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2008-10-21

Barack Obama Accepts Endorsement of Colin Powell Despite the Ex-General’s Role in Making the Case for Iraq War

Guests

David Sirota, nationally syndicated columnist and senior fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future. His new book is Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington. He supports Barack Obama but is critical of the Powell endorsement.

Glen Ford, veteran journalist and executive editor of Black Agenda Report.com, a weekly journal of African American political thought and action.

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While Powell’s endorsement is big news, his critical role in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq has been glossed over, particularly his February 2003 address to the United Nations where he made the case for war with Iraq. Today, we host a critical discussion on what this endorsement means for the antiwar movement and progressives across this country. We speak to David Sirota and Glen Ford. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

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

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to the most talked-about political endorsement of the campaign. On Sunday, former Secretary of State Colin Powell endorsed the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. The retired four-star general, who served in the last two Bush administrations, made the announcement on NBC’s Meet the Press.

    COLIN POWELL: So when I look at all of this and I think back to my Army career, we’ve got two individuals, either one of them could be a good president, but which is the president that we need now? Which is the individual that serves the needs of the nation for the next period of time? And I come to the conclusion that, because of his ability to inspire, because of the inclusive nature of his campaign, because he is reaching out all across America, because of who he is and his rhetorical abilities, and we have to take that into account, as well as his substance — he has both style and substance — he has met the standard of being a successful president, being an exceptional president. I think he is a transformational figure, he is a new generation coming into the world — onto the world stage, onto the American stage, and for that reason I’ll be voting for Senator Barack Obama.

AMY GOODMAN: Powell’s endorsement of Senator Obama marks the latest in a series of defections by Republican Party members in this campaign. On Sunday, Obama said Powell would have a role as "one of my advisers." The blogosphere is abuzz with praise for Powell’s endorsement. Many are heartened by his comments on allegations around Obama’s religious faith.

    COLIN POWELL: I’m also troubled by, not what Senator McCain says, but what members of the party say, and it is permitted to be said, such things as, “Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim.” Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he’s a Christian. He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, “He’s a Muslim, and he might be associated terrorists.” This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

    I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son’s grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone, and it gave his awards — Purple Heart, Bronze Star — showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, his date of death. He was twenty years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn’t have a Christian cross, it didn’t have a Star of David, it had a crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was fourteen years old at the time of 9/11. And he waited until he could go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing our self in this way.

AMY GOODMAN: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday. Well, while Powell’s endorsement is big news, his critical role in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq has been glossed over, particularly his February 2003 address to the UN where he made the case for war with Iraq.

Today, we host a critical discussion on what this endorsement means for the antiwar movement and progressives across the country.

We’re joined by David Sirota, nationally syndicated columnist, senior fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future. His new book is Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington. He is joining us from Free Speech TV’s studios in Denver, Colorado.

We are also joined by Glen Ford, here in New York, veteran journalist, has been very critical of Obama’s policy positions. Ford is the executive editor of blackagendareport.com, a weekly journal of African American political thought and action.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! David Sirota, let’s begin with you. The endorsement of General Powell, Secretary of State — former Secretary of State Powell, of Obama?

DAVID SIROTA: Well, I think it’s good, in the short term, politically for Barack Obama. I mean, I think it makes — helps him make the case that he’s going to have, I guess, quote-unquote, "experienced” people around him. I mean, the thing that troubles me is that, as you said, we’re not looking at why Colin Powell is a supposedly credible foreign policy voice. He gave arguably the most destructive speech at the United Nations in American diplomatic history, and we’re not really talking much about that. Colin Powell has not been really repentant about that or his involvement in getting us into the war.

And what disturbs me most is, is this idea that not only is Powell endorsing Obama — Obama can’t prevent that — but that Obama has responded by saying that Powell might play a key role in an Obama administration. And we should ask ourselves, what does that say about Barack Obama’s promises to end this war quickly? I don’t think it necessarily says something good if he’s putting someone around him who helped get us into this war, who helped lie us into this war and has been basically unrepentant about that.

AMY GOODMAN: Glen Ford?

GLEN FORD: Yeah. Some people seem to think that Powell and Obama are somehow an odd couple. In fact, they are quite compatible. We have to remember that Colin Powell was considered to be the new face before any of us had even heard of Barack Obama. He was supposed to be that breath of fresh air, the black man in the administration who was reasonable and would show decent respect for the opinions of mankind. In fact, he showed his true colors, as David referred to, in February of 2003. He showed that he was just another American bully. And that speech was, in fact, the declaration of war which followed six weeks later. Barack Obama promises to prolong that war, to somehow make that war a responsible enterprise, rather than the crime that it is, and to open new fronts of war.

AMY GOODMAN: One difference I see between you, David Sirota and Glen Ford, is, David Sirota, you seeing the problem of General Powell’s — former Secretary of State Powell — being the direction he would pull Barack Obama in; Glen Ford, you see it as emblematic of really what Barack Obama represents.

GLEN FORD: Oh, yes. I don’t see any contradiction whatsoever. In fact, I see no contradiction — and this is not hindsight — between the Barack Obama of today, who speaks of responsible US presence, who actually outlines no — no exit point for American forces in Iraq. The whole line that there will be no combat troops flies in the face of established American doctrine of force protection, that is, when you have so-called non-combat troops, you must have American troops to protect the non-combat troops and, of course, protect that vast Green Zone. So, that’s a charade, it’s a farce. There will be American combat troops, as far as a Barack Obama is concerned, for the
foreseeable future.

AMY GOODMAN: David Sirota, do you think —

DAVID SIROTA: But in —

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

DAVID SIROTA: Yeah, in fairness, I mean, Barack Obama has voted for some timetables for withdrawal. Granted, it has not been binding. My fear is this. My concern is that Barack Obama has taken somewhat differing positions on the war. He spoke out pretty forcefully against it when it was politically opportune, when he was running in a Democratic primary for the US Senate. And then, when he got to the Senate, he was basically silent on the war. And then in the lead-up to his presidential campaign, during that Democratic primary, he had supported a series of timetable votes. And now he’s saying, today, in a general election, that Colin Powell, a guy who got us into this war, who lied us into this war, is going to be one of his top advisers.

So, what we have here is a very, very scattered picture. It’s not very clear what Barack Obama is going to do. It’s hard to take him at his word, because he’s been in many different positions. I would like to believe the best. I would like to believe that he is serious about getting us out of the war, but what does it say about his foreign policy acumen that he’s simultaneously saying he wants to get us out of this war, but one of his top advisers is going to be a person who got us into the war?

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think he should have accepted the endorsement, David Sirota?

DAVID SIROTA: Well, I don’t think — I don’t think he should have rejected the endorsement. I mean, I think he gets — it’s hard to control who endorses you. And I think it’s a sort of slippery slope. Do you — who do you reject? Who do you not reject? I guess, again, the issue here is not Colin Powell endorsing Obama. I think Powell has his own motives. Powell is out for Powell. He wants to be close to power. He sees that Obama looks like he’s going to win. The issue is, after this election, who is Barack Obama relying on for foreign policy advice? And I think that what we’re seeing, and we’ve seen this in the media, is that the original critics of this war continue to get written out of the political narrative, of the political discussion in this country. And I think this declaration by Obama that Powell is going to be a top adviser in the White House potentially previews an administration that continues to write out antiwar critics.

AMY GOODMAN: Glen Ford?

GLEN FORD: Barack Obama was already headed in the wrong direction before Colin Powell made this endorsement. I don’t really think it materially affects the direction that he’s going. Even in October of 2002, he did not label that war a crime, but much more of something like a mistake. He said that he was not opposed to wars, only opposed to dumb wars and rash wars. Apparently he thinks he can transform the American Iraqi presence into something that is not dumb, but is responsible, in his words. That’s not a direction towards peace. And certainly, his pronouncements on Pakistan, which were extremely provocative and which he has not substantially backed away from, promise a new front in that — in those two wars.

AMY GOODMAN: Glen Ford, who do you plan to vote for in November?

GLEN FORD: I’m voting for Cynthia McKinney, of course. She is a genuine peace candidate.

AMY GOODMAN: And, David Sirota, who will you be voting for?

DAVID SIROTA: I just cast my vote. I voted for Barack Obama.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us. Glen Ford, a veteran journalist and executive editor of blackagendareport.com, a weekly journal of African American political thought and action. David Sirota, joining us from Free Speech TV’s studios in Denver, Colorado, nationally syndicated columnist, senior fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future, his new book is called Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt Scaring Wall Street and Washington.

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