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Biden and the anti-war constituency

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PEPE ESCOBAR, SENIOR ANALYST: Stephen Zunes is a professor of international relations and politics at the University of San Francisco, an author, and a top US Middle East specialist. We are here at the Progressive Democrats for America The Nation meetings in downtown Denver. Stephen, welcome to The Real News.

PROF. STEPHEN ZUNES, INTERNATIONAL STUDIES, UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO: My pleasure.

ESCOBAR: Stephen, let’s talk about the Obama-Biden ticket. Is it really change we can believe in?

ZUNES: Hardly. While I think Obama himself and any number of other possible vice-presidential nominees could have brought some hope for real change, the selection of Biden is a big disappointment. In fact, I go as far as saying it’s nothing less than a stunning betrayal of the antiwar constituency to whom Obama owes his nomination. I mean, it was this one issue, given the similarity of him and Clinton on quite a few other issues, the one issue that Obama opposed the war from the beginning and is an outspoken opponent of the war, speaking at antiwar rallies and the like, while Hillary Clinton was supporting Bush and making all these false claims about weapons of mass destruction, ties to al-Qaeda, and the threat that Saddam supposedly had, that Obama was able to say, "Look, she may have more experience than me, but I have better judgment." And he was going to be using this line, presumably, in the fall campaign, McCain and the right wing going after him on the experience issue, saying, "Yeah, but I have better judgment on this critical, critical issue, the most important decision on foreign policy of a generation." And yet, by choosing Biden, who was also an enthusiastic supporter of the war, he’s now saying, "Oh, this is not that important after all." And so he’s negated this great advantage he would have otherwise had and has raised serious concerns among the antiwar people who support him that maybe this isn’t that important an issue. And is this going to be the kind of appointment he’s going to be making, you know, these people from the right wing of the Democratic Party, these hawks? Because, you know, it’s not just Iraq. I mean, Biden’s a hawk on Israel and Palestine, on Eastern Europe, on Cuba, on a number of other issues, and I wouldn’t call that change you can believe in.

ESCOBAR: Would you say that Obama is still a prisoner of the war-on-terror framework?

ZUNES: I think that has a lot to do with it. You know, they’ve really been manipulating these kinds of issues, and while al-Qaeda indeed is a real threat and a certain kind of well-targeted paramilitary operations may be necessary in revealing people like that.

ESCOBAR: It’s basically a police operation.

ZUNES: Yeah. What he’s talking about is escalating the war in Afghanistan. And if you’re going after a decentralized network of underground terrorist cells, high-altitude bombing really is not—.

ESCOBAR: And they are not in Afghanistan; they’re in the Pakistani tribal area.

ZUNES: Exactly. And so—whatever. So I’m not making a pacifist argument here; I’m just saying that the current strategy in Afghanistan is not working. And bringing these additional brigades to fight there, as Obama is proposing, is just going to make the matter worse.

ESCOBAR: How would you deconstruct Obama’s position on Iraq? He wants a gradual withdrawal within 16 months, but he talks about the residual force, which [could] be as high as 30,000 soldiers. How would you deconstruct this position? What is he trying to say?

ZUNES: It’s hard to say. I mean, in what he said and what the Democratic platform says on this is pretty vague. For example, you know, [inaudible] for what he refers to as counterterrorism operations. Well, you know, if there is specific intelligence and particularly a dangerous, you know, cell that is making bombs that’s going to kill tons of people, yeah, sure, he’s sending in, you know, special forces, small groups [inaudible] operation, that doesn’t sound too unreasonable, I suppose. But given that at times the US government has called every single insurgent in Iraq a terrorist and, you know, you can see how there’s the potential for expanding the definition of counterterrorism operations, that’s a little disturbing. Similarly, they talk about protecting US embassy staff and personnel. Well, this is by far the largest embassy in the world, literally thousands of people, and who aren’t just in the Green Zone but elsewhere. You’re talking about civilian contractors. Again, it’s one that on a narrow definition, you know, may not be that unreasonable. But, you know, there is that risk that it could, again, be used as an excuse for just continuing the war.

ESCOBAR: Is Obama a cold, calculating politician, or he’s truly antiwar?

ZUNES: Both. I really do think he recognizes the immorality and illegality and sheer foolishness of the war. At the same time, you know, he is running for president of what’s frankly an imperial power, where they’re a very, very powerful strategic and economic interest, and the fact that he is black, that he had a Muslim father, his middle name Hussein, you know, that he even more than other, you know, central-left politicians is forced to, you know, try to compensate and reassure the powers that be. So it’s a difficult situation to be in, which is why I think it’s all the more important that, while it is important to get Obama elected in November, I believe, it’s also important to keep the pressure on.

ESCOBAR: So, essentially, Biden won’t let Obama think outside the box.

ZUNES: That’s my fear, but at the same time, I think Obama is a kind of person who—I mean, it won’t be like the relationship between Cheney and Bush, because, you know, Bush is at best an intellectual lightweight, whereas Obama is a wise and intelligent person, from everything I’ve seen. And, hopefully, he’d be, you know, willing to stand up for what he believes in. Yet it does bother me that there’s someone who’s so closely identified with the establishment business-as-usual, will have such a prominent position as vice president.

ESCOBAR: Stephen, thanks very much.

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