Senior Adviser Susan Rice outlines Obama’s “21st century approach” to foreign policy
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: What differentiates Senator Obama’s foreign policy from Senator Clinton?
SUSAN RICE, FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER FOR SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Well, they differ on a number of the issues of the day, and I’ll come back to that. Obviously, they differed on Iraq and whether it was wise to go to war there. They’ve differed on Iran, whether we ought to negotiate directly and unconditionally with our adversaries. They’ve differed on Pakistan, Senator Obama saying early on that we shouldn’t put all of our eggs in Musharraf’s basket and we should back the pro-democracy movement and recognize that our interests in Pakistan are wider than any one man. What Bush did was to say, look, Musharraf’s our friend; he’s our ally, without him we’re screwed.
JAY: So would the senator have stopped aid [crosstalk]
RICE: He came out the day of the state of emergency and issued a very strong condemnation; the next day, worked in the Senate for efforts to suspend aid to Pakistan, our non-counterterrorism military aid and our balance of payment support, so essentially all of our non-counterterrorism and non-humanitarian or educational assistance, until the government of Pakistan had taken the necessary steps to free political prisoners, free the press again, let the activists out of jail, restore the courts, etcetera, all the steps that need to be taken.
JAY: He would make a condition of aid restoration of the Supreme Court and the justices that had been removed [crosstalk]
RICE: And all of the other steps that need to be taken. Of course, Musharraf finally took off his uniform, but that was only one piece of the puzzle. Having now free and fair elections that genuinely allow people to compete without impediment is a critical step in this process. He wants all of the steps that need to be taken. We still don’t have a free press. We still don’t have political prisoners released. We don’t know what kind of investigation we’re going to have into the Bhutto assassination. It’s a good thing Scotland Yard’s involved, but we have a long way to go. So all of these things need to come together. The judiciary, being one of those components, is important. But I want to talk about the broader worldview, because there’s a significant difference there too between Senator Obama and Senator Clinton. Senator Obama is looking forward, and he has a 21st century conception of the nature of the security challenges we face. He recognizes that one of the consequences of globalization is that we live in a world where transnational security threats can arise from any part of the globe and rapidly spread to any other part of the globe. So whether we’re talking about terrorists, weapons of mass destruction, disease, environmental degradation, and climate change, these effects are now communal, in a sense, because we can’t isolate them in any part of the globe. So he has talked in terms of recognizing that we have a common security, that the security of Americans is inextricably linked to the security and wellbeing of people in other parts of the world, and we share a common humanity. So a common security and a common humanity. The common humanity means that we’re all people of equal worth, and if we act on the basis of understanding and embracing that common humanity, dealing with issues of conflict, of insecurity, of poverty, of underdevelopment, of disease in parts of the world that we have long ignored, we’re not doing that only out of a moral and humanitarian concern, as important as that may be, but also out of a recognition that by doing so we’ll enhance our own national security. That’s a very different insight than you typically hear from most of our politicians, and it’s not a retrospective insight, which I think is the foundation of where Senator Clinton’s coming from. She talks about restoring American power, getting back to where we were at the end of 2000, when President Bush came in.
JAY: But this sounds to me, frankly, like comparing generalizations. So I’ll give you one specific. In terms of withdrawal from Iraq, is it — close all American bases and a complete withdrawal?
RICE: He has said no permanent American bases. Senator Obama has been very clear about that. He’s talked about withdrawing all of our combat brigades at the pace of one to two a month, so that within sixteen months US combat brigades are out. He would leave behind a very modest residual to protect our civilians, our embassy, and to conduct targeted counterterrorism operations. Senator Clinton’s been very ambiguous about whether to maintain permanent bases. She said that we would keep forces in Iraq with a mission of checking and countering Iran, as well as going after other terrorist organizations beyond al-Qaeda in the region. That’s a very expansive view of a residual mission. She hasn’t specified her time line for withdrawal. It was only in December, when finally she said that, yes, she thought that one to two brigades withdrawn a month is a pace that is reasonable. But we don’t know, really, what her plan is. Senator Clinton has also not put forward a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy. She paints herself as a candidate who’s best able to govern on day one and protect American interests. But on the critical issue of the day we don’t know what she thinks and how she’d approach it.
JAY: President Bush has said Iran does not have the right to enrich uranium, even if it’s for peaceful purposes. What is the senator’s opinion on this?
RICE: We need to understand that Iran poses serious risk and threat in the region. It’s a threat to Israel. It’s a threat to our forces inside of Iraq. And were it to develop a nuclear weapons capacity, that would be a grave threat. But his view is also that we have time and space and an interest in negotiating. And he has talked about options on the table that would include, for example, taking the back end of the fuel cycle out of Iran and allowing that to be done someplace else.
JAY: But you do agree that the non-proliferation agreement you do have the right.
RICE: [crosstalk] that countries have the right to enrich for civilian, peaceful purposes. But the reality is the non-proliferation regime needs to be updated, that there are many loopholes in it. Iran is only the latest to demonstrate those loopholes. So he said that as an urgent priority, he would take leadership in trying to update the non-proliferation regime so that it deals with these loopholes and has far more realistic and intrusive ways of ensuring that civilian nuclear programs are not readily converted into military programs. He’s also said, if I can just add on this, that for the United States to lead on these issues of non-proliferation, we have to be much more aggressive in fulfilling our end of the non-proliferation treaty, now, which is working towards and reaffirming the goal of eliminating our nuclear arsenals not in a unilateral fashion, but through negotiated reductions with the other nuclear powers. He’s restated his commitment to the goal of a nuclear weapons-free world, and he will work towards that goal.
JAY: But would he accept an enrichment program guaranteed or overseen by the IAEA in Iran?
RICE: I don’t think it makes good sense for us to preclude or include any specific aspects of the contours of a potential negotiation. What he said is we can explore these options in a fashion that we haven’t to date because we haven’t negotiated directly with the Iranians, we haven’t sat down unconditionally and seen where we can get to. The goal is, obviously, an Iran that is incapable of producing or having nuclear weapons.
JAY: There are reports in The Washington Post and New York Times that there are plans for special ops operations in the Northwest Frontier Provinces in Pakistan. Does the senator have a view towards that?
RICE: Well, the senator’s been pretty outspoken on our counterterrorism interests in that region, and he’s said that they have been neglected, that Afghanistan is a forgotten front, that Pakistan is of increasing concern, that as he redeployed US forces from Iraq, he would put at least two additional combat brigades inside Afghanistan to beef up our effort there as we step up our economic and political efforts inside of Afghanistan. And with respect to Pakistan, he said that when he is president, if we have actionable intelligence about high-value al-Qaeda targets in Pakistan or elsewhere, and the host government is unable or unwilling to act, then he’s prepared to act.
JAY: What do you think would be the consequences of that inside the Pakistani military?
RICE: Well, it depends what the “that” is. I mean, you know, I don’t know what the special forces plans are. There’s more than one way to skin that cat, depending on the nature of the target and the nature of the threat. So I wouldn’t want to get into speculating about how we’d go about doing it and therefore what the consequences would be. But obviously we need to be mindful of the fragility and instability inside of Pakistan. But we also need to be mindful of the fact that Pakistan is increasingly the source of a number of terrorist operatives that are infiltrating Europe and elsewhere, and that’s a real concern.
JAY: If you talk to anyone that knows the situation, they know more troops in Afghanistan, mustered hundreds of thousands of troops in Afghanistan for years to come, it’s not going to significantly change the situation without dealing with warlords and dealing with reconstruction.
RICE: Not by itself. I mean, I mean I mentioned very—said coupled with the economic and political steps.
JAY: So what would be political steps?
RICE: Well, we’ve under-invested in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but particularly Afghanistan with respect to the counterterrorism effort. We haven’t done the social and economic investments in infrastructure and education, in alternatives to poppy.
JAY: There’s two different dialogues going on. Over here you have sort of Ron Paul and Kucinich talking about fundamental, different objectives for US foreign policy. There’s words used like empire. You have Ron Paul talking about bringing all US troops home. Clearly it’s resonating with a section of the population. But what’s being talked about is not just a change of attitude, but a real change of objectives, that the United States should stop using projected military power around the world. What’s your view on that?
RICE: Well, our military has a role to play in securing and enhancing our national security. And those who think we can walk away from the rest of the world and stay behind our borders I think are missing an important piece of the equation. And we’ve under-invested in the political, diplomatic, and economic aspects of our engagement with the rest of the world.
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