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Triumph of right-wing nationalism

Paul Jay speaks with Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report about Obama’s foreign policies.

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to The Real News Network. Joining us again from New Jersey is Glen Ford. He’s the executive editor of BlackAgendaReport.com. Thanks for joining us again, Glen.

GLEN FORD, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: Thank you.

JAY: So let’s talk geopolitics. Coming out of ’09, looking into the next decade, what concerns you? What excites you?

FORD: The generalization of US war under President Obama—which means there seems to be no stops, nothing between Washington’s desire for a general confrontation with real and imagined enemies and the actual execution of that. Now Yemen has been designated the next front or theater of war. Where next? Where is the movement that can put the brakes on an administration that is at least as aggressive as George Bush’s administration?

JAY: Taking Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, there is a political movement in the Muslim world. I call it a political movement. It expresses itself through a religious grammar. It’s radical, or if you want to use the word "extremist’ in its tactics, it’s real. If—my opinion it’s real. I don’t know if you question that. It’s a sort of two sides to the sword here. One can argue it’s US dominance in the region that gave birth to and sustains it. On the other hand, do you not think there’s real people out there that would want to create both sharia law in these places and use terrorism, including blowing up volleyball games in Pakistan, if that’s what it takes to get there?

FORD: What we’ve seen here is the triumph of right-wing nationalism and a kind of Islamic nationalism over the left in much of the world. It’s the blowback that results from the victory of the United States and other imperialists in the victory they had in the ’70s and ’80s and ’90s in suppressing the more left-wing resistance to US imperialism. So, for example, in Palestine we saw that the Israelis encouraged the rise of Hamas, a right-wing tendency within Palestinian nationalist politics, in order to undermine the Palestine Liberation Organization. Well, they were quite successful in that, and indeed Hamas did grow and become more influential in Palestinian politics. That was largely the result of Israeli and US efforts over decades to counter leftist nationalism in that part of the more Arab world. We saw the same phenomenon in Afghanistan, where the United States and Saudi Arabia and Pakistan combined to encourage the rise of a right-wing nationalism to oppose leftists in Afghanistan and, of course, their Soviet allies. Well, they were quite successful: there is no longer a left-wing nationalism of any consequence in Afghanistan, not much of it in Pakistan. And so that the resistance to US imperialism comes from the right, from right-wing nationalists.

JAY: We’ve seen this pattern before, including if—I think one could even put Hitler into that category. So what you do in a situation where real monsters get created from rotten imperial foreign policy?

FORD: Well, we on the left here in the United States and in North America have to keep our heads on straight and understand that the Taliban and other manifestations of right-wing nationalism, right-wing resistance to US imperialism, that they are still resistance to US imperialism. And the problem in the world is not right-wing nationalism, although that is certainly a problem for the people in those countries. But the main problem in the world is US imperialism. That is the germinator of these tensions [inaudible] we have to keep our heads on straight and understand that the United States remains the principal source of misery and death on the planet today.

JAY: But you can’t take away people’s right to rebel. And you start to see this in Iran, where because the Iranian regime, a reactionary, politically repressive regime, totally enmeshed in global capitalism even though they want to call themselves anti-imperialist, but collaborate with the US in Afghanistan, in Iraq one day, and then become the big enemy the next. But this logic that the US is the problem in the world leads some people on the left to actually wind up virtually opposing a Iranian resistance movement to political repression.

FORD: That is true. There is no shortcut to doing your work. If you are a progressive, you also are supposed to be a responsible person, and so you don’t react reflexively to Third World manifestations of anti-imperialism without a critique. But we also should not embrace them reflexively, either. We have to know who we’re supporting and why.

JAY: Again, like, if you take Iran or somewhat similar situations that could develop elsewhere where you have a government that’s anti-American but right-wing anti-American, people have a right to rebel against that, don’t they? But, like, you can’t take away people’s right to fight their enemy, whether they’re pro- or anti-American.

FORD: Oh, I think people have a right to rebel against their governments. That’s part of respect for people’s right to self-determination, that they work out their own problems. Now, when we’re talking about Iran, please, we can’t forget the fact that the United States has publicly—and we’re not talking of black-box money—but publicly authorized tens and tens and tens of millions of dollars to foment opposition to the regime in Iran, that there are elements in Iran that are being paid by the United States to undermine the regime, that there are elements that are not working in the interest of Iranian society but are in the pay of US imperialists. That exists as well.

JAY: But there’s no evidence that’s the dominant force driving this resistance movement.

FORD: Oh, at one time, Iran had a thriving leftist movement, which in the space of a couple of weeks was literally wiped out by the Khomeini regime—5,000 left revolutionaries executed in the space of two weeks. Yeah, there is a long history of left-wing anti-imperialist struggle in Iran. We should differentiate between the enemies of the regime.

JAY: And certainly we’ve seen over the course of the 20th century it’s when these elites fight each other, destabilize each other, even go to war with each other, you can have breakthroughs in unexpected places, where a democratic movement actually can break through. It might not be in the United States. It may be in fact the United States gets exactly what they don’t wish for in the course of destabilizing another elite.

FORD: I don’t believe that that’s the chemistry that we’re encountering in Iran, however. I think the left has been broken in Iran under the regime of the ayatollahs. I don’t think that an alternative to that regime would be anything that progressives here would recognize as progressive.

JAY: I think at the moment the Revolutionary Guard seems, you know, so dominant it’s not likely to change any time soon. But even another section of the elite might open up some space, for example trade unions to actually operate. Right now the trade unions are virtually illegal. Many trade union leaders are in jail. Even some small space might be some advance.

FORD: It is much more likely that the US would rush into any vacuum that was created with its hundreds of millions of dollars and suborn and co-opt those forces, that the left would be too weak to take advantage of that kind of opening. I’m being pessimistic about Iran because of the fact that left structures were effectively crushed in the early years of the new regime.

JAY: But there’s progressive structures that are not the same as the left structures from back then. But, at any rate, that’s another conversation to get into more depth on Iran. So just finally tell me what excites you looking into the next decade.

FORD: Latin America excites me. There seems to be no going back. Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia—and, of course, Cuba’s still hanging in there—provides a beacon for the people of the southern part of this hemisphere. I don’t think that the prospects have ever been brighter for a really real entrenchment in most of Latin America in this decade, the one that’s beginning now, a reinstitutionalization of the left in Latin America that the United States can’t bluster and blow over. I think that they’ve crossed the watershed mark of vulnerability, and progressive left anti-imperialist politics is here to stay in Latin America. You can’t say that about Africa. The picture, however, is much more encouraging in Latin America.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Glen.

FORD: Thank you.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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