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Congressman Jerrold Nadler on the Endless War: Are Iran & Syria Next?

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Secretary of State General Colin Powell accused Syria of harboring officials from Saddam Hussein’s government, and threatened economic or diplomatic sanctions. White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer called Syria a “terrorist state” and a “rogue nation.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld claimed Syria had carried out chemical weapons tests in the last year. At a recent speech in New York, Congressmember Jerrold Nadler warned of endless war.

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

AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Democracy Now!, The War and Peace Report.

The U.S. is threatening Syria with diplomatic and economic pressure, as a series of top officials accuse Damascus of supporting terrorism. Donald Rumsfeld alleges Syria has carried out chemical weapons tests in the last year. “Rogue state” is now what White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer is calling Syria. Secretary of State General Colin Powell hints economic sanctions against Syria might be in order.

Meanwhile, at the U.N., Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that recent U.S. warnings to Syria could contribute to a wider destabilization of the Middle East, a region already wracked by the invasion of Iraq.

Syria has denied Washington’s accusations, calling them an attempt to obscure the events in Iraq, and yesterday accusing Israel of being behind the weapons and terrorism accusations.

Well, right now we’re going to turn to a series of speeches that have been given over the last week. We’ll be hearing Reverend Jim Lawson in Los Angeles at a major antiwar rally there this weekend. But first we go to a New York congressmember, Jerrold Nadler, who talked last week about the process and the line that the U.S. seems to be pursuing, from Iraq to Iran and Syria. This is Congressmember Jerrold Nadler.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: What was interesting to me about the polls, before the war started, before the war with Iraq started, was that if you asked the people, if you said, “Do you agree or disagree that the United States should go to war with Iraq to disarm Iraq in conjunction with the U.N. and other countries?” yes, 68%. “Do you agree that the U.S. should go to war to disarm Iraq unilaterally?” yes, 38%. So, in other words, 30% were saying, basically, “Yeah, I’ll support a war against Iraq to disarm it of weapons of mass destructions, if it’s done in conjunction with other nations.”

Now, why is that? Why do 30% of the people say, “I’ll support it if we do it with other countries, but not if we do it alone”? Is it because they were so convinced that we really needed the military help of other nations? I really don’t think so. Is it because they have a fervent belief in the U.N. and that whatever the U.N. says is OK, and if the U.N. doesn’t say it, it isn’t OK? I frankly doubt that, too.

My own opinion on this, and I thought about it for a long time after I saw those results, starting last August, I think it was, was that what people are really saying, if you scratch under the surface, was, “What the heck is going on here?” Until last summer, we didn’t hear about Iraq too much. All of a sudden — and for almost a year after September 11th, we didn’t hear about Iraq too much. All of a sudden, last summer, we started hearing “We’ve got to take care of Iraq. It’s a mortal threat. It’s a terrible threat. They’re developing nuclear weapons. They have chemical weapons. They have biological weapons. They’re a terrible dictatorship. They’re the only terrible dictatorship on the planet that we know, obviously. They’re a terrible dictatorship. We’ve got to do something about Iraq.” It’s a terrible threat, all of a sudden. And then we heard some voices say, “Hey, wait a minute. It’s not such a terrible threat.” For obvious reasons, they said that. Then people are wondering, “I don’t know what to believe. The president and the people around him are saying it’s a really terrible threat, and we really — such a terrible threat that we have to go to war to stop it. Of course, they only discovered this fact a few months ago; no one was saying this a year ago. On the other hand, some people are saying not.”

And I think what the poll reflects is a lot of puzzlement and people thinking, from a very, I think, commonsense point of view, “Hey, if it’s really such a terrible threat, the president ought to be able to convince a lot of other countries. And if he can convince a lot of other countries, people who study these things, prime ministers and defense ministers and so forth, then probably he’s right. Then I have to support the war. And if he can’t persuade a lot of other countries and get the U.N. Security Council to vote for it, then he probably hasn’t got a case, and I probably should not support going to war.” And I think that’s the real meaning of those polls, that the real meaning of those polls is that people didn’t quite know what to think, and they didn’t quite trust the president, just because he started saying it’s a terrible threat and we didn’t hear of this before. And they said, “I’m not the military expert, personally. But if he can convince, if the president can convince a large segment of the world and the U.N., then he’s probably got the convincing argument. And if he can’t, he probably doesn’t have a convincing argument.” And I think that’s what these polls are saying, bottom.

Now you’ve got the poll that says 70% people support the war, because we’re fighting a war. It takes a large psychological leap to say, to admit to yourself — if you consider yourself a patriotic American, it takes a large psychological leap to say, “We’re wrong. We’re waging an illegal war. We had no right to do this. We’re engaging in criminal action.” People don’t want to believe that of their own government. And that’s one reason you always get a rally around the flag, a rally around the president at any moment of war or crisis. John Kennedy commented wryly on this. He commented after the Bay of Pigs invasion, which he thought was a — which was a catastrophe and a terrible mistake. And he said, “You know, what a mistake I made, and my approval ratings are the highest they’ve ever been.” But that was rally around the flag, even if what the — rally around the president, even if what the president is doing is catastrophic. And you’ll always see that. But you also know it’s always temporary. It does not last. It does not last, and other factors come to the fore. And that’s why George Bush Sr., who was at 91% approval rating, a year later was voted out of office, because other things changed, and because — so, this is a very ephemeral approval.

I also think that — and I voted against the resolution, and I thought it was a terrible mistake to do this, and I think it’s a terrible thing that we’re doing, it’s a terrible mistake to have done this, and it was wrong, and we’re going to suffer a lot of consequences for it. Having said that, I think it’s going to be over very quickly. And demonstrations, while morally imperative to do, are not going to have much effect on it, because I really think it’s going to be over in a few weeks, and antiwar demonstrations take months to have an effect.

But the question is what comes next. The real question is what comes next. And that is a very weighty question. Are we going to, number one, engage in a military occupation of Iraq, confirming all the wrong — not the wrong — confirming all the worst statements about our intent, that we’re not liberators, that we’re invaders, and that we’re just going after Iraqi oil and that we’re going to impose a new American imperialism, a new colonialism? Right now that’s the intent. Right now that’s the direction we’re heading in, for military occupation, which will get the whole world to think the worst of us, if they don’t already, which will get the Iraqi people, those who are wondering if — however many there may be — maybe they’re not so bad getting rid of this tyrant, that, “Hey, their motives were just as bad, and they’re going to be as bad or worse than Saddam Hussein.”

So, one goal has got to be change that. Don’t have a unilateral American occupation, especially unilateral American military occupation. But if this is going to be over soon, which I think it will be — Saddam Hussein is going to be out — what comes next? What comes next ought to have the imprimatur and the approval of the U.N. It shouldn’t be America dictating. It should be a multilateral occupation, trying to get toward a civilian, semi-democratic situation and trying to help the people and the victims there. That’s number one.

Number two, will history record this as the first act in a long play, in a long series of acts, of unilateral military invasions in the service of this new preemption doctrine? Are we going to invade Syria and Iran next, and God knows who else after that? Those questions are still very much up in the air. The Iraq War, that unfortunately happened. It’ll be over soon. The question is: Does it make it easier for us to invade Iran and Syria next and take over — try to take over the whole Middle East as they put into effect this new preemption doctrine? Or do we go in the opposite direction and we say, “Hey, stop it. Enough. We’re not going to engage in preempt — we’re not going to look at that. We have no right to do that”? Iraq was several years away, minimally, from any nuclear bomb. There was no real reason. There was no real threat. This is what’s before us now. And these questions, we can still very much impact. We can no longer prevent the invasion of Iraq; that already happened. We can prevent the next two invasions, which hopefully won’t happen. We can prevent the escalation of this war into a much bigger war involving more countries and perhaps years. Third question — and for that purpose, all the organizing and demonstrating that we can do may very well be effective.

Third purpose: We are, whether we like it or not, involved in a much bigger war, which we did not choose. And this is a war with the Islamic terrorists. That is a war that was imposed on us, that, in retrospect, has been going on at least since '91 and ’93, the bombing of the World Trade Center the first time. And the question is: How do we get out of that war as quickly as possible, with as few casualties on all sides as possible? That was is, to some extent, a hot war, to some extent, a cold war. It flares up every now and then, very much as the war — the Cold War did over a 50-year period after World War II. And this could go on as long, conceivably. We don't know.

But one of the great questions — there’s an ideological war going on. And it’s an ideological war basically in the Islamic world. There are a billion people who are Muslims in this country, a sixth of the world’s population. If most of them end up believing that Osama bin Laden is right and that the West — the United States, England, France, Israel, whoever — must be destroyed, then this is going to be a very unsafe planet to live on. Right now most of the Muslim world is not that, but an appreciable fraction is. There are probably several hundred million people at this point who are infected with what you might call Wahhabism or bin-Ladenism or whatever, and really believe that they have to wage jihad against a Western world that’s out to destroy Islam. We must behave in such a way as to help — as to promote the belief and the conviction in the Muslim world that they don’t have to be at war with us, with the Western world, that it’s not an inherent war of civilizations, that bin Laden is wrong. And how we behave in Iraq — and I think, by the way, that invading Iraq made that much, much worse. I think that probably recruited God knows how many new recruits to al-Qaeda and Hezbollah and so forth, but it made probably a lot of — a few millions of people now believe that they’re right, that the West is out to destroy Islam, and they have to wage holy war against us. And holy war means bomb the American cities, bomb European cities, whatever they mean.

We have to seek to behave in such a way as to minimize that belief, to help those in the Muslim world who say, “No, we can live together. We can have coexistence. We don’t — this is not a war to the death between the West and Islam.” And that means, among other things, that we don’t invade Syria, we don’t invade Iran, we don’t indulge in this doctrine of preemption, and we do help those in the Islamic world in any way we can. We probably ought to have Radio Free Islam. We had Radio Free Europe, and that’s a separate question.

So, all these questions are very much up in the air now. And these questions, how they’re decided and how we behave, will determine whether millions and millions of people in Muslim countries, perhaps millions of people in Western countries, in this country, are killed in what will be called terrorist incidents or in warfare or not. And the peace demonstrations urging to avoid the doctrine of preemption to try to deal with this very harshly hostile, harshly questioning world out there in a peaceful way, in a way to encourage the belief on their part that the bin Ladens of the world are wrong and they can live with us, they don’t have to fight us, is maybe the most important question of the day. And that’s where everything we’ve been talking about, and I assume you were talking about before I got here, can be very important.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, addressing an antiwar teach-in in the past week in New York. If you’d like to get a copy of today’s program — we’re going to move on to have a discussion about war crimes and the invasion of Iraq — you can call 1-800-881-2359. That’s 1-800-881-2359. Back in a minute.

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