May 18, 2013
Truthdig Radio: Osama bin Laden and Nuclear Meltdown
Posted on Mar 16, 2011
Josh Scheer: Juan, this is Josh again. What was … with our relationship to oil, what do you think the U.S. wants? Would they rather have the Saudis?
Peter Scheer: Is our country’s response to these uprising movements, I would say, how much is it directly proportional to how much oil these countries have, in terms of the, you know, human rights issues and our backing these regimes?
Juan Cole: Yeah, well, I should say, first of all, that I’m not a Washington insider; I don’t know what’s driving the decisions of the National Security Council or what they’re telling President Obama. So I can’t … I can only kind of read the tea leaves, sort of look at what U.S. policy has been. I think in the non-oil states, which are Tunisia and Egypt, and of course Morocco as well, the U.S. stance has been relatively favorable to the protest movement, although not heavily favorable, and has tended to play catch-up. So when Ben Ali was chased out of the country, all of a sudden the Obama administration was denouncing tyranny in Tunisia. After Mubarak fell was when Obama gave his speech on Egypt. And I regret that. I think Obama’s speech on Egypt could have been an historic speech if he’d only given it about a week earlier. As it was, it did look like playing catch-up.
So at least the U.S. hasn’t, in any significant way, stood in the way of these movements in places like Tunisia and Egypt. I think behind the scenes, from what we can tell from leaks and so forth, Obama called up Mubarak and said “see here, old man, it’s time to go.” They say it was a very, very difficult conversation. And so he presumably was also telling the officer corps the same thing, which in the end was what mattered. So I think Obama handled Egypt all right; I wish he’d been a little bit more out front. But in the oil states, in Bahrain, in Saudi Arabia, in Kuwait, in Iraq, to some extent … is the status quo power. He likes things the way they are. And although we’ve made noises about the need for the king to compromise … with the Shiite majority, we haven’t really forestalled the Saudis invading to prop up the king. And either we’re very weak and unable to forestall that development, or our heart isn’t really very much into it, because we’ve got our eye on the price of petroleum per barrel.
Juan Cole: Sure. Well, the neoconservatives are in the wilderness even with regard to even a lot of the Republican faithful. I think the tea party doesn’t much care for them. And a lot of the mainstream Republicans had turned on Bush by the end of his term largely because of neoconservative policies. So the neoconservatives see an opening with regard to Col. Gaddafi’s ability to put down this rebellion in Libya, and they’re blaming Obama for not stopping that, as if it would be easy to stop. And I think that they are putting down a marker that they should be part of any new Republican administration that might come in in 2012. But note that Haley Barbour just came out for a complete withdrawal from Iraq and against a long-term stay in Afghanistan. And I think you can start to see some isolationism in the Republican Party that will make it very difficult for a neoconservative agenda to have much of a voice there, depending on who becomes the front-runner.
Josh Scheer: I want to jump on Kasia’s point, because maybe it’s also about the fact that Iraq was such an abject failure, and obviously the way they wanted to shape the Middle East was such an abject failure, that this was like “Oh my God, lookit, we actually did something right with this.” Do you think that would be …
Juan Cole: Yeah, sure. Well of course, you know, history is always a fight about how to interpret what happened in the past for the purposes of the present. The neoconservatives are attempting to recuperate from one of the great foreign policy disasters and mistakes we’ve seen in American history. So of course they’re very eager to put a different face on things. But I don’t see evidence of the American public buying it. I think they made up their minds about Iraq having been a big mistake beginning in 2006, and they haven’t wavered in this regard. And I think most Americans are pretty happy at the prospect of getting out of Iraq altogether. I don’t think they’re eager to get involved in another land war, although there is some sentiment for protecting the rebels in Libya. So I think that kind of muscular Wilsonianism, as some people have referred to neoconservatism, is on the ropes; the U.S. public doesn’t have a lot of resources to squander abroad, we’ve got a lot of unemployed. And, you know, they were painting the schoolhouses in Iraq, and I think we’ve got a lot of schoolhouses in America that would do with a coat.
Peter Scheer: Well, we’re going to have to leave it there. Thank you so much for speaking with us, Juan Cole. He is the author of the Informed Comment blog, which has become simply a must-read in this last decade of excitement and less exciting things in the Middle East.
Kasia Anderson: Adventuring foreign policy … [laughter] on the part of the U.S.
Peter Scheer: So, thanks so much for being with us, Juan.
Juan Cole: It’s my great pleasure. Thanks for having me on.
Peter Scheer: That’s it for this week’s episode of Truthdig Radio. Check us out in a week, on air, or anytime online at Truthdig.com. Special thanks to our board op Ji, engineer Stan Mizraje, Mark Maxwell, Spencer Downing,and Alan Minsky. For Robert Scheer, Kasia Anderson, Josh Scheer, and myself, thanks for listening.
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