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Wednesday, September 22, 2004 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | NEXT: Veteran War Correspondent Held Hostage in Iraq Describes...
2004-09-22

TransAfrica’s Bill Fletcher: Bush’s UN Speech Proves He Has "No Moral Credibility On International Affairs"

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We get a response to President Bush’s comments before the UN General Assembly on Iraq, Palestine, Sudan and AIDS from Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies and TransAfrica president Bill Fletcher. [includes rush transcript]

President Bush addressed the United Nations General Assembly yesterday marking his fourth appearance before the world body during his term in office. And for the third year in a row, the main subject of Bush’s speech was Iraq.

The president defended invading Iraq without UN Security Council backing, instead speaking about the need for democracy and appealed for help in reconstruction.

Bush also spoke about Palestine and the crisis in Sudan and listed an array of proposed initiatives including Third World debt relief, combating AIDS and global trafficking in women and children.

Bush’s remarks drew applause only once — at the end of his speech. He spoke shortly after U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan opened the 191-nation gathering with what many saw as a pointed rebuke to the United States.

  • Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General addressing the General Assembly, September 21, 2004.

Kofi Annan’s comments come a week after he called the invasion of Iraq "illegal." Unlike Bush’s speech minutes later, Annan directly addressed the situation on the ground in Iraq.

  • Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General addressing the General Assembly, September 21, 2004.

Today we are going to take a look at some of Bush’s comments before the UN General Assembly on Iraq, the Palestine-Israel conflict, Sudan and AIDS.

  • President Bush, comments on Iraq at the United Nations.
  • President Bush, comments on Palestine-Israel at the United Nations.
  • President Bush, comments on Sudan at the United Nations.
  • President Bush, comments on AIDS at the United Nations.
  • Phyllis Bennis, fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC, specializing in Middle East and United Nations issues. She is the author of the book "Before and After: U.S. Foreign Policy and the September 11th Crisis."
  • Bill Fletcher, President of TransAfrica.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Bush’s remarks drew applause only once: at the end of his speech. He spoke shortly after U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan opened the 191-nation gathering with what many saw as a pointed rebuke to the United States.

KOFI ANNAN: As I said a year ago, we have reached a fork in the road. If you, the political leaders of the world, cannot agree or reach agreement on the way forward, history will take the decisions for you, and the interests of your people may go by default. Today I will not seek to prejudge those decisions, but to remind you of the all-important framework in which they should be taken, namely the rule of law at home and in the world. The vision of the government of laws, not of men, is almost as old as civilization itself.

AMY GOODMAN: Kofi Annan’s comments come a week after he called the invasion of Iraq illegal. Unlike Bush’s speech, minutes later, Annan directly addressed the situation on the ground in Iraq.

KOFI ANNAN: In Iraq, we see civilians massacred in cold blood, while relief workers, journalists and other non-combatants are taken hostage and put to death in the most barbarous fashion. At the same time, we have seen Iraqi prisoners disgracefully abused.

AMY GOODMAN: Today we’re going to take a look at some of Bush’s comments before the U.N. General Assembly. We’re joined from Washington, D.C., by Phyllis Bennis, Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C., specializing in Middle East and U.N. issues. She’s author of the book, Before and After: U.S. Foreign Policy and the September 11 Crisis. We’re also joined by Bill Fletcher, the President of TransAfrica. We begin with President Bush’s comments on Iraq.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Last meeting of this General Assembly, the people of Iraq have regained sovereignty. Today in this hall, the Prime Minister of Iraq and his delegation represent a country that has rejoined the community of nations. The government of Prime Minister Allawi has earned the support of every nation that believes in self-determination and desires peace. And under Security Council Resolutions 1511 and 1546 the world is providing that support. The U.N. and its member nations must respond to Prime Minister Allawi’s request, and do more to help build an Iraq that is secure, democratic, federal, and free. A democratic Iraq has ruthless enemies, because terrorists know the stakes in that country. They know that a free Iraq in the heart of the Middle East will be a decisive blow against their ambitions for that region. So, a terrorist group associated with al Qaeda is now one of the main groups killing the innocent in Iraq today, conducting a campaign of bombings against civilians, and the beheadings of bound men. Coalition forces now serving in Iraq are confronting the terrorists and foreign fighters so peaceful nations around the world will never have to face them within our own borders.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush addressing the U.N. General Assembly yesterday. Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, your response

PHYLLIS BENNIS: This was an extraordinary example, Amy, of using an international venue to further Bush’s own campaign. As he has been talking about in his campaign rhetoric, he completely denied the reality on the ground in Iraq. He denied the escalating levels of death and destruction going on in that country. The death of U.S. G.I.s, of course, but also most particularly the massive increase in the deaths of Iraqis that we have seen just in the last ten days or so. This was an example of ignoring reality with enormous skill. He spoke of Iraq and Afghanistan as the world’s newest democracies, ignoring the fact that everyone in the world knows that whatever else we may call what’s going on in the streets of Iraq, democracy is not one of them. He used actually the name of the U.N. Special Envoy of the Secretary General, Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed, of course, last year when the United Nations was attacked in Baghdad, because it was seen as operating under the terms of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, and he actually invoked the name of Sergio de Mello saying that the people that are now working in Iraq are working under his legacy. It was a breathtaking amount of chutzpah, and I can only imagine that people sitting in U.N. headquarters in New York who were friends and colleagues of Sergio de Mello and the other 21 staff members who were killed must have been absolutely appalled at that abuse of his legacy. It stood in very, very sharp contrast to Secretary General Kofi Annan’s speech, which was a very overt and very direct slap in the face to the Bush policy in Iraq. But not only in Iraq. Certainly, there was repeated reference to the Iraq war itself being illegal, as Kofi Annan had said last week, on the BBC when he said it was not in keeping with the terms of the charter, and that it is, quote, "illegal," but he also referred to other aspects of international law, including among other things on the question of disarmament, the Secretary General identified with the Non-Proliferation Treaty, although he didn’t spell it out by name, saying that real disarmament, implying disarmament by the countries who have arms is a crucial part of preventing proliferation to other countries who don’t. And in that way, he was really coming down very harshly on the United States and the other official nuclear powers, who are obligated by treaty to get rid of other nuclear weapons as the payoff for having other countries agree not to get them. Something that the U.S. has consistently refused to do. The breadth of Kofi Annan’s defense of international law as something that explicitly applies to the strong as well as the weak stood in sharp contrast to President Bush’s sort of blithe recitation of false claims about what was happening in the streets of Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Bennis, I want to play a clip of President Bush on Israel and Palestine.

PRESIDENT BUSH: This commitment to democratic reform is essential to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. Peace will not be achieved by Palestinian rulers who intimidate opposition, tolerate corruption and maintain ties to terrorist groups. The long suffering Palestinian people deserve better. They deserve true leaders capable of creating and governing a free and peaceful Palestinian state. Even after the setbacks and frustrations of recent months, goodwill and hard effort can achieve the promise of the roadmap to peace. Those who would lead a new Palestinian state should adopt peaceful means to achieve the rights of their people, and create the reform institutions of a stable democracy. Arab states should add incitement in their own media, cut off public and private funding for terrorism and establish normal relations with Israel. Israel should impose a settlement freeze, dismantle unauthorized outposts, end the daily humiliation of the Palestinian people and avoid any actions that prejudice final negotiations.

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Bennis, your response?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: It was really quite extraordinary listening to that yesterday, with President Bush saying that Palestinians deserve better, not that they deserve an end to occupation, but they deserve a better government. That their government must move towards reform. This was the only thing that Palestinians deserve, in Bush’s view. When he spoke of the obligations of Israel, he spoke about removing unauthorized outposts, as if some of the outposts are authorized, which is what, of course, the Israeli government claims. He did not say there must be an end to occupation. He did not say that international law must be applied in the occupied territories. He said that Israel should end the daily humiliation. He didn’t say anything about the daily assaults, about the almost daily murder of occupied Palestinians by Israeli military. So, the limitations on his willingness to even use the requirements of the United Nations resolutions and international law as the basis for what would be the basis of a negotiated settlement was simply thrown out the window. This was a — one more sop to the pro-Israeli forces in the United States in a context of the election. It was one more use of the U.N. for that purpose.

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies. [break]

AMY GOODMAN: As we continue with President Bush’s address to the United Nations General Assembly yesterday, our guest, Phyllis Bennis of The Institute for Policy Studies and Bill Fletcher President of TransAfrica. Let’s go to President Bush on Sudan.

PRESIDENT BUSH: At this hour, the world is witnessing terrible suffering and horrible crimes in the Darfur region of the Sudan. Crimes my government has concluded are genocide. The United States played a key role in efforts to broker a cease-fire and we’re providing humanitarian assistance to the Sudanese people. Rwanda and Nigeria have deployed forces in Sudan to help improve security so aid can be delivered. The Security Council adopted a new resolution that supports an expanded Palestinian union force to help prevent further bloodshed and urges the government of Sudan to stop flights by military aircraft in Darfur. We congratulate the members of the council on this timely and necessary action. I call on the government of Sudan to honor the ceasefire it signed and stop the killing in Darfur.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush speaking at the U.N. General Assembly. Bill Fletcher joining us from Washington studio, President of TransAfrica. Welcome, Bill. Can you respond to President Bush’s statement about Sudan and the U.S. now using the term "genocide?"

BILL FLETCHER: Well, thank you. Let me just say, in terms of the President’s speech, first of all I think we understand when we look and listen to that speech why the Bush Administration has no moral credibility on international affairs. The manipulative use of this speech for political ends was really quite blatant. It’s interesting in looking at his remarks, listening to his remarks with regard to the Sudan the— it took a considerable amount of international pressure to get the Bush Administration, after countless denials, to actually acknowledge the extent of the humanitarian crisis that’s underway in the Sudan. But when you link the President’s speech with the crisis in the Sudan, you can understand why many countries are a bit skeptical about endorsing any initiative advanced by the United States, because they see it as, more often than not, a cynical adventure in the international realm.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Fletcher, you were arrested along with Danny Glover, Chair of TransAfrica, in front of the Sudanese Embassy in Washington. Where do you see the Bush Administration taking this issue?

BILL FLETCHER: I actually think, Amy, they’re probably not going to take it very far, that it will depend, to a great extent, on a few other factors. One is the extent to which people in the United States continue to keep this issue front and center, particularly as we proceed down the road towards the November 2nd elections. But I think that it’s also going to be very much influenced by what other countries do and the extent to which China and Russia, particularly, can be convinced to exert a greater pressure on the Sudan to pull back from the genocidal path they’re conducting.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to President Bush speaking about AIDS at the U.N. General Assembly.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Because we believe in human dignity, America and many nations have established a global fund to fight aids, tuberculosis and malaria. In three years, the contributing countries have funded projects in more than 90 countries, and pledged a total of $5.6 billion to these efforts. America has undertaken a $15 billion effort to provide prevention and treatment and humane care in nations afflicted by AIDS, placing a special focus on 15 countries where the need is most urgent. AIDS is the greatest health crisis of our time and our unprecedented commitment will bring new hope to those who have walked too long in the shadow of death.

AMY GOODMAN: President Bush speaking at the U.N. General Assembly. Bill Fletcher of TransAfrica, you’re shaking your head.

BILL FLETCHER: It’s infuriating, Amy. More people are dying per day as a result of AIDS than died on 9/11. And yet the Bush Administration manipulates the issue. They talk about contributing to the Global AIDS Fund. The U.S. contribution to the U.N. Global AIDS Fund is far less than should be its share of contributions to the overall costs. And in the midst of the situation, the Bush Administration, supposedly a conservative regime that believes in less bureaucracy creates its own bureaucracy to advance the global AIDS fight. I mean it’s simply unbelievable what is being done, and what’s not being done. On top of that, this administration has ideologized the fight around AIDS where they have penalized those countries that promote the use of condoms and believe, out of some myth, that the way that one stops the spread of HIV and AIDS is simply through abstinence. I mean, this objectively represents genocide on the part of this administration. You add onto that that this administration has obstructed the ability of countries to buy or produce generic pharmaceuticals in order to confront this pandemic. So, one must ask, What are their motives? What are their objectives?

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Fletcher, as we begin to wrap up this discussion, I don’t want to leave you without talking about Haiti and Grenada right now. Slightly separate issues, but these countries are absolutely devastated by the storms, and earthquakes. Ninety percent of Grenada, they say—of the homes—are destroyed. And in Haiti, something like 250,000 people left homeless. What can be done right now?

BILL FLETCHER: In part, the Haitian crisis that’s a result of the hurricane has to be understood within the larger crisis of the disruption as a result of the coup that overthrew President Aristide. Haiti is a mess. It is a complete and utter mess! There is no basic infrastructure to address the nature of a hurricane such as Jeanne that struck the country. Where more than 700 people are dead; thousands, at least, are missing, and, as you said, hundreds of thousands of other people are in despair. I think that the United States, as well as the O.A.S. needs to rush in emergency assistance. I understand this morning that Venezuela has come forward, and it doesn’t surprise me, because of the concern that President Chavez has evidenced for the country of Haiti, historically.

AMY GOODMAN: Also in the headlines today, we read this piece about The Scotsman newspaper reporting the Bush Administration facing condemnation for failing to join more than 100 countries as part of a new campaign to raise an extra $50 billion annually to combat global hunger. The U.S. rejected proposals to raise money by introducing global tax on financial transactions and a tax on the sale of heavy arms. The Brazilian President Lula responding by saying, how many times will it be necessary to repeat that the most destructive weapons of mass destruction in the world is poverty.

BILL FLETCHER: I think that President Lula was absolutely right on target. This administration will not accept that. But every so often, it throws a bone to the people of the world. So, one of the bones that it threw was that there will be some level of debt reduction. Africa has somewhere around $300 billion of onerous debt, but this administration is not addressing the depth of that crisis. The types of steps that were being proposed — they run counter to the way this administration looks at confronting poverty. It basically identifies legitimate poverty and illegitimate poverty, much as it does here in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Bennis, we have 30 seconds to go. I just wanted to wrap up with the overall context of where President Bush spoke yesterday, at the U.N. General Assembly—you having been an observer of, correspondent from, the U.N. for many years, having written books and numerous articles about it.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: I think this was an example of President Bush using the United Nations in an extraordinarily tactical, partisan, political way. It was not an expression of recognition of the primacy of the United Nations in global affairs. Rather, it was seeing the United Nations as a venue for continuing a thoroughly partisan and aggressive campaign: expecting his audience to deny reality, expecting his audience to listen to what he said without acknowledging that it flies in the face of what is actually going on on the ground in Iraq and elsewhere.

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Bennis, thank you for joining us, from The Institute for Policy Studies and Bill Fletcher of TransAfrica. This is Democracy Now!

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