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Obama and the national security system

In the second part of his interview to Pepe Escobar, investigative historian and military policy analyst Gareth Porter expands on what awaits Senator Barack Obama when he deals with the power of the national security state. Porter also examines what kind of movement and leader would it take to really try to change a very rigid system, and the proposition of Obama as a new Bobby Kennedy. (Jointly produced by IPS/TRNN/AP Video)

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Story Transcript

PEPE ESCOBAR, SENIOR ANALYST: Welcome to Part 2 of our conversation with the historian/author Gareth Porter on Obama, McCain, and their foreign policy decisions. Gareth, Obama, the whole thing started, in fact, as a movement, not as a campaign. Obama was being compared to a rock star, like the ["BO-na-vawks"] of politics. But when the campaign really started, he had to start pandering to the national security establishment and to the Cold War mentality still prevailing in the ruling elites in the US. Was it inevitable?

GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE HISTORIAN, MILITARY POLICY ANALYST: It is inevitable in this political system that that’s going to happen. And that of course brings us to, you know, what is the answer to this conundrum of a circular system where the candidate is inevitably going to pander to the system, and the system then creates the candidate? And the only way to break out of that is something that may not be possible in this country either, and that is to create a broad coalition which is based on a set of propositions that contradict the propositions in which the national security state has been operating for the last several decades, beginning with the idea that US military dominance in the world is somehow related to US security, when in fact, you know, pursuing dominance has exactly the opposite effect on security—it reduces the security of the American people. And I think, you know, that then sort of forces you to reexamine, you know, what is the real purpose of this national security state that has been built up over these many decades. And my answer to that, of course, is that the purpose of that state is not to advance the security of the American people; it’s to advance the bureaucratic and personal interests of the military services, and of their leaders, and those, you know, political and bureaucratic figures who surround the military services who are attached to them in some way. So, in other words, this is a mechanism, a set of institutions, if you will, that are working for their own interest, which is not the interest of the American people at all. We can show time after time, in the history of the Cold War and since, how this system has operated to the disadvantage of the security of the American people. And only, of course, in the last few years, with the impact on terrorism and the danger of terrorism to the American people, has that really impacted on Americans in that sort of direct way. Interestingly, now we have for the first time, I think, the dawning, at some level, on a mass basis, of Americans who understand that there’s a problem with militarism as an approach to foreign policy. I think you have millions and millions of people now, a very large minority, who really understand that we have to change the policies of the United States to somehow get control over militarism in order to be more secure.

ESCOBAR: But the leader of this movement, he will have to be a super-insider in Washington.

PORTER: Well, you know, that’s an interesting question: who could lead a movement like this? And at this point it’s hard to say. I mean, an insider coming, for example, from Congress is going to have all the baggage that that inevitably involves.

ESCOBAR: He would be a born-again congressman.

PORTER: Well, you know, I’m afraid that a member of Congress, no matter how progressive in political instinct, who’s been in Congress for many years, is going to be weighed down by the sense that, you know, there’s nothing to be done here or it’s hopeless. So I would not really look to a member of Congress, somebody like Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich, as strong a leader as they are in their own way, to be the one who could serve as the leader of a political movement in this country. And, you know, honestly, I don’t know where that leader can come from. You know, I think it has to come from some of the existing organizations. They have to somehow gain a degree of hyper-conscientiousness about the situation, understanding the situation, what needs to be done against the historical background of the last few decades of the evolution of this system. And at the moment I don’t know where that’s going to come from, who that’s going to be.

ESCOBAR: Assuming Obama becomes president, could he become a figure more like Bobby Kennedy instead of JFK? Of course, Bobby Kennedy never became president; he was assassinated. But in 1968, America was at a crossroads. The inner cities were burning. There was the power of the Civil Rights Movement, a very unpopular war, white kids, middle-class white kids being drafted to a war that they didn’t understand. The ruling classes in the US saw that the whole situation was getting out of control, and Bobby Kennedy himself performed a 180 degree turn. He was very conservative; suddenly he became very progressive and extremely inspirational. And if he was not assassinated, maybe he would have been an outstanding president. Do you think that maybe Obama could incarnate what Bobby Kennedy was not able to incarnate in ’68?

PORTER: There’s a lot of assumptions about Bobby Kennedy there that may or may not be true. I mean, that’s a very hopeful reading of what Bobby Kennedy represented. And if that is true, then it certainly, you know, suggests the hopeful model of how things could change, which is a degree of unrest in the country that would somehow draw the attention of a major political figure and be the basis for a campaign. I still think that that’s an awfully optimistic view of how things could work in this country. I’m afraid I’m much more pessimistic. I don’t see anybody on the horizon, including Obama, who is in a position where, you know, the sense of overwhelming urgency about change and an understanding of what form that change must and can take, you know, is really in the offing.

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