The West Point Interview, Annotated
NPR's Steve Inskeep interviewed President Obama when he was at West Point to deliver the commencement address last month. That address and the one he gave at UC Irvine yesterday point up the contradictions that anyone can easily see in the man, his policies, and the state of the American Empire as it peers over the precipice of petrocollapse.
STEVE INSKEEP: As you look at the moment of history that you occupy, do you think you can put into a sentence what you are trying to accomplish in the world?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: I'm not sure I can do it in a sentence because we're fortunate in many ways. We don't face an existential crisis.
NOTE: Except for the impending extinction of life on Earth due to profligate resource usurpation by a single species, something that might have been averted if COP-19 in Copenhagen had not been torpedoed. That was arguably the most historic moment of the Obama presidency.
We don't face a civil war.
NOTE: Except for the imminent succession of Vermont. Oh, and maybe an uprising by the 99% unless Tim Geithner can come up with more bread and circuses.
We don't face a Soviet Union that is trying to rally a bloc of countries and that could threaten our way of life.
NOTE: Except for Russian subs roving the Arctic with enough firepower to destroy every city in the US larger than Charlotte, North Carolina in less than 5 minutes, and at least two other countries working towards the same capabilities.
Instead, what we have is, as I say in the speech, this moment in which we are incredibly fortunate to have a strong economy that is getting stronger, no military peer that threatens us, no nation-state that anytime soon intends to go to war with us. But we have a world order that is changing very rapidly and that can generate diffuse threats, all of which we have to deal with.
And I think that the most important point of the speech today for me is how we define American leadership in part is through our military might, but only in part, that American leadership in the 21st century is going to involve our capacity to build international institutions, coalitions that can act effectively, and the promotion of norms, rules, laws, ideals and values that create greater prosperity and peace, not just in our own borders, but outside as well.
NOTE: And drones.
Is your sentence then pursuing U.S. interests abroad without going to war?
Well, there are going to be times where we might have to go to war. And that's why I think it's very important for us not to get into these simplistic ways of thinking about it, [that] either we pull back entirely and we're isolationist, or alternatively, every problem around the world is ours to manage. Rather, you know, what we have to do is clearly define where is it in our national interests to use military force, sometimes unilaterally. And typically when we have direct interests, core interests, our safety, our security, our livelihoods, the protection of our allies, you know, international opinion matters, but we may have to act on our own.
When it comes to the kinds of issues, though, that dominate the headlines — a conflict in Syria, a Russian incursion into Ukraine, the kidnapping of 200 young girls in Nigeria — in those circumstances, we are going to be most effective when we use a wide range of tools — diplomacy, sanctions, appeals to international law.
NOTE: Legal, or at least legitimized, actions are our first recourse when there is no oil involved. If we are talking about oil, that is another matter.
In some cases, a judicious use of military force may make sense.
What should leaders like Syria's Bashar Assad or Russia's Vladimir Putin take away from this speech, in which you did speak passionately about not going to war unnecessarily and said you were haunted by the deaths of American soldiers?
Well, I think they can take away from it that they have to be on guard when they act outside of international norms, that we are going to push aggressively against them.
NOTE: Such as by setting up a CIA station under the guise of an embassy in Bengazi whose principal mission was to move arms to the Syrian contras and otherwise destabilize the government of Syria, a UN member country with an elected government. It is unfortunate, for the State Department, that the Bengazi Embassy got caught in a crossfire, but so far the White House is handling the cover-up quite well. Of course, with this crop of Republicans and Tea Party Mad Hatters, that is not difficult. Even Hillary could do it.
We're not always going to push using military actions initially. There may be circumstances in which we mobilize in the international community to take international action. But as I spoke about, when you look at events in Ukraine over the last two months, there is no doubt that our ability to mobilize international opinion rapidly has changed the balance and the equation in Ukraine. I just spoke yesterday to the newly elected president of Ukraine.
NOTE: This would be Petro Poroshenko, our man in Kief, who was elected to succeed Ihor Kolomoyski, who was appointed by Yulia Timoshenko, whose ally (Arseni Yatsenyuk) was chosen by US regional station chief, Victoria Nuland, wife of Robert Kagan, Council on Foreign Relations member, and co-founder of the think-tank Project for the New American Century (of Iraq War fame) to lead the post-coup government. Victoria Nuland is the former principal deputy foreign policy adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney and later U.S. ambassador to NATO. The cost of her little coup in Kief was $5 billion US taxpayer dollars.
Mr. Putin has just announced that he is moving his troops back from the borders of Ukraine. And that's an application of American leadership that is sustainable, consistent and is most likely to produce the kinds of results we want.
NOTE: Moving the Red Army two steps back is not enough. The Project for a New American Century calls for expanding NATO into an encirclement of Russia. Ukraine is just the latest domino to fall. The February 22nd coup was engineered in Washington with assistance from rabidly anti-Russian Polish officials, and with the additional assistance of some fundamentalist far-Right Israeli-Ukrainians who were willing to work with Ukrainian neo-Nazis to get this done.
It's interesting about Ukraine, though, Mr. President, because a lot of analysts have looked at that situation and said this is an area where Putin may have had a weak hand, but he gained. He gained Crimea. He asserted his influence over Ukraine. You speak of Ukraine, though, as a success. Do you feel that you've been successful in achieving your aims?
You know, I think it's a mistake to think that somehow Mr. Putin reflected strength in this situation. Ukraine is not just next door to Russia. Ukraine, in the minds of most Russians, has been a central part of Russia for decades, for centuries. And from Mr. Putin's perspective, he was operating from a position of weakness. He felt as if he was being further and further surrounded by NATO members, folks who are looking west economically, from a security perspective. And even in Ukraine, the crown jewel of the former Soviet system, outside of Russia, an oligarchy that was corrupt was rejected by people on the streets. And so what you saw was a scrambling, a reaction to people in the Ukraine saying, we want a different way of life.
NOTE: And a Ukrainian Disneyworld would be nice, also.
The fact that Crimea, which historically is dominated by native Russians and Russian speakers, was annexed illegally does not in any way negate the fact that the way of life, the systems of economic organization, the notions of rule of law, those values that we hold dear, are ascendant, and you know, the other side is going to be on the defense.
NOTE: They can decide their own futures, as long as that does not include democratically organized elections or referenda, such as the decision by an overwhelming majority — 96% of voters — in Crimea to rejoin Russia.
That doesn't mean that we think that Ukraine shouldn't have a good relationship with Russia. We think it should. And I have said directly to Mr. Putin we want, ultimately, Ukrainians to make a decision about their own futures, and that, I assume, will include strong relations with Russia as well as with Europe.
NOTE: Congressional chickenhawks, Fox and CNN want the US to become re-ensnared in Iraq now that ISIL/ISIS — jihadist zombies trained and equiped by the US to infect Syria — was drawn by the scent of blood to neighboring Iraq where it broke down the mall doors to get at the trillion-dollar Black Friday sale of abandoned military equipment and plush military bases, not to mention a bank job in Mosul that netted something north of $700 million.
The Obama Administration was quick to rule out re-insertion of Marines into Iraq, however. Strategic interests have now changed — Obama is being advised that the US will soon become the Saudi Arabia of natural gas (a Snake Oil ruse if ever there was one) and the US strategic challenge will be to find foreign markets for all that gas. LNG transport makes gas very expensive (as would environmental controls on fracking). Only Europe can afford those kinds of prices, and they won’t as long as Russia can undercut the price with its Siberian gas. Déjà vu: the Berlin-to-Baghdad railroad plan that began World War I with British tank divisions taking Basra. If the US can cut the flow of Russian gas through Ukraine — letting Ukraine siphon off Europe’s supply would suffice — then the price will float to a point LNG transatlantic imports make sense.
You're going to make Russia give Crimea back. Do you have the ability or the leverage to do that? Well, you know, I think we're going to have to see how it plays itself out. I'm going to see Mr. Poroshenko, the newly elected president of Crimea — or newly elected president of Ukraine, next week, and I'm sure that'll be a topic of discussion.
NOTE: Petro Poroshenko, an Ukrainian billionaire businessman, is the fifth and current President of Ukraine. From 2007 until 2012, he headed the Council of Ukraine's National Bank. Poroshenko owns, among a number of companies, a large confectionery business, which has earned him the nickname Chocolate King. Crimean State Council chair Vladimir Konstantinov is leading the Republic of Crimea until his parliament can choose a Prime Minister under the Crimean Constitution, which was approved by a parliamentary vote of 100 to 88 on April 11.
Let me ask about Syria, Mr. President… What, if anything, is different about the situation in Syria, as opposed to a couple of years ago, when some of your advisers wanted larger-scale training of the rebels, and I believe you declined.
Well, I think that's not an accurate portrayal of either what we have done or what the debate's been about…. Ultimately, I did not think then and I still do not believe that American military actions can resolve what is increasingly a sectarian civil war, and I also believe that, ultimately, the only way you're going to get a resolution that works for the Syrian people and the region is going to — is going to require some sort of political accommodation between the various groups there.
But what we can do is to work with the neighbors in the region — Jordan, Turkey, the Gulf states, Lebanon — to deal with the refugee flows that are coming out of Syria, to deal with the humanitarian crisis that exists there and to build on the framework, the progress that we have made over the last couple of years. We've seen some success in the Syrian opposition gaining more capacity, gaining more training, gaining more effectiveness; and building on some of that success, it is conceivable that in combination with the other work that is done on the diplomatic front, that we're able to tip what happens in Syria so that it's more likely that we can arrive at a political resolution.
|Syrian Refugee Camp in Jordan|
Are conditions better now, then, for a more robust aiding of the rebels and training of the rebels than in the past?
Well, I wouldn't say the conditions are better. I think, in many ways, the conditions are worse. But the capacity of some of the opposition is better than it was before, which is understandable.
Think — think about who this opposition is. The moderate opposition, as opposed to the jihadists that have seen the chaos there as an opportunity to gain a foothold, those are hardened fighters. When you talk about the moderate opposition, many of these people were farmers or dentists or maybe some radio reporters who didn't have a lot of experience fighting. What they understood was, is, that they had a government that was killing its own people and violating human rights in, in the most profound way, and they wanted to do something about it.
But creating a capacity for them to hold ground, to be able to rebuff vicious attacks, for them to be able to also organize themselves in ways that are cohesive — all that takes, unfortunately, more time than I think many people would like.
You've made some statements recently, Mr. President, that it seems you've been trying to put yourself in a historical context, if you can. You've talked about hitting singles and doubles on foreign policy. You talked about handing a baton from one president or one person in history to another. I wonder if you're at a point in your second term where even though there is well over two years to go, that you have to think about narrowing possibilities and a more limited list of things that you can realistically accomplish in the time you have left.
Well, I think that's always been the case. That was the case the first day in the Oval Office. You know, you don't walk into the presidency and completely remake the world and ignore history and ignore the problems that are already sitting there in the inbox. So you have to make choices about what's important and what's not.
It's interesting, though, you know, the comment I made about singles and doubles I think is — is only a partial quote. What I said was that when it comes to foreign policy, that oftentimes the United States has made mistakes not by showing too much restraint but by underestimating how challenging the environment is out there, not thinking through consequences, that there is a lot of blocking and tackling to foreign policy, to change sports metaphors, or, if you want to stick to baseball, that a lot of what you want to do is to advance the ball on human rights, advance the ball on national security, advance the ball on energy independence, to put the ball in play.
And every once in a while, a pitch is going to come right over home plate that you can knock out for a home run. But you don't swing at every pitch. And we have opportunities right now, for example, and I talked about today, to advance an Iranian agreement on their nuclear program that could be historic. We may not get it, but there's a chance that it could still happen. I have not yet given up on the possibility that both Israelis and Palestinians can see their self-interest in a peace deal that would provide Israel security that's recognized by its neighbors and make sure that Palestinians have a state of their own.
So there are going to continue to be opportunities that come up. And what we want to do is make sure we're in a position to seize those opportunities when they arise. But in the meantime, the work that we do to help countries in North Africa secure their borders and root out terrorism…
NOTE: With drone attacks on wedding parties and funerals, for instance. Unseen terror from above.
… you know, that stuff's not sexy. It's not going to be on the front page of the newspapers. But in many ways, that's what's going to ultimately be most effective; that's going to be what's going to most determine whether or not the United States retains its primacy and its leadership on the world stage in the 21st century.
NOTE: The way Star Wars was popular in the 20th Century. Drone Wars. A Galactic Empire. Darth Vader.
Mr. President, thanks very much.
I enjoyed it. Thank you.
NOTE: The President advised the students at UC Irvine yesterday: “You need to invest in what helps, and divest from what harms.” That was good advice.