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President-Elect Obama and the Future of US Foreign Policy: A Roundtable Discussion

StoryNovember 06, 2008
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Congratulations pour in from around the world for President-elect Barack Obama after his historic victory Tuesday night. But what are Obama’s foreign policy positions, and what are the concerns for those living in countries at the target end of US foreign policy? We host a roundtable discussion with filmmaker and investigative journalist John Pilger in Britain, Columbia University professor and Africa scholar Mahmood Mamdani, Laura Carlsen of the Center for International Policy in Mexico City, Iraqi analyst Raed Jarrar, Pakistani author Tariq Ali, and Palestinian American Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada. [includes rush transcript]

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

JUAN GONZALEZ: Congratulations are pouring in from around the world for President-elect Barack Obama after his historic victory Tuesday night. His diverse background is truly unique for a US president. With a mother from Kansas, a father from Kenya, a stepfather from Indonesia, and a middle name — Hussein — from the Middle East, Obama has sparked the imagination of people on every continent. In cities across Africa, people hailed the United States for electing Obama.

    JOHNNY BENT, Johannesburg Resident: I think Obama is a good guy. And I just hope Obama will have influence in Africa, especially to develop us, to help us with the sickness and the AIDS and so on. So, especially it’s — at least he’s from Kenya. So I just hope there’s going to be a lot of influence in Africa to help us and support us and to come out as a new, new, new nation. Thank you.

    BOLAJI ILORI, Nigerian Politician: For us, this is a threshold of history. It is a resurgence of hope for black man, and not just for black man, a triumph of democracy. For us, it’s a lesson in this country. We are trying now — we are struggling for open and democratic governance, for us to have flawless elections. We are happy we saw the loser congratulating the winner. For us, it’s good. But for us, Obama represents a new generation of ideas, of peace in the world.

    FEMI OSHI, Johannesburg Resident: It’s not only the president of the United States of America; this is a black man in a black skin, ruling the world. And take it or leave it, he’s going to be the best thing in the history of the Americans.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In the Middle East, reactions to Obama’s victory were more cautious. From Iraq to Iran to the Occupied Territories, people called on Obama to change US foreign policy toward the region.

    ALAA AL-ZERJAWI, Sadr City Resident: [translated] My message to the US president, Barack Obama, is to withdraw troops from our country. This is the first thing. We want him to be honest with us, because Bush has given many promises, but he did not fulfill any of them. We have suffered a lot from the occupation. Because of the occupation, there were divisions, sectarian conflicts, and now we want them to leave our country.

    MOHAMMED ABU AWDA, Gaza Resident: [translated] We hope that he will help find a solution for the Palestinian cause and to end the siege, because we are really suffering. I hope we find a solution for the Palestinian cause, and everybody will live in peace.

    HOSSEIN NAZARI, Iranian Student: My message to Obama, to Barack Obama, is that if you want your country — actually, if you want to have a good relationship with our country, with our politicians and with our government, you have to radically change your former policies towards Iran.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in South Asia, in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan, there was concern over the future of US foreign policy under a President Obama. In Afghanistan, where Obama has pledged to escalate the war, President Hamid Karzai called for an end to US air strikes in the country.

    PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI: [translated] Our demand is a change in strategy fighting terrorism. It means fighting against terrorism should not be in Afghanistan rural areas. Fighting against terrorism is not in our country. Our country is a victim of terrorism. And I wish that civilian casualties would be eliminated here. By bombing Afghanistan, the war against terrorism cannot be won. These are the important demands of Afghans. This is our first demand and our basic demand.

    ARSHAD HUSSAIN, Pakistani Journalist: [translated] Pakistan should not expect much, because every US president has his own interest. The example is President Bush and many others who give aid to Pakistan but did not get much work done in return.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, we host a discussion on Obama’s foreign policy, particularly with respect to hotspots in the Middle East, in South Asia, Africa and Latin America. We’ll talk about the concerns and hopes of those who live in countries at the receiving end of American foreign policy.

We’re joined on the phone and through video stream in studios by a number of people. First, Australian investigative journalist, bestselling author, documentary filmmaker, John Pilger, joins us on the telephone from Britain, just back from the United States. His latest book is called Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire; his most recent film, The War on Democracy.

And we’re joined in our firehouse studio by Mahmood Mamdani. He is professor of government and anthropology at Columbia University and has written extensively on post-colonial African politics. His most recent book is Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror. His latest article for The Nation magazine focuses on recent events in Darfur and is called “The New Humanitarian Order.”

We’ll start with John Pilger in Britain. You were just in the United States in Houston. You’re back in London right now. Your response to the election of Barack Hussein Obama as president of the United States?

JOHN PILGER: Well, my response, Amy, is that really anyone was better than Bush and the Bush administration. Having experienced election night in the United States and then seeing the response here, I feel that it’s time that analysis and critical thinking took over and that those of us who wish to think that way, who wish to think critically, really should start addressing the — this rather manipulated emotional response. I don’t, in any way, cast doubt on the sincerity of the way people are speaking about the election of Obama around the world, although I think the reaction that you just played from the Middle East is rather more near the realism that is close to truth. But I do think we have to consider President-elect Obama as a man of the system.

Michael Moore had it right when he said the other day, let’s hope that Obama breaks all his election promises, as politicians generally do, because all his election promises, in terms of foreign policy, are a continuation of business as usual. And even if there is a return to what used to be called a multilateral world, I think there has to be critical analysis of the return to the pretensions of America as a peacemaker around the world. We had to endure this, and I mean endure it during the Clinton years, and I don’t think that we, in the rest of the world, ought to have to endure it now through the Obama years, so that we have a continuation, if you like, of liberalism as a divisive, almost war-making ideology, being used to destroy liberalism as a reality, because that has gone on under so-called liberal presidents, from Kennedy to Clinton, Democratic presidents. And President-elect Obama suggests to us, in his promises, that he is going to continue that, bombing Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Someone said to me — in fact, I was talking to my daughter when I got off the plane from Houston this morning, and she was — said, “What was it like over there?” And we were discussing it, and I said, “Well, it comes down to, I suppose, asking an Afghan child how they feel when their family has been destroyed by a 500-pound bunker-busting bomb dropped by the United States and dropped by President Obama, as he continues that war. I think that’s the reality that we really have to begin to discuss now, having celebrated, and rightly celebrated, the ascent of the first African American president of the United States.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, John Pilger, what sign would you look for in these early days now, as Obama begins to move to a — in a transition period, that would indicate to you that he may be — he would be trying to break, in one way or other, from this neoliberalism of the Clinton years?

JOHN PILGER: Well, it’s difficult to know. Breaking from the Bush years is going to be the first, and I suppose breaking from the Bush years means actually talking to people and negotiating. I think breaking from, let’s say, the Democratic years — the Bush, yes — the Clinton years will mean giving us a sign that the ideological, rapacious, war-making machine that has been built over many years and reinforced, as perhaps never before during the eight years of Bush, that that ideological machine does not transcend a loss of electoral power. You see, that’s really the central issue here, that a kind of ideological consensus has been built under Bush. Now, yes, Obama has been voted in, but will that vote, will that — will a new president transcend the — this ideological machine?

Between — you know, during the campaign, there was almost nothing between McCain and Obama in foreign policy. Indeed, Obama went further. I mean, he even declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel. He threatened Latin America. He, at times, seemed to be going further than Bush. And, of course, people, realists, the so-called realists, would shake their heads and say, “Well, yes, he has to do that.”

Look, in answer to your question, I think he has to — in order to show that he is in any way different, he has to start dismantling this machine, for example, going against his promise to continue the embargo on Cuba, to drop that; to reach out to the governments of Venezuela and Bolivia and Ecuador, each of which is under attack, subversive attack by the United States; to face the reality that Afghanistan is a colonial war; and to not let the so-called withdrawal from Iraq be a sham, that it leaves these so-called enduring bases. That, any one of those, any change in one of those, would indicate that Obama is truly different.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to John Pilger. His latest book, Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire; his latest film, The War on Democracy. When we come back, we’ll continue on our journey around the world, getting reaction to the new president of the United States, the President-elect, Barack Obama. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: We are traveling the globe today, getting response to the election of Barack Obama. His father from Kenya, his mother from Kansas, he was born in Hawaii, grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii.

We’re turning now to Mahmood Mamdani, professor of government and anthropology at Columbia University. His most recent book, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror. The latest piece in The Nation, “The New Humanitarian Order.” Your response to the election of Barack Obama?

MAHMOOD MAMDANI: Well, I think John Pilger has given a good account of the limits within which Obama will operate. And perhaps I should talk about the possibilities within those limits.

When the Cold War ended, the losing power in the Cold War, the Soviet Union, began a process of reform. The US never did begin a process of reform. Instead, it embarked on a war on terror after 9/11, in order to build on the military machine inherited from the Cold War. And the war on terror, we know, has been mainly an advertising campaign, a lethal advertising campaign. So I agree with Pilger that Obama’s first task is going to be to cut through this ideological sham and to bring the American people to face realities.

The most that Obama can contribute, within the context of being the president of an imperial power, is to recognize the changing world situation, to recognize that this is the end of the era of a single superpower, that the US will operate amongst several powers, that the US has to learn to live in the world rather than simply to occupy it.

And I think there are several indications from the campaign — I mean, the campaign was full of extreme and contradictory promises and provocations. But if you look on the side of the promises, there are indications that this is within the realm of the possible. There is the discussion of the need to speak to the president of Iran without any preconditions. There is that remarkable primary debate with Hillary and Edwards, where a reporter asked the three of them who would Martin Luther King support on this day, and Hillary and Edwards responded by convincing the audience why King would have supported them. And Obama responded by saying King would not have supported anybody, that King would have organized his movement to push the winning candidate to pursue the objectives. Well, that’s the real question now in the US today.

There was a movement, a youth movement, to elect Obama. Will that movement dissolve itself? Will that movement build itself now around the objectives for which it organized? Will America recognize, as I believe South Africa has after the election of Mandela, that the election of Mandela was not change, but an opportunity to change? And whether that opportunity is realized and transformed into a program of social justice within the country and peace abroad will depend on the movement that pushes Obama and gives him the opportunity to respond to it.

JUAN GONZALEZ: One of the big changes that surprised many people when Bush came into office was that he had opposed this whole idea of the United States getting involved in interventions for nation-building, and then he actually became a prime component — proponent of regime change around the world, basically following a lot of what the Clinton administration had tried to do, this humanitarian intervention, spreading democracy. Do you fear that there might be some directions of Obama in this direction? You’ve written about Darfur, this whole pressure for, quote, “humanitarian” intervention that actually becomes a new form of imperialism.

MAHMOOD MAMDANI: Well, look, the lesson of Bush is that when a candidate steps from the arena of electoral politics to the presidency of the US, the kinds of interests and pressures that now come to bear on the candidate are different, larger. And the context within which the president now operates is different. There are anxieties about the particular kinds of people who gathered around Obama, especially as regards foreign policy and particularly as regards Africa. Some of the liberal humanitarian interventionists, the most vocal of them, what I call Democratic neocons, like Pendergast, for example, are huge Obama fans and are there around him.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me play for you a quote of the person closest to him, and that’s Joe Biden, right, his vice president. Last month, in the presidential debate, Gwen Ifill asked Joe Biden about his reputation as an interventionist and his support for sending US troops to Darfur.

    SEN. JOE BIDEN: I don’t have a stomach for genocide when it comes to Darfur. We can now impose a no-fly zone; it’s within our capacity. We can lead NATO if we’re willing to take a hard stand. We can. I’ve been in those camps in Chad. I’ve seen the suffering. Thousands and tens of thousands of people have died and are dying. We should rally the world to act, and we should demonstrate it by our own movement to provide the helicopters to get those 21,000 forces of the African Union in there now to stop this genocide.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the Vice President-elect Joe Biden. Professor Mahmood Mamdani?

MAHMOOD MAMDANI: Well, I read the verbatim account of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on which Joe Biden sits, grilling Andrew Natsios, Bush’s representative to Sudan. And Andrew Natsios was basically saying there is no genocide in Darfur. And they forced him, literally, compelled him, to simply use that word, “genocide.”

I think you’re right that this particular vice president is enamored with wanting to show US power in a humanitarian way. And what’s worrying about it is, of course, that we know — we know that mortalities in Darfur declined dramatically from early 2005. We know that the Save Darfur campaign and its figures on mortality — 400,000 — are simply not true; they do not reflect the reality at all. We know that the US, when it promised in 2006 to give $50 million for the African Union troops, did not give a single dollar. We know that there is a huge gulf between war talk and actual practice on the ground. I think this is one of the things Obama will have to confront, and one hopes that Biden, like other vice presidents, will simply be one small voice in the administration that’s coming.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk also about the first position that has been named, Rahm Emanuel. I want to also go to Ali Abunimah. He is joining us by video stream from Chicago, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ali Abunimah.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Thank you. Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to that first news out of the new Obama administration. By the way, President-elect Obama, Joe Biden are getting their first intelligence — top-secret intelligence briefing today by the Director of National Intelligence. But what about yesterday’s announcement that Rahm Israel Emanuel, the Chicago Congress member, very close to Barack Obama, has been offered the Chief of Staff position? You, too, are in Chicago.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Well, I thought it was quite ironic, since a lot of racists have tried to make an issue out of Barack Obama’s middle name, Hussein, that the same kind of people might be happy with Rahm Israel Emanuel’s middle name. And indeed, Emanuel is one of the most hard-line supporters of Israel in the Congress and has been for many years. He’s the son of Benjamin Emanuel, who actually was a gun runner for the Irgun, the Zionist, pre-Israel Zionist, militia that carried out numerous terrorist attacks on Palestinian civilians, including the bombing of the King David Hotel. Of course, Rahm Emanuel himself is not responsible for any of that, but his record is sometimes far to the right of President Bush when it comes to supporting Israel.

But I think the important thing here is not just the appointment of Emanuel, but the greater context here, which is that from the days we knew Barack Obama as a small-time politician in Illinois, I won’t tell you, and I’ve never said that he was incredibly progressive on Israel-Palestine, but he was certainly more open-minded than he is now. And what he’s done systematically throughout the campaign is to distance himself or to throw under the bus, as the term goes, any adviser or friend who was suspected of having pro-Palestinian sympathies. In other words, he has succumbed to the McCarthyite and racist campaigns that says if you associate with even very moderate Columbia University professors, for example, or take their advice, that that’s the biggest crime.

So the signal he’s sending here is that that is not going to change, that people who could give him more balanced, more objective, more realistic advice that could change the course from the disastrous Palestine-Israel policies of the Bush and Clinton administrations, that that’s not going to happen. And that should be very, very worrying, because a lot of progressive people, a lot of people in the Middle East, a lot of leaders, have pinned hopes on Obama being quite different on this issue, and I just don’t see any evidence so far that that’s going to be the case. And it worries me that people will stay silent, rather than putting on the table now and loudly the demands for a more balanced, more objective, more fair policy that could bring peace for Palestinians and Israelis.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And you mentioned a Columbia University professor, obviously referring to Rashid Khalidi. The reaction of the Obama campaign to the attempts by some supporters of John McCain to link him to Khalidi, how Obama responded to that?

ALI ABUNIMAH: I think that I am going to be very frank. I know that — I agree with the other speakers that the euphoria and joy felt at Obama’s victory is sincere and justified, in terms of people’s hopes and desire for something different, but I think Obama’s reaction all along to the claims that he’s a secret Muslim or that he supports Palestinian rights has really been disgraceful. Rather than saying, you know, “So what if I had been a Muslim?” or “So what if I listen to different advice? Our policies have been unbalanced, and we want to take a wide range of advice” — instead of saying that, he’s really played into the McCarthyism by saying, “No, you know, I didn’t know Rashid Khalidi.” Well, the fact is, he was very happy to associate with Rashid Khalidi and with the broader Palestinian American community for many years.

What does it say that the sort of things he was prepared to do just a few years ago he is no longer prepared to do, that he didn’t visit a single Muslim community center or mosque or associate publicly with Arab Americans during the campaign? And it’s not as if, the day after the campaign, he started to send more conciliatory signals. On the contrary, there could not be a more provocative appointment than Rahm Emanuel, if he wanted to send a signal that he is going to stick by a quite hard-line pro-Israel policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Last June, on his first day as the Democrats’ presumptive nominee, Senator Barack Obama addressed AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

    SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Let me be clear. Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable. The Palestinians need a state — the Palestinians need a state that is contiguous and cohesive and that allows them to prosper, but any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized, defensible borders. And Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Barack Obama last June. Ali Abunimah, you write a moving piece about watching Barack Obama over the years, from when you first met him as a state senator and what he meant to you then, when you heard him speak at the University of Chicago.

ALI ABUNIMAH: —official, acted as Israel’s lawyers, people like Dennis Ross, people like Martin Indyk. These have been Israel’s lawyers, rather than US officials being honest brokers, and they are now being brought back in.

AMY GOODMAN: Ali Abunimah, Ali, Ali, I just want to say we were playing the sot of Barack Obama — I don’t know if you heard it — speaking before AIPAC, the clip of him. We might not have heard what you said, if you were speaking through that clip. But if you could talk about knowing Barack Obama for the last decade and then continue with what you were saying now.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Yes, I’m sorry. I didn’t know that the clip was playing. So, well, basically, the point I want to make is that Barack Obama has painted himself into a corner by appealing to the most hard-line pro-Israel elements in this country, by distancing himself from all advisers, even very mainstream establishment figures like Zbigniew Brzezinski, Robert Malley, who was one of Clinton’s officials who is considered by the pro-Israel lobby to be too pro-Palestinian.

And what he’s done is he’s publicly embraced people like Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk, two of the most pro-Israel officials from the Clinton era, who are totally distrusted by Palestinians and others across the Middle East, because they’re seen as lifelong advocates for Israeli positions.

And so, he’s made it impossible or extremely difficult for himself to say, “Look, now we’re going to talk to a wider range of views. We’re going to talk to those excluded voices that could give us advice that could actually get us out of this mess in Israel-Palestine.” And that’s very worrying.

And I think that progressive people across this country, you know, instead of basking in the euphoria, need to pick themselves up today and start demanding that the Obama administration immediately end the siege of Gaza. It’s totally indefensible. It is a crime unprecedented in modern history that 1.5 million people are confined to a ghetto, starved, cut off from the world, threatened. This is indefensible, and there’s no excuse for it to continue even for a single day under a new administration. And we should be setting the standard very high, not accepting slight hints that in a few years’ time an Obama administration might accept a Palestinian state or might talk about one. The days for that are over. The situation is urgent, and we really need to see radical change. It’s not going to come from Rahm Emanuel and Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk; it’s only going to come from a groundswell demanding that the promises of change be kept.

AMY GOODMAN: Ali Abunimah is co-founder of the Electronic Intifada and author of the book One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israel-Palestine Impasse. We are continuing in our journey around the world in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: We are traveling the world right now. We’re going to go to Mexico City to Laura Carlsen. Laura Carlsen is the director of the Mexico City-based Americas Policy Program at the Center for International Policy. Can you talk about the response in Mexico and talk about the significance of Barack Obama for Latin America, Laura Carlsen? At the top of the show, we played a response by President Chavez of Venezuela, who was congratulating Barack Obama.

LAURA CARLSEN: Good morning, Amy. Yes, I’ve heard many US pundits say that the election of Barack Obama doesn’t change the US image in the world overnight, but actually, and certainly in the case of Latin America, it has. The first and most obvious reason is that much is being made of the fact that the nation was able to break through enormous racial barriers to elect an African American president. And that’s major in countries that are also struggling with diversity and discrimination. Of course, many are still skeptical about how much change there will actually be under Barack Obama, but the fact that the US political system showed this kind of capacity for change and this level of citizen participation, that was really not thought possible after the two Bush elections, has made a big impression on people.

One of the most important things that they see coming out of this is that Barack Obama is not George Bush or his ilk. George Bush, of course, had one of the lowest approval ratings in Latin America in history. And there’s a lot of hope, despite many of the caveats that we’ve heard from the other speakers, that there will be a change of policies from the George Bush policy of unilateralism and US hegemony in the region. These policies, if they haven’t been exactly interventionist in the Latin America region, have consisted of bullying to accept Washington’s positions, particularly on economic models and on US foreign policy, and also methods of economic and diplomatic isolation for any country that didn’t comply with Washington’s conservative social policies or its orthodox neoliberal economic policies. There’s been a tremendous inflexibility and unwillingness to enter into real dialogue with nations in Latin America, and that’s caused a lot of resentment. Now, with Obama’s statements that he will enter into dialogue with Venezuela and Cuba, some indication that there will be a modification of free trade policies, there is a lot of hope that a new era can begin in US-Latin American relationships.

JUAN GONZALEZ: What about the situation with the expanding drug war in Mexico and what you would expect from an Obama presidency?

LAURA CARLSEN: This is the point of most concern: militarization, and particularly within the hemisphere. And here is where Obama’s policies have shown little change from the Bush administration, that launched the drug war here in — or supported it, because it was actually launched by President Calderon in Mexico, and has supported it also in Plan Colombia. Those policies in the Latin America platform plan an expansion of that.

And here in Mexico, the violence that has resulted from this model of enforcement and interdiction under Plan Mexico is appalling, and it’s growing on a daily basis, now hitting high members of government, as well as many citizens caught in the crossfire between this war model of the state versus the drug cartels. So, one of the things that people will be looking very closely at here in Mexico is if there is any change in this. We know that this is a model that doesn’t work. There’s a lot of evidence of that. And so, hopefully with — the hope is that with people in the United States pushing toward some modifications in that and a less militarized package of aid to Mexico, there could be some change there, because this is a very, very grave situation.

AMY GOODMAN: Laura Carlsen, the latest news of the number two man for Calderon dying in the plane crash on US Election Day on Tuesday, killing Mexico’s interior minister, Juan Camilo Mourino.

LAURA CARLSEN: Yes. This, of course, is one of the most shocking pieces of news to come out in recent days. The government is calling it an accident, but as more and more investigation comes out, there were no emergency reports from his plane before it went down, apparently, according to the press. And so, of course, there’s an investigation being made, and there’s a lot of rumors going around and a lot of confusion and suspicions within the populace that this was in fact not an accident. And that would mean that the ante’s been up to an enormous level in this war between the drug cartels, if it should result that they’re involved in this, and the government, and that a complete rethinking has to be made before the country disintegrates into a level of violence that it hasn’t known since war.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I’d like to turn back to London to Tariq Ali, who is there, veteran journalist, commentator and activist. He was born in Pakistan and lives in London. Tariq, your reaction to the election of Barack Obama and to what it might mean for your native land, Pakistan?

TARIQ ALI: Well, I mean, my reaction was not so different to that of other people you’ve already interviewed. I mean, historically, the fact that there’s going to be a black family in the White House can’t be underestimated in terms of the impact that will have on black consciousness in the United States. I think it’s important in its own right for that reason.

As for what the policies are going to be, the situation is pretty depressing. I mean, Obama, during his campaign, didn’t promise very much, basically talked in cliches and synthetic slogans like “change we can believe in.” No one knows what that change is. In foreign policy terms, during the debates, his — what he said was basically a continuation of the Bush-Cheney policies. And in relation to Afghanistan, what he said was worse than McCain, that we will actually — we should take troops out of Iraq, send them into Afghanistan and, if necessary, go in and take out people inside Pakistan without informing that government.

Now, I think once he is in power and sees the intelligence reports coming in from Afghanistan, he will realize that that’s not a serious option. I mean, the British are already saying that sending in more troops isn’t going to help, because the war is lost. The United States intelligence agencies are already involved in panic discussions with the people they are fighting, the neo-Taliban, to try and persuade them to join the coalition, which they’re refusing to do as long as there are foreign troops there. So, escalating the war I don’t think is a serious option. And if he does it, it will be a very, very serious mistake, on the same level in scale as invading Iraq. So, he would be very ill-advised to do it. And I think some of the people around him will probably tell him that that was a foolish and intemperate remark in the heat of an election battle, so not to seem too wimpish, since he was already supposedly opposed to the war on Iraq, and that he will pull back from that.

I think the key is what he’s going to do in Iraq. Is Iraq, as Joe Biden wants, going to be balkanized, with permanent US bases in northern Iraq and a Kurdish area, more or less, kept going as a US Israel protectorate? Or, are they going to do what the US traditionally does, long before the war on terror, which is find local relays? And in that case, I think they’ll have to do a deal with Iran. And I think the most critical interview with Ahmadinejad on his last visit to New York was Amy questioning him about his position on the Iraq war, etc. He got a very easy ride on CNN and other shows, which indicates that they will be asking Iran to play a role in stabilizing Iraq, and they will be asking Pakistan to do the same in Afghanistan. That is more traditional US policy. And if Obama moves in that direction, it will mean withdrawing troops and having an exit strategy in Afghanistan.

AMY GOODMAN: Tariq Ali, we’re also joined in Washington, D.C. by the Iraqi blogger and political analyst Raed Jarrar, Iraqi consultant for American Friends Service Committee. Raed, the latest news today, at least six people have been killed, more than twenty wounded, in several bombings around Baghdad. At least thirty Iraqis have died, eighty wounded, since Monday. And you might say that Barack Obama is president today, because in 2002 he made that speech against the war in Iraq. That, I think, won him the Democratic nomination against Hillary Clinton. I don’t think the Democratic Party emphasizes this now, but that was the main difference, as she and the other leading opponents of Barack Obama in the presidential campaign voted for the invasion, and he spoke against it. What are your hopes, Raed?

RAED JARRAR: Well, I think the Obama campaign did deliver a message to the public in the US that he will be the one to end the occupation. And wherever I travel around the US, people do have the impression that Obama will be the president who will withdraw the troops. The campaign was very vague about describing troops’ withdrawal, all the troops, within sixteen months.

Now, the fine print of the campaign suggests the opposite, actually. The fine print suggests that Obama will continue the same policy through leaving what he calls “residual force,” the thing that both Bush and McCain wanted to leave indefinitely. So I don’t have a lot of hope, based on the statements. Now, no one knows what will happen in the next few months, whether Obama will, you know, unveil this progressive face that everyone is waiting to see, or whether he will continue the same policy.

Now, on the shorter term, I think there is a major difference, that I’m happy that the Obama-Biden campaign have came out to criticize the long-term agreement. On their website, there is a very strong statement asking the Bush administration to either submit any agreement with Iraq to the Congress or postpone it until the next administration and Congress. I think this is a very important step on the short term, but I don’t have a lot of hope regarding the statements on the long term. I hope that there will be a modification of that policy to a new policy that is based on a complete withdrawal, that leaves no permanent bases, no mercenaries in Iraq, because without that policy, I think the situation in Iraq will continue to deteriorate.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And I’d like to come back to Mahmood Mamdani here with us in the studio. You’ve heard now quite a bit of skepticism about the potential in the new Obama presidency. Your thoughts? I think you’re sensing a little bit more optimism?

MAHMOOD MAMDANI: Well, I mean, my sensing is that we have to place the man within the context. I am equally skeptical of those who believe Obama is capable of everything as I am of those who believe he is incapable of anything. He’ll simply be muzzled by context.

I think that, you know, this campaign began as a campaign on the question of peace. He began as a peace candidate and ended up as a redistribution candidate. Foreign policy had the front seat at the beginning and had the back seat towards the end of the campaign. So we don’t really know much.

What we do know is that any president who wants to make an impact on history can only do so at a moment of crisis. And this is a moment of profound crisis, domestically and internationally. Obama’s campaign announcements, I believe, give us very little clue as to what he is going to do. His appointments, I agree, give us some clue, and there is reason for concern. But at the same time, there will be returns coming in if the appointments lead to the policies that we fear they may lead to. It’s a time of possibilities, and it’s a time to organize and put the pressure.

AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there. I want to thank you very much for being with us. Last question, though: do you think the movements that elected Obama can, without the Obama machine, remarkable online and on-the-ground organizing, what, ten million email list — we were getting texts and emails every couple of hours — can reconstitute itself without that? Because now that will be the state. How do people show their — express their positions if they differ from the state?

MAHMOOD MAMDANI: Has the movement been absorbed into the state? Look, there’s a remarkable difference between the youth movement of the ’60s, which mainly organized outside the system, and the youth movement which has brought Obama to power, because this movement has organized within the system to reform the system. Obama keeps on saying that this movement must not go away, that change hasn’t come, that this is the beginning of change. Now, will the candidate be able to tame the movement, or will the movement be able to stamp itself to some extent in the coming days?

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll leave that question there. Mahmood Mamdani and all of our roundtable, thanks so much for joining us.

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