Phyllis Bennis: NIE report debate rages (2 of 2)
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: How does this affect the politics playing out in the primaries of the U.S. presidential race? With the exception of Ron Paul, all the Republican candidates have all bought in to the gung-ho hype against stopping the Iranian nuclear program.
PHYLLIS BENNIS, SENIOR ANALYST, INSTT. FOR POLICY STUDIES: Well, not only that. I think some of the neocons and some of the right-wing Republican forces—I’m not sure if any of the candidates have said it explicitly yet, but other Republicans, are saying this whole NIE, the whole document, is really an effort by the CIA to undermine the president. It’s really a rather preposterous notion that this is all a political judgment that’s designed to undermine the White House.
JAY: All more or less by Bush appointees.
BENNIS: By Bush appointees are making that kind of claim. On the Democratic side, it’s in the sense more worrying, partly because there is the illusion that they’re supposed to be in a somewhat more critical vantage point, but you have instead someone like Hillary Clinton saying that the NIE actually justifies her vote on the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment, which was essentially a very clear step towards justifying war in Iran. She now says this was not a step towards war. This was designed to give more support to the diplomacy—exactly the same argument that she made when she voted for war in Iraq and said later, I didn’t vote for war; if I had known that President Bush was going to use that justification to go to war, I never would have done it. Well, now she knows that, and she’s just done it again.
JAY: And we understand it’s hurting her in Iowa and New Hampshire. Obama, who gave a more moderated position on Iran, said he was willing to go to have conversations with Iranians, seems to be making a move, and they say to some extent because of this issue.
BENNIS: Obama has taken it up, although he hasn’t been taking a clear position himself on what he thinks should happen. He hasn’t said, for example, today we should open unconditional negotiations with Iran on all the outstanding issues. He hasn’t said that. Nor has John Edwards. Both of them have leaned in that direction but not said it explicitly.
JAY: The clearest on it’s been Kucinich.
BENNIS: Well, Kucinich has been very clear from the beginning that there is no justification for war. Joseph Biden, interestingly, who has been very hawkish on the Iraq war, of course, and actually played the role of Julius Caesar, saying that all Iraq should be divided into three parts—the opening line of Caesar’s Gallic Wars—but he had a much more nuanced position on Iran, where he actually said that if President Bush goes to war against Iran without permission of Congress, that he would call for impeachment. It was a careful thing, and it makes me very worried because it’s clear that under almost any conditions, if there’s anything remotely resembling even a false Tonkin Gulf Incident, you know, a little Iranian rowboat with a couple of people in it throwing stones at a destroyer out in the Gulf somewhere, might be enough to get Congress to agree.
JAY: But Biden’s been pretty good on it. Biden’s made many points, including what do you expect if you keep threatening regime change.
BENNIS: That’s right. That’s right. He has made that point. And to his credit, he’s the only one of the more mainstream candidates, if you take out Kucinich, who of course has been a much more principled voice, but of those who come out of the more mainstream Democratic Party, he has been the most consistent on Iran in saying there should not be a military strike on Iran. What none of them are saying is the basis for which there could be negotiations with Iran, and that’s what has been very clear when Iran has said what they want. They want a guarantee of security from the United States. They can’t get that from the United Nations, they can’t get it from NATO, not from the Europeans. Only the United States represents a threat, and they want a security guarantee that says we’re not going to try regime change, we’re not going to invade you. And in return for that there can be real negotiations.
JAY: But what we haven’t heard yet is that there will be unconditional negotiations, ’cause the Bush administration has said, first, off enriching uranium, then negotiations, and the Iranians say no.
BENNIS: But that’s not even an offer for negotiations with some preconditions. That’s saying that the outcome of the negotiations is the precondition. The negotiations, according to U.S.-claimed interest, is to stop Iran from enriching uranium. That’s what they say.
JAY: So does this document create the sort of political, psychological space now for the administration to say, okay, we will have negotiations without you having to stop enriching uranium?
BENNIS: I think it does. In the same way, if we look back in the 1980s, the Bowland Amendment was a very important amendment that played a major role in stopping U.S. funding of arms in the Central American wars, particularly against Nicaragua. In fact, that amendment was rather flawed. It didn’t really prohibit all legal U.S. aid. But people believed it. There was enough public pressure and public demand around it that the Bowland Amendment became a symbol of the illegality and the illegitimacy of U.S. policy, and as a result the administration had to stop funding the Contra war legally and go around a back door, the Iran-Contra scandal and all that emerged. Similarly, this document does not prohibit a U.S. military attack, but it may serve to deny the Bush White House enough public support in the U.S., diplomatic support from any other countries, any kind of support, even from NATO or the United Nations, to go ahead with it. It may serve that function, even if the words aren’t there.
JAY: It confirms ElBaradei’s major point. There’s no urgency here. There’s plenty of time to work this out.
BENNIS: Exactly. If anything else, it should give Mohamed ElBaradei a second Nobel Prize.
JAY: We’ll see.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.