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Author and analyst Phyllis Bennis discusses president Obama’s Iranian nuclear deal and the opposition to that deal

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JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore. Last week, President Obama delivered his Iran nuclear deal speech at American University. Obama took the moment to further connect his legacy to that of John F. Kennedy, whose 1963 speech at that same university was said by Obama to be also about finding peaceful solutions to what he said are the threats we face today. He spoke mostly about his Iranian nuclear deal, which continues to reverberate globally, with sides being drawn in favor and against, including now one prominent detractor from the Democratic party, Senator Chuck Schumer. To discuss the speech further is again Phyllis Bennis, who directs the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC, and who is author of many books, including recently Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror: A Primer. Welcome back to the Real News, Phyllis Bennis. PHYLLIS BENNIS, FELLOW, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: Good to be with you, Jared. BALL: Before we go too far I’d like to ask your thoughts on Obama’s admission in that speech he gave last week that this country, as he said, is an empire, one that is both exceptional in its military might but also its capacity to bring peace to the world, hence, his allusion to Kennedy. What do you make of this comment and the speech itself, including what this comment may mean in terms of this Iranian deal, or America’s, or this country’s approach to Iran and the rest of the world? BENNIS: I think the speech was very important. As has happened before, President Obama really spoke the words of someone very committed to the victory of diplomacy over war, which this Iran deal really represents, even though so much of his foreign policy has been based on relying on military force anyway, despite recognizing that it’s not going to work. So there’s a very fundamental, deep frustration, I think, in the context of what the policies actually are. But on the question of defending the deal with Iran, this was very important. The pushback on that deal that President Obama is facing right now, most recently from the defection of powerful Senator Chuck Schumer, known in some places as the senator from Wall Street, the senator from AIPAC, the senator from a variety of other places. Rarely the senator from New York, because he certainly doesn’t represent what the people of New York want. But he’s facing very intense pressure. And in that context I think his very strong effort to both evoke the legitimacy of JFK and use very harsh language towards his opponent, particularly when he compared the Republican opponents to the hardliners in Iran, recognizing absolutely accurately that both are on the same side, the side of preventing this agreement from going through, and thus ultimately supporting war. That raised outrage from Republicans and other opponents of the deal, precisely because he said what is so embarrassingly true: that anyone who is against this deal would prefer war. Because those are really the options. This claim about, we want a better deal. We want a deal. We’re not saying no deal. But we want a better deal. You should go back and renegotiate. That’s a done deal. The negotiations are over. Everybody went home. There’s nobody left in Vienna. There aren’t going to be any more negotiations. So the real world is to understand it’s either this resolution, this agreement, this deal, or not a deal. And if it’s not a deal the threat of war becomes very, very powerful. So I think Obama’s speech in that context, using very tough language, was very appropriate. BALL: So Schumer has said himself and others have said about him that his name also means shomer in Hebrew, or the guardian of Israel. Is he playing this role of rejecting the deal Obama struck with Iran, or wanting to reject the deal Obama struck with Iran, is he playing the role of protector of Israel? And what constituency is he representing in this rejection of the deal, and who benefits from the position that he’s taking? BENNIS: Well, it’s a slightly different question of what constituency he is representing [inaud.] he doesn’t seem to be representing the constituents of New York, like most Americans, support the deal at a rate of about 60 percent. American Jews support the deal at about 61 percent. So he doesn’t seem to be [representing] American Jews. [Inaud.] most politicians representing the [interest] include many pro-Israel funders, who are demanding opposition to the deal. The question of who benefits is a little bit different. Those who benefit from the threat of war are military contractors. The CEOs of military producers. Places like, whether it’s McDonnell Douglas or Boeing, General Dynamics, all these companies that produce the war planes and the bombs and the bullets and the guns, and all the things that keep wars going, they benefit. The notion that no one benefits from war is simply not true. Now, I don’t know the full details of Senator Schumer’s donations. I don’t know how much he gets from the political action committees representing the arms industry, for instance. It would be a good thing to check. But I think that there’s no question that among his funders and supporters are those that see the Israeli position of opposing the deal as a legitimate position may argue that the agreement is bad because it would in their view, I think falsely, represent a threat to Israel. So that is part of who he’s representing, is those people who are concerned with the Netanyahu understanding of what is in Israel’s best interest, which in this case is the interest of playing the spoiler. As President Obama put it, how can it possibly make Israel stronger? These weren’t his exact words. But to paraphrase, he said how can it possibly help Israel for the world to see it as a spoiler for this deal? BALL: Phyllis Bennis, thank you very much for joining us here at the Real News and helping us put some context and interpretation to this speech. BENNIS: Thank you, Jared. It’s been a pleasure. BALL: And thank you for joining us at the Real News. And for all involved, again, I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore. And as always, as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody. We’ll catch you in the whirlwind.


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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.