Phyllis Bennis: Obama’s Iran policy stands in contrast to Clinton’s
ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER: In the recent Democratic candidates debate between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, Senator Obama made a clear point against keeping US troops in Iraq to blunt Iranian influence.
January 31, 2008
BARACK OBAMA, US SENATOR: If we were concerned about Iranian influence, we should not have had this government installed in the first place. We shouldn’t have invaded in the first place. It was part of the reason that it was such a profound strategic error for us to go into this war in the first place.
Obama went on to say that meeting with Iran would be very productive.
OBAMA: I think and the National Intelligence Estimate, the last report, suggested that if we are meeting with them, talking to them, and offering them both carrots and sticks, they are more likely to change their behavior, and we can do so in a way that does not ultimately cost billions of dollars, thousands of lives, and hurt our reputation around the world.
A lot of people are saying that there’s no real difference in foreign policy issues between the candidates. But have Obama’s statements about Iran made him stand out? The Real News asked Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies.
PHYLLIS BENNIS, SENIOR ANALYST, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: It’s very interesting that Obama has made clear the links between the invasion and occupation of Iraq and the rise in Iranian influence, because at the same time he has also been much clearer than the other candidates about supporting direct diplomacy with Iran to resolve all outstanding issues. And he’s spoken directly about the need for having carrots as well as sticks. He has said that perhaps Iran’s entry to the World Trade Organization, which the Iranian government desperately wants, would be an appropriate carrot, that there should not be solely an antagonistic view towards Iran. And very importantly, he actually said so–although he didn’t specify what the content would be, he did say that he believed it would be appropriate to think about some kind of guarantees for Iran. And the significance of that is that it’s been long known that what Iran really wants in this whole difficult relationship between Iran and the United States is precisely a security guarantee, a promise that the US will not try to invade and carry out “regime change.” And a security guarantee like that can really only come from the United States. It can’t be made by the Europeans—they don’t control the US. It can’t be made by the UN. It can’t be made by the IAEA. This is where a direct level of negotiations between Iran and the United States would have to be the venue for that kind of security guarantee in return for whatever is negotiated out that Iran would give. So the notion of Barack Obama calling for serious negotiations, including some kind of guarantee, is quite significant and quite different from the position of the other candidates.
HILLARY CLINTON, US SENATOR: I don’t think the president should put the prestige of the presidency on the line in the first year to have meetings without preconditions with five of the worst dictators in the world.
Well, it’s an extraordinary thing to say. I mean, essentially what she’s saying is it’s okay to put the prestige of the presidency on the line in the second year, but not in the first year. So that part makes no sense. It’s not exactly clear what dictator she’s talking about. Chances are she’s referring to Ahmadinejad in Iran, to Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Fidel Castro in Cuba, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, and Kim Jong-Il in North Korea. That’s my guess of who are her five dictators. But it’s interesting that she doesn’t even mention who they are, that she would treat them all with the same brush, if you will, that we won’t deal with any so-called dictators. The problem is that if you want to identify a country as a dictatorship and identify world leaders as dictators, number one, that’s a little bit problematic as it is. It doesn’t bode well before serious negotiations further down the line. But more significantly, if those are the countries that you’re identifying as presenting some kind of challenge, whether it’s an economic challenge, a military challenge, those are the countries you’ve got to deal with. And if she’s coming into office saying that the entire trajectory of the Bush presidency has been wrong and that we need to stop this unilateralism and militarism that has characterized the Bush years, then it seems to me she needs to start by looking at a new policy for precisely those countries that she believes are problematic for whatever reason for the United States. There’s another way to balance the positions of Obama and Clinton, though. Although Obama has focused much more on the necessity and urgency of negotiations, when it came to the question of Pakistan, he turned out to be very highly militaristic. In one of the earlier debates, he answered quickly a question about “how would you deal with Pakistan” in a scenario that was described where there is intelligence indicating that Osama bin Laden or other al-Qaeda leaders are in Pakistan, in the area along the Afghanistan border, and the government in Pakistan says you cannot go in. What would you do? And his answer, without missing a beat, was “We would have to go in anyway” if there was what he called “actionable intelligence.” You know, I suppose “actionable intelligence” means national borders be damned, and we can just go invade wherever we want. So it was a very powerful, very militaristic response. Hillary Clinton joined in very quickly and essentially said the same thing. But it was interesting, ’cause it was the first time that Obama had staked out a much more highly militarized response.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.