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Glenn Greenwald on Iraq: Is U.S. “Humanitarianism” Only Summoned to Control Oil-Rich Areas?

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We discuss the situation in Iraq with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald. In a recent article for The Intercept, “U.S. 'Humanitarian' Bombing of Iraq: A Redundant Presidential Ritual,” Greenwald reviews news headlines related to U.S. military action in Iraq over the past two decades. He cites a 1991 New York Times headline, “U.S. and Allies Open Air War on Iraq; Bomb Baghdad and Kuwaiti Targets; 'No Choice' But Force, Bush Declares,” and a CNN headline from 2003 titled “Blair Likens Saddam to Hitler.” Then, closer to the present, he cites a Daily Beast story titled ”ISIS 'Worse Than Al Qaeda,' Says Top State Department Official.”

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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We continue to look at Iraq now as we turn to our next guest, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald. One of his recent pieces for The Intercept at First Look Media is titled “U.S. 'Humanitarian' Bombing of Iraq: A Redundant Presidential Ritual.” In it, he runs through headlines from media coverage of Iraq starting in 1990. He cites a 1991 New York Times headline, “U.S. and Allies Open Air War on Iraq; Bomb Baghdad and Kuwaiti Targets; 'No Choice' But Force, Bush Declares,” and a CNN headline from 2003 titled “Blair likens Saddam to Hitler.” Then, closer to the present, he cites a Daily Beast story titled ”ISIS 'Worse Than Al Qaeda,' Says Top State Department Official.”

AMY GOODMAN: Well, to talk more about this “redundant ritual,” Glenn Greenwald is joining us via Democracy Now! video stream from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Glenn, welcome back to Democracy Now! Talk about the U.S. coverage and the—what you feel is the response to President Obama announcing more strikes in Iraq.

GLENN GREENWALD: There’s so much propaganda that constantly inundates U.S. media coverage of our political leaders. That’s not a secret. But I think, of all that propaganda, the one that always shocks me the most is the idea that U.S. military force is going to be deployed for humanitarianism and humanitarian goals. And that’s true for two reasons. One is that every single war, literally, throughout history, just about, is justified on the pretense of humanitarianism. I mean, Hitler, when he invaded Czechoslovakia and other neighboring countries, said he was doing so to protect the human rights of German minorities. Al-Qaeda says that they bomb the U.S. to protect the rights of Muslims around the world. Over and over, this is the justification of aggression and brutality and violence, that, oh, it’s being done for humanitarian ends.

And that’s so much true that in 2004 Noam Chomsky wrote an article essentially making that point, and in response, Samantha Power, who’s now the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and an advocate of all sorts of interventions, she conceded the point. She said much blood was shed in the last century by United States forces or proxies in the name of righteous ends, because every state justifies its wars on the grounds of self-defense or altruism; Chomsky is correct that any, quote, “profession of noble intent” is predictable and therefore carries no information.

And the second point is that all you have to do is look at the things that the United States does in that region, as Patrick Cockburn was just saying. I mean, the U.S. just got done feeding arms and munitions to the Israelis to kill 2,000 civilians in Gaza. Hillary Clinton, in 2009, said, “President and Mrs. Mubarak are close personal friends of my family.” And, of course, the explicit policy of the United States for the most repressive regime in that region, Saudi Arabia, is, quote, “regime continuity.” So how anybody can believe that that same—

AMY GOODMAN: We’re speaking to Glenn Greenwald. We seem to have just a little hiccup in the video stream. Glenn, are you back with us?

GLENN GREENWALD: Yes, I think I am.

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, go ahead.

GLENN GREENWALD: Yes, you know, I was just saying, in light of all of that conduct of the U.S. supporting the most brutal, repressive dictators in that region, feeding arms to the Israelis to kill civilians, how anybody could then simultaneously believe that that same government that does those things is motivated by humanitarianism or democracy or freedom for people in that region is really mystifying.

AMY GOODMAN: Last Thursday, President Obama said the U.S. has an obligation to act when thousands of civilians are at risk. As he authorized airstrikes in Iraq, this is what he said.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And when many thousands of innocent civilians are faced with the danger of being wiped out and we have the capacity to do something about it, we will take action. That is our responsibility as Americans. That’s a hallmark of American leadership. That’s who we are.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn, are the Yazidis facing a massacre? And does that sentence that President Obama just uttered resonate with other situations? Glenn, we’re—somehow you’re frozen again.

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, I can—yeah—

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead.

GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, I think, clearly, you know, that ISIS is a group that is brutal and awful and extremist and dangerous. Nobody likes ISIS. But the U.S. stands by constantly while thousands or more people are put at risk or are even killed. And not only does the United States stand by while that happens, but the United States government is an active participant in the killing of thousands of civilians all the time. As I said, the Israelis just killed hundreds and close to 2,000 people in Gaza, including women, men and children, and not only did the United States stand by, we fed them the arms and protected them at the U.N. It seems like our humanitarianism is triggered only when it comes time to assert control over oil-rich areas. And I don’t think it’s any secret to anybody who has studied the region, including the important oil locations in Kurdistan, as Patrick Cockburn was just saying, that this became an issue for the U.S. government not when certain minorities became put in jeopardy of their lives, but when the flow of oil in that area became jeopardized. And, you know, it’s fine if you want to argue that oil is an important resource and the U.S. government should use military force in order to defend it, but we should at least have that honest debate and not allow political leaders to stand up and deceive us—in this really pleasing, though misleading, way—that we’re really dropping bombs out of humanitarianism.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Glenn Greenwald, what do you think accounts for the fact that the U.S. media, in general, doesn’t question the self-professed motives, humanitarian motives, of the Obama administration, or indeed the many administrations that preceded it who used very similar justifications?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, like I said, I mean, this trick, this tactic of pretending that aggression and violence and a war are really being done for humanitarian reasons, is not unique to the United States. I mean, you can look at Napoleon and the invaders of the early 20th century and, as I said, al-Qaeda and Gaddafi and a whole range of people. The writer Jonathan Schwarz has compiled a really long list of some of the worst warmongers in history, who have used identical humanitarian explanations as the one the U.S. government gives. And I think one big reason is that because no population, no country, likes to think of itself as an aggressor, as an empire, as warmongers. We all like to think that we’re good people. And so, one of the ways that you get a population to acquiesce to a permanent state of warfare, which is obviously what the United States government is in, and has been in for decades—how do you convince the population to continue to acquiesce to the continuous slaughter of people around the world, to the bombing of multiple countries, in a way that no other country would contemplate? Really, the only way that you can do that is by continuously telling them that it’s being done because you’re benevolent, because we just love humanity and love freedom and love democracy so much that we constantly bomb people in pursuit of those goals. And I think the combination of how adept this propaganda is, when it’s done by the U.S. government and U.S. media jointly, combined with the desire that we all as human beings have to think good things about ourselves, makes it so that, even contrary to all evidence as it is—

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn, we’re—another little hiccup there. “Even contrary to evidence,” go ahead.

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