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Empire

Transcript: Choosing the American President

The voters have chosen, but what will the next four years bring for the US?
Last Modified: 03 Dec 2012 12:04

This is the full transcript for the Empire episode Choosing the American President (November 8, 2012)

Marwan Bishara:

America has opted for more of the same hope.

Barack Obama:

“For the United States of America the best is yet to come.”

Marwan Bishara:

To lead it out of the economic crisis…

Barack Obama:
 
“We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt.”

…and into a rapidly changing world. But country and Congress remain deeply divided over the role of the federal government.

Thomas Frank, Author, "Pity the Billionaire"

It's not the size of government, it's who government serves.

Marwan Bishara:

And the nature of US leadership in the world, in the shadows of its longest war, what will remain of the campaigns' slogans and how different will America look in four years?

I am Marwan Bishara, and this is Empire.

It’s been nearly 50 years since the debate over the role of government has been as intense as it’s been the 2012 presidential election.

In 1964, Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson painted Republican Barry Goldwater as a right-wing, small government extremist and won in a historic landslide.

Four years later, in a country reeling from protests, riots and crime, Republican Richard Nixon won on a promise to return to law and order, but he himself was forced out of office after breaking the law.  

Southern Democrat Jimmy Carter, victorious in ’76, would see his popularity crushed by economic woes and the appearance of weakness abroad.

1980 brought the beginning of the Reagan Revolution, an era of sweeping conservative reforms, tax cuts, smaller government, aggressive foreign policy, and massive military buildup.

Reagan’s vice president George H.W. Bush would follow, waging the first Gulf War and witnessing the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In 1992, Bill Clinton’s “It’s The Economy, Stupid” strategy, allowed him to preside over the longest peacetime economic expansion in US history coupled with widening the gap between rich and poor.

2000 tore the U-S apart, as Bush versus Gore ended up in the Supreme Court.

And despite criticism of the occupation of Iraq and the war on terror, in 2004, George W. Bush would win again.

In 2008, promises of hope and change made history and made Barack Obama America’s first black president, winding down Iraq, but unable to wind up a weak economy.

So what now for leadership in the United States?

To discuss what lies next, I’ll be joined by Cynthia McKinney, a former U.S. Presidential candidate for the Green Party, and the first African American woman to represent Georgia in the House of Representatives where she served 6 terms. Cynthia is the author of “The Illegal War on Libya”.

Charles Kupchan, professor of International Affairs at Georgetown University, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and former member of President Clinton’s National Security Council. He's the author of several books including his latest, “No One’s World: The West, the Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn”.

Ellen Laipson, President of Stimson Center - a Washington based think-tank. She is the former vice chair of the National Intelligence Council and was also a member of President Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board.

Helle Dale - a senior Fellow in Public Diplomacy at the Heritage Foundation. She’s a Syndicated columnist and former journalist at the Washington Times.

And last but not least, Steve Rademaker, a Foreign Policy advisor to Mitt Romney and a former Assistant Secretary of State under President George W. Bush.

Marwan Bishara:

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Perhaps never before have two presidential candidates been the source of so much political comedy.

Jason Sudekis, Saturday Night Live

“Hello, I’m Mitt Romney, and I understand the hardships facing ordinary Americans”

Marwan Bishara:

As the divide between news and entertainment gets weaker…

Jay Pharoah, Saturday Night Live

“The economy’s in the tank…the job market’s horrible…”

Marwan Bishara:
 
…the power of political humor to shape opinion gets stronger.

Stephen Colbert:

“They still can’t decide if they want the black and white cookie or the decaf wheat thin.”

Chris Rock:

“Barry Obama… he’s juuuuuussst white.”

Marwan Bishara:

But this stuff isn’t just for laughs; it’s serious business.

Barack Obama:

We don’t think government can solve all our problems, but we don’t think the government is the source of our problems.

Mitt Romney:

We have a very different approach the president and I between a government-dominated society and a society driven by free people pursuing their dreams.

Marwan Bishara:

America’s debate over the role of government has played out in cartoons and caricature for more than 200 years.

But in recent years, caricature has morphed into demonization more and more often, calling the other side evil, deepening the divide between red and blue America in a nation already more polarized than at any time since the Civil War.
 
It’s no laughing matter when two sides of a country can’t seem to have a civil conversation about the kind of government they want.

Kwame Anthony Appiah, Author, "The Honor Code":

A sensible way to discuss it is to ask about each of the things the government does - are we doing this as well as we can? Are we doing too much, too little and so on. That's probably not going to happen.

Marwan Bishara:

Under pressure from left-wing demands that government should level the playing field, a right wing clamoring for government to get out of the way, and with the entire country still reeling from an economic meltdown, America has been having a bitter argument over –

Barack Obama:

“Two different visions for this country that we love.”

Mitt Romney:

“I have a very different vision for America… and for the future…”

Barack Obama:

A vision promising to drastically reduce government at a time when many argue that government intervention is the only thing that kept the great recession from becoming another depression.

Thomas Frank:

This is really one of the great questions of our times. Why do people mistrust gov’t more and more and more, even when arguably this is the moment when they should be doing the opposite?

Barack Obama:

One reason may be that a string of high-profile government stumbles, the botched response to Hurricane Katrina, the failure to prevent the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the inability to stave off the economic crisis, could they have actually reinforced the conservative message that government can’t get the job done?

Ronald Reagan:

Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.

Thomas Frank:

And the public sees this and they're like, "What's up? Government fails again and again and again."

Kwame Anthony Appiah:

I think there's a very disciplined line here that the Republicans and conservatives more generally have been selling successfully since Ronald Reagan, which is that in general government's the problem.

But some argue the real question isn’t the size of government or even its role, but rather, whose side is the government is on? Is it the 1%, the 99%, or is this all just fuzzy math?

Thomas Frank:

I think the debate is false. It's not the size of government, it's who government serves. Conservatives want government to serve their interests and their constituents and liberals, whoever they are, want government to serve their constituents. So the debate over big government versus small government is a, I think is a red herring.

Marwan Bishara:

Throughout the campaign, the candidates positioned themselves as the leaders of two opposing camps, but their actual records suggest each man has a pragmatic side, a willingness to compromise if the other side will meet him halfway. But given how far apart the two sides say they are, that may be a very tall order.

So with four more years of President Obama and a divided Congress, will anything really change?

Marwan Bishara:

Ladies, gentlemen. Welcome to Empire. Ellen, let’s start with you. The American people have spoken. What have you heard?

Ellen Laipson, President of Stimson Center:
 
The majority of Americans are moderately hopeful that continuing on the current path of economic recovery is the right thing to do. And those people also believe that government can play a positive role in their lives when it comes to responding to natural or manmade disasters. I do think we have to be aware of how much this election taught us of the demography and sociology of America and how diverse of a place it is.

Helle Dale, Heritage Foundation:

I think I’ve heard a collective groan because after all this effort, four debates if you include the vice presidential debate, billions of dollars spent, we are more or less where we were two days ago. We got President Obama back in the White House, we got the Republicans in the House of Representatives, and we got Democrats in the Senate. Nothing has changed. Where do we go from here? Will we be more able to negotiate this path or will we simply have a country in political gridlock for the next four years.

Marwan Bishara:

Charles, six billion dollars? Still stuck. Deadlock.

Charles Kupchan, Georgetown University:

A lot of money. I think that the backdrop to the election is an American in which the ordinary citizen, the average working American has seen his real wages decline or stagnate for a couple of decades. And Obama and Romney offer two different narratives. Obama's narrative was "I am for the middle class, I will grow the economy from the middle class out, he portrayed Romney as someone for the one percent, whether justified or not, and I think he succeeded in creating a sense of the average American that he stands for them. That he's going to grow the economy from the middle out and I think in many respects that won him the election.

Marwan Bishara:

So it's the 99% who spoke, Steve?

Steven Rademaker, Foreign Policy Advisor to Mitt Romney:

Well I think it's hard to reach that conclusion. What's interesting is this was essentially a status quo election. Everyone was reelected. And since it was the same group that was gridlocked previously, it's not obvious to me why anyone going forward is going to think they have a message from the American people to do something differently than they did before. The House Republicans, they were reelected, so they don't think they've been told by the American people to compromise, President Obama was reelected, he doesn't think he's been told to compromise. I agree with Helle, it's hard to see something coming out of this election that tells any one of the three relevant parties to take a different approach starting next year.

Marwan Bishara:

So actually America has been groaning and yawning, Cynthia?

Cynthia McKinney, Former US congresswoman:

Well, I think what I heard was that the more things change, the more things remain the same. But there is a ticking time bomb that is going to affect the way US policy is made and that is the demographic change that is taking place that was reflected in this election. It hasn't made a change yet in respect to policy, but it will.

Marwan Bishara:

Have they voted for the lawyer instead of the CEO, instead of the executive.

Charles Kupchan:

I think that part of it was personality and visions of competence. I think people like Obama. I think he comes across as, he's got his feet on the ground and his head screwed on and I have to say, I was quite surprised that Romney didn't run a better campaign. I think many people said, when this campaign started, “He's clearly the Republican candidate.” He got the nomination, but he stumbled in the campaign, and I don't know why, one possible explanation is that he was running to the far right when he himself is more of a centrist, that he wasn't comfortable in his own skin. He came into his own skin in the last three weeks when he tacked to the center, but it may have been too late for him to get that broad swath of independents that ultimately determined the election.

Helle Dale:

But Charles, couldn't you say that it was really the Presidential debates that allowed Romney to show himself in his own skin, absent the filter presented by the media, which almost became part of the Obama campaign, presenting him as the one percent versus the ninety-nine percent. I mean it wasn't the 99% that elected Obama either.

Marwan Bishara:

But how much of the vote for Obama was against Romney and how much of the vote for Romney was against Obama. How much was it a negative vote?

Helle Dale:

Well first of all, it was only just over 50% that elected Obama again, so we have a country that's deeply divided, almost down the middle, and it's hard to tell. I think there was a certain amount of anti-Romney vote in the result you saw because the Obama campaign was so successful as portraying him as rich, out of touch, uncaring, unfeeling.

Cynthia McKinney:

There was also something that was happening inside the Republican Party as well. The Republican Party was divided and the idea of who Romney is with respect to his religion, that was something that, as a Southerner, came through loud and clear. That religion mattered in his reception by the Republican grassroots.

Steven Rademaker:

Romney did just fine in the South. His religion didn't hurt him--crushed Obama in the south. The idea that he ran a bad campaign when it was nearly a tie...

Cynthia McKinney:

Well, I'm not saying that he ran a bad campaign.

Steven Rademaker:

And I think considering his extraordinarily unhelpful to himself comment about the 47%, the idea that he was able to go from that, which is a pretty disastrous position for any politician to find himself in, and to come within a whisker of winning the election, is really an astonishing feat.

Marwan Bishara:

Isn’t he indeed rich and not in touch with the people?

Cynthia McKinney:

That's exactly right.

Steven Rademaker:

Four years ago, President Obama ran a very positive campaign. He said vote for me because I stand for hope and change. But you didn't hear anything about hope and change in this election. Both sides ran negative campaigns, primarily focusing on their opponents. Obama's campaign was deeply negative, trying to portray Romney as the person you just described. And Romney was equally negative about the success of Obama's policies. On the question of how many of the votes were against the other candidate, it looked to me like both campaign ultimately calculated that was the formula for success.

Ellen Laipson:

The point I wanted to make was that left to their own devices, these guys probably agree, these two individuals, probably agree on many, many issues. But we have a political culture where the parties are big machines that just churn out a lot of processed treatment of issues and you did feel, more with Romney than Obama, but really with both of them, that they're both occasionally saying things that don't look like they are naturally the things that they wanted to say, but it's what the system insisted that they say, based on too much polling data, too much trying to understand what the voter wants to hear, there's too much money in the campaigns. We've created a mechanical or an artificial way of doing these elections that I think undermines our ability to evaluate these leaders as individuals.

Marwan Bishara:

Indeed, Charles, it seems to me that the country is far more divided than its politicians are. And then maybe that's the existential crisis in this country.

Charles Kupchan:

Well you know, in some ways, I think the politicians on Capitol Hill are more divided than the public.

Marwan Bishara:

You think?

All:

Yes.

Marwan Bishara:

I mean, they still have drinks together and smoke a good cigar together.

Charles Kupchan:

They actually don't do that much together anymore. They used to. But if you look at Congressional schedules, if you look at caucus, they really don't spend much time together.

Marwan Bishara:

Don't you think the speech of hatred that came out of the campaigns, just from regular men and women that we saw on television screens, the way they described the other candidate, wasn't that something more or less new?

Charles Kupchan:

It's very troubling. We have a diversity of political spectrum around the table, but I think we would all agree that the United States today is deeply polarized, that the partisanship stands in the way of good governance. I agree with what Steve and Helle said, that we are gonna be as polarized moving forward as we were before the election, but somehow, you know, we've got huge problems to solve, and one of them is right on the doorstep, and that is what's called the fiscal cliff, the tax increases and the spending cuts. And Obama has to work with Congress to help solve that problem in the next few weeks if not months.

Marwan Bishara:

Let's talk about that. Cynthia, you're a former Congresswoman. Obama now is back in the White House. What is he going to do?

Cynthia McKinney:

Well, I wanna say something about this division, because being from the South, the popularization of hate as a form of winning elections is something we are accustomed to. And it's just a matter of who the target population is for the moment. During the time that I was growing up it was black people, but now it's Muslims, immigrants, and so this kind of vitriol that we saw for the purpose of gaining votes, I believe that there is in the country though a desire for everyone to work together.

Marwan Bishara:

Where is that desire? I see only divisiveness and divisions.

Cynthia McKinney:

Because you're looking at television. But if you're out there with the people, you will see that there are people from various stripes who want to get beyond the vitriol.

Helle Dale:

I totally agree with Cynthia.

Marwan Bishara:

You think now the Republicans in the Senate, I'm sorry in Congress, the Republican Congressional Leadership in Congress, will it work with President Obama, for example?

Helle Dale:

No, what I was saying was I agree with Cynthia about the American people. We're not talking about Congress here, or people inside the Beltway, we're talking about people outside the Beltway, ordinary Americans, who I think by and large, lead their lives, get along with their neighbors, even if they don't agree with them on politics, and come together on a huge range of issues.

Marwan Bishara:

But will the Representative now work together, for example, on the question of the so-called "Grand Bargain", will they pass a new budget?

Helle Dale:

I doubt it.

Steven Rademaker:

I think they'll sit down and they'll talk. Whether they can succeed, I don't know, I have my doubts. Look, the Republicans have an objective here. They wanted the American people to vote to repudiate Obamacare. They didn't get that vote in the national election. The Presidential election or in the Senate elections. The Democrats, they wanted a narrative coming out of this that it was political suicide for the Republicans who voted for the Ryan budget in the House of Representatives. They didn't get that verdict either. I mean, the Republican majority was reelected, they don't come away from this thinking they made a mistake with the Ryan budget. So, you the electorate, if you're looking at the results, is sending mixed signals.

Ellen Laipson:

He really needs to make a bigger effort in working with the Hill. He really needs to recapture was people were attracted to in 2008, which is that he wanted to somehow rise above the political party structure that is so rigid and just doesn't allow for smart, innovative solutions. So I think the burden is a bit on his shoulders to demonstrate leadership now. And I think, you know, Speaker of the House Boehner, they had a relationship that perhaps could be built on. In the end it was hard, but it's worth trying again.

Marwan Bishara:

Is he going to be the consensual, transformative president that he promised to be then?

Charles Kupchan:

I think that he needs to do exactly what Ellen said and that is that he needs to be more political, not in the sense of partisan, but in finding a way to get legislation through Congress.

Marwan Bishara:

But do you think he will find partnership in the Republican leadership?

Charles Kupchan:

I think that because of the nature of the task, particularly on the budget side, there will be some progress. I'm not particularly optimistic that he will be able to rebuild the political center. That is gone for now because the two parties have simply moved too far apart, ideologically. But I think we will see more of a workman-like spirit--

Marwan Bishara:

Pragmatism?

Charles Kupchan:

A certain pragmatism, and I think it does behoove Obama to get into the trenches, to get on the phone, to get Republicans to the White House. He hasn't done enough of that in the first term.

Marwan Bishara:

And now he has a mandate to do that. But Cynthia, I want to ask you, what will be his legacy, now, domestically. What is the big ticket item that he is going to get?

Cynthia McKinney:

There's a huge legacy domestically. But--

Marwan Bishara:

Is it going to be immigration?

Cynthia McKinney:

I don't want us to leave this discussion without at least putting the entrenched special interest in Washington, DC that separate the elected leadership or those with positional authority from the people. And that is why there will be a problem. That Congress doesn't reflect the values or the issues, really, that are on the minds of grassroots, every day, ordinary Americans.

Marwan Bishara:

For example, the question of immigration. Is there a lot of special interest on that or is there enough partnership on the Republican side, for example, to pass that kind of a major bill.

Cynthia McKinney:

It's very difficult to come together when you've campaigned on targeting certain individuals. It's very difficult to find the consensus. But I believe it's possible.

Marwan Bishara:

Do you think we'll reach a bill on immigration, coming in the next 4 years?

Helle Dale:

I think it will be very difficult to do. I think immigration actually is an issue that has to be dealt with piecemeal. It is not one where you are going to have a Grand Bargain. But you ask what his legacy is going to be--he has already produced his legacy, which is health care reform, great takeover of certain swaths of the American economy by the government, that is the legacy he is going to leave.

Marwan Bishara:

Hold your thoughts before we come back to discuss more perhaps about defense spending and foreign policy challenges around the world. When we come back, after a news break.

Mitt Romney:

"Our friends and allies across the globe do not want less American leadership. They want more."

Barack Obama:

"We want to pass on a country that’s safe and respected and admired around the world, a nation that is defended by the strongest military on earth and the best troops this world has ever known. But also a country that moves with confidence beyond this time of war, to shape a peace that is built on the promise of freedom and dignity for every human being."

Marwan Bishara:

Welcome back with our guests Cynthia McKinney, Charles Kupchan, Ellen Laipson, Helle Dale, and Steve Rademaker.

The foreign policy world views of both candidates in this election differed dramatically; however, they shared one common conviction: that the world longed for U.S leadership. So now that Obama has been reelected, what can we expect to see in the next four years? At the beginning of his Presidency, he believed a United States that listened more and stressed common interests would better serve America. But this vision may have faltered. He discovered that in a globalized world many countries are not looking to Washington for direction.

Mitt Romney:

If America does not lead, others will, others who do not share our interests and our values, and the world will grow darker, for our friends and for us.

Marwan Bishara:

Charles you've worked on foreign policy for a long time. This nation was always known for "one nation under God." Seems to me it's more and more "one nation under gun." Domestically and globally, the issue of its military spending, the issue of force, has become part and parcel of the fabric of this country and its policies. Where do you think Obama is going to go now, with all of this?

Charles Kupchan:

I actually wouldn't agree with that, Marwan, I think that what we've seen over the last four years is to some extent a demilitarization of American foreign policy. Getting out of Iraq, deciding the dates to pull out of Afghanistan, yes there are drone strikes but there isn't the same enthusiasm about projecting American power abroad among the American public.

Marwan Bishara:

But America still spends as much on military as the rest of the world, over 700 billion dollars, and President Obama said he will increase that according to military demands.

Charles Kupchan:

Well actually the defense budget has been coming down.

Marwan Bishara:

As a percentage of the national debt.

Charles Kupchan:

Yes. The defense budget is going to have to play its role in bringing down the fiscal deficit. But I think there are two things that are notable about where Obama is today. One, for the first time since the Vietnam war, a Democrat gets better marks on who is the Commander in Chief than a Republican. And that's a real turnaround. He has gained the confidence of Americans. And the second thing is America's standing in the world has gone up dramatically since the Bush era. People like an America that is more of a team player, that seems more willing to listen to others, but at the same time, provide leadership.

Marwan Bishara:

The comparison is always with President Bush. I mean, they see a more diplomatic President and they go like, "You know what, we're happy with this guy."

Helle Dale:

Well, President Bush was the predecessor so this isn't a full comparison. Some people have compared President Obama to Jimmy Carter, who likewise wanted to project a gentler image to the world and got punched in the nose a couple of times as consequence.

Marwan Bishara:

Not President Obama.

Helle Dale:

Not President Obama, though, just before this election, this fall, we had a military attack on American installations, on the American consulate in Libya in Benghazi. Something that has not played itself out yet. It showed that the less forceful foreign policy has in fact left a vacuum, which allows terrorism still to be thriving and I think in a second term, this is something that President Obama will be needing to deal with.

Marwan Bishara:

You think if the military budget would have doubled, there would have been no attack on Benghazi's consulate?

Helle Dale:

I think if our presence in the Middle East has remained as strong, if our diplomacy, if our War on Terrorism, if you will--

Marwan Bishara:

There probably would have been more attacks on America.

Helle Dale:

Well, I can't speculate for you, you may speculate for yourself.

Steven Rademaker:

I wanna agree strongly with what I heard Governor Romney say in the clip you played. There really is a hunger in the world for American engagement and American leadership.

Marwan Bishara:

Where do you see that?

Steven Rademaker:

I see it all the time. I spend a lot of time talking to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Near unanimous in their complaints.

Marwan Bishara:

You mean the ones worried about Russia?

Steven Rademaker:

Yes. Well, you know, that's a big chunk of Europe. But they feel like American doesn't pay the kind of attention to them that they used to receive in the past and they'd like to continue to receive. This entire pivot to Asia, which is a signature Obama policy, that's fundamentally about the insecurities of a large number of other Asian countries that are adjacent to China. And they want America more directly involved. Without defense spending, the pivot to Asia is going to be an empty promise. And I don't think President Obama is intending to make an empty promise to these countries, I think he intends to back it up. And even in the Middle East, there are a number of Persian Gulf countries that are deeply, deeply fearful of Iran. And I don't think they want to see America withdraw from their region either.

Marwan Bishara:

I wanna talk about the love lost between Europe and the United States, if there is such a thing, but before we do that, on the question of projection of force and how that brings security to the rest of the...what I heard in the campaigns, Charles and Ellen, was bashing of China, bashing of Russia, bashing of Iran, that sort of tone of uniform foreign policy, we're not going to see that actually developing on the ground, are we?

Charles Kupchan:

I think a lot of that was the election season. There will be a toning down, I think particularly on question of Russia and China for now. Iran, I take President Obama deadly seriously. I think right now we are seeing a window of opportunity open on a diplomatic settlement and I think the door is open in Washington. If that door closes in the spring of 2013, my guess is we will see an American war against Iran.

Marwan Bishara:

Ellen?

Ellen Laipson:

Well, I think that this discussion really needs to be unpacked a little bit. I think there are a number of different analytical questions here that we're talking about. One is whether a particular president decides to assert a style of leadership. But the other is kind of a pre-existing, kind of a global trend of a redistribution of power, where other countries are acquiring a greater capacity to contribute to global governance, to international responses, to crises, where the burden doesn't have to be always, entirely on America's shoulders. That's something that in a strange way, 9/11 interrupted what was a kind of, almost organic process. And the self-consciousness of the post-9/11 period where the United States, really, out of a trauma, thought very differently about its power, turned out not to be sustainable for the long run. So we're now resuming a conversation, I think, that we had earlier. How do you fit these aspirations of other countries into the international system, so the United States isn't so disproportionately the go-to country for everything? And I think Obama really reflects the will of the American people. If you look at the most recent Chicago Council on Global Affairs polling, Americans want the United States to play a leadership role, but they don't want us to think we're the fix-it man for every single problem out there. And they are willing to see other countries contribute more.

Marwan Bishara:

Cynthia, like Steve I've also traveled around the world extensively. What I heard from leaders and citizens around the world is that they don't want American leadership. They want American partnership. They want America to be involved, but they don't want dictates from Washington.

Cynthia McKinney:

I would agree with you. And the idea of the rest of the world needing the leadership of the United States is an extension in my opinion of this whole idea of manifest destiny, which in one way led to the expansion of the United States but also took along with it white supremacy that I think needs to be put on the table. And now it's a global white supremacy at a time when the demographics of the United States are changing. Also, what we did not hear in this campaign was talk of peace. And so literally as we sit around this table, drone bases are being expanded around the world. Drones are firing their missiles and their bombs on innocent populations that are being killed. And so I am almost amazed that we can have this civil, almost, sterile conversation when there's so many outrages that are taking place around the world.

Marwan Bishara:

In fact, what I heard from President Obama, if anything, that this is going to be continuation of diplomacy. Not in any way forced leadership around the world.

Steven Rademaker:

The pivot to Asia includes military deployments and I think you need to distinguish in your comments between diplomatic style and US military--US engagement. Of course countries want to be involved in decision making, they want to be a partner, but I don't hear many countries that are today in alliance relationships with the United States who say, "We want out." Usually they want more out of the alliance relationship. Maybe they'd like the United States to listen to them more, but that relationship, the US commitment to them is very important to all of America's allies around the world.

Cynthia McKinney:

Latin America is not asking for the United States' involvement. Latin America has declared their independence.

Marwan Bishara:

And I sat down with the Egyptian leader---

Steven Rademaker:

We have no military involvement in Latin America.

Cynthia McKinney:

The reactivation of the fourth fleet.

Marwan Bishara:

--and the Tunisian leadership the last two guys around the block and that's exactly what I heard from them. They said, "We don't want to be clients of the United States. We wants to be partners with the United States."

Helle Dale:

What did they mean by partners?

Marwan Bishara:

Meaning they don't want things to be dictated to them by Washington.

Steven Rademaker:

That doesn't necessarily mean the US--

Helle Dale:

Okay, well does it mean they want financial engagement with the United States?

Steven Rademaker:

Yeah does that mean they want the US to spend less on defense? I don't think the Saudis want America to have less military capability in the Persian Gulf.

Marwan Bishara:

Is that your best example?

Steven Rademaker:

I think it's a very good example. And I think there are a number of other countries in that region--

Cynthia McKinney:

It's probably his best example because it's a bad example.

Helle Dale:

But Cynthia when you say Latin America doesn't want American involvement; well does Colombia want it in fighting the drug wars?

Cynthia McKinney:

Well, actually I've been to Colombia several times and there are innocent people who are suffering as a result of Plan Colombia, which is US policy there.

Marwan Bishara:

You mean the drug war, and so on?

Cynthia McKinney:

Yes. And protection of the oil instruments as well.

Marwan Bishara:

Charles what about Europe? What is Europe looking from President Obama?

Charles Kupchan:

You know, I think the relationship between the US and Europe started off rocky. Obama seems somewhat impatient, almost dismissive of Europe. And then over the course of the last couple of years I think he realized that there is no better partner. And when there is a problem to be solved, whether it's Libya or whether it's Africa or what further a field, the go-to partner is still Europe. What I worry about over the longer run is Europe itself. On two fronts. One is the European Union is in a very fragile situation. They seem to have hit bottom and they're moving up in the right direction on the Eurozone crisis but they're not out of the woods. And the second is, over time, as American politicians get more and more sensitive, and Ellen just said this, to what are they contributing, what are our partners bringing to the table, we need a Europe that steps up to the plate, geopolitically. That doesn't look like it's around the corner.

Marwan Bishara:

You mean, bigger partner in NATO.

Charles Kupchan:

Not necessarily in NATO, but in EU or individual European countries that start merging and collectivizing their capabilities because Britain alone, Germany alone, France alone, isn't enough to be the partner we need.

Marwan Bishara:

Ellen, Steve spoke, I think, certainly certain number of smaller states, closer to bigger regional powers, are complaining about being pushed around by Russia or China. But I think the bashing that we heard about China and Russia in the campaign, certainly that's just going to lead to something completely different. I think President Obama needs to work with President Putin and he needs to work with new Chinese leadership.

Ellen Laipson:

Well, I mean if I took the case of Russia and Iran, it does take two to tango. So does Putin want to work with us? Does, you know, the Supreme Leader of Iran want to respond if there is a new American overture. So, we can do a lot of talking to ourselves about what's the right American strategy, but we also have to have a very sober assessment of what's in the interest and what's the likely behavior of the other actor. So Russia to me is a great disappointment that was, you know, the reset policy of trying to just have a, kind of, as normal as possible an economic relationship and political relationship with Russia, but Putin himself has an agenda that seems to be more defiant, more strident, and there's a limit to how much of that we can take.

Marwan Bishara:

But that's what he thinks that the United States is becoming more defiant and more...

Ellen Laipson:

But he does want Russia to resume some of his greatness, I mean that is his national ambition. And so you can't completely, it's not our call to take that away from him. There is rising nationalism in parts of Asia that will not necessarily be easy for the United States to handle. So these are very, you know, interactive, this is not a one way transmission of the United States deciding what it's preferred policy is and then just marching forward and implementing it. It's, one has to be, and this is where I think Obama has a talent, he may not have had enough opportunities to demonstrate it, that i think he is more cosmopolitan in a way. He is generally interested in what other countries think and not just the traditional allies. i think his curiosity about how the world works is wider than just the traditional allies.

Marwan Bishara:

Is China a partner, an economic trade partner of the United States? Is it the next enemy in the next four years?

Helle Dale:

It seems to me that it's both.

Marwan Bishara:

Both?

Helle Dale:

It seems contradictory but when you look at the amount of imports from China that show up on the shelves of American stores, we have a very, very significant trading relationship with China. We borrow massive amounts of money for our government programs from China. And the Chinese economy, to a very large degree, depends on American consumers. So we have a very tied economic tie, unfortunately more of a one way street than one would like it to be, but at the same time, in terms of foreign ambitions, China is undoubtedly a very sophicated, getting to be a very sophisticated, international anchor. In military terms, in diplomatic terms, in terms of information warfare, cyber warfare, China's on the move. And there is no doubt that to some extent we are on a collision course.

Marwan Bishara:

I want to finish our roundup by getting to the Middle East, the Palestine-Israel peace process, but just before that, Steve are you worried about deterioration of the secure situation in South China Sea?

Steven Rademaker:

Yeah absolutely, i think China is really overplaying its hand, and you know, the countries of Asia, on the periphery of China, it's not the United States that's coming to them saying, "Let us protect you," they're coming to us--

Marwan Bishara:

But you think Obama is gonna show teeth there?

Steven Rademaker:

I think it's a delicate situation.

Marwan Bishara:

As Romney's advisor, let me ask you.

Steven Rademaker:

I don't think Obama is eager to get into a military confrontation with China over islands in South China Sea. The thing I would add to what Helle said is I think China is in something of a political transition. And I think this actually complicates the problem because at least China for internal political reasons, do things that are popular to a nationalistic audience of China, which are very detrimental to the country's overall interest. China's really hurting itself with the really aggressive treatment that it's demonstrating to all of its neighbors.

Marwan Bishara:

I can't discuss that for too long. Cynthia, I need to get to the Middle East. I've heard that Netanyahu is the ultimate loser of this election. What do you think?

Cynthia McKinney:

Well, I think Netanyahu didn't remain silent when it came to his preference, so therefore by expressing a preference--

Marwan Bishara:

Which was Romney.

Cynthia McKinney:

Which was Romney, that's right. And when that didn't happen I would like to just add that we do have still in the formulation of US policy, this idea of Cold Warriorism. And we have these Cold Warriors who would like to view Russia and China as enemies of the United States. There is a growing community of people at the grassroots level in this country who disagree with that view. And they would like to see policy reflect the partnership rather than this Cold Warrior, geostrategic, driving forces behind US policy.

Marwan Bishara:

And you think President Obama is going to have another attempt at negotiating between Palestinians and Israelis? Mediating?

Cynthia McKinney:

I think it's very clear that something very dangerous is actually happening in Israel. I've heard from Israelis that they are very afraid from the move away from, well not that tehy ever were democratic, but even toward the Israeli Jews, that there's this move toward a totalitarian type of state. And from there we're looking at going beyond Netanyahu to Lieberman and--

Marwan Bishara:

Well now they're coalition partners.

Cynthia McKinney:

That's correct.

Marwan Bishara:

And you think President Obama's going to be able to put pressure on such a coalition?

Cynthia McKinney:

It's gonna be very difficult.

Marwan Bishara:

Your facial expression is more than enough [laughs]. Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel demands that Iran be connected to the question of whatever's going to happen in Palestine. Do you think there's going to be a Great Bargain because Israelis are talking about a possible future deal between the United States and Iran?

Charles Kupchan:

I think that Netanyahu backed off partly because he didn't have the United States on board and partly because he didn't have his own cabinet on board. And we also know that the Iranians converted some of their 20% Uranium for medical uses so that slows down the clock. I think that there's a zone of comfort right now that this is the time for tighter sanctions are more discussion. But I don't think that window remains open permanently and that's why I think that the prospect of war looms on the horizon. And I don't think it will come from Israel.

Marwan Bishara:

Do you think then that under President Obama the last four years and perhaps the next four, we will see a certain downsizing of projection of force around the world and perhaps making, let's call it for the sake of our discussion, the empire, smaller and perhaps healthier?

Steven Rademaker:

I think if it were up to President Obama, you know, given our budget constraints at home, yes he would do it. I think he would downsize. But you know, he lives in a real world. The first issue up, and I think we're going to see it even before he's sworn in for his second term is what to do about Syria. I personally believe that there's an enormous amount of frustration within the Obama administration. They have had to--I think it was a political judgment on their part not to antagonize the left wing of the Democratic constituency, and so they backed away from all sorts of options...

Marwan Bishara:

They're not going to intervene militarily right?

Steven Rademaker:

I think you will see a drift in the direction of the policy President Obama pursued in Libya. I think there will be movement in that direction.

Marwan Bishara:

Ellen?

Ellen Laipson:

I think there's a lot of pressure to do something different and to do something more in Syria and I think I agree that there's sort of a political chapeau that says we really don't want to go down the military route, but there's lots of undertow pressure to do more. But I wanted to just raise a different point, on the question of downsizing military, let's be careful here. There is a post-war readjustment to the size of the army that will happen as it happens after all wars. But there is an interest in maximizing the effectiveness of the air force and the navy, of technology, cyber--so you know, it's not--

Marwan Bishara:

A meaner and leaner military.

Ellen Laipson:

It could be a smarter military and it can certainly be a more cost-effective and efficient military.

Marwan Bishara:

On this sobering note, we need to end our discussion. Cynthia, Ellen, Helle, Steve, Charles, thank you. We'll probably continue this discussion another time. Thank you for joining Empire. And I'll be back with a final note.

President Obama finished his victory speech with the same bombastic mantra that's been repeated incessantly over the years: America is the greatest nation on Earth. After two revealing years of hateful speech and terribly divisive elections, Americans have woken up to a country that feels anything but great, let alone the greatest. Thousands have lost their lives and millions have lost their homes during a decade of military adventures and banking scandals and economic meltdown. But hardly anyone has been held accountable. Meanwhile, the country's infrastructure is in dire straits. Its healthcare system in trouble, its jails overcrowded with millions, its military budget terribly inflated, its debt and deficit skyrocketing. Inequality deepening, unemployment high, and infant mortality worse than most developed nations. Indeed, the home of democracy, opportunity and freedom is shrinking on all three fronts. But that's why after they sober up from the elections, President Obama and his Republican counterparts in Congress need to deal with the country's daunting challenges at home and abroad with the utmost humility. And that's the way it goes. Until next time.

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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