupation, he doesn’t have a prayer. That was the reason that he was so enthusiastic about Obama’s call to withdraw troops in 16 months.

DVORKIN: When Obama mentioned that he would be preferring to move troops to Afghanistan and out of Iraq, do you think that had some kind of negative impact among the Iraqi elites?

BENNIS: I’m not sure that they have that vision. My sense of the Iraqi elites right now is that their vision is very narrow. It’s limited to the national interests that they perceive in their own country. I think that the problem is for the Afghans facing an additional 10,000 troops right away and potentially thousands more. Afghanistan, no more than Iraq, is not a war that can be won by military means. It simply cannot. And sending more troops is only going to antagonize more people, risk more civilian casualties, and raise the level of support for the Taliban far more than anything else the US could do.

DVORKIN: So the Taliban and the new iteration of the Taliban that’s been unleashing so much violence over the last few weeks and months, these are people that cannot be defeated militarily, but they can be brought to a table to talk about peace?

BENNIS: I don’t know if they can be brought to a table to talk about peace or not. Some of them are serious, ideologically committed to violence. There’s a willingness to attack civilians among some of these forces. I don’t know if you can talk peace with them. I do know that they cannot be defeated militarily in a qualitative sense any more than you can ever defeat this kind of an insurgency.

DVORKIN: If the Taliban can’t be defeated militarily, what do the Afghan people need?

BENNIS: You don’t win hearts and minds with ground troops and bombers; you win hearts and minds by providing people with an alternative life, so that they don’t have to depend on organizations like the Taliban to provide them with a clinic with clean water, something like that. We should not forget that when the Taliban came to power in 1996, it was after almost five years of a brutal war between a variety of Afghan warlords. The Taliban had a lot of support, as repressive as they were, because they promised to bring an end to that brutal war. We’re not going to win support away from the Taliban by killing people, whether it’s attacking a wedding party by mistake over and over again, or by killing members of the Taliban themselves for that reason, who, we should not forget, come out of those local areas. They’re not using local areas; they are from those local areas. So if we’re serious about winning hearts and minds, it means not sending more rockets, not sending bombers, not sending troops; it means sending [inaudible] sending money, sending building equipment to rebuild a shattered Afghanistan. Then we might have a chance of winning people away from support for this kind of fanaticism that we’ve seen in the past.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow and the Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC.  Her books include Understanding ISIS & the New Global War on Terror, and the latest updated edition of Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer.