The Obama administration will face numerous foreign policy challenges, including the question of nuclear proliferation and Iranian uranium enrichment. Despite recent IAEA remarks about the Iranian nuclear program, Mr Obama has taken a clear stance against Tehran’s enrichment activities. The new administration’s agenda will be revealed as appointments are made to key foreign policy positions. The Real News Network Senior Editor Paul Jay talks with Jonathan Schell about the possibility of shift in US foreign policy under the Obama administration.
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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back for the next segment of our interview with Jonathan Schell. Jonathan teaches at Yale; he is a fellow of the Nation Institute; he’s a member of the board of The Real News Network. And we’re discussing what to expect now from the Obama administration. Jonathan, so in the first segment of our interview we talked about the sort of achievement of the American people in electing an African-American president, in spite of the racism and the McCarthyism. But now let’s look at what kind of administration we think we might get. And your area of expertise is in the area of foreign policy and the whole issue of nuclear policy. What do you expect?
JONATHAN SCHELL, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Well, of course, it’s just a colossal pileup of difficulties, maybe the greatest that any president has ever faced. I know that’s saying a great deal, especially if you remember World War II—I don’t remember it, but I know about it—and the Great Depression and so forth, but it’s really incredible. On the one side, there’s something that’s very positive or very favorable that I think we tend to overlook, which is that there’s all kinds of crazy stuff that probably is not going to happen, on the order of the second Iraq War, something, like, of this order, because he’s there. So there’s a terrific sort of benefit preventing catastrophes of different kinds in this election. He’s a deeply sane person.
JAY: But he has taken a position with Iran that he will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear capability—and that’s more or less now defined as the ability to enrich uranium—and in spite of what ElBaradei from the IAEA said, which is Iran can’t do this without actually pulling out of the non-proliferation agreement. Somebody said a few days ago, Obama hasn’t dropped the rhetoric which sort of assumes they’re trying to have a bomb and assumes that they’re going to have to stop enriching uranium, which, if he follows the logic of his campaign rhetoric, leads him to the same confrontation that Bush was heading towards.
SCHELL: That could be. And here, you know, we get into the realm of hoping that our favorite candidate will break some of his campaign promises. On the other hand, I think that his overall instincts, whatever the declared policy is, tend to be more pacific than Bush’s, and I think that those would probably win out in the end. That’s just a judgment that I make about him. At the same time, you notice that if you say Iran mustn’t have a nuclear bomb, that is actually not the same as saying that at all costs Iran must be prevented from enriching uranium. And so there is a lot of wiggle room there for [inaudible]
JAY: It’s not the same, except both Bush and Obama have said it’s the same. They both took the position that they—.
SCHELL: Bush has in effect said it, because they take it as a given that Iran is seeking the bomb and that the enrichment of uranium is really virtually tantamount to that, and they make no distinction. On the other hand, I have not actually heard—maybe I just didn’t hear it, but I don’t think Obama has said that uranium enrichment is tantamount to making a bomb. So I actually see quite a bit of wiggle room in that rather hawkish-sounding statement, which does disturb me nevertheless, because I think the whole approach is wrong, the whole approach is mistaken. And even in terms of getting rid of a uranium enrichment program, I don’t think it’s going to be even successful or possible on a purely pragmatic level to do that without a radical shift in the whole nuclear policies of the United States.
JAY: ElBaradei spoke at the UN recently and talked about the danger from the amount of nuclear material that’s out there that goes missing, that’s stolen. He’s talked often about the incredible danger that doesn’t get talked about very much about just the amount of nuclear arms that are already in existence in various states’ hands and how something needs to be done about that. He talks about the need for a new global security pact—his actual words were, “Or we’re looking at the end of civilization as we know it. Do you see any movement towards a rethinking about nuclear weapons altogether by the Obama administration?
SCHELL: Well, there are some signs. They’re faint enough, but he has embraced the goal of abolishing nuclear weapons that was put forward by former secretary of state George Schultz and others. He didn’t make a big deal of it. And, obviously, to take that seriously you’d have to invest all kinds of political capital, and probably over two terms as well, and there’s no sign that he’s ready to take it up. It’s kind of gone by the board. But there it is on the record. You can see it in speeches. And then there are all kinds of sort of sane, regular, garden-variety arms control measures, moderate-to-liberal, such as signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that he has also signed up on. So there are some good things that can happen pretty easily if he’s the president. And certainly he would be like other Democrats in the Congress and very cool to the idea of this whole new warhead that the Bush administration wants to put through, the so-called reliable replacement warhead.
JAY: What will be a litmus test for you in judging what the direction of this administration, in terms of cabinet appointments and undersecretaries—? There’s already talk about Gates being kept on; there’s talk about Powell joining the administration. What do you make of that? And what are you going to be looking for?
SCHELL: Well, those appointments would seem to lock Obama into quite a hawkish foreign policy if he were to make them, and that would be very disturbing and quite dismaying. It’s a little hard to say with Powell, actually. He has had occasion to bitterly regret his support for the Iraq War, so I’m not at all sure that he would be opposed to quite a strong policy of disengagement from Iraq, you know, quite in line with his very own Powell doctrine, which would lead to that. You know, what’s very disturbing to me is that if you wanted to have some fairly audacious choices in policy, it’s very, very hard to match those up with experienced people that would be in the cabinet. And so he would have a whole job of sort of ferreting out people that weren’t very well known to the public and that would be hard to put through Congress, probably, at least without a lot of caterwauling from the Republicans. And so just on the level of having qualified people to put through somewhat more daring policies, it’s very hard to even imagine how he would do that, and that’s a great worry to me.
JAY: And if he doesn’t, then where is change and where is, more importantly even, fundamental change, which he kept talking about?
SCHELL: Well, precisely. See, now, on global warming, I have to say, there is such a person, and that’s obviously Al Gore. So you have that sort of bridge there that’s already available. And I dare say that on the nuclear question there are a variety of people now who might be ready to play that role. It wouldn’t be George Schultz himself, but he’s generated quite a lot of support for the abolition idea. In fact, a majority of former secretaries of defense and secretaries of state support that. So there’s some running room there with the established powers and established people on that issue if he chose to go down that route, and it’s anything but clear that he will.
JAY: Well, we’ll be watching closely to see just who he appoints to run American foreign policy. Thanks so much for joining us, Jonathan.
SCHELL: Thank you, Paul.
JAY: And thank you for joining us. And again let me bug you about the donate button. Thank you very much for joining us on The Real News Network.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.