Phyllis Bennis: Clinton ordered spying on UN leaders shows Bush style still around
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. Now joining us to discuss the WikiLeaks leaks is Phyllis Bennis. She’s a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies here in DC. She’s also the author of the book Ending the US War in Afghanistan – A Primer. Thanks for joining us.
PHYLLIS BENNIS, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: Good to be with you.
JAY: So what’s–just initially going through what’s been published so far, what jumps off the page for you?
BENNIS: Well, I think overall this is really a case of the US government being far more embarrassed than it is worried about the impact of these leaks. There’s nothing here that’s going to affect actual US policy. What it is going to affect is the credibility of the US government. What it says is that the US government is making public now all of these confidential conversations and confidential information passed to it by other governments. It says to other governments it can’t be trusted. And on top of that, there’s evidence of a huge kind of campaign of spying on international leaders, the secretary general of the United Nations, presidents, and the permanent representatives at the UN of the five permanent members of the Security Council, presidents of other countries, where the US is not only looking for the kind of general information you would always want about world leaders–what’s their worldview, what do they think about things; the US is going after biometric information–iris scans, DNA evidence, fingerprints of presidents and ambassadors at the United Nations, of the secretary general, his top aides. I mean, this is appalling. It’s–on one level it’s not surprising; but it’s shocking to hear this and to see it in black and white. It’s not surprising, for that reason, that the State Department has been so nervous about the impact of these leaks.
JAY: Now, you’re focused–and your work is in the Middle East. What, in terms of the leaks, has alerted you there?
BENNIS: Well, there’s been a great deal of focus on the question of Iran. There’s a great sort of gleeful approach in the Israeli press over the last 24 hours or so, where the focus is, oh my God, this is great for us because this shows what was never allowed to be public before, that–surprise, surprise–Arab leaders agree with us that they want to go after Iran. That’s nothing surprising.
JAY: And for people that haven’t seen this, one of the cables–or actually a few of the cables talk about the king of Saudi Arabia talking about cutting off the head of the snake, although not all the news reports give the full quote, because there’s also–. Go ahead.
BENNIS: There’s also another whole set of reports. There’s one from the Mossad chief from back in 2007, who said that it’s very clear that our goal is to disrupt the political system in Iran and to bring down the regime. Now, that’s pretty straightforward. That’s not something the Israelis like to brag about. It gives some credibility to why the Iranians might be a little unnerved about Israeli actions. There’s other information, too. There’s information that the emir of Qatar told Senator John Kerry, the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, that Hamas would definitely accept the 1967 borders as the basis of a peace settlement. That’s not something that Israel wants to have public, and it’s not something that The Jerusalem Post will talk about very easily.
JAY: Well, Jerusalem Post didn’t include the quote in one of the cables about King Abdullah that people at the Foreign Ministry, senior people at the Foreign Ministry in Saudi Arabia, actually gave the complete opposite advice to the US, saying, we don’t want you to attack Iran.
BENNIS: Right. And Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barack, said that there was a window of opportunity for a military strike against Iran that would end in December of this year, just in the next couple of weeks, and that after that time, any such strike would have unacceptable civilian casualties.
JAY: Now, on the other hand, he said that in ’09, that it had to be done by the end of 2010, but there’s no indication that they’re now–called off calling for an attack on Iran. So it was a year ago; was to pressure for something sooner than later, but they’re going to continue to pressure them.
BENNIS: Right. But it’s also a credibility question. It’s ’cause he’s acknowledging that after Iran has moved to a certain point in their nuclear power program, weapons or no weapons, that any attack on their nuclear program will have inevitable massive civilian casualties, because of the threat of a leak of uranium, a leak of nuclear power sources of whatever sort, that are going to attack civilians just because of the development of the nuclear power system, even if there are no weapons. And if he’s admitting that, if the defense minister of Israel 18 months ago is admitting that if there were to be a strike now or any time in the future, there would be unacceptable civilian casualties, it takes away the argument that they didn’t know. It says, we know there will be unacceptable casualties, and we don’t care.
JAY: ‘Cause they’re not quoting that quote now. Jerusalem Post isn’t talking about that.
BENNIS: The Jerusalem Post didn’t mention that one, that’s right. This was in The Guardian‘s summary. But–.
JAY: But isn’t that part of the whole point here is that there’s, what, 251,000 cables, and they’re going to–there was an actual process of cherry picking, where the newspapers involved actually negotiated with the State Department, particularly The New York Times. And then, number two, what does get released is–the press is going to cherry pick what to highlight.
BENNIS: Absolutely, and we’re already seeing that. The Israeli press is picking and choosing from all three. This was from Der Spiegel, from The Guardian, and from The New York Times. And they’re picking and choosing those that in their view appear to show Israel’s interest. So it’s–you know, they’re going to do that. Every country is going to do that for themselves. I assume that the United Nations is going to focus on a demand that the United States stop violating international law and the Vienna Treaty that prohibits these kinds of attacks on diplomats, this kind of search for DNA evidence. What are they going to do? Collect Ban Ki-moon’s toothbrush? I mean, this is unbelievable that they’re acknowledging, that they’re asking–. And this was something under Hillary Clinton’s own signature as secretary of state. She sent out a widespread demand to diplomats around the world, particularly at UN headquarters, but in a number of capitals, asking for this kind of very detailed forensic information–biometric information, stuff about credit cards, private email accounts, frequent flyer accounts. I don’t know–is somebody looking at my frequent flyer miles? I’m getting a lot of them these days.
JAY: But in terms of the practical effect, political effect (so far, at least) of what we’ve seen, the big story, it seems to me, is the way this, the WikiLeaks that’s been leaked, supports the argument that Iran is a threat to the entire region of the Middle East, not just to Israel, which is why The Jerusalem Post is so happy.
BENNIS: I don’t think that’s the case. I think there are quotes from some Arab leaders that–that’s nothing new; we’ve had those quotes before. I think this is a cherry-picked thing which the US press–.
JAY: No, but my point is about how it’s being played.
JAY: We don’t know what’s in the thousands of other cables.
BENNIS: Right, yeah, that’s true, but it’s being cherry-picked. Certainly in the Israeli press, unfortunately in the US press, there’s still a lot of focus on this escalation of assault and attack with words against Iran. This is something that is useful, I would say, to the Obama administration, because it’s a diversion. It’s a diversion from what this really says about the basis of US foreign policy, that when President Obama said we want a new kind of foreign policy, we want to engage with the world in a whole different way, going after some of these DNA evidence and iris scans for the UN secretary general, that’s not a whole new way; that’s the old way, that’s the George Bush way.
JAY: Thanks for joining us.
BENNIS: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
End of Transcript
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