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Will Obama-Biden question military dominance?

The Obama-Biden worldview Pt 2 with Eric Margolis, Phyllis Bennis and Paul Heinbecker

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Welcome back to the second part of our discussion on Obama, Biden, and US foreign policy. In Ottawa I’m joined by Paul Heinbecker, who is Canada’s former ambassador to the United Nations. In Washington I’m joined by Phyllis Bennis, who’s a senior analyst at the Institute for Policy Studies. And in our studio I’m joined by Eric Margolis, author and writer and a senior editorial consultant—or, I should say, editor for the Sun newspaper chain. Eric, in the last section of our discussions, we left off with this kind of provocative question: is Barack Obama and Joe Biden going to accept any new principles of US foreign policy? And certainly over the last 50, 60 years, one of those principles has been, first of all, to contend with the Soviet Union, and then, with the fall of the Soviet Union, not to allow any other superpower to come into being and to maintain military dominance. Do we hear anything different from that mindset coming from Barack Obama or Joe Biden?

ERIC MARGOLIS, THE REAL NEWS ANALYST: Let me answer about McCain first, because it’s easier. He has surrounded himself with the hardest-line neocons, who are advocating the Paul Wolfowitz doctrine of never allowing any country to militarily challenge the United States and dominating the world’s resources. And that is a policy which I’m absolutely convinced that McCain and his forces will continue following. The problem is that the United States does not have the capability anymore of enforcing its worldwide global diktat on the rest of the world, and it’s already showing signs of strain. And biggest policy challenge facing the United States is going to be dealing with the natural reemergence of Russia as a great power. It’s been down on its knees; we’ve gotten used to a servile Russia. Russia’s being Russia again, and we have to learn to accept them and work with this. After all, it’s our biggest foreign policy concern: Russia has over 6,500 strategic warheads pointed at North America. China is emerging. That’s going to be the second-biggest problem with the United States. We have to accommodate ourselves to the diminution of US power in the western Pacific and do it gracefully. As for Obama, he is unclear on this position. He’s been sort of waffling and in the middle, but some of his advisors are fairly hardline. Some of the others are traditional Democratic, mainstream people who are still a bit on the America, you know, greatest-power-in-the-world camp. And there’ll be intense pressure on Obama, who has to show that he’s tough, that he’s a commander-in-chief—he can’t be accused of being wimpiness and giving into the commies. And we’re already hearing talk about the free world in the media—I haven’t heard that in awhile. So Obama’s a question mark, but it worries me, because I don’t think he has the strength to stand up to the very strong institutional pressures in Washington.

JAY: Paul?

PAUL HEINBECKER: Eric makes a lot of good points, many of which I agree with. But what I would say is this: you know, if you go back to the Cuban Missile Crisis, you had the inexperienced president, Kennedy, but a man of considerable judgment and skill. And would you rather have had President Kennedy in charge during the Cuban Missile Crisis, or maybe Barry Goldwater, for example? So it doesn’t follow that a man who’s balanced, who’s got a more comprehensive view of the world, is also weak. You know, the United States, it will remain the most dominant power militarily, but isn’t going to be able to dominate the world. And I think that you need somebody in charge who has a capacity of understanding that, because otherwise it’s just going to lead us into more and more conflictual situations. I think the situation in Georgia is a very good example. You know, we’re partly in the situation we’re in because in some respects we’ve been crowding the Russians. I don’t for one second endorse their view that they have the right, somehow, to prevail over their neighbors. As a Canadian, I’d never be able to accept that view. But at the same time, you know, it was the US that abrogated the ABM Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. We’ve been pushing NATO’s borders right up to Russia. I think that that’s okay. The US decided to put a missile system right on Russia’s borders. The Russians don’t believe and they’ve made it very clear that they don’t believe that it’s aimed at Iran, who they don’t consider to be a significant threat for the foreseeable future. You know, and the very fact that the agreement was ratified during the Georgian crisis would underline that to the Russians. So I think that you need somebody with a lot more sophistication and a lot more subtlety of mind to be in charge of US foreign policy. And I think some of the people around Obama are very good, some, and I think they are a mix. But I would be more comfortable with somebody who I thought had a view of the world that was going to be nuanced, rather than sort of clear-cut.

JAY: Phyllis, I interviewed Ralph Nader earlier today, and we acknowledged that there’s two sections of an elite competing for power here. And I asked him if he didn’t think that the section represented by John McCain was, in terms of peace and security, more dangerous from his point of view, and he acknowledged it, but more or less said in the end there really isn’t that much difference between the two. What do you make of that?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Yeah, I disagree with Ralph on this. I think that there’s a significant difference. That doesn’t mean that I support either one, obviously, but I think that McCain does represent a far more overt danger of unchallenged militarism as the basis of US foreign policy. I do think, coming back to your original question, Paul, that Obama does believe—and he’s stated this in his speech at the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and elsewhere, that he believes, in his words, America must lead. So there’s no question that he sees himself leading a dominant hegemon around the world. But I think that’s far less dangerous when it comes from someone whose vantage point is that of a multifaceted kind of leadership, idealized, certainly, but one that is not based on an ideological drive towards militarism and war as the key components of what US policy should look like. And I think that is very important. It’s unfortunate he is supporting a strengthened version of the National Endowment for Democracy, for instance, something that I believe is quite dangerous. He does see the strengthening of NATO, he does see a role for the United States’ Pentagon to be thoroughly invested and involved, and in some cases dominant, of how US foreign policy takes shape. But all of that is still qualitatively less dangerous for the people of the world, and therefore somewhat less dangerous for the American people as well, than the unchallenged militarism that McCain would represent. So I think that we have to see it in very qualitative views. I read recently in an article by—oh, I’m forgetting who wrote it, actually, but a very interesting assessment that began with the view that said that while understanding that the defeat of Obama [sic] is not sufficient for the kind of foreign policy we would like, it is necessary. And I think that that notion that defeating a McCain presidency that would represent a continuation of the Bush administration’s so-dangerous policies is a first step towards creating the kind of foreign policy that would make possible a more multilateral, if not internationalist, a less militarized, if not non-military, policy overall. And I think those things are very, very important.

JAY: Right. Right. Eric, John Pilger wrote a piece a few weeks ago, and we’ve heard this from some other commentators, that while McCain may be much more dangerous, there is also a side of which Obama puts a very nice face on what may be a continuation of traditional US foreign policy. But that traditional US foreign policy is this strive for dominance. So one’s caught in just a rather complicated choice here. What’s your take?

MARGOLIS: Well, yes, that’s what I was referring to when I said institutional and special interest pressures on whoever is the president. You have the confluence now of some of the mightiest lobbies in Washington, who are favoring this imperial, militarized foreign policy. You’ve got the military-industrial-petroleum complex that President Eisenhower warned against—as you know, I’m an Eisenhower Republican. There is the pro-Israel lobby, which wants to take a hard line in the Middle East and support Israel’s right-wing parties. There are the right-wing Christian parties, right and righter on the Christian right, which are supporting a crazy policy in the Middle East, designed, I think, to bring on Armageddon and the end of days. And to confront Russia, you have the Bible Belt, which loves McCain for vowing that he’s going to confront Russia and China at the same time. I don’t know with what troops—maybe the Rhode Island National Guard, whatever’s left of it. But you’ve got this drum-beating in Washington that’s going on, you’ve got a military establishment that’s deeply committed, and a media which has become totally supportive—the corporate media’s become totally supportive of this militaristic, militarized program. It is going to be very hard for anybody to change course. And I wonder whether Obama is going to have the strength and the resources to do it.

JAY: Well, if there’s one issue where Obama has differentiated himself, and perhaps even more Joe Biden has, and that’s Iran. In the next segment of our discussion, let’s discuss Obama, Biden, McCain, and Iran. And let’s not leave out two other fellas, President Bush and Dick Cheney, who have their own plans for Iran. Please join us for the next segment of our discussion on US foreign policy.

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