Paul Jay is interviewed by Telesur about US politics and foreign policy

Story Transcript

TEXT ON SCREEN: Oscar Leone interviewed Paul Jay for Telesur. The following are Paul’s answers. Do you think President Obama delivered on his promises?

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: So the issue of did Obama deliver or not, I guess the question is: deliver for whom? I think for the people that financed his campaign, on the whole, he did deliver. You know, he was primarily financed from Wall Street and other sections of what—they like to call themselves “liberal elite” in the United States. And his mission was to manage the catastrophic crisis in a way that didn’t create transformative change or crisis but that made sure that the banking system continued in a more, quote, liberal way of doing it—in other words, not a draconian austerity plan, which maybe the Republicans would have done if McCain had been elected, although one did not see, really, those kinds of policies from George Bush, especially when the crisis hit. And we all know the crisis actually hit originally during the Bush regime, not Obama. And so from the point of view of saving capitalism, from the point of view of making sure that the big banks on the whole were saved, and that to some extent the crisis is mitigated with some stimulus—because the liberal elite does believe there needs to be a certain amount of stimulus during these periods of recession, and then later you go after deficit and austerity measures. Also in terms of the way he managed some of the big issues. Like, the Republicans attack him from the far right, which makes him look kind of more centrist in a way, but his policies are certainly in line with corporate Democrats, and even, you know, center, center-right Republicans.

The way Obama handled the crisis in Detroit is a good example, you know, if he had actually fulfilled any of his campaign promises to the people that voted for him, because that’s going back to my opening point, deliver for whom. The people that primarily financed his campaign he did deliver for. The people who voted for him with change you can believe in and all the rhetoric, well, then, of course, he didn’t do very much for them, although I guess you could argue he did a little more than McCain might have done. But when it comes to Detroit, he ushered in a model for saving American manufacturing based on lowering wages and wage cuts of starting workers from something like $26 an hour to $14 an hour, big layoffs, downsizing, forcing unions into pledges not to strike. That’s the model for how they want to restructure American manufacturing, which in Obama’s last State of the Union he talked quite a bit about. And what’s that model? The model is, you know, get it out of American workers, get them to lower their wage rates, their standard of living, get them, quote-unquote, “more competitive”. But competitive with whom? It means competitive with workers in developing countries. So, again, he’s delivering for American manufacturers.

He delivered pretty well for Wall Street and he delivered a little bit for ordinary people. I suppose you could say the health care reform, in spite of the fact it wasn’t single-payer, in spite of the fact it wasn’t public-option, you know, some families are going to benefit from the fact that their kids are going to be covered until they’re 26 years old. And that’s meaningful if you’re that kind of family. People with, you know, prior diagnosed illnesses being rejected from insurance companies, now you can’t be rejected for that, so those families benefit something. Maybe Obama extended unemployment insurance longer, more than Republicans might have. So it’s something. You know, there are some crumbs that he delivered. But change you can believe in? Obviously not.

TEXT ON SCREEN: Why did President Obama continue the Bush foreign and military policy? Is he being pressured into doing this?

JAY: Well, Obama continues the traditional foreign policy of Bush second term, which is the traditional foreign policy that goes right back to Truman, and to some extent Roosevelt, and all the presidents from then on, which is—the fundamental assumption is U.S. must be the hegemonic power in the world. And Obama does it ’cause he believes in it. There’s absolutely no reason to think Obama’s being forced or pushed to do anything he doesn’t want to do. He says so over and over again. When he got elected, in the primaries, in the election campaign he was asked, you know, tell us your views on foreign policy, and he said the roots of my foreign policy start with Truman. Now, he doesn’t say it, but that means the roots of his foreign policy starts with the man who dropped nuclear weapons on Japan—I mean, the only country that’s really used weapons of mass destruction. And he brags that that’s where his foreign policy begins.

There’s a view of the world that comes from within the Democratic Party, and it’s, you know, not that far from that within the Republican Party, traditional Republican Party. Bush’s first term, I think, was a little bit of an anomaly. This invasion of Iraq was just plain stupid—and that was Obama’s critique of the Iraq War. It wasn’t that it’s wrong to invade a sovereign country. It’s not that it is against international law. In fact, not that it was even based on lies. That isn’t what Obama criticized the Iraq War about or for. He criticized the Iraq War because it was, quote-unquote, “stupid”, because it weakened the American—America’s ability to project power around the world. Obama’s never been against projecting American power. He just wants to do it smartly. That’s all. And the Democrats like to use that kind of terminology, how you have to have smart super-power or smart power. So no one’s making Obama do anything.

The second thing is no one gets elected president as the head of the Democratic Party unless you’ve been very, very, very well tested, questioned, proven yourself to the Democratic Party foreign-policy establishment. I mean, when Howard Dean was running for president and was so against the Iraq War, and was even going further in terms of his critique of U.S. foreign policy, and even starting to talk about things like empire and that, he actually—I know someone that worked on his campaign. He actually got a visit from senior representatives of the Democratic Party elite foreign-policy establishment, who told him, you better be careful here. You know, you’re going too far with this antiwar stuff. And, you know, these people, these people are the people that also made decisions to start the war in Vietnam, never mind Truman maintaining this—what people have called the national security state.

Kennedy and Johnson were no amateurs at waging war, and it’s true for most of the Democratic presidents. So Obama’s in that line, in that chain. And their view of the world, as far as I can understand it, and if you give them the benefit of the doubt that they believe in it (and I suspect they do), they really see America as the way Reagan described it: it’s a shining beacon of light, it’s what stands between chaos and freedom, and that America’s, you know, capitalist system, where you have freedom for capital and, you know, these kinds of elections they hold and such, that they’re the only ones that are behind that, and if—the world without America would head towards dictatorships of one form or another. And, you know, the fact that most of American foreign policy has actually been backing dictatorships, you know, they have blind—they don’t see it. I mean, they do see it, but they see it as a pragmatic way towards freedom. And, of course, in the end, the only real freedom they care about is inside the United States, and then for the American elite. But, you know, that’s—I mean, one could elaborate more about that, but Obama is in that mold, he believes in those things, and there’s certainly no reason to think he doesn’t.

There is a very, very powerful military-industrial complex in the United States. And the billions and trillions of dollars that are involved in arms production, which also require some wars once in a while and the need—once you accept as a foreign-policy assumption/objective—then of course you need military bases all over the world, then you need the capacity to fight on various fronts. And if you do imagine, if you want to rationalize it as being the beacon of freedom and all of this, the defender of this kind of Western democracy, if you believe that kind of stuff, then you need a military to go with it. But you also as a president are never going to defy those who have such deep economic interest in this military expenditure. And it’s of course an almost a trillion dollar budget, and a trillion dollar budget means a lot of people making a lot of money out of this.

And let’s not forget how much of military profiteering and the big companies that make arms and wage these wars and make money out of it are all completely intertwined with Wall Street and the finance sector. Barclays Bank in England, which is one of the big finance companies of the world, is also one of the biggest investors in arms. And, of course, within the ownership structures, Wall Street’s all back and forth. I mean, it’s a whole stratum of the elite. And, one, you don’t get elected president if that elite doesn’t trust you and hasn’t vetted you. And if as president you change your mind in some way on anything fundamental, woe be you. And I guess Obama knows that too, but again, I don’t see any suggestion he’s anything but a very willing manager of all of this.


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