June 19, 2013
Posted on Nov 3, 2011
Tariq Ali: Yeah, on the question of Palestine the U.S. policies are deeply unpopular in most parts of the world. But that doesn’t mean that they change. I mean, the umbilical cord that now ties them to Israel via funding, via military links, is as strong as ever it was. And look, there was always opposition to the United States in the past; they ignored it, and they ignore it now even more strongly. It’s not the case that people always agreed. If you look back to the Vietnam War in the ’60s and ’70s, no European country sent troops to fight with them; even Britain, which is the closest to them, refused to send troops. Whereas in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya, the Europeans by and large back them up and go along with them. So it’s, I think, too premature to say that U.S. power is waning. I know this is a popular view; I don’t accept it myself. I think that the U.S. has suffered some setbacks, but I don’t think that power is waning. I mean, at the present, even as we talk, there are discussions going on [about] whether to invade and attack Iran and destroy its nuclear reactors or not. I mean, there’s heavy pressure from Israel to do so; it’s reported in the British press today that the British military has been told to be on the alert for this attack on Iran. I mean, it may be just the rocket rattling, as has happened before, to frighten the Iranians. But were they to do this, let us imagine that they do it—I mean, the results throughout that region would be dire. You know, it would be full scale war, and it would be much, much more serious than Iraq because the Iranian armed forces are not a destroyed or spent force, as they were, which the U.S. knew quite well in the case of Iraq. The Iranians are going to fight back, and the war could spread into Iraq again, into Israel and into the—the Iranians could unleash campaigns in Afghanistan as well, which is why the Pentagon has always been opposed to this lunacy. But the fact that the politicians haven’t given up on that is revealing.
Peter Scheer: Didn’t Bush kill a war with Iran, that the Israelis wanted to attack, and he nixed it somehow?
Tariq Ali: He did. And I think that there is a lot of opposition to it within the U.S. military establishment. And if the politicians decide to go with it, they might well face a general’s revolt. I don’t know, but the fact that the politicians even take this as a serious option, including Obama, is frightening. In my book I point out that—I was teaching in Illinois one semester, and some friends said let’s, you know, this is a rising young senator who’s appearing on television; let’s watch him. And this was Obama; he was then fighting for the Senate seat. And he was asked by the interviewer, if President Bush were to declare war on Iran because it poses a threat because of its decision to make nuclear weapons, would you support the president? And Obama said, “absolutely”—without any question at all, putting on a very grim look. So that convinced me that this guy was a total opportunist, and quite reactionary in many ways. He’s now president, so if he’s going to do that, I mean, I think it would be the most serious mistake he makes. And as I said, I’m not convinced that they are going to do that, but there’s certainly a lot of rocket rattling going on. And then, in the case of Afghanistan, what did Obama do? He sent in more troops, which they are now saying they’re going to withdraw. But there was a huge debate within the American military elite; Petraeus wanted more troops, and Eikenberry, a more senior general, retired, and ambassador in Afghanistan, said no, we don’t need them. And Obama had a choice here, two generals saying two different things, and he went with the aggressive general. So it’s very clear that whenever he’s offered a choice, he usually makes the more aggressive, the more reactionary, choice either because he fails to understand the situation or he feels he has to prove something to someone. I don’t know, but it’s crazy to imagine that they can win the war in Afghanistan, when virtually every intelligence agency has pointed out to them that this is an unwinnable war.
Peter Scheer: Why do you think, then, that they pursue that policy? That policy, more than any other, the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, at least the way that they framed it in pitching it, the way the president introduced it, made absolutely no sense.
Peter Scheer: So it’s purely political, you think?
Tariq Ali: I think it’s largely political. It couldn’t be military, because militarily they are bogged down there, and it’s not more troops they need; they need a political settlement. And reaching a political settlement by sending 30,000 troops in is a contradiction in terms. Because these troops fight more battles, kill more people, are killed in return, and the situation deteriorates; it doesn’t get better. So it was a calculated choice by Obama, and it’s failed. Since that escalation in Afghanistan, what have we seen? We’ve seen the insurgents striking at the very heart of NATO, hitting its headquarters, hitting the U.S. Embassy, targeting helicopters carrying intelligence agents and Navy SEALs, some of whom were involved in the operation to kill bin Laden, blowing up that helicopter, going in and killing senior collaborationist Afghans at will, killing the president’s brother and then attacking his funeral—I mean, this is a situation which has gotten much, much worse with every passing year of the occupation. And you know, even the most serious diplomats from the United States in that country report that this is an unwinnable war. It can’t be won. And yet Obama continues with it. I think they are now realizing that they’ll have to do something. But I mean, till now, the paralysis, if you like, in the White House on this war has been amazing.
Peter Scheer: I want to ask about, getting back to the domestic side of things, before we run out of time, because the great power of the presidency is that there’s much he can do without Congress, just purely through executive action and administering the country, in whom he hires. And we’ve seen recently a turnaround, a complete 180 degree turnaround on the issue of medicinal marijuana, where originally the Justice Department was directed essentially to ignore the issue, and now, getting closer to the election, we’ve had here in California, the authorities have told the landlords of medicinal marijuana dispensaries in the state they have 40 days or something to shut down or their property could be seized. And it’s just such an incredible opportunistic switch. But I think it speaks to a danger that’s much greater than the issue of marijuana.
Tariq Ali: It is. And I think it’s typical of this administration, that they’ve done this. It doesn’t surprise me at all; it’s cynical, it’s opportunistic, it’s immoral in my opinion. But you know, a far graver problem on that front is the decision taken by Obama in private to authorize the killing of U.S. citizens without trial. That is a decision this president has taken. And I’m a bit amazed that there’s been some protest about it, that liberal lawyers and jurists who normally write in The New York Review of Books haven’t written anything on this so far, as far as I can see. And it marks a very grave deterioration. I mean, some of the astute journalists like Tom Engelhardt describe the U.S. as a post-legal society. And I think that that is becoming true. If you decide you can kill your own citizens without trial, this is a grave deterioration. It’s difficult not to compare this. For instance, Bob Redford’s latest movie he’s directed about the trial of the conspirators who conspired to assassinate President Lincoln. It’s a very critical movie of how that trial was conducted. But at least there was a trial. And the union officer who was the lawyer who defended one of the conspirators, the woman who was not guilty—but nonetheless it was ordered by the secretary of defense, and ultimately the president, that she had to be hanged. … But nonetheless there was a trial, and this brave lawyer tried to defend her. Watching that movie, you really feel that what Redford is talking about is what we are seeing now, you know, in the United States, but in a much, much sharper way that killings can be ordered and that’s that. They’ve decided to circumvent trials altogether, and that’s appalling. You know, the way Bradley Manning is still being held in solitary without being charged, without being brought to trial, is just shocking, actually. So the deterioration of civil liberties and civil rights under the Bush administration has been continued by Obama.
Peter Scheer: Well, we’ve got just seconds left, and I just want to ask—say we go back in time before 2008; what would you tell someone who’s trying to decide who to vote for? I mean, are we better off with McCain?
Tariq Ali: No. I mean, I would say that in some conditions it’s better not to vote. And build up a huge majority of nonvoters to expose the system, and say that this is a system which is run by an extreme center that consists of both Democrats and Republicans, and unless there’s a real alternative it’s better not to vote. And the Bush administration was demonized, and understandably so, as being horrific on every level; and liberals were going crazy; people were talking, some nonsense, saying this is a fascist regime, there’s been a fascist coup; absolute nonsense. And then Obama comes in and behaves in the same way, and most of the people who were attacking Bush fall silent. And that is not a good thing for the health of the republic.
Peter Scheer: Tariq Ali, thank you so much for speaking with us.
Alan Minsky: And the voice of Tariq Ali critiquing Barack Obama’s presidency. We have a winner for a song, correct?
Peter Scheer: Yeah. So we had this contest because Ry Cooder’s new album, “Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down,” was really just inspirational in terms of its political content. And so we decided to have a contest for the best “Power of Protest” song. There are no wrong answers; people have great protest music; a lot of our readers wrote their own songs, which they sent in, and they’re really to be commended; there’s some great music out there. I just want to read, someone said: “I’ve wondered for years where our next protest music would come from and how it would arise. I can see now that it has been here all along, it just needed the right time and place to break out and be heard.” And they also added—this is [Truthdig reader] AdoAnnie—“Someone needs to write something for Scott Olsen.” So if that inspires you, go ahead and do it. But we decided the winner of the contest was Jenna Ware. I hope I’m pronouncing that right. And she will win a copy of Ry Cooder’s new album on vinyl and a CD courtesy of Nonesuch Records, along with his new book, “Los Angeles Stories” courtesy of City Lights Publishers. And we ended up choosing Leonard Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan.”
[Music: “First We Take Manhattan” by Leonard Cohen]
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