The political commentator, Tariq Ali, is visiting Australia and says the country should grow up and pull out of the war on Afghanistan. The British Pakistani author, film maker, and activist has written more than two dozen books on world politics and terrorism. His latest is 'The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad'. He has also just taken part as a guest speaker at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas at the Sydney Opera House.
Presenter: Linda LoPresti
Speaker: Tariq Ali, political commentator, film maker, and author of 'The Obama Syndrome – Surrender at Home, War Abroad
ALI: The Dutch have already done it, the Spanish have been considering it, most of the European countries are extremely nervous and even in Britain there is now a huge debate on how long they can keep their troops in there. So, it can be done quite easily if politicians have the will to do so, but most politicians in the western world allied to the United States find it difficult to disagree with them. In fact, there is a big debate going on within the American military and political establishment as well. General Eikenberry, the US ambassador in Kabul, was opposed to sending more troops and escalating the war, but he lost the fight and Obama went with General Petraeus and sent in 30,000 more troops. So, no country, including the United States, is without debate on this issue.
LOPRESTI: Well, you're very critical of US President Barack Obama's policy on Afghanistan in your book 'The Obama Syndrome – Surrender at Home, a War Abroad'. You're more critical of Obama than of George W. Bush. Why is that?
ALI: Well, I was incredibly critical of George W. Bush. The only point I make in relation to Afghanistan-Pakistan is that Obama has escalated the war and he's been in power now for two years and during the two years he's launched more drone attacks in Pakistan than George Bush did over eight years. So, as far as Pakistan-Afghanistan is concerned, he is worse than Bush in terms of what's going on and you will recall that event when the Iranians killed the demonstrator Neda on the streets of Teheran and the whole world was weeping in public and a moist eyed president appeared on the lawn of the White House to speak to the press corp, that very same day, a US drone killed 50 people, mainly women and children in Pakistan and it was barely reported outside the country. So, that is what we are confronted with double standards every single day.
LOPRESTI: Well, what is your assessment of President Obama. There were very high hopes for him when he took office. You're critical of his policies, especially his foreign policies. Do you think he is a weak president?
ALI: I think he is a very weak president. I think, had he decided to make shifts both on the foreign policy level and at home within the first four to five months of being in power, appeal directly to his supporters, with a majority in the senate and the congress, he could have pushed things through. But essentially he is a machine politician, produced by the Chicago machine, one of the most notorious in the United States, and he capitulates far too easily, so that he has now got himself in a state where he's scared of even taking on the Tea Party people, who are – quite a lot of them – just simply nutty. So he's very, very weak, he capitulated to the insurance companies on the health reform, he's in favour of privatising education, handing over schools in Chicago for instance to the navy and the military, and so there is incredible disillusionment with him. And if he does badly in the mid terms next month, it will not be because his supporters are voting Republican, but because they are staying at home.
LOPRESTI: But he has pledged to scale back combat troops in Iraq.
ALI: Well, Bush had promised that too, there is no big difference. But it is scaling back, it is not withdrawing, and six huge US military bases have been built in Iraq, which will keep between 50 and 60,000 combat troops in that country ready to intervene should they feel the need to do so. Meanwhile, Iraqi oil has been privatised and handed over to oil companies from all over the globe.