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"Insanity": CodePink's Medea Benjamin on Obama Plan to Bomb Syria, Expand Iraq Attacks

September 12, 2014
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Medea Benjamin

co-founder of CodePink and author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.

The Pentagon has announced it will soon start flying bombing missions out of the Kurdish region of northern Iraq as part of an expanded U.S.-led military campaign against militants from the Islamic State. But it remains unclear when the U.S. will begin launching airstrikes in Syria. According to McClatchy, President Obama has not yet authorized the U.S. Central Command to conduct offensive combat operations in Syria as many questions over U.S. strategy remain unresolved. To talk more about President Obama’s plans to expand U.S. military operations in Iraq and to bomb Syria, we are joined by one of the nation’s leading peace activists, Medea Benjamin, founder of CodePink which held a protest outside the White House on Wednesday during President Obama’s speech. She is the author of "Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control."


TRANSCRIPT

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

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The Pentagon has announced it will soon start flying bombing missions out of the Kurdish region of northern Iraq as part of an expanded U.S.-led military campaign against militants from the Islamic State. But it remains unclear when the U.S. will begin launching airstrikes in Syria. According to McClatchy news service, President Obama has not yet authorized the U.S. Central Command to conduct offensive combat operations in Syria, as many questions over U.S. strategy remain unresolved.

AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday, 10 Arab countries—Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and six Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar—agreed to help the United States fight the Sunni militants that have seized swaths of Iraq and Syria. The commitment came after foreign ministers from the countries met with Secretary of State John Kerry in Saudi Arabia.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: Arab nations play a critical role in that coalition, the leading role, really, across all lines of effort: military support, humanitarian aid, our work to stop the flow of illegal funds and foreign fighters, which ISIL requires in order to thrive, and certainly the effort to repudiate once and for all the dangerous, the offensive, the insulting distortion of Islam that ISIL propaganda attempts to spread throughout the region and the world.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Secretary of State Kerry’s trip to Saudi Arabia came on the 13th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, which were carried out by 19 hijackers, among them 15 Saudis. On Thursday, Iran questioned the U.S. plan to fight the Islamic State and blamed Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia, for stoking the Sunni militancy that led to the Islamic State’s rise. An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said Iran had, quote, "severe misgivings about the coalition’s determination to sincerely fight the root causes of terrorism." As part of the agreement, Saudi Arabia is expected to provide training for what’s been described as moderate Syrian opposition fighters, but it remains unclear what groups actually fit that description. There was also discussion in Saudi Arabia of using the newly formed coalition to also attack other Islamist groups besides the Islamic State.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about President Obama’s plans to expand U.S. military operations in Iraq and to bomb Syria, we’re joined by one of the nation’s leading peace activists, Medea Benjamin, founder of CodePink, which held a protest outside the White House Wednesday night during President Obama’s speech. Medea is author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control. She’s joining us from Oklahoma City.

Medea, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you respond to President Obama’s speech and the fact that the vast majority of Americans polled support taking military action in Iraq and Syria?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: I think President Obama has been hounded by the media, by the war hawks in Congress, mostly from the Republican side but also from the Democrats, and is going into this insane not only bombing in Iraq, but also talking about going into Syria, at a time when just a couple of months ago the American people had made it very clear that we were very tired of war. In fact, when Obama tried to do this a year ago, the American people rose up and demanded that Congress take a vote and that Congress say no, and Obama backed out. So, I think the support of the American people is very skin deep, Amy, and that if we, as a peace-loving people, do our job right now in getting out there and making some noise, we can actually have an impact in stopping the U.S. from getting into Syria and, I think, in stopping the U.S. from this insane, never-ending war.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Medea, what about the status of the peace movement right now? There has not been so far, in the last few days, much of an outcry from peace advocates on this new policy of the Obama administration.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, the peace movement was really decimated when Obama came in, and has been trying to rebuild ever since. But I think now we have to think of all of us as the peace movement. Now is the time to say, if you’re an environmentalist, you better understand that war is the greatest environmental disaster and the U.S. military is the greatest polluter on the planet. If you care about having money for youth groups or for infrastructure or for green energy, you better understand that sucking money into the military—we’re now paying $7.5 million for just the bombing in Iraq. Imagine if we start going into Syria. We can’t afford this. If you’re people that care about money in politics, this is the time to get out there and say this is part of the subsidy to the military-industrial complex. This is an issue for all of us out there now, and we’ve got to get on the phones, we’ve got to get into the streets, we’ve got to demand town hall meetings, get our representatives and say to them, "We want you to vote on this. That’s your responsibility. And we want you to vote no."

AMY GOODMAN: President Obama vowed the U.S.-led operation against ISIS would not repeat the attacks of recent wars. This is what he said.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist, using our air power and our support for partners’ forces on the ground. This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successfully pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years. And it is consistent with the approach I outlined earlier this year: to use force against anyone who threatens America’s core interests, but to mobilize partners wherever possible to address broader challenges to international order.

AMY GOODMAN: Medea, can you respond to President Obama and to the issue of, well, what is the alternative right now to U.S.-led military strikes?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, it’s almost comical to hear him talk about Yemen and Somalia as positive examples, because they are disasters. If you look at the results of U.S. intervention, it’s been to take a relatively isolated place like Afghanistan, where there were extremists, and now spread them out to Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Libya, northern Africa. I mean, this has been a policy that the results have been fantastically tragic. And to think that adding more fuel to the fire is going to be a positive result is just insanity. So, I think we have to come out and say, "Been there, done that." We’ve already destroyed Iraq and created the conditions, by not addressing the Sunni grievances, for ISIS to exist.

What we have to do now is be part of not this warmed-over "coalition of the willing" that George Bush put together, but a real U.N.-led effort. The Sunnis have to have their grievances addressed. We have to stop the flow of weapons to the entire region, where the U.S. is the purveyor of 80 percent of those weapons. We have to stop countries from buying the oil that ISIS is selling. We have to address the huge humanitarian crisis that we have helped create. There’s many things that we can do that could be positive, but certainly bombing is not one of them.

AMY GOODMAN: Medea, we’d like you to stay with us. We’re going to break right now, and when we come back, we’ll be joined by the Academy Award-winning filmmaker Haskell Wexler, who’s deeply concerned about using, invoking the name of James Foley, the beheaded journalist, beheaded by ISIS, when President Obama cited his name in explaining why the U.S. would be attacking Iraq and Syria. Stay with us.


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