Skip to content

“Billionaires,War Mongers and Climate Change Deniers: Donald Trump’s Emerging Middle East Foreign Policy: Interview with Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince. KGNU Boulder. “Hemispheres – Middle East Dialogues” November 29, 2016. Part Two

January 8, 2017

republican-platformThe discussion begun in Part One continues.

Jim Nelson: With all that negativity, I do want to jump in here. She (Hillary Clinton) did win the popular vote, and did so by a lot.

Rob Prince: Yes, but it’s kind of a pyrrhic victory though isn’t it, given the way in which the electoral college is constituted. But in the end, more primary factors were at work: Despite his billionaire background, his crooked business dealings, his cynical bigoted comments against virtually everyone – be it women, physically handicapped, people of color, Muslims, immigrants – he won the electoral vote and thus the presidency. Few – if any – presidents-elect are less qualified for the job, with less foreign policy experience. Be that as it may…Donald Trump will be inaugurated as this country’s 45th president.

I want to emphasize something else, that has been downplayed, not talked about that much – and that is what was going on from the angle of political economy that contributed to Clinton’s loss and Trump’s victory. Not only in these past years, but over the past forty years a decline in the standard of living of the majority of the American people. What had developed out of that decline is a slow simmering unending political crisis – I see it going back well before Obama came to office in 2008 frankly.

Think about this: the same people in the Midwest who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 voted for Donald Trump in 2016. What was Obama’s message, his promise in 2008? Simple, in a word change! He told the American people to “Be the Change.” There was a movement here in Colorado called “Be The Change.” Having said that, we know that Obama did not deliver on that promise, or certainly he didn’t deliver in the manner in which he promised both on domestic and foreign policy.

Now what was Donald Trump’s message – beyond the xenophobic, racist rhetoric? It was Obama’s message of 2008! He, too promised change.

Jim Nelson: Exactly

Rob Prince: Donald Trump promised change too and people in the Midwest especially listened. Trump was able to mobilize the base of the Republican Party, itself having moved to the right over the past decades while Hillary Clinton did not do likewise for the Democrats. So here we have an element of the population that veering in 2008 to the left – it doesn’t care that Barack Obama is Black, on a personal level, certainly one of the most liberal presidential hopefuls ever. Midwesterners voted for him because he promised change! Eight years later, this same population veers rightward. Now they don’t care – I don’t even know how to begin to describe Trump – a billionaire, with a record of economic damage, personally obnoxious, racist, sexist and from all accounts ignorant of both domestic and foreign policy. But these Midwesterners don’t care about that either. Like Obama before him, Trump promised change. They figured that liberal Dems couldn’t deliver the change, maybe a conservative Republican billionaire whose father had ties to the American Nazis of the 1920s and 1930s can do it.

So here we have an element of the population that veering in 2008 to the left – it doesn’t care that Barack Obama is Black, on a personal level, certainly one of the most liberal presidential hopefuls ever. Midwesterners voted for him because he promised change! Eight years later, this same population veers rightward. Now they don’t care – I don’t even know how to begin to describe Trump – a billionaire, with a record of economic damage, personally obnoxious, racist, sexist and from all accounts ignorant of both domestic and foreign policy. But these Midwesterners don’t care about that either. Like Obama before him, Trump promised change. They figured that liberal Dems couldn’t deliver the change, maybe a conservative Republican billionaire whose father had ties to the American Nazis of the 1920s and 1930s can do it.

That is the thread between the two. Obama failed to address in any meaningful way the deep crisis, so basically what we are seeing is a part of the country saying “OK, that (the Obama Presidency) didn’t work: let’s try something different, let’s try Trump.

Like many KGNU listeners and others, I did not anticipate that Trump would win, that he even had a shot at winning. I didn’t see it coming. I don’t think I’m alone in that mis-analysis. It’s not only a personal failure, but a failure of social science, of the media not to have been closer to what was actually happening on the ground. The only one that I know who predicted a Trump victory was Michael Moore, and I want to give him credit for that.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: I too predicted that Trump was going to win

Rob Prince: Interesting, on what basis?

Ibrahim Kazerooni: As we got closer to election day Clinton’s inability to pull ahead in the polls. Given that the polls were so close, it only took a minor shift to help Trump get over the top. It only took a small percentage of Clinton supporters to feel apathetic enough not to vote to change the result in Trumps favor.

Obama and Trump on the Middle East

Rob Prince: I didn’t see it. Turning to Trump’s foreign policy. Needless to say it’s difficult to talk about an overall Trump foreign policy because more and more it becomes clear that other than to promote his business interests, he has none. His comments on foreign issues shifted daily; he contradicted himself repeatedly, but this did little or nothing to deter his supporters. But he did suggest that his foreign policy will be different from that pursued by the Obama Administration both in general and where it concerns the Middle East. As Ibrahim and I began to explore this issue in greater depth, the more that we looked at it, the more we were convinced that with a few minor exceptions, the Trump and Obama foreign policies will be basically the same. The strategic goals will be the same. There will be very little difference. The notion that somehow Trump is going to go off in some other foreign policy direction, from the direction that has been set long ago – it’s been a consistent policy – Clinton, Bush, Obama and now Trump – we do not see any major shift in foreign policy.

What the shift is, is one of emphasis, how to achieve the foreign policy strategic goals. The difference is between the rationalists on the one hand and the neo-conservatives on the other. What is the policy? It is simply maintaining global dominance for as long as possible. Looking at the overall Obama record, yes there were certain positive moments – the Iran nuclear deal, Obama’s refusal to bomb Syria after the poison gas incident – we talked about all this on the air and gave him due credit -…

But there is that other side that we’ve emphasized that includes:

– unending construction of a network of U.S. military bases worldwide, so many that the number remains unknown, at least eight hundred and that number is determined by how a “base” is defined. Who knows what the number is because there are all these smaller facilities, drone bases, bases for the future that are set up on different parts of the world.

Jim Nelson: And he (Obama) has supported water boarding, claiming it is not a form of torture.

Rob Prince: Yes, and he reneged on his commitment to close the Guantanamo Detention Camp,
the continued practice of drone killings, U.S. led or orchestrated on-going wars in seven countries, some of which did not exist when he came to office in 2008. No progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace – just hundreds of more settlements built, and now the largest military aid package in U.S. history – some $38 billion in arms over ten years – offered to Israel. On-going huge arms sales to the Saudis and other Gulf countries.

So when we examine the Obama “legacy” in the Middle East carefully there are generally a few positive movements among what is something approaching a disastrous regional policy.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: I tend to disagree that we tend to take such a firm position that he is not going to do this, or do that. If you look at how Bush was able to get away with his Middle East wars and how Obama able to rationalize his Middle East wars, there is a clear disconnect between what we call “people’s perceptions or expectations” of what this whole hullabaloo about elections. American voters think that the person that they elect as something close to being “the anointed messiah” who is going to come and change the system drastically. We confronted this kind of perception or understanding when Obama came into office in 2008. Rob and I went around Colorado giving lectures warning people that the election of a president has to be contexualized into a system. American foreign policy is systemic. It’s not an individualistic endeavor. Once you base your understanding of events on the system itself it becomes much easier to say that the system did not change much from Clinton to Bush to Obama despite all the rhetoric, the promises from each of them that they would make this or that change.

If you look at how Bush was able to get away with his Middle East wars and how Obama able to rationalize his Middle East wars, there is a clear disconnect between what we call “people’s perceptions or expectations” of what this whole hullabaloo about elections. American voters think that the person that they elect as something close to being “the anointed messiah” who is going to come and change the system drastically. We confronted this kind of perception or understanding when Obama came into office in 2008. Rob and I went around Colorado giving lectures warning people that the election of a president has to be contexualized into a system. American foreign policy is systemic. It’s not an individualistic endeavor. Once you base your understanding of events on the system itself it becomes much easier to say that the system did not change much from Clinton to Bush to Obama despite all the rhetoric, the promises from each of them that they would make this or that change.

In 2008 there was some kind of seminar organized at a local church, I remember – God bless his soul – Vincent Harding was arguing that Obama’s election was “a great shift in American policy.” At the time I suggested that he not expect much from the Obama presidency because the problems of the country are systemic; they are not about Obama per se.

In the case of Trump, again, he’s going to come in as a part of a system. Unfortunately for people who voted for Obama, or for Trump and now they feel that they elected people whose views they did not vote for, – everybody voted for “a piece of the jigsaw puzzle” that they wanted to hear, listen and see; but they totally forgot about all the other pieces. What we have in Trump is a person – I agree with Rob’s assessment that certainly he’s going to use the One Hundred Days, to deliver, in the light of Congress, the maximum changes that they want to impose on the system.

By the way I came across a book which is called “Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America. It’s an old book by Bertram Gross. In it he notes that “the notion that the single charismatic leader, one party dictatorship, rigid censorship and regimentation of industry, commerce and finance – these are signs of the old type of fascism. The new fascism – citing a quote from James Madison – I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachment by those in power than by violent and sudden usurption.

We saw a similar kind of approach, limitation of the bill of rights, etc, etc, with Reagan and slowly Clinton and then came Bush, then came Obama. Now it has become – what remains, according to Gross, is big government in alliance with big business, corporate authoritarians that subvert constitutional democracy. We are going to have, within this one hundred days, Trump and the creepy-crawlies that he is pulling out of the woodwork to support him and do the job literally, because if we are correct – Rob and I have been discussing this – Trump has said that he doesn’t intend to remain in Washington. He intends to divide his time between short periods in Washington, his “tower” in NY (Trump Tower) but most of the time in the Caribbean to do business.

So who’s going to run the country?

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif before a meeting in Geneva

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif before a meeting in Geneva January 14, 2015. Undermining, destroying this agreement is shaping up to be one of the key campaigns in the incoming Trump Administration

It Comes Down To the Cabinet

Rob Prince: It comes down to the Cabinet, Pence (the Vice President).

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Yes, the cabinet, and when you look at the character of these people, it clearly indicates what is to be expected as far as foreign policy and generally speaking, U.S. politics.

Rob Prince: There is a certain comparison here with the George W. Bush years in which Cheney, Rumsfeld and the like had great influence over U.S. policy. It is shaping up in such a manner that the Trump Administration will function in a similar manner. That is why looking at the Cabinet – which we will do – is going to tell us a great deal about the general direction of U.S. Middle East policy.

Jim Nelson: So now we move into the specifics of Middle Eastern foreign policy.

Rob Prince: Ibrahim, given the time factor I want to turn the discussion over to you. Let’s start with what we know about these cabinet appointments.

We know we have a new chief of staff, Michael Flynn, who used to head up the Defense Intelligence Agency who Obama fired for being “intemperate” by Obama – to put it mildly. Obama fires him but Trump raises him to a very influential position, National Security Adviser.

Jim Nelson: a position which does not require Congressional approval.

Rob Prince: Then there are the positions not yet decided (Remember the interview took place on November 29, 2016 before the appointments were made) Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State. The names that have been put forth in the media – as you referred to them – “the creepy crawlies” – do you want to comment on this before we look at what is going on in the region?

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Yes. By the way I was quite taken by surprise when I looked at Iranian news sources in particular. Rather than suddenly jumping to the conclusion that Trump is “going to be this” or “going to be that” one way or the other, they took the path of looking at Trump’s earlier comments versus his appointments now.

For example bearing in mind the difficult relationship that exists between Saudi Arabia and Iran, one Iranian commentator said that if Trump believes that the 9-11 (2001) terrorist attacks were sponsored by the Saudis, it is clear that he is happy to get into bed with America’s enemies as long as it means that he can make a quick buck.

The commentator continues: During Trump’s campaign last year, Trump registered eight new companies in Saudi Arabia. A federal election disclosure revealed that four of them were still active in May, 2016. Companies that he is listed as owning or being president of – a list is given – On the same day that he had created the companies, Trump announced at a rally in Alabama, “Saudi Arabia? I get along with them all. They buy apartments from me; they spend $40 to 50 million dollars. I’m supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”

For example bearing in mind the difficult relationship that exists between Saudi Arabia and Iran, one Iranian commentator said that if Trump believes that the 9-11 (2001) terrorist attacks were sponsored by the Saudis, it is clear that he is happy to get into bed with America’s enemies as long as it means that he can make a quick buck.

The commentator continues: During Trump’s campaign last year, Trump registered eight new companies in Saudi Arabia. A federal election disclosure revealed that four of them were still active in May, 2016. Companies that he is listed as owning or being president of – a list is given – On the same day that he had created the companies, Trump announced at a rally in Alabama, “Saudi Arabia? I get along with them all. They buy apartments from me; they spend $40 to 50 million dollars. I’m supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”

This lucrative relationship, on the one hand paying lip service to the Saudis being responsible for 9-11, and insisting that they have to be punished, etc. etc., On the other hand, working with them, trying to get contracts from them, business from them, clearly indicates that all these considerations are tactical. They are not principled. Trump, whether it has to do with Saudi Arabia, whether it has to do with Iran, whether it has to do with the Middle East – what will he do will be along these unprincipled lines. Let’s look at one or two of these possible (at the time) appointees.

Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s front contenders for secretary of state, at least when they were assessing it the press recently (prior to November 29, 2016). According to sources in Trump’s transition team, Trump publicly called on his Hillary Clinton to publicly apologize for receiving donations from Saudi Arabia. Yet, Giuliani is a paid lobbyist for the brutal Mujaheddin Al Khalq group, a terrorist organization. Giuliani successfully lobbied for their name to be removed from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations in 2012.

He’s been given a huge amount of money. These are by the way, the terrorist organization that collaborated with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s and 1990s. Former State Department Counter Terrorism Coordinator, Daniel Benjamin, writes about this issue. Giuliani also received speaking fees from Mujaheddin Al Khalq for $20,000, $15,000, $10,000 regularly, So on the one hand, Giuliani tells Clinton that she should apologize from taking money from the Saudis. Trump, he takes money from the Saudis while Giuliani himself is being paid as a lobbyist for the most brutal terrorist organization in the region.

If he becomes the secretary of state, with his antagonism towards Iran, this bodes ill. Not to mention the second contender, John Bolton. Right from the beginning, as soon as his name was mentioned, he made it clear: regime change, the only solution in Iran.

Rob Prince: That is what they’re all saying. That is the common denominator for all the candidates for Secretary of State at this time is a pronounced hostility towards Iran and the Iranian nuclear deal.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Even Flynn (Michael Flynn, Trump appointee as National Security Adviser)…

Rob Prince: Especially Flynn.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Even Flynn, when we look at his resumé it is striking. In June, 2015 – this is the article that you sent me Rob by Jim Lobe. Lobe literally unpacks what Flynn said about Iran. Most of Flynn’s comments are nothing more than fiction, nothing to do with facts. But he is still able to go and sit before the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa and pontificate in this manner, sixteen pages worth!

Rob Prince: Let me add a little bit more about Flynn. Michael Flynn is going to be the National Security Advisor. Basically in that position he takes, culls, the information from sixteen intelligence agencies, filter them and give the key ideas to the President.

Jim Nelson: Do you think he’ll edit some things out?

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Of course he will be “totally impartial!”

Rob Prince: Well, let’s look at his record. Maybe some of you remember the role that Michael Flynn played at the Republican National Convention where Donald Trump won the nomination. It was Flynn who made a chilling speech that ended with the comments (about Hillary Clinton) “Lock her up! Lock her up!” – his revenge for Obama having fired him earlier. The whole convention responded to this with several minutes of cheers.

When Michael Flynn headed up the Defense Intelligence Agency, his underlings – those who worked under him – began to use a term called “Flynn facts.” Flynn facts were the off-the-cuff misquotes and downright untruths that Flynn was regularly saying in public. I’ll mention only a few of them here to give a taste of the man.

Here is what he wrote: “that Islam is not a religion but a political ideology bent on destroying the Judeo-Christian civilization.” When asked to substantial this hypothesis, he commented that he had no proof but that he just had a feeling” that it was true.

Flynn has repeatedly targeted Iran. He has claimed that Iran is connected to Al Qaeda, which of course is complete and utter nonsense.

It was at least in part because of these irresponsible statements that Obama fired him. Not surprisingly, Flynn comes out of the special forces. He was the special assistant to General Stanley McChrystal, who was also fired by Obama for his intemperate remarks. Flynn, McChrystal represent that element of the military virtually out of control, or close to it, of civilian oversight.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: By the way Rob, the period when he was in Afghanistan, and after that he was transferred to Iraq, civil society leaders in both Afghanistan and Iraq are preparing documents to submit to the International Court in The Hague to have him indicted for violations of international law and for having committed war crimes. If that is not bad enough, then the Deputy National Security Adviser, K.T. McFarland, again Iranophobe, again anti- Muslim, supporter of Zionism, etc. etc.

They all have one goal in common: Iran as target no. 1

__________________

Part Three will follow

Ibrahim Kazerooni received his phd. from the University of Denver Korbel School of International Studies – Iliff Theology Joint PhD Program. He and his family live in Detroit Michigan. Rob Prince is a retired Lecturer of International Studies at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: