YouTube video

Vijay Prashad: President Obama plans to expand the use of drone attacks as a way to project US power

Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

And welcome to the Vijay Prashad [inaud.] now joins us. Vijay Prashad is a professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. His many books include Uncle Swami: South Asians in America and Arab Spring, Libyan Winter. Thanks for joining us.


JAY: So we’re just after the elections. How do you respond to another four years of President Obama?

PRASHAD: Well, just very quickly, my sense is that the party of rape was roundly defeated, and I think that is something to cheer about. Secondly, I think it’s very heartening that the social landscape of the United States is finally, perhaps, removing the preacher’s aura from the ballot box, meaning the resolutions that passed on behalf of gay marriage, on behalf of recreational use of marijuana—I mean, this is the America that I’m familiar with, and I’m glad it’s making at least some kind of impact in the political domain. So these are just two of my immediate reactions to the elections.

Of course Obama was going to win. There was no question. It’s extremely hard for an incumbent in the United States to lose, especially if the challenger is mediocre. You know, the two previous times the incumbent was defeated was when George H. W. Bush lost, and then before that when Jimmy Carter was defeated. In both those cases, they faced formidable challengers in, you know, Bill Clinton on the one hand and Ronald Reagan on the other. It’s not like Carter and George H. W. Bush didn’t face an economic crisis similar to what Obama faced, but they really faced a political adversary who knew in this telegenic age how to make an impact.

Obama faced Mitt Romney, the worst kind of character to have when there’s a financial crisis. You know, he utterly represents Wall Street and money. He was incapable of overcoming that. If Obama hadn’t won in this landslide, it would have been an absolute surprise to me. So that is fine.

Right after he wins, he sends a little gift to the people of Yemen in the way of a drone strike just south of Sana’a. This is very interesting to me, because it reveals a great continuity, and perhaps a deepening of the Obama foreign policy agenda.

You know, people have been asking: who will be the next secretary of state? Hillary Clinton has made it clear that she has had enough of that position. And there was some suggestions earlier that Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, might take over from Hillary Clinton. Susan Rice is one of the leaders, the intellectual and political leaders of the wing of so-called humanitarian interventionism—in other words, war for human rights, a liberal kind of war. Unfortunately for her, around this Benghazi attack on the consulate where Ambassador Chris Stevens was killed there was a little bit of a dent to her reputation, and the Obama administration may not put her up to be the next secretary of state.

Instead, some eyes are focusing on the Republican candidate John Huntsman. Huntsman had run against Romney for the Republican nomination, he had been Obama’s ambassador to China, and he is something of an Asianist. So there are some people in Washington who are saying that perhaps Huntsman might be the next secretary of state.

Others look to the more conventional candidate and, I think, the one who might eventually become Hillary Clinton’s successor, and that is Thomas Donilon. Donilon is interesting. He is a career man with the Democrats in terms of the area of national security. He is now Obama’s national security adviser. He has basically helped Obama craft some of those strategies, such as the drone warfare, etc. Donilon also is a Washington insider. His wife is the chief of staff for Joe Biden’s wife. His brother is basically one of the main advisers for Joe Biden. So that is a classical, conventional safe bet for the Obama administration, to move to somebody like Donilon at the State Department.

JAY: I mean, you mention his role with the drone strike. Am I mistaken? Is he one of the people that’s been helping create the hit list?

PRASHAD: Yeah. I mean, they have this meeting once a week where they construct the hit list. Donilon is part of that community, you know, also part of the community that created the architecture for a kind of, you know, attempt by the United States to renew its primacy around the planet without heavy footprint, you know, without actually invading a country, without invading Mali or invading Somalia or invading Yemen, how to have a strong and powerful impact on those countries without so-called boots on the ground. And this doctrine has pushed for drone strikes, and Donilon was very much a part of it. And, of course, because, you know, we saw that drone strike right after the election—you know, in a sense a snub in the face of the United Nations, which just before the election had made clear that they were going to study the legality of drone use—you know, there was no concern about that. It’s—to me it feels like this is going to be a kind of central aspect of this second term of Mr. Obama, that drones [crosstalk]

JAY: Well, this will be the—this is the Obama doctrine, I suppose.

PRASHAD: [inaud.] the unfolding Obama doctrine. And, you know, this is going to be for wars in the so-called small countries—as I mentioned, Somalia, Mali, Yemen, and the borderlands of Pakistan.

There are more fundamental questions before the Obama administration, which I’m afraid they’ve fumbled during this campaign. For instance, next year, Iran is going to have an election, and there’ll be a new leader there of Iran. China right now is deciding on the next generation of leadership.

It would have been a perfect opportunity during the campaign, and perhaps even in the acceptance speech, for Mr. Obama to have said, we should not make our foreign policy based on the personalities of the current rulers, particularly in Iran. You know, the United States just formed its policy based on the kind of peculiarities of Mr. Ahmadinejad, but Mr. Ahmadinejad no longer will be the head of government in Iran, and therefore the United States has trapped its policy on something that is going to disappear next year. It would have been a perfect opportunity to have called for a so-called reset of U.S.-Iran relations, U.S.-China relations by welcoming the new leadership in these two countries. Instead, Mr. Obama didn’t do that, and therefore lost a great opportunity to pivot away from a politics of belligerence to a politics of diplomacy.

JAY: There was an interesting debate just before the election in the Israeli press. Two journalist pundits, columnist types—I’m sorry I don’t have their names at my fingertips, but the debate was who’s better for Israel vis-à-vis Iran, Romney or Obama. And the first—there was an email exchange that was published. One journalist argues that Romney’s better because he’s more full-throttled support for Israeli policy and would never let Netenyahu hang out on a limb and such, and the other journalist was writing that he believed Obama, when push came to shove, if Iran really looked like it was going to have a nuclear weapon, could sell such a war in a way that Romney couldn’t, that he would, in other words, defang the antiwar liberal section of American society. What do you make of that argument?

PRASHAD: Well, you know, it’s an interesting bunch of statements, but it doesn’t actually help us in any way, because there is no question that both Obama and (had Romney won) Romney were going to take a very so-called strong stand against Iran. There’s no question that both committed themselves to a pro-Israel, anti-Iran kind of politics. What that exchange seems to reveal is that Romney, like Bush before him, is tone deaf to public opinion and would go to some kind of military action against Iran regardless of a million people in the streets of New York, etc., as we saw in 2003 in the months before the U.S. went to war in Iraq. It’s true, therefore, that the Republicans are tone deaf, and the neoconservatives would have used every and any means to have some kind of military action in Iran.

It’s also true that the Obama administration, given the temperament of the administration, would be better suited to sell the war to the American public or to sell a major strike to the antiwar section, you know, which would then kneel down and say, well, Obama has no choice, etc. In both cases, there is going to be some kind of attack on Iran. I think that’s very chilling. You know, whether you have an administration that doesn’t care about the population or an administration that is able to hoodwink the population, in both instances it is a loss for world affairs.

JAY: Well, I’d argue, I think, a little differently, which is I think Obama—and I have no doubt in my mind, ’cause I think he’s a total pragmatist and is very subject to all kinds of pressures, especially from the Pentagon, but I don’t think the Pentagon’s in any way eager for a war with Iran at all. I think they’ve so far shown that. But my point is I don’t think Obama would want to have a real military attack on Iran unless intelligence agencies told him fairly clearly they actually thought Iran was moving towards construction of a weapon. And I don’t think Iran has any intention of building a nuclear weapon. But whereas the Romney neocon conservative types—and they’re going to be putting enormous pressure on Obama, as will Israel—their objective isn’t really about the bomb. Their objective is regime change.

PRASHAD: Precisely. I mean, exactly the case. The Romney camp wouldn’t have even cared about intelligence at all. It is already the case that the Americans, the Israelis, and the International Atomic Energy Agency have made it clear that Iran has no intention of weaponizing, of moving in a weapons direction with the nuclear program. But that has made no impact on the kind of belligerence even coming out of Mr. Obama. So you’re right: they may not move to a major, you know, war towards regime change in Iran, but they’re already conducting very harsh policies against Iran based on intelligence that says that the Iranians are not interested in warfare at all.

JAY: Yeah. That—I think that’s the most important point. And that’s not getting talked about, that there already is a war against Iran, and it’s an economic war, and it’s being waged based on intelligence that would never justify those kinds of sanctions.

PRASHAD: Precisely. And the Obama administration has been able to sell both the kind of—you know, if I can put it bluntly, it’s been able to sell the lie that Iran is a threat to the region at the same time as it’s been able to sell the economic warfare as diplomacy. And that is a very dangerous situation, not only, again, for the idea of international relations, but for the Middle East itself.

JAY: Thanks very much for joining us, Vijay.

PRASHAD: Thank you very much.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network. If you’d like to see more interviews and journalism like this, you see a Donate button over here. If you don’t click it, we can’t do this.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Vijay Prashad is an Indian historian, editor, and journalist. He is a writing fellow and chief correspondent at Globetrotter. He is an editor of LeftWord Books and the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research. He is a senior non-resident fellow at Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. He has written more than 20 books, including The Darker Nations and The Poorer Nations. His latest books are Struggle Makes Us Human: Learning from Movements for Socialism and (with Noam Chomsky) The Withdrawal: Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and the Fragility of U.S. Power.