Ex-CIA Ray McGovern on Obama’s ‘new world’
McGovern: "The game is over with Iraq and so the question is how does this strategic change affect the real players in the area. The Israeli right wants a confrontation with Iran to keep US forces in the region. The US military leadership is against a "third front" but has to contend with Cheney.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Ray McGovern was for many years a senior CIA analyst who briefed President Reagan. He’s retired now and is a commentator and analyst of strategic geopolitical events, and he joins us now from Washington. On Tuesday, three American political leaders gave speeches on what they think should be American foreign policy, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the major speech of the day was by Barack Obama.
SEN. BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (D): I will give our military a new mission on my first day in office: ending this war. We can safely redeploy our combat brigades at a pace that would remove them in 16 months. After this redeployment, we will keep a residual force to perform specific missions in Iraq, targeting any remnants of al-Qaeda, protecting our service members and diplomats, and training and supporting Iraq’s security forces, so long as the Iraqis make political progress. And, yes, we will make tactical adjustments as we implement this strategy.
The question that comes to me is: who’s going to own Iraqi oil? There’s a lot of blood—and I hate using the phrase "blood and treasure," but that seems to be the phrase—been expended to try to get an advantageous position for American oil companies in Iraq.
RAY MCGOVERN, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Well, the difference, Paul, was the one that Cheney brought in with him, the thought that you have to control the oil in Iraq and places like that in order to have a fair share of it. They’re not going to be able to control it now. They know that. They’re not going to have permanent military bases. Indeed, the bulk of American troops are going to be out of Iraq within a year. And we know that—at least I know that–exchange from what al-Maliki and al-Rubaie, the national security advisor for Iraq, were saying. So if this is about oil, they’re going to have to go back to the old sharing and buying oil, and a fair share for the various companies involved. The game is over with Iraq. And so the question is: how does this strategic change affect the real players in the area? And I find it very notable that one of the main strategic players in the area, if not the main, is the State of Israel, is not mentioned once by Barack Obama. They are pulling out their hair right now at the prospect of US troops leaving Iraq. And the implications of that, in my view, are that they will do everything they can, that is, the Likudniks, the whatever-you-call-them, Kadima or whatever, the rightist extremists that run the Israeli government, not the Israeli citizens, but the people in control there will do all they can—all they can—to get us more deeply involved in that area. And they have—.
JAY: Well, what can they do?
RAY: They have the initiative. They can get us involved in a war with Iran, and I see the prospects as better than even that they will succeed in doing that, because they can cause that to happen. They can cause the kind of provocation that Iran will be forced to respond to, and the president of the United States has made it clear that if that happens, the United States of America is in there with both feet.
JAY: I want to get back to Obama’s residual force. He doesn’t mention, discuss at all, the issue of the private armies and private contractors, which number something equivalent to the numbers of US forces. He doesn’t talk about, really, what the mission of a residual US force will be, except to chase al-Qaeda, which seems a little preposterous to me. It’s not the US forces that are going to chase al-Qaeda. The Iraqis have been chasing quite successfully al-Qaeda themselves. And when it comes to the issue of oil, a rational policy would be just buy the oil off the open market, but is Obama ready to defy or take on American oil companies?
RAY: Well, that remains to be seen, but I don’t think that American oil companies are in the driver’s seat anymore. I don’t think the American administration is in a driver’s seat. There has been supreme resistance among the Iraqis themselves—surprise, surprise—to the notion that we’ll do what we did in 1953 and take over their oil again. It’s not going to happen, and neither are the permanent military bases. And what I was really refreshed to see in Obama’s speech was his pledge not to seek permanent military bases. And so the situation really is very different. And, yeah, I think getting oil on the open market is what’s going to have to happen. And what I worry about is the repercussions of how this will look in terms of Israeli interests, as well as other interests in the Gulf, and whether people will be able to resign themselves to the fact that Iran is the preeminent force in that part of the world, and it has to be regarded as such and dealt with as such. There’s no reason why we can’t talk to Iranians.
JAY: The American military leadership has made it quite clear, it seems, publicly and, we assume, privately, that they don’t want Israel to take any kind of action against Iran, they don’t want a third front. You think there’s a possibility Israel will do the same?
RAY: I think the chances are better than even that that will happen precisely, Paul, and let me tell you why. If you look at Admiral Mullen, when he got back from his trip to Israel, two weeks ago now, people are saying that he was wagging his finger at the Israelis and said, "You’d better not do this." I interpret that as a defensive maneuver. He and Gates and others are trying to make the case that this would be crazy, this would be a terrible, to open a third front. Think of those words, "a third front." Those words were deliberately chosen. Now, why would they do that? I don’t think that they’re from a position of power. I think that they’re worried sick that Cheney and Abrams, the people who gave us Hamas, the people who gave us the trouble in Gaza, that they will go off half-cocked and order our military forces to commit virtual suicide—and I use that term advisedly, because the reason Admiral Fallon quit was he didn’t want to be on the receiving end of orders from the likes of Elliott Abrams and Dick Cheney to risk half of his forces in the southern part of Iraq. And that’s what would happen.
JAY: Were you not concerned at all that Obama did not give any kind of reference in his speech that would take off the table an option of—there was no reference to the potential of an Israeli attack on Iran. There was no cautionary note against it. And, in fact, there was one sentence I thought was particularly peculiar to have chosen, where he talked about, from the terrorist caves on the Pakistan-Afghan border to centrifuges rotating beneath the soil of Iran, to link bin Laden and Iran is sounding pretty close to the way McCain sounded when he was last in the Middle East, and it’s the kind of rhetoric one would use to create the conditions for some kind of attack.
RAY: Well, Paul, I grant you "rhetoric" is precisely the right word. You’ve got to stick in, you’ve got to take that rhetoric for what it’s worth in these speeches. You know, caves in Afghanistan, centrifuges in Iran, those are little [inaudible] to the people who will say, "Why didn’t you mention these things?" What I see Obama as doing, really, is trying to face this realistically, to look at what the prospects are with respect to that part of the world and what kind of a role Iran really is playing. Is Iran really a strategic threat to the United States? Balderdash. It is not. To whom might it construed to be a strategic threat? Surprise, surprise—the State of Israel. Now, is it? Well, that’s a matter of opinion. If you’re an Israeli—and I’d put myself in the position of the Israelis after the experience I’ve been through the last several decades, I would worry about Iran getting a nuclear weapon if indeed they’re working on one, which US intelligence says they are not. But I would worry about that. So the question is how you handle that. Do you handle that by overwhelming force, by attacking Iran? I don’t think so. You handle that in the traditional way, the Marshall Plan way, the old, traditional methods of diplomacy—you talk to these people, find out what their grievances are, find out what their fears are, and, indeed, the head of the national intelligence council just last weekend said, you know, the Iranians have reason to fear us; whether they’re right or not, a reason to fear us. And certainly they do.
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