NOTE: Part three on Sunday, Sept 7


Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Thank you for joining us again for our discussion about John McCain’s speech at the Republican National Convention. Joining me is Phyllis Bennis, senior analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC; Jonathan Schell, senior fellow at the Nation Institute, professor at Yale, also a board member of The Real News; and finally Paul Heinbecker, former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations and now a distinguished fellow at the Centre for International Governance and Innovation. Jonathan, we left off talking about John McCain. So much of his foreign policy paragraph—’cause that’s about all there was about foreign policy, which was a bit surprising for someone whose strong suit is supposed to be about foreign policy—but most of that paragraph was about Russia. And it seems to me it’s not just rhetoric when he talks about Russia virtually as the number-one enemy, giving it more weight than al-Qaeda, when some of his closest advisors have been mucking around in Eastern Europe for quite some time. Tell us about this.

JONATHAN SCHELL, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: I think that what we’re seeing here with McCain, and also more broadly, is the superimposition of a kind of a template, of a kind of a model, a way of seeing international affairs. And of course that’s a Cold War way of seeing them, but even beyond that as a kind of real politik, balance-of-power way of looking at the world. And what doesn’t fit that model is simply excluded. And, for example, the fact that it was Georgia, famously, that initiated the hostilities by bombarding the city of Tskhinvali, the capital of Ossetia. And I think that what’s occurring here—and this dovetails, I think, with what you see at the convention and in American politics generally in a very interesting way, which is what takes preeminence is not the actual facts of what has happened on the ground out of which people have formed a view, but rather this kind of superimposition, as I say. And the theme that makes the bridge there is the idea of toughness, which has been a kind of Republican stock and trade, actually, for the last half century. So whether it’s being tough on al-Qaeda or it’s being tough on Iran or it’s being tough on Russia, it’s this sort of theme or general paradigm or model or idea which is both sort of visceral and abstract at the same time of toughness, and these things are fed into the political world and thereby distorted. And, again, it has to do—I don’t want to harp on this too much, but with a kind of essential unreality of these staggering exercises in propaganda that are political convention.

JAY: But there’s this very weird crossover between propaganda and reality. Paul Heinbecker, what I’m seeing here is that McCain doesn’t want to spend too much time talking about Afghanistan and Pakistan, because that takes us to Obama. You don’t want to talk too much about Iraq, because that reminds us of George Bush. And you want to talk about Georgia and Russia, but it’s not just talk about: Vladimir Putin actually accused the Americans of deliberately instigating the Georgian incident that leads to the Russian incursion in order to help McCain’s election campaign. So the reality is being twisted to help the propaganda. What do you make of that?

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PAUL HEINBECKER, CENTER FOR INTL. GOVERNANCE INNOVATION: Well, I don’t know whether Putin is right or not. It’s a very serious accusation. If it’s true, it’s a pretty terrible condemnation. What I would say is that McCain has been attacking the Russians right along through this campaign, bearing in mind he’s the one who wants to kick them out of the G8 as though that were his own decision to make. He’s also on the record as favoring something called a “League of Democracies,” which would be open only to democratic countries, and with the notion somehow that the democratic countries are always going to agree with each other and that they would take over where the UN couldn’t act, without any recognition that if you’re not dealing with the countries with whom you have problems, you know, in a straightforward sort of way, you’re never going to get to dealing with the problem. There’s a kind of unreality about it all that you can create as your alternative universe. You can deal with the Russians on your own terms. And, you know, I think what I heard a few minutes ago was this notion of kind of propaganda and crossover from reality to some alternative view of things. I think that’s very correct.

JAY: Phyllis, I think you can maybe date the moment this propaganda war started. And this is what I’m getting at. It’s not just a propaganda war. I remember when Putin told Bush, “You’d better not attack Iran,” Bush had a press conference and he threatened World War III. And some people interpreted that as some war with Iran, but I think it was pretty clear that was a shot across the bow of the Russians. And this was the beginning of this “Russia, you’re in our way. We want regime change in Iran.” And so this Iranian equation is very much part of what’s going on in Georgia and Russia. And, of course, McCain’s big pal is Lieberman, who’s very close to the Likud forces in Israel who are talking about going after Iran. And John Bolton’s another pal who’s openly talking about an attack on Iran. What do you think, Phyllis?

PHYLLIS BENNIS, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: Well, and then there’s Randy Scheunemann, who’s John McCain’s top foreign policy adviser, who was formerly a paid lobbyist for the Georgian government, and it’s through him that the allegations are emerging that there may have been, at best, mixed messages coming from the United States, Condoleezza Rice telling the Georgians, “Don’t provoke Russia. We may not stand behind you.” It’s not clear exactly what she said. She claims that she told them not to do anything provocative. And yet it’s certainly possible that, after several years of working as a paid lobbyist to the tune of $700,000, that his lobby shop was paid by the Georgian government since 2004, that this is something that they may have gotten mixed messages in the Georgian government that indicated that they could be treated, that they would be treated as the Israel of the Caucasus, as some have put it, that anything they did would be defended. And I think that there was this sense, in terms of the timing, that because the eyes of the world were elsewhere, as Jonathan mentioned earlier, the horror of what was going on in Afghanistan, yesterday’s invasion of Pakistan by US ground troops, really the only immediacy of that was, coming into the convention hall tonight, we saw something that didn’t even happen during the Democratic convention, which was that protesters from Iraq Veterans Against the War got in with their banners and were allowed to stand holding their banners, one of which said, “McCain votes against vets,” and the other said, “You can’t win an occupation,” and they stood there silently with their T-shirts saying, “Iraq Veterans Against the War.” It was a very powerful moment.

JAY: Just to close the loop on this Georgia-Russia-Israel equation, Israel was also very involved in Georgia, selling millions of dollars of weapons and—I don’t know the number, but it’s apparently hundreds or perhaps even more—Israeli trainers in Georgia alongside American trainers, prepping Georgia for something just like what actually happened. Jonathan, what do you make of this geopolitical puzzle that McCain seems positioned to lead us to victory in?

SCHELL: You know, I want to go on to say that, incidentally, I think the Russians are playing a very similar game. Let’s not forget that Putin came to power by re-unleashing, so to speak, war in Chechnya, and making very, very brutal comments, and carrying on incredibly brutal policies in that country. And he really had a war on terror going before George Bush had ever thought of it. And so this kind of nexus between this forcing of a great-power-conflict template on what is probably in reality more of a kind of local squabble serves his interests just as it serves Republican interests in the United States. So you have something that we’re very familiar [with] from the Cold War, which is a kind of league of hawks who are bristling at one another but actually are in league in terms of their own domestic politics. And it’s a kind of a malign influence of domestic propaganda on foreign affairs and vice versa that we see ongoing in a kind of recycled second time [inaudible] sort of way.

JAY: Right. Paul Heinbecker, what do you make of that? Some of the, you could say, counter-analysis of what’s been happening in Georgia that’s more critical of the US—certainly not the mainstream—but is some of that analysis missing out on Russia’s own imperial designs? Even though the Americans may be, you know, more at fault in this particular case, certainly Russia has its own imperial interests here.

HEINBECKER: Well, Russia has also misbehaved. They’ve been undermining the Georgians vis-à-vis Ossetia and Abkhazia. The peacekeepers who have been there have been there illegally, but it’s pretty odd to have Russian peacekeepers in that place. And they clearly would like to reassert themselves in the neighborhood. One of the interesting things that’s another thing that’s not making the news very much is the pressure all this puts on NATO ally Turkey, which has a treaty, which dates from the ’30s, about the size of shipping that can go through the Dardanelles and the Bosporus up to the Black Sea. And the United States wants to send ships that are too large for the treaty through there, and it’s very, very much in Turkey’s interests that the Russians not be able to send ships in the other direction through the Dardanelles. So they don’t want this treaty breached. And the United States is very interested in not complying with it. So this episode in Georgia is also roiling the countries that are further away, and in ways which were not at all predictable.

JAY: Our final segment of our interview, let’s discuss what we think is going to happen in the next couple of months, particularly what’s going to happen in the real world, not just in the politics. Please join us for the continuation of our conversation about John McCain’s speech at the Republican National Convention.

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