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Trump Lashes Out at Iran, China & Venezuela in Nationalist Address to U.N. General Assembly

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On Tuesday, President Trump made his third address to the United Nations General Assembly amid simmering tensions in the Middle East over recent attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities, which the United States blames on Iran. Tehran denies the allegations. Trump also lashed out at China and Venezuela. We speak with Vijay Prashad, director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and chief editor of LeftWord Books. His latest article for Salon is headlined “World leaders gather at the UN in the face of war, climate catastrophe & global worker exploitation.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, on Tuesday, President Trump made his third address to the United Nations General Assembly amid simmering tensions in the Middle East over recent attacks on Saudi Arabian oil facilities, which the United States blames on Iran. Tehran denies the allegations. This is Trump addressing the General Assembly.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: All nations have a duty to act. No responsible government should subsidize Iran’s bloodlust. As long as Iran’s menacing behavior continues, sanctions will not be lifted; they will be tightened.

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump also lashed out at China and Venezuela.

For more, we go to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where we’re joined by Vijay Prashad, whose article on Salon is headlined “World leaders gather at the UN in the face of war, climate catastrophe & global worker exploitation.” Vijay Prashad is the director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research and chief editor of LeftWord Books, also chief correspondent of Globetrotter and author of The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South.

We thank you so much for being with us, Vijay. Can you respond to what now seems like ancient history, which was actually just yesterday morning, President Trump addressing the U.N. General Assembly, right before, a few hours before, it was announced that the House would begin formal impeachment proceedings against him? But talk about his message.

VIJAY PRASHAD: You’re quite right, Amy. It does appear like ancient history. But it’s a very — you know, it was a very chilling speech. Trump attempted to suggest that he was a nationalist, you know, pushing the agenda of so-called patriotism against globalism. That’s how Trump tried to define his own politics.

Of course, this is quite incoherent. On the one side, Mr. Trump and people like him use the term “patriotism” or “sovereignty” to defend their right not to participate in international treaties, such as treaties about climate change, about refugees, you know, and about the Iran nuclear deal. You had Bolsonaro give a very spirited defense of so-called Brazilian sovereignty to allow the Amazon to be exploited. So, you had Mr. Trump, for instance, here use this language of sovereignty to remove the United States from its international obligations. On the other side, quite in contradistinction to this, Mr. Trump put forward what can only be described as an imperialist agenda. In other words, there was no consideration for the sovereignty of Iran or Venezuela. In fact, he used language which I was quite shocked by — the term “bloodlust,” for instance, to describe Iranian foreign policy.

So, you know, it wasn’t quite patriotism on one side, or sovereignty on one side, and globalism. It wasn’t a principle distinction. In fact, behind the cover of sovereignty, Mr. Trump was saying countries like the United States and Brazil don’t have to conform to the climate treaties that have been agreed upon on the international stage. You know, we just had this very powerful climate strike initiated by Greta Thunberg. I think this kind of thing, this kind of attitude about sovereignty, was a way of setting that aside. But on the other hand, as I said, incoherently, he lashed out at Iran.

And, you know, you’ve got to understand that the countries of the world are not interested in a war against Iran. And the same day, Mr. Macron, the president of France, met with Iran’s President Rouhani, and they talked about revisiting the diplomatic table, coming back and opening a discussion about diplomacy. This is something the United States completely abhors — doesn’t want diplomacy with Iran, doesn’t want diplomacy with Venezuela. I thought it was a very dangerous speech. And you’re quite correct: It has been, in a sense, overwhelmed by this discussion about impeachment.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Vijay Prashad, he also, as you mentioned, talked about Venezuela, blasting the Venezuelan leadership, President Maduro, and at one point saying that socialism, as he said, not capitalism, only benefits the ruling class. Could you talk about his continued fixation on Venezuela?

VIJAY PRASHAD: Yeah, this is very interesting, and it also has something to do with the American domestic political landscape, because Mr. Trump, you know, had pushed his economic advisers to release earlier this year a document attacking socialism. One hasn’t seen this from an American president in a very long time. It’s part of his election strategy to portray the Democratic Party as a party of socialists, you know, and being, therefore, out of touch with what he considers to be reality. And I think he’s trying very much to utilize the Venezuela crisis to link it to people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and perhaps even Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

This fixation with Venezuela is very interesting. You know, the attempt to overthrow the government in Venezuela has failed. That, I think, has to be said quite clearly. But Mr. Trump continues to push against Venezuela. He’s a little bit like the crown prince of Saudi Arabia on Yemen, you know, unable to understand that their policy has failed, it’s increasing suffering both in countries like Yemen and in Venezuela, unable to understand that the policy has failed and they need to pivot outwards, and not doing that. And I think that this is something that the American people need to really consider.

You know, there is a hallucination in the Trump administration regarding the fight against Venezuela and Iran. If the United States moves to a much more aggressive kind of sanctions regime, moves even to aerial bombardment, you know, I’m afraid, at a time when we need to have more international conversations, more diplomacy, more discussions about things like the climate strike, about things like the refugee crisis, about things like the hunger epidemic — when this should be at the table, the United States instead is pushing what I think are very divisive and dangerous policies with Iran and Venezuela at the center. There is no defense of sovereignty or nationalism when it comes to these countries. Here, in a sense, the United States has withdrawn Iranian and Venezuelan sovereignty and basically is now sort of going to the world’s countries, who are not interested in war, and saying, “Please join us.” It shows, in a sense, the isolation of the U.S. policy on both Iran and Venezuela.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to play the Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir blaming Iran for the attacks on oil refineries in Saudi Arabia earlier this month.

ADEL AL-JUBEIR: We believe that Iran is responsible for the attack, because the equipment is Iranian equipment. We know that it didn’t come from the south. We know it because of the range of the equipment. We believe it came from the north. We are certain it came from the north. And what we’re doing now is investigating to locate the actual launch site. … We will await the results of the investigation, which I expect to be fairly soon. And then we will decide on what steps to take in dealing with Iran. Iran — it has to be made clear to Iran that such behavior is not acceptable and that there will be consequences for such behavior.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s the Saudi foreign minister. Vijay Prashad, at the beginning of this, I said, you know, yesterday’s speech by President Trump was ancient history, and then they had the announcement of the impeachment proceedings by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But, in fact, could this push for impeachment actually accelerate some kind of attack in the Middle East that the U.S. could be involved with? How often war is used as a kind of distraction from a terrible problem at home. And how you think that could be avoided? Do you think that’s possible? And President Trump saying that they are waiting for direction from Saudi Arabia deciding what to do, and then announcing the U.S. is sending troops to Saudi Arabia to protect their oil fields?

VIJAY PRASHAD: You know, Amy, I’m very glad you raise this issue. You may remember, when there was talk of impeachment of Bill Clinton, there was a sudden airstrike, a missile strike, against a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. There was also a strike in Afghanistan at that time. You know, it was when the film Wag the Dog came out, a suggestion that war is used to distract from these kind of domestic political entanglements. I think I’m — I’m very worried about this. I think it’s a very plausible thing.

It’s quite disgraceful that the United States government has said that they want to take the lead from Saudi Arabia. I’m glad the Saudi foreign minister has said that he’d like to wait for the results of the investigation, although I must say I’m not very confident that the Saudi investigation is going to be credible. You know, I think that there should be a call at the United Nations for an international investigation. We need to have, you know, credible people going there and looking at the debris, looking at the missiles and so on.

At this point, I think it’s important to mention that it’s not only Foreign Minister Javad Zarif of Iran who said that Iran didn’t do this strike, but the Iranian military has also said that they did not do this strike. And at the same time, the Yemeni Houthis said that they did do the strike. You know, sometimes one should listen to people and see what they’re saying.

But more than that, I think there should be a call for an international investigation of the debris. It should not be left to the Saudis. Their credibility is extraordinarily low. And if the Saudis, with a very incredulous investigation, say that Iran did this, if the United States government then takes that Saudi conclusion to go to war against Iran as a way to distract from the impeachment inquiry, I must say, this is a very dangerous moment for world history. And I very much hope people will call for an international investigation rather than allow the Saudis to be leading this.

AMY GOODMAN: Vijay Prashad, we want to thank you so much for being with us, director of Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research, chief editor at LeftWord Books, also the chief correspondent of Globetrotter. We’ll link to your recent article in Salon headlined “World leaders gather at the UN in the face of war, climate catastrophe & global worker exploitation.” Vijay Prashad will be speaking at the Lensic Performing Arts Center tonight in Santa Fe at 7:00.

When we come back, we speak with legendary British singer-songwriter and activist Billy Bragg about the British Supreme Court’s stunning ruling that Prime Minister Johnson had illegally suspended Parliament. What does this mean for Brexit? Stay with us.

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