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On Obama SOTU: Obama Pledges to Maintain the Empire

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Washington. Now joining us to talk about President Obama’s State of the Union speech is Glen Ford. Glen is the cofounder and current executive editor of the Black Agenda Report, and he joins us from New York. I—New York or New Jersey, Glen?

GLEN FORD, EXEC. EDITOR, BLACK AGENDA REPORT: In New Jersey.

JAY: New Jersey. Thanks for joining us.

FORD: Thank you for the invitation.

JAY: So what’s your first take on the speech?

FORD: Well, it was all about banking and empire, because that’s what Barack Obama is all about. Most of the other stuff were con games and smoke and mirrors, not too much worth talking about. He led and he ended with his foreign policy. So here we have a president who claimed to be a peace candidate but really is showing his oats by telling people how many people he has killed and how he’s quite ready to kill again.

JAY: I was sort of taken aback by the very opening of the speech when he speaks about Iraq and he says the Iraq War made us safer and more respected, which—I don’t know. I mean, it’s a bit of a softball to you, but what do you think of that?

FORD: Well, I mean, it’s amazing. I’m sure it made George Bush feel real good. It’s a total revision of history. He seemed to be taking—at one and the same time, bragging about the Iraq War as such a noble exercise, but also bragging about his alleged role in pulling the troops out. And that’s usually what he does with Democratic audiences. Of course, Barack Obama tried everything that he could, through his generals and all of his diplomats up until the very last day, to maintain a strong U.S. military presence in Iraq. It was the Iraqis who would not collaborate. The Iraqis, through their armed resistance, forced George Bush to sign an agreement to get out at the time that Barack Obama finally wound up getting out, and they wouldn’t go back on that agreement. And the government, Maliki’s government, I’m sure couldn’t have survived in Iraq if it had tried.

So here we have a president who tries to have it both ways. And he’s so used to getting it both ways, it seems. One, he’s going to be the formidable imperialist who says the U.S. is second to none, and I’m going to throw my weight around and make you feel good about it. And the other one says, oh, you know, I’m really trying to bring these troops home, and it’s all my doing whenever they do come.

JAY: He seemed he was sort of unabashed about America playing a strong role—these are a little bit my words, but helping determine the outcome of the resistance and rebellion that’s taking place in the Arab world. I mean, they phrase it as American values, but it also means American—asserting American interests, obviously.

FORD: There is no question that under Barack Obama the United States is back on an offensive. It has become as aggressive militarily in the world as it was before the defeats in Iraq. This was his promise to the military. If we listen to his speeches that he gave yearly to the equivalent of the Foreign Relations Committee in Chicago, then we would have understood that he did promise to bring the United States back into a position of using force with impunity in the world without ruining interrelations with its allies. And that’s basically the mission that he assigned himself, and he’s bragging that he’s accomplished it. And in many ways he was. NATO is now an expeditionary force that has attacked an African nation and gotten away with it, and Barack Obama got away with that assault on Libya without even having to admit that he was engaged in a war. Well, that’s some pretty fast talking.

JAY: And this asserting American values in the region, one cannot see this in Egypt, where the military government is—some people saying has even worse offenses against the protesters and people in Egypt than Mubarak, getting full support from Obama.

FORD: Well, I don’t know what American values are. I know what corporate values are. I know that cornering markets and creating monopolies is what U.S. foreign policy has been all about, U.S. foreign policy, on behalf of those monopolistic corporations, what U.S. values are. I think he’s speaking a kind of coded language to Americans. I don’t think Americans really care, most of them, about democracy in other countries either, especially countries of color. They care largely about American power and prestige.

JAY: Now, there’s—well, I take your point that this is clearly Obama. And he says it in his speech. The quote is: we’re going to remain an "indispensable nation in world affairs". He says, I’ll "keep it that way". And we know what that’s code for. On the other hand, if you look at the alternative here, I mean, I don’t know if you can get a President Newt Gingrich who wants to appoint John Bolton as his secretary of state. I mean, you have sort of a neoliberal imperialism versus sociopaths over here.

FORD: Right. When you appoint John Bolton, that means you have abolished diplomacy, and I think maybe that’s the idea he has. The "indispensable nation"—what a phrase, what a term. If any other country had the arrogance to proclaim themselves indispensable, they would automatically be hated by 99.9 percent of Americans and most other people in the world. But Americans can say that casually, cavalierly, that they are indispensable. And, of course, if they’re the only indispensable country, that means that all the other countries in the world are dispensable. And people wonder why folks hate us.

JAY: So if you look at the Iran situation, Obama recently canceled war games with Israel, and some analysts took the position that this was a message to Israel that we’re really not going to support some preemptive attack on Iran by Netanyahu. We know there’s been big splits in Israel on this. Even former heads of the Israeli intelligence agencies have been saying Netanyahu’s reckless and might do something on his own. And then you look at the alternative, the Republicans, who clearly are closer to Netanyahu ideologically, politically, and on Iran. Would they not be much more likely to launch some kind of attack on Iran? So given what you’ve said about Obama, is there not some rationality there compared to the alternative here?

FORD: Well, you know, I’m not sure that this administration wants to attack Iran. This president is in an election year. He knows that a real military assault on Iran would have catastrophic economic consequences that would, in the end, probably redound to his detriment. But when you set these huge ocean liners of war policy in motion, it’s very, very difficult to turn them around. When you get the country all riled up about this existential threat to the United States, it’s difficult to call the attack off at the last moment, and especially when you have people like the Israelis who are pursuing their own agenda. Well, they can make it impossible for you to attempt to call off—well, to call off this operation that you really didn’t want to complete anyway. So the United States has created an extremely dangerous situation that I’m not sure it can control.

JAY: I take that point. But what I’m saying is, you know, when people are deciding about what to do in this election—and I’m talking about people who want an independent political movement who don’t want to just have a movement that’s an appendage of the Democratic Party—when you look at this issue of Iran, there may be some actual difference here between what Obama—another four years of Obama might do on Iran and what a Republican regime would do in Iran.

FORD: Oh, I don’t really think so. I think that there may be very varying levels of competence here. That is, putting John Bolton in charge of foreign policy is a very stupid thing to do. I don’t think that they have differing goals, however. I think that Obama is probably one of the smartest politicians that’s ever been a president. Certainly he’s one of the slickest, and I suppose slick can pass for smart in some circumstances. But nobody’s slick enough or smart enough to beat the drums of war all night long and expect that they can declare peace in the morning at their leisure.

JAY: Thanks for joining us.

FORD: Thank you.

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

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