Contextual Content

Will a new US President mean a new foreign policy?

In George W. Bush’s final speech to the UN as head of state, he provided a series of reasons to view his administration’s policies as having succeeded in conducting a global war on terrorism. Despite his regime’s demonstrated aversion to multilateralism, Bush called on the UN and all international institutions to take a lead role in the War on Terror in the future. Investigative reporter and historian Gareth Porter tells Senior Editor Paul Jay why he believes that while Obama and McCain represent different visions of US foreign policy, neither truly represent a clean break from the legacy created by the Bush administration.

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to the next segment of our series of interviews with Gareth Porter. We’re discussing George Bush’s speech to the United Nations. Gareth is a historian and an investigative journalist based in Washington, DC. Either McCain or Obama are going to inherit this world. I say "this world" because according to many, certainly themselves, they’re going to be the presidents or the leaders of the free world, which according to them includes everything but about three or four countries now. What policies do you expect from either of them? And if the last eight years has been a policy of war on terror and Bush doctrine, do McCain or Obama offer us a different vision?

GARETH PORTER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST AND HISTORIAN: I think to a great extent the answer is no; that is to say, there would be a great deal of continuity with either McCain or Obama, between their foreign policy and the Bush administration’s foreign policy. There will be differences. There’s no doubt about that. McCain would be more hawkish than Bush, or Obama would be less hawkish than bush. McCain would be so committed to Iraq that he might well try to reverse the process of getting out of Iraq, despite the declared decision by the Iraqi government that the United States should withdraw on a timetable. It is not difficult to imagine a John McCain administration trying to overthrow the al-Maliki regime in order to keep troops there. I don’t think that’s a far-fetched scenario. With Obama, on the other hand, I mean, I think that you could expect that there would be a willingness, a readiness to go along with the timetable, and even to facilitate it and perhaps speed it up. On the other hand, I think that Obama and McCain would fall in line with whatever the Bush administration has started to do in Afghanistan. They would be just as puzzled about how to try to win; they would be just as unwilling to consider the option of withdrawal or beginning a process of negotiating with the Taliban for a peace settlement.

JAY: Do you think to some extent that there’s a different answer to the question in this sense: which Bush?The Bush administration, which many said was one led by President Cheney, seemed to have one set of policies and be very driven by hardcore hawk neocons. With the descendency of Cheney and what now seems to be a Bush presidency more influenced by sort of traditional, pragmatic, empire policies as represented by Gates and now Condoleezza Rice and the State Department, that seems to be a more traditional, American, pragmatic government. So I guess my question would be: are we more likely to see from Obama a continuation of traditional American pragmatism? But are we possibly going to see with a McCain a return to Cheney?

PORTER: To some extent I think that there’s an element there of a return-to-Cheney possibility under McCain. And, of course, if, God help us, anything should happen to McCain, a Palin presidency would be, if anything, more extremist than John McCain, if one can entertain that fantasy, that nightmare of a possibility. But I do want to come back to the idea of which Bush, the question of which Bush. You have to, I think, see the Bush II, the second Bush term, as not so much a difference in the politics within the Bush administration, although that is a factor, but rather the reality that the second Bush administration faced was very different from the one that it faced in 2001, 2002, and 2003. It had yet to come to realize that it could not prevail in Iraq militarily. It had yet to realize that, you know, sort of going in and then coming out, more or less, of Afghanistan would not produce sort of a docile, friendly regime alone but would also produce an insurgency by the Taliban that would rise to become a serious threat to that regime. So, I mean, these are just the clearest-cut examples of new realities that impinged on and imposed themselves on the Bush administration and made it much more difficult for them to really carry through what I think was their basic orientation, the basic tendency of the Bush administration, even the second term, to confront Iran, to threaten Iran militarily, and to even consider the possibility of an attack on Iran. I think that was a serious possibility. It was never dismissed completely. I don’t think Bush ever decided in that direction, but he considered it seriously enough to ask his joint chiefs of staff what they thought about the option of attacking Iran’s nuclear program.

JAY: Now, some people have made the argument that McCain is a man of American militarism and is much more likely to have a militarist solution, that Obama may not be a radical departure with the last 40, 50 years of US foreign policy, but that he’s a pragmatic rationalist, and that’s a profound difference between him and McCain. Do you think that’s true?

PORTER: Yes, absolutely. And, I mean, McCain is part of the neocon movement. In his foreign policy he subscribes fully to the most extreme views of the neoconservative movement. I mean, the Wolfowitzes, the Douglas Feiths, the people who were pushing for the use of military force in the belief that it would transform the region, with the idea of shock and awe that would frighten the Arab regimes and the Iranians, that they would be quaking in their boots, and that they would either fall or be ready to do the bidding of Washington. This is the kind of sort of fantasy world in which I think John McCain works.

JAY: So what do you make of the Nader or Ron Paul, Cynthia McKinney, these kinds of positions, which essentially there’s really no difference between Obama and McCain when it comes to foreign policy?

PORTER: No, I don’t agree that there’s no difference between Obama and McCain. I mean, that simply doesn’t square with what we know of both men. I think the real question that perhaps Nader and McKinney and their followers are raising is whether an Obama administration would be capable of following policies that would extract the United States from the very serious fix that the neocons have gotten us into, and there I think there is a serious question about that.

JAY: But the question has practical consequences. There’s hundreds of thousands, maybe a few million Americans that are considering not voting for either of the two candidates, because the third-party candidacy makes a statement about elite politics, and because they see no qualitative difference between McCain and Obama on these questions. So I guess that’s the question: is there a qualitative difference, or is a quantitative difference between the two that’s not that significant?

PORTER: Yes, there is a qualitative difference between the two candidates, and it extends not just to, you know, national security policy but to every aspect of American economic and other social policies. You know, the McCain presidency would bring about much more radical directions than an Obama presidency. And there’s no doubt that there are significant differences there, which anyone looking at the option of voting for McCain would have to take seriously or should take seriously.

JAY: Thank you very much, Gareth. Thanks for joining us. And thank you for joining us for this series of interviews with Gareth Porter. And if you enjoy these interviews and would like to see more like this, then here is a donate button, over there’s a donate button. I’m sure you can find the donate button. But please do, because we depend on your donations for our existence. Thanks again.

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Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.