Columbia University’s Rashid Khalidi speaks to Democracy Now! during our “Expanding the Debate” special after the second Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton debate. Khalidi discusses the war in Syria as well as why the candidates failed to address the Israel-Palestine conflict or the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. Yes, our special on “War, Peace and the Presidency.” This is our “Expanding the Debate” special. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: In a moment, we’ll be joined by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein for her response to the debate. But first we continue our roundtable discussion with Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said professor of Arab studies at Columbia University, author of several books. His most recent is titled Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.
So, Rashid Khalidi, your response to the debate, the comments that were made, in particular about Syria, Hillary Clinton saying that the U.S. should target Baghdadi as they did Osama bin Laden, the comments that Trump made about Syrian refugees coming into the U.S., claiming that hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees had come in, a number that was a gross exaggeration, and also the conspicuous absence of any mention of Afghanistan?
RASHID KHALIDI: Right.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: October 7th marks—
RASHID KHALIDI: Or Palestine.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Or Palestine, yeah, or Palestine. So, if you could—and just to say about Afghanistan, 15 years since the U.S. invasion, October 7th, two days ago.
RASHID KHALIDI: Afghanistan is our longest-running war, and neither of them saw fit to mention it. And the country’s in, probably, perhaps, a worse state than it was when the United States invaded back in 2001. No mention of that in the debate. What we had was a performance, something that had nothing to do with policy for most of its duration. It seemed like a playground mud fight for much of it. So a lot of things were just not talked about. And when they did talk about things, a serious fact checker would have had to be interrupting every—every seven seconds. The number of things that were said that are completely false are almost—it’s impossible to count them, particularly Trump, but also Secretary Clinton.
What they said about Syria specifically, starting with refugees—the United States is a party to this war, which has produced millions of refugees. And we’ve taken a few tens of thousands. Trump is using Syrian refugees as a flag to scare people into voting for him, the idea that terrorists are entering the country. More people are killed by falling out of bed than have been killed by jihadi terrorists. Yes. I have a little poster on my door. More people have been killed by toddlers with guns than jihadi terrorists in the United States annually. The actual death toll from terrorist incidents of any sort in the United States is a tiny fraction of the number of people who are accidentally killed by guns. So, he is using this as a—as a red flag to terrify certain voters. And it’s working. He has a hard base of support, people who have all kinds of motivations for feeling the way they do.
I think that the—I think that the whole issue of Syria is a scandal we have helped to contribute—we’ve contributed—the United States has contributed to creating this mess. And it’s an obligation of a lot of countries to do more than they’re doing, among them the United States. There are a million refugees in Lebanon. There are more than a million in Jordan. There are several million in Turkey. These are the countries that are bearing the brunt. And we’re talking about 5,000 or 6,000 or 10,000 refugees coming to this country. It’s actually quite disgraceful. A country of 300 million people can’t take 10,000 refugees, from a war that six of our clients and allies are deeply engaged in and have been for five years.
AMY GOODMAN: And then, also, the whole issue of the Muslim ban that was put to Donald Trump—
RASHID KHALIDI: Precisely.
AMY GOODMAN: —from the total Muslim ban to, as he put it, extreme vetting.
RASHID KHALIDI: I would love to see somebody talk about the Constitution every time he opens his mouth. I mean, again and again, he’s saying things that are a complete violation of constitutional principles. It’s not like they’re not violated all the time—in the inner city, vis-à-vis treaties with Native Americans. But this is the kind of thing where he should be clobbered over the head with it. It was—it was a very depressing evening in that regard.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what about when he was asked by the Muslim woman, who raised the question, saying that there are 3.3 million Muslims in the U.S.—
RASHID KHALIDI: Right.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: —and asking him about his Islamophobic stance on Muslims coming in? He said that Muslims ought to—like he kind of said, “Well, obviously, what else can we say? It’s true that there are Muslims here, and Muslims need to take on the responsibility of reporting suspicious activity.” And he cited the San Bernardino killing in—
RASHID KHALIDI: Right.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: —in December. So, your response to that, and the fact that it doesn’t seem to elicit that much condemnation—
RASHID KHALIDI: None whatever. In fact—
NERMEEN SHAIKH: —from the audience, yeah?
RASHID KHALIDI: In fact, Secretary Clinton then, more or less, said the same thing: Muslims should basically be the eyes and the ears of law enforcement in making sure these dangerous terrorists are hunted down. It was actually a despicable performance by both of them on this, on this count. I mean, somebody should be saying X number of thousands of Muslims have served in the armed forces, X number of thousands of Muslims have done all kinds of wonderful things in this country. This suspicion of all Muslims, which is being cultivated by an extreme right-wing, xenophobic, anti-Muslim lobby, is heinous and hateful. I mean, that’s what—that’s what should be said.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And The Washington Post, in fact, which was fact-checking as the debate was going on, they said, when Trump made that claim, that the FBI itself says that there have been reports that Muslims routinely report so-called suspicious activities within their communities.
RASHID KHALIDI: But, of course, how can people be expected to cooperate with law enforcement, when they see law enforcement spying on them, when they see law enforcement engaged in entrapment in their communities and when they see the kind of rhetoric from many politicians—not just Trump, dozens, scores, hundreds of politicians—which is hateful and anti-Muslim? I mean, how are—how are people to cooperate and be encouraged to do these things that they’re asking in those circumstances?
AMY GOODMAN: When Hillary Clinton made a list of people he has not apologized to, among them was Khizr Khan, who famously—
RASHID KHALIDI: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —held up the Constitution at the Democratic convention—
RASHID KHALIDI: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —standing next to his wife as they talked about their son, who was killed in Iraq. He didn’t mention Khizr Khan, but he said that Army Captain Humayun Khan, who died in Iraq—
RASHID KHALIDI: Their son.
AMY GOODMAN: Their son—was an American hero and wouldn’t be dead if he had been president, because he wouldn’t have sent him into Iraq.
RASHID KHALIDI: Trump supported the war. He lied on this, as he lied on several dozen other things. I was not able to fact-check everything. Almost everything he said, that I knew anything about, wasn’t true. And that’s one of the many things he said that wasn’t true. He was in favor of the war. He told Howard Stern, an obscene talk show host. I mean, why would we—why should we be talking about these things? He talked to another clown entertainer—
AMY GOODMAN: Well—
RASHID KHALIDI: —very openly about his support for the war.
AMY GOODMAN: Secretary Clinton, in saying what she thought should happen—arm the Kurds, go after Baghdadi—what were your thoughts?
RASHID KHALIDI: The United States has been arming the Kurds for a very, very long time. So, to say we should arm the Kurds is to basically insult the audience and say, “You are all morons. You don’t know, but this administration has been doing that for many, many years. Go after Baghdadi? They’re trying to kill Baghdadi. He’s not in Mosul, by the way. He’s probably in Syria.
AMY GOODMAN: And overall, what to do in Syria, what she said should be done?
RASHID KHALIDI: She had nothing to say about Syria, partly because of this Russia thing. She is caught between the two horns of our policy, one of which is confrontation with Russia and dragging the United States into a war, and one of which is to try and do a deal with the Russians. Ironically, on this issue, Trump actually makes more sense than she does.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: In what sense?
RASHID KHALIDI: Well, he says we have to do a deal with the Russians in Syria. He says the Russians are after ISIS. Actually, the Russians are not after ISIS. All the Russians care about is keeping that regime in place and keeping their position in Syria. But to say—to say we should do a deal with the Russians is, in fact, what the Obama administration was trying to do. Now, it didn’t work out. It might not work out. But the idea of confronting the Russians in Syria, probably not a good idea. And she—
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what about her—
RASHID KHALIDI: She, in fact, said that.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, she said that she wants to create—I don’t even—I mean, if this is possible, to create a no-fly zone and safe zones in Syria, but without sending in any U.S. troops.
RASHID KHALIDI: A no-fly zone means American planes going up against Russian planes, because the Russians are bombing right up—I mean, this is a tiny country. And the area between Aleppo, say, and the border is seven seconds, 10 seconds in the air. A no-fly zone in that border area means a confrontation with the Russian Air Force. Is that what she wants? Well, I think there are some people who do want that. I’m not sure that’s a very good idea.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you believe the U.S. should be dealing with Russia and dealing with Syria? Is that the answer, the route, the avenue to take?
RASHID KHALIDI: I think—I think we have to take two steps back and look at our whole relationship with Russia since the end of the Cold War. Why did we build NATO right up into their nostrils? Why was that necessary? Why was—after the fall of communism, after the end of this ideology that was a global ideology, after the collapse of Russia as a state for many, many years, was it absolutely necessary to build a military alliance system in a half-dozen countries, in violation of a pledge that the Russians understood President George H.W. Bush and Secretary Baker had made not to do that? That’s where you start turning the Russians suspicious, aggressive and dangerous.
I think you have to go back and rewind that whole tape and think about why is all of this necessary. There are clearly people who could not let go of the Cold War. There are clearly major corporations that really would be severely harmed if we weren’t spending the gazillions of dollars that we are on weaponry that we’ll never use. And I’m afraid that that’s where you have to start. And then you talk about the Ukraine, and then you talk about Syria. The details are important, but I think that larger framework has to be discussed. And nobody’s discussing it. I mean, that’s the kind of thing that somebody should have been talking about: What should be our relationship with Russia? In what ways could we deal with them and what ways can we not deal with them? Nobody’s talking about that kind of serious larger question.
AMY GOODMAN: So the moderators asked Donald Trump about his running mate, Mike Pence, declaring his support for immediately establishing a safe zone for civilians fleeing violence. This is one of the issues that The Intercept raised.
RASHID KHALIDI: And Pence also said, “And if we need to, we should go up against the Russian Air Force.” The moderator actually quoted Pence as saying that, in addition to what you just said.
AMY GOODMAN: And Donald Trump declared his opposition to such a move, saying that the focus should be on ISIS, not on Assad. When asked about the discrepancy by Raddatz, Trump simply replied, “He and I haven’t spoken. And I disagree.”
RASHID KHALIDI: I mean, twice a day, a stopped clock is right. On this, by chance, Trump was right, and Pence is wrong. I don’t think we want a war with Russia. Some people do. I don’t think we should want a war with Russia.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, do you think—you mentioned earlier, in addition to Afghanistan, let’s talk about what wasn’t. You know, what are the issues that the U.S. is confronting globally that were not raised in this debate. Afghanistan is one, and Israel-Palestine. Are there others? And what do you think? Why do you think Israel-Palestine was not mentioned in this debate?
RASHID KHALIDI: Let’s start with that. It wasn’t mentioned in this debate because I don’t think the two candidates differ that much. They’re both committed to absolute support for whatever Israeli governments want. We’ve just given this enormous new aid commitment over multiple years of $3.8 billion a year, jacking our—the numbers up from $3.1 billion by $700 million annually. And I think the two candidates are completely—are completely committed to essentially a Israel-first policy.
The interesting thing is that Secretary Clinton has a party in which the base is moving in a very different direction. The people who make up the base of the Democratic Party were much better represented on this issue, I think, by Bernie—Senator Sanders. The positions that Senator Sanders took on Palestine were remarkably refreshing and caused very little backlash. Why? Because the party base is—resonates with many of those ideas, many of those ideas you never hear in mainstream political discourse and you never hear in the mainstream media.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, Bernie Sanders is going around the country for Hillary Clinton, whether he agrees with her or not.
RASHID KHALIDI: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: Has he raised this issue, that you know of, so far?
RASHID KHALIDI: Not that I have heard. Not that I’ve heard, no.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: But why would the Democratic Party be resistant to altering its position on Israel if so many people are—
RASHID KHALIDI: Well, why should we be surprised that these politicians pay more attention to the people who fund the party than the people whom they fool every four years into voting for the party? I’m not surprised. I’m sure you’re not. We have people like Haim Saban making humongous donations to Hillary. We have other billionaires making humongous donations to Trump and to other Republican and Democratic politicians. The base of the Republican Party is very hard-right and very pro-Israel. So, there’s no difference between base and donors. In the Democratic case, it’s quite different. Younger people, younger people in the Jewish community and younger people in Latino and African-American and college communities, have very, very, very critical ideas about many issues on which there’s lockstep unanimity on Capitol Hill. And those are the people who are going to be the future of the Democratic Party. And Bernie Sanders, on that issue and on several others, actually represented them. And I don’t think Secretary Clinton does. Certainly, Donald Trump doesn’t.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And other issues that you think should have been raised?
RASHID KHALIDI: China. I mean, we had Secretary Clinton saying nasty things about China, and we had Donald Trump saying nasty things about China. I think more can be said about China than they’re dumping steel and they’re trying to shaft us economically. It’s an important and growing power. India. I mean, lots of important changes are taking place in the world, and it’s time for people to be saying something other than “I’m going to make America great” or “I’m going to do exactly what we’ve been doing for the last I don’t know how many years.” The United States has had all kinds of opportunities in the wake of the Cold War, and we’ve basically blown them. We have not created a world in which there’s less conflict. In fact, we’ve gone to war all over the Middle East since the end of the Cold War, starting in 1991, the year in which the Soviet Union disappeared. So, I think enormous opportunities were missed. And I think both of these candidates are going to miss opportunities, whichever one is elected, as far as all of these global issues are concerned.
AMY GOODMAN: But there may be a major difference between when President Obama was elected and if, for example, Hillary Clinton were elected. And that is, people backed off when President Obama was elected.
RASHID KHALIDI: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: All these movements coming together, he made many promises. And maybe they didn’t want to contribute to the right-wing backlash—
RASHID KHALIDI: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —racist backlash against him, like the birther movement—
RASHID KHALIDI: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —that Donald Trump led. But no one has any illusions about Hillary Clinton, and so people won’t back off, even if she were elected.
RASHID KHALIDI: Let’s see how willing people are to hold her feet to the fire if she’s elected. I mean, I think you put your finger on something that might be very important. A Democrat—especially if there’s a landslide. I mean, I actually think Trump made up the collapse that he was facing this past week by his performance in this debate. So we’ll see. It may not be a landslide. But assuming she wins, let’s see if people are willing to and able to hold her feet to the fire on some of these issues that she’s really no better than Trump on, or, in some cases, even worse.
AMY GOODMAN: Rashid Khalidi, thanks so much for being with us, Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia University, author of a number of books, his most recent, Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.