'Up w/Chris Hayes' for Saturday, September 15th, 2012
Read the transcript to the Saturday show
UP WITH CHRIS HAYES
September 15, 2012
Guests: Heather Hurlburt, Reza Aslan, Phyllis Bennis, Eli Lake, Hooman Majd, Daniel Levy, Zainab Salbi, Ethar El-Katatney
SAM SEDER, MSNBC ANCHOR: Good morning from New York. I`m Sam Seder
in for Chris Hayes.
A Wisconsin judge has struck down key parts of Scott Walker`s anti-
union law, restoring collective bargain rights for city, county, and school
district employees but not stay workers. The ruling is expected to be
And in his weekly address this morning, President Obama said that
Ambassador Chris Stevens died a hero in two countries, here in Unites
States and in Libya. More on the latest in the Middle East in just a
Right now, I`m joined by Heather Hurlburt, executive director of the
National Security Network and former speech writer for President Bill
Clinton. Reza Aslan who`s an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on
Foreign Relations and author of "No God but God: The Origins, Evolution,
and Future of Islam."
Phyllis Bennis who directs the new internationalism project at the
Institute for Policy Studies, and Zainab Salbi, founder of the Women for
Women International, an organization that assists women survivors of war.
The Taliban are complaining -- claiming responsibility for an attack
on a British military base in Afghanistan this morning that killed two U.S.
Marines. Unlike previous attacks, this time, the Taliban says it was in
responsive same anti-Muslim film that set off a swell of unrest in violent
protests in the Middle East and other parts of the world this week,
including Libya, Egypt, Morocco, England (ph), Pakistan, Algeria, Kuwait,
and India, and Iraq just to name a few.
In Tunisia yesterday, protesters breached the wall of the U.S. embassy
where two people have died and 29 others have been hurt. In Sudan,
meanwhile, demonstrators got into both the U.S. and German embassies and
managed to set fire to the latter.
A filming question is a 14-minute video on YouTube called "The
Innocence of Muslims." NBC News has decided not to show any images from
the film. The man said to be behind the film, an Egyptian-born Christian
Coptic was taken into a custody by the L.A. county sheriffs` department
early this morning and questioned by federal authorities reportedly about
whether his involvement in this film may have violated terms of his
On Thursday secretary of state tried to cut down the religious
outraged by denouncing the film.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Let me state very clearly, and I
hope it is obvious that the United States government had absolutely nothing
to do with this video. To us, to me personally, this video is disgusting
and reprehensible. It appears to have a deeply cynical purpose to
denigrate a great religion and to provoke rage.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SEDER: The film was initially thought to have provoked the attack on
the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya on Tuesday. Ambassador Chris
Stevens, former Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty along with Air
Force veterans, Sean Smith, were killed in that attack. Their bodies
returning home yesterday.
Not long after the attack, however, reports surfaced that it might
have been the premeditated work of a radical Islamic group retaliating for
one of -- for an American drone strike which had killed an Al Qaeda command
leader. Libyan officials said yesterday that they had taken four men into
custody in connection with the attack.
They also said that they thought the attack was meant to drive a wedge
between Americans and Libyans. This may be true, but even with all that
has happened in Libya, the bigger challenge for -- for the Obama
Administration may be with what`s taking place in Egypt where an even
before the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya, protestors stormed the
American embassy in Cairo and tore down the American flag.
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi did not issue a statement until 24
hours afterwards, and although, he condemned the attack on the U.S.
embassy, Morsi also condemned the anti-Muslim film. He even asked
President Obama to, quote, "Put a hand to such behavior."
President Morsi`s initial failure come out with a strong statement
about protecting the U.S. embassy, which he has since done did not sit well
with the White House. Here`s President Obama speaking to Telemundo on
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSE DIAZ-BALART, TELEMUNDO ANCHOR: Would you consider the current
Egyptian regime an ally of United States?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, I don`t think
that we would consider them an ally, but we don`t consider them an enemy.
They are a new government that is trying to find its way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SEDER: OK. So, let`s -- let`s -- let`s talk about it. Reza, let`s
start with you. Give us a sense -- do you think this is simply a function
of this film? I mean, what we`re seeing in a general sense across --
across -- really across the globe in many respects?
REZA ASLAN, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: I think certainly the film
is a pretexts for a lot of this violence, but what we`re seeing is the
result of a lot of internal politics in these different countries. And I`m
so glad that you took the time to separate Egypt from Libya and what`s
going on in Tunisia, what`s going on in Sudan. These are very different
I mean in Egypt, especially, this film was never seen by any--anybody
online the first time any Egyptian saw any part of this film or even heard
about it was when a Saudi owned news service called Al Nos actually showed
clips and talked about it.
Al Nos (ph), of course, is the Salafi voice in Egyptian politics and
the Salafi parties, especially Al Nour (ph) that had been trying to attack
the Muslim Brotherhood from the right, from the more far more conservative
position, saw this as a perfect opportunity to put them in an uncomfortable
position to either come out and denounce this film and -- and -- and give
the upper hand to the Salafi parties or see--appear to be sort of, you
know, waffling, and perhaps, maybe even denigrating the profit themselves.
It was a perfect opportunity for them to take advantage of this
political vacuum taking place there. So, I know it`s difficult for
Americans to understand this, but there is actually internal politics --
ASLAN: -- taking place here.
SEDER: And, I mean, is it your sense -- I mean, Heather, is it your
sense that that`s what we`re seeing when we see these protests around the
globe or is there some measure of copy cat or what -- what explains the
fact that, you know, I imagine that you know each country has their own
HEATHER HURLBURT, NATIONAL SECURITY NETWORK: Well as Reza said,
there`s something different going on in every country, and Egypt is and has
been for a long time a real leader in the Muslim world. So, if Egypt
sneezes, the Muslim world catches cold.
And so, what you saw yesterday was something that started in Egypt and
then something in Libya, which seems to have been largely driven by other
forces connected to Al Qaeda, and then, other groups around the world for
their own internal reasons seizing on this. I mean Yemen, just to take one
It looks like a frightening protest scenes there yesterday were
actually because the security forces commander is connected to the old
government is losing power, doesn`t like it, and deliberately allowed the
American embassy to be stormed as part of his fight with his own
So, that`s just one more example of how a pretext then enlivens
whatever internal power struggle you have going on.
SEDER: I mean I would imagine we also have -- I mean, there`s a whole
raft of -- of complaints that, I mean this --I think people in general may
use this as a pretext even if it`s not necessarily something that is ginned
up by the political forces, but there`s a lot of frustration and in parts
of the world.
ZAINAB SALBI, WOMEN FOR WOMEN INTERNATIONAL: Well, I mean, for me, it
reminds me once in Iraq right after the American invasion. Iraqis would
walk up to the street and when they discovered that I`m half-Iraqi and
half-American, they would tell me, please tell the American forces, the
American troops not to wear so much clothes, because Americans troops
usually have about 50 pounds of worth of clothing, because it`s really hot
And if you are that hot, you will snap at us, and we can`t afford
anybody to snap at us. We are already traumatized people. And I feel this
is very much the same thing that you have to understand the emotional
background beside the political aspect of it. You`re dealing with
traumatized people who have gone through a lot of changes recently, but
eras of dictatorship and oppression.
And, this is not to justified but is to explain, and then, someone
comes and poke at you and that film is a very provocative film. It`s very
insulting. It`s even to the moderate taste. It`s a very, very cheap
attack at someone for the most secular in Islam. They respect the Prophet
Muhammad, and we are not supposed to show his faith.
And I respect that you do not violate even with the most secular
groups of Islam. So, -- so, it`s a very provocative way of -- of poking,
you know, at someone who is traumatized. And we have to understand that
emotional thing and that -- when that happens, it does not mean the whole
population is like that.
SALBI: You know, when a Colorado shooting happened or when a riot
happens in America, we do not think, none of us think, that this is all of
America. This happens with, perhaps if I am too psychological terms, with
the most, you know, traumatized extremists who are waiting for anything to
And we have to put it in that context. And -- and in order to be
responsible of how we respond. And all of us need to be responsible,
America as much as the Arab world, you know, those who are moderate and
seeing it from our side. OK. This is someone poking and saying, you`re
bad, you`re bad, you`re bad and until you explode. So, we have to put it
in that context.
PHYLLIS BENNIS, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: I think that`s -- I
think that`s absolutely right, but I also think it`s very important for us
in the U.S. to pull back from this and recognize, this isn`t about us. You
know, there was a -- there was a headline this morning on one of the
networks saying, is the Arab spring turning to winter?
And I`m thinking, you know, the Arab spring has been wintery for
people in the midst of the spring since it began. You know, people are
being killed in these protests that we`re not hearing about. There were
two people killed in Sudan, at least, yesterday. Three people were killed
in Tunisia. Now, we`re not hearing about them.
We`re hearing about this only in the context of the killing of U.S.
diplomats, which is unfortunate, of course. It`s a tragedy. But, we
should be clear that this isn`t about the United States. It`s partly in
reaction to U.S. policy if we look at Egypt. And I absolutely agree that
Egypt is the center piece here in many ways.
The notion that we`re hearing from some in Washington that how could
this be? These were people that were supported by the United States in
Libya. Benghazi was the city that we liberated. Well, not everyone in
Benghazi and not everyone in Libya felt they were being liberated by the
NATO bombing. So, we can`t pretend it`s all about us.
HURLBURT: Although, I think it`s really important especially in the
case of Libya, because people did. To note that, the day after the
attacks, there were thousands of Libyans in the streets --
SEDER: Well --
HURLBURT: -- carrying signs that said, "sorry, America."
SEDER: We`re going to speak to -- we`re going to take a break, and
we`re going to speak to a couple correspondents on the ground in Egypt and
in Libya when we return. We`ll be right back after this.
SEDER: We`re talking about the rash of protests across the Middle
East this week, including one in which four Americans were killed at the
U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. NBC News foreign correspondent --
correspondent, Ayman Mohyeldin, is in Benghazi and file this report for us
AYMAN MOHYELDIN, NBC NEWS FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Sam.
We understand that a team of FBI agents has arrived in Benghazi, and they
have begun their investigation to try and determine who was responsible for
the attack on the U.S. consulate that killed Ambassador Stevens and three
We know that they will be sifting through the rubble and ashes at the
U.S consulate, and perhaps, identifying individuals who may have played a
role in that assault. We also understand that U.S. intelligence agencies
have deployed their assets and resources across the eastern part of the
country to try and pick up any intelligence that can help in that search.
All indications right now, according to Libyan officials, is that this
was a pre-planned attack. They have identified a few individuals. Four of
them are currently in the custody of the Libyan government. They believe
these individuals may have some information that may be of value (ph) to
who is responsible for the attack.
And they also say they have several others under the Libyan government
surveillance. Right now, though, all fingers are pointing to at least one
militant group here that is closely affiliated with or at least inspired by
al Qaeda. That group, though, denies it played a role in the assault.
There`s no doubt, though, that in the coming days, we expect the
investigation to intensify. Libyan authorities say they want to do
everything in their power to help the Americans identify these individuals
and bring the perpetrators to justice. Back to you, Sam.
SEDER: NBC News foreign correspondent, Ayman Mohyeldin, reporting
from Benghazi, Libya this morning.
And joining us live from Cairo right now is NBC News correspondent,
Jim Maceda. Jim, tell us where do things stand in Cairo now?
JIM MACEDA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Sam. Well, in Cairo, things
are looking almost back to normal. After four days of that standoff,
President Morsi gave the order to security police early this morning to
clear not just the road to the embassy, but the whole of the Tahrir Square.
That`s very symbol of -- of the revolution down below me.
There were probably 200, a little bit more, arrested protesters who
tried yet again last night and overnight to breach that U.S. embassy here.
But, so, it`s looking like Morsi is getting the message from President
Obama and striking the balance between having to appeal to his own
conservative, sometimes, ultra conservative constituency and appealing as
well to the international community and major donors, not the least of
which the United States.
But, still, the things are getting better here. There was a spasm of
international protest and violence across some 20 countries from Morocco to
Jakarta. There were protests by mostly young and -- young Muslim groups
that were trying to attack U.S. embassies or U.S. symbols of power.
Sometimes, they breached embassy walls and put up Islamic flags burned
American flags. Even in Turkey, Sam, NATO ally and close friend, we saw
pictures of U.S flags being burned.
In all, seven individuals were killed in that 24-hour spasm of
reaction to the film with world leaders today scratching their heads
wondering if this is ever going to peter out. Back to you.
SEDER: Have you been--Jim, just give me a sense. I mean, what were
the size of the protests in Cairo? I mean, were these -- give us some
context, because you know, we see -- we see maps in this country where we
just -- each protest is denoted by a little flashpoint, but then, give us a
sense of the scope of it.
OK. Well, we seemed to have lost connection with Jim Maceda. Thank
you so much. Jim Maceda in Cairo, thanks for joining us this morning.
All right. So, let`s talk about this idea of -- I mean, we had
touched upon this as we broke the -- to what extent are we in the United
States, and perhaps, even in the media overreacting to what is happening
I mean, obviously I`m not talking about the deaths and the killings of
four of our personnel in Libya, but I`m talking -- looking at these maps
with these flashpoints, and in fact, if there was not this sort of
predicate of this movie, would we even be discussing these type protests?
BENNIS: You know what`s even-- I think a more significant question
is, if the four U.S. diplomats had not been killed, diplomats and security
people, if they had not been killed, would we be talking about the
opposition to the film? You know, there`s a way in which everything we see
in the Middle East is seen through U.S. eyes.
And I think that`s a huge problem. I think it`s part of the problem
of why our policies haven`t worked, because we see it in the context of, is
Morsi doing the right thing? Meaning, is he doing what we want him to do?
Is he responding to President Obama`s pressure on what he should do
relative to the security question in his country, which is his country, not
We are the largest donor. That`s true, based on the Camp David
agreement. We give the Egyptian military, we should be clear, three sorry
$1.3 billion a year. We only give $250 million a year to the Egyptian
government. So, we`re supporting the military there. We`re taking sides.
And yet, we`re saying to President Morsi, we`re going to make
judgments about you based on whether you do what we say.
And I think that`s very problematic because it shapes a narrative in
this country that sort of says, everything in the Middle East is shaped by
our values, as we put it, our ideas, our strategic goals in the region, our
definitions of stability, our definitions of rights even on the question of
individual rights versus communal and religious rights. There are very
different assessments --
BENNIS: -- in different countries. We don`t take that --
SEDER: Right. I mean, I think --but I think, you know, we can all
agree, too, that both countries have a certain responsibility trying and
mitigate the impact of this, because clearly --
SEDER: -- this film was made with the express purposes of creating
this type of response -- this type of response. I mean this is not --
SEDER: -- someone went out there to make a blockbuster film by any
stretch of the imagination.
ASLANT: No and to your specific question, I mean, the BBC counted
about 500 protesters at the U.S. embassy yesterday, 500, in a country of 84
million. And if we -- the sort of the median narrative, which I
understand, because we need to simplify things. We need to give it out in
these little bite size pieces that people can understand and people can
absorb, but the median narrative that this is a Muslim --
ASLANT: -- you know, revolt or even a Middle Eastern revolt, I think,
really brushes past the incredible complexities that if we don`t pay
attention to are kind of dangerous to our security needs and not just the
Libya issue, obviously, which now we have to recognize that this was a
well-planned al Qaeda attack, which is a far more grave issue, obviously,
than just a protest of Muslims.
SEDER: Well, when we come back, we`re going to be joined by Ethar El-
Katatney, and she is going to be talking to us live from Egypt. We`ll be
right back after this.
SEDER: So, we`re talking about the reaction, I guess, ostensibly to a
film or at least the film became a catalyst for, in some ways, it
functioned -- it`s functioning a different way, I think, in each country in
which there are protests and for different parties.
I want to bring in Ethar El-Katatney. She is a author of "40 Days and
40 Nights in Yemen" who is joining us from Cairo via Skype. Thanks for
joining us, Ethar.
ETHAR EL-KATATNEY, JOURNALIST: Thanks for having me.
SEDER: So, Ethar, give us a sense of what`s -- from your vantage
point, what`s taking place in Egypt now? We just heard from Jim Maceda
that it seems that things are starting to quiet down. Is that your sense?
EL-KATATNEY: Yes, definitely. It`s been an interesting four days,
and it`s very much a flashback or sequel to 2006 when we had the cartoon
crisis. I was in Denmark at the time. And, the biggest difference here, I
think, is when you look at the fact that the Prophet Muhammad is actually
very secondary (ph) when it comes to it.
You try to analyze what`s been happening, and what we see is you have
this large number of angry crying Egyptians. They`re unemployed. They`re
alienated. They feel radicalized. And they suddenly been able to express
themselves. So, they have a lot of contempt resentment. And there`s a lot
of misplaced public anger.
The protests that started out, I think, were small. They got out of
hand, but our media here, and I`ve been listening into your conversation,
has done very much what -- what it was doing before -- before January 25th
revolution, which is trying to funnel public anger into a channel or to
focus on an issue so they don`t listen or listen to what`s actually
happening on the ground.
If you read our media, it`s very much this American Coptic Israeli
conspiracy, and I`ve heard more than dozens of people tell you how this
movie was funded, you know, by Jews and has like hundreds of donors. So,
its been -- it`s been very expected to see how the media was covering the
issue, but the reaction from the people is what snowballed.
And you have so many different groups, and everyone has their own
agenda. If we look back to Mubarak`s time when we had the cartoon crisis,
it was -- it was framed, media framed the issue as, look, why we need to be
strict on the Muslim Brotherhood, because if we don`t, this is their
So, it`s very strange to see that post the Arab spring or post our
revolution, that the Muslim Brotherhood actually called for protests
yesterday, which seemed to provoking the flames even more. And at the same
time the media on your end has also been painting it as this huge event
when I don`t think that actually a lot of Egyptians, they`re going on their
It`s very, very small concentrated the protests they were, and they
were actually protest there to the interior ministry. You had kind of
revolutionary against security forces, whether it`s Salafi followers
against the Muslim Brotherhood, and then very small, which is the Islamists
against the U.S. administration. So, it definitely requires deeper
analysis to what`s been going on.
SEDER: Phyllis, go ahead.
BENNIS: Ethar, this is Phyllis Bennis from Institute for Policies
Studies. I`m curious if you`re seeing on the ground a sense that some or
most or many of the protesters are really out there expressing anger and
unhappiness about the trajectory of the revolutionary process that began in
January of this year -- of last year?
Is it something that is a sense that it hasn`t moved fast enough to
provide jobs and bread or is it something that`s more at the ideological
level? Do you have a sense if there`s a majority view among the
EL-KATATNEY: The protesters are very fragmented. This is the thing,
if you ask me what`s actually going on in the country or anyone really
what`s going on at this particular moment, you will hear dozens of
different interpretations, because so much is happening all the time and
the only kind of consensus among the Egyptians is this kind of confusion,
is this kind of our economy, our foreign policy, what the president is
doing, what happened to the military?
OK. What about our salaries? What about our day-to-day existence?
There`s a sense of deep frustration, because a lot of Egyptians see that
really nothing has changed. If you go down and talk to the streets, what
people will tell you was that a kilogram of tomatoes now costs the
equivalent of a dollar. The prices have increased.
This kind of political playing or the games that are occurring on the
top -- the average Egyptian doesn`t really care what`s happening. And in
my personal opinion, I would actually call the majority of the people who
protested, they`re not protesting about the movie which none of them have
actually seen, and it`s horrible by the way, and insulting, but they
haven`t seen it.
They`re just using it as an outlet for their frustration, and the
media is helping provoke these flames. We`ve had -- you know, this movie
doesn`t come out it`s not -- it`s not springing out of a vacuum. It shares
idea with this growing transnational movement that preaches the hatred of
the Islamic faith, and it seeks to increase tensions between Islam and U.S.
And this idea that Islam, not the extremist interpretation of Islam,
but that the religion itself is an existential threat to Islam and the west
-- to the west is a belief that binds together this transnational anti-
Islam movement, and it`s not new.
But this movie isn`t -- it definitely seeks to increase tensions, but
the way the movie was framed or used in Egypt and in other countries was
not so much about look what how they`ve presented the prophet but, oh,
let`s direct your anger into a way that will amplify it and manufacture
this outrage, which is snowballs and everyone has their own agenda.
I would call, actually, some of Islamists here using it, you know, to
see how we are the defenders of the faith, and we are the one which
essentially we`re using violence to show that our religion is not violent.
And on the U.S. side, you know, hear analysts or people talking, they will
tell you, you know I read you know Romney`s statement after -- I mean the
SEDER: Ethar, Ethar if I can just interrupt you. We`re going to --
we`re going to -- if you can hold with us --
SEDER: -- through the break. We`re going to take a break. We`ll
come back and we want to hear about your interpretation of what Mitt
Romney`s response was and I think Heather has a question for you as well.
Appreciate it, and we`ll see you in just a moment.
SEDER: So, we have Ethar El-Katatney on the Skype from Cairo, Egypt,
and Heather, why don`t we start -- you had a question for Ethar.
HURLBURT: Yes. Ethar, so the cameras are all go away now with any
lock and at least in the U.S., we`ll be talking about something else next
week, but what is underneath this that Americans really ought to
understand, you know, there was this whole debate in our politics about is
the earth spring turning into an Arab winter and is that Barrack Obama`s
fault, but what should we be talking about in terms of what happens next
with reform in Egypt?
SEDER: OK. I think we`ve lost the connection for now. But I mean
that`s -- that`s a great question, at least, in terms of from our
perspective or from, I guess, from our perspective, is there anything that
the president could have done differently in this situation? I mean, how -
- in terms of either engaging or disengaging in terms of giving some space
for this to take place and having some measure of understanding, give me
ASLAN: I mean, I actually think President Obama`s doing a pretty fine
job dealing with this mess as it is. I think a lot of people in the United
States criticized him for that shot across the bow in Mohammed -- for
Mohammed Morsi saying that he -- you know, the Egypt is neither an ally nor
That was very deliberately done, and I thought it was very well done,
too, and the response of Mohammed Morsi was almost immediate. Now, we have
to understand that a politician is a politician whether he`s in D.C. or in
Cairo. Mohammed Morsi has a lot of political pressures coming at him from
all sides. He`s got his constituents that he`s got to deal with.
He`s got the secularists and the military that he has to deal with as
well as, of course, this important relationship with the United States.
So, he`s -- he`s in this delicate balance, you know, trying to please
everyone. But I think that Obama`s comment was a reminder to him that
without American support, whether to the military or to the actual
Democratic institutions that we`re hoping to try to build there, that he
doesn`t really have a chance and it worked. I thought it really did work.
BENNIS: But I think there`s a big difference. I don`t think it`s
fair to say whether it`s to the military or to the Democratic institutions.
I think that there`s a huge impact when you see 1.3, actually, the latest
report is $1.5 billion going directly to the military where the elected
government that we claim to support.
We claim we want democracy, but there is an elected government. They
have no control over that money. And all they get is one quarter of a
billion dollars. They get $250 million. That says something about our
priorities and --
ASLAN: Well, it says our priorities are to Israel because --
ASLAN: -- the only reason that we give the $1.3 billion is --
BENNIS: But the impact on people in Egypt, right, is that the
military gets the money and we don`t.
SALBI: And that`s the real -- and that`s the real discussion. It`s
not whether -- the president did make the right statement. It`s the
discussion in the House and other political system in America, but
American`s aid to the Middle East. That`s really critical question. We
almost have no choice. This is an important part of the world that has a
huge influence in the Muslim world.
We have a choice of either stabilizing it and contributing rather to
its stabilization or complete withdrawal of it and say we have nothing, but
to immediately go to the withdraw of aid and bring aid withdraw of aid and
bring aid would have to really make a very conscious decision
It`s in America`s best interest to stabilize the economic stability
and growth of the Middle East and/or leave it alone.
SALBI: But to support the military is actually dysfunctional--
dysfunctional, destructive kind of aide. So, it`s OK not to have it. But
let the engage in a different dialogue and lets create a different
narrative and that`s why American politics is responsible for actually.
We`re stuck in this clashes of civilization narrative that needs to change
in order for more positive outcomes.
BENNIS: This is a stuck on this question of aiding militaries. This
question of the link between the aid to Egypt and the U.S. aid to Israel,
which is, of course, the 23rd wealthiest country in the world, and yet, we
give it 25 percent of our entire foreign aid budget for reasons that have
everything to do with Israel`s definitions of military security Israel, of
course, being the only nuclear weapon state in the Middle East.
SEDER: But I want to get back to this clash of civilizations, because
in some ways, the clash of civilizations overlays a dynamic that I think is
sort of the classic dynamic, which is regardless of whether it`s classic
civilization or whether it`s Castro saying that America is going to invade
It always behooves in many instances leaders to create an outside
enemy, right? To gin up domestic support, whether they put it in this
context of a clash of civilizations.
HURLBURT: Yes. So, Sam, I mean, this debate is not about Egypt. and
it`s not about aiding Egypt. And we actually -- we make a mistake if we
say, well, the real problem is that we`re not talking about aiding Egypt.
The real problem is the domestic political dynamic in the United States
that makes it impossible to have the conversation that you two are calling
And so, you have to go back to, you know, what is the reason that it`s
so useful for one political party to raise bait and Muslim bait around
these issues and why is that the conversation that we have to have before
we can ever get to having a conversation, and you know, I would not cut off
aid to the Egyptian military tomorrow.
I think that would be a huge mistake. I think the best you can do is
to gradually reorient over time, but even that`s not possible, unless, you
focus squarely on domestic politics.
SEDER: Indeed. And let`s take that focus to domestic politics.
Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International, thank you for
joining us this morning. We`re going to turn to who`s calling the policy
shots for Mitt Romney when we get back.
SEDER: Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan`s first response to the attacks in
Egypt and Libya was to claim that the Obama Administration had sympathized
with the attackers.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The embassy of the United
States issued what appeared to be an apology for American principles.
REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to be clear.
It is never too early for the United States to condemn attacks on
Americans, on our properties, and to defend our values.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SEDER: But Romney`s tone softened considerably. He sounded
remarkably similar to the embassy statement he had criticized when he
discussed the film in an interview with ABC News on Thursday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: It`s dispiriting, sometimes, to see some of the awful things
people say. And the idea of using something that some people consider
sacred and that parade--parading that at them in a negative way is simply
inappropriate and wrong.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SEDER: But if Romney was trying to take the high road, his advisors
did not. That same day, top Romney foreign policy adviser, Richard
Williamson, told the "Washington Post" that, quote, "there`s a pretty
compelling story that if you had a President Romney, you`d be in a
different situation," which gets us to the central question at hand, what
would the United States foreign policy look like under a Romney
Joining me now is Eli Lake, senior national security reporter for
"Newsweek" and the "Daily Beast." Eli, welcome. Let`s start with you.
Give me your sense of how President Obama handled the past couple of days.
ELI LAKE, THEDAILYBEAST.COM: Well, when you have a statement from an
embassy that`s under attack, that`s not necessarily the same as a statement
from the White House that approved by the president.
But, in some ways, it is very much part of a continuity of responses
since what one might call the 9/11 era from top Republicans and Democrats
that have acknowledged in these tense moments whether it`s the cartoon
crisis or my magazine Newsweek once had a crisis with a report about Korans
being flushed down the toilet, which had plump it or had been used as a
pretexts for the -- these riots by enthusiasts of political Islam.
And I think that there is a sense, and I don`t know that this is a
Republican or conservative idea, that there`s something untoward about
having high government officials in some ways legitimating the grievances
of fanatics. And that is something that has been, in my view, no one would
defend this movie and no one should defend this movie.
And it`s not about that. But the issue is is that are U.S. officials,
is U.S. policy allowing for an extreme, violent, fanatic fringe to define
the sentiment of all Muslims, which I think we`ve seen in the earlier
discussion these protesters do not speak --
SEDER: Correct. This isn`t necessarily an Obama Administration
issue, is it? I mean, let`s listen to Condoleezza Rice when she was
secretary of state, her response on those Danish cartoons that you
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: This is going to be a
very difficult period of time for everybody. We certainly understand that
there is genuine outrage. There are people who genuinely were offended by
the cartoon side. Many people found them offensive. I found them
But obviously, there`s also a press freedom involved here, but a press
responsibility involved. Now that said, whatever your views of this, the
violence and going into the streets and burning embassies and killing
innocent people is totally unacceptable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SEDER: I mean, that seems to be exactly what you want a diplomat to
say. You don`t have a problem with that, do you?
LAKE: It`s -- it`s -- it`s not that there`s a problem with twinning
those two ideas, that violent protests are bad. It`s the idea that the
U.S. government has to constantly explain that everything that`s done in a
free and open society is responsible of somehow of the Americans. And this
is never applied in the other sense.
And I think that in some sense, the idea that there is the sort of
crisis management mode that happens every time these pre -- I mean
pretexts, its like--it`s giving basically a lot of power to what, at least,
we all hope is a sort of minority fringe view in the Middle East.
HURLBURT: The fact that General Petraeus, both in his Afghanistan
role and at the CIA, you know, when Terry Jones, the Koran burning pastor
in Florida, that Petraeus was actually worried enough to call on Jones to
call off the Koran burning. Mollin (ph) called Jones this weekend asked
him to stop promoting this film.
So, there is -- in addition to what you---to the sort of military
assessment that American lives are put at stake by this thing and I think
that sheds -- it doesn`t take away the free speech concern, but it adds
another layer to it and takes you more into the when someone`s yelling fire
in a crowded movie theater and do American policy makers of both parties
also act because they feel they have a responsibility to try to safeguard
SEDER: I got to say, I mean, I don`t know how comfortable I am with
military personnel calling the people in this country saying what you
should and should not say. But at the same time, are we doing something
wrong, Phyllis, when we simply from a diplomatic standpoint recognize other
people`s sensitivities and say
BENNIS: You know this was extraordinary because --
SEDER: It`s not helpful?
BENNIS: What governor Romney said actually was he was saying that the
film and what it represents is American principles. He was saying that
it`s outrageous that the White House or the embassy is apologizing for
American principles as far as I could tell, they were apologizing, if you
want to use that term, they weren`t actually.
They were explaining that it doesn`t represent the government`s
position. This outrageous film, which Romney seems to think does represent
ASLAN: I think what he`s doing is obviously what he talks about with
both Paul Ryan and Romney are talking about when they say values is they`re
talking about ideas of freedom of speech, freedom of religion --
ASLAN: -- quite obviously, but it is insane to argue that a President
Romney would have dealt with this situation even one iota differently than
President Obama did. This is standard fare. It`s scripted we`re -- we
apologize for -- without even apologize, but we understand the grievances.
We will not put up with violence.
SEDER: We`ll give you a chance to say that we can`t say that when we
return. We`ll be right back.
SEDER: OK. Phyllis, you wanted to respond to the idea that Romney
would, I guess, basically would have followed more or less the same script
as President Obama.
BENNIS: I think that`s way beyond what we know about a so-called
President Romney. I mean, when you have advisors like John Bolton, like
Elliott Cohen, these are extremists. And the notion that they are only
extreme during elections, I think, is just wrong. Look at what John Bolton
did when he was at the United Nations.
I mean, this is the danger of this situation where politicians, well,
were just running for office. And once they get into office, they are
accountable to the money behind their campaigns. If you`re accountable to
the Coke Brothers, you`re going to do one thing. If you`re accountable to
unions, you`re going to do something else.
And I think that it`s very dangerous to assume that, well, the
presidency has this existence that has nothing to do with who`s in the
office, and that they`re all going to sort of do the right thing and have
some long vision of what`s really best for U.S. foreign policy.
SEDER: Well, we certainly have a sense of who his advisors are, and -
- but we also know, I mean, as per his press conference the other day, he
articulated his three foreign policy principles right at that press
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: Confidence in our cost, a recognition that the principles
America was based upon are not something we shrink from or apologize for.
The second is clarity in our purpose, which is that when we have a foreign
policy objective, we describe that honestly and clearly to the American
people, to Congress, and to the people of the world.
And number three is resolve in our might. That in those rare
circumstances, those rare circumstances where we decide that`s essential
for us to apply military might, that we do so with overwhelming force.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SEDER: So, Heather, confidence in our cause, clarity in our purpose,
resolve in our might, principles for a sound foreign policy?
HURLBURT: You know, Sam, I like puppies and kittens, too. And at one
level, it`s hard to disagree with any of those. At another level, they`re
kind of the perfect bumper stickers for what went wrong during eight years
that the neo cons had the rudder (ph). And this goes back, I think, to
something really important that Phyllis said.
What we saw this week, Mitt Romney does have some sane moderate middle
of the road realist advisors, and they were complaining off the record to
the media about what a terrible set of decisions Romney made in response to
the events in the Middle East.
So, what you see again -- and I think it`s time to stop talking about
Romney`s advisors and say, look, he`s not being advised by his advisors,
he`s being advised by his pollsters and by his base, and it`s time to stop
kidding ourselves that there`s anything else at play in how he`s willing to
talk about America, how he`s willing to talk about Americans before their
bodies are even cold.
SEDER: I mean, that leaves us, Eli, what is your sense? I mean, is
it--are we seeing Romney`s foreign policy or we simply seeing Romney`s
LAKE: Well, one of the reasons why I think that Romney has
articulated vague and nice sounding principles as opposed to very specific
ideas in this campaign is because the Republican base itself is very much
divided on foreign policy between people who still favored kind of Bush
style interventionism and people who believe that the austerity measures
that they demand for Medicare and Social Security should apply to the
And that`s a very deep divide within the Republican Party. And I
think there`s a similar one divide in the Democratic Party, although, it
would be on the terms of anti-imperialism, I think, versus liberal or
nationalism. But, in that sense, I think that Romney campaign has decided
to largely airbrush over those distinctions which is the party itself is
SEDER: So, it`s an open question as to what he`s -- how he`s going to
lead? We`ll be right back and talk more about this.
SAM SEDER, GUEST HOST: Good morning from New York. I`m Sam Seder, in for
Here with Heather Hurlburt of the National Security Network, Reza
Aslan of the Council of Foreign Relations, Phyllis Bennis from the
Institute for Policy Studies, and Eli Lake, national security reporter for
"Newsweek" and "The Daily Beast."
Eli, you were basically just pointing out that Mitt Romney is being
very cautious as to really, I guess, take a specific stance on foreign
policy because he`s got two constituencies in his own party that seem to be
quite at odds with each other.
So where does this leave us, Heather? I mean, theoretically part of
presidential campaign is to hear ideas and to determine whether or not
that`s the type of leadership we want to invest in going forward. Can we
really -- can we really measure Mitt Romney`s foreign policy when all we
have is his desire to sort of jump into a -- what is -- could have been a
very serious crisis and just put out a statement?
HEATHER HURLBURT, NATIONAL SECURITY NETWORK: Let me tell you what
else we don`t have, Sam, on Afghanistan. You know, we know he didn`t talk
about it in his convention speech. He`s both said, yes, I support winding
down the war. He`s also said, no, I don`t support withdrawing troops.
It`s hard to see how you do that if you don`t withdraw troops.
He`s proposed adding 100,000 troops and substantially increasing the
military budget. His advisors can`t tell us what that would be used for
which is a little scary. He`s severely criticized the handling of Iran but
when you ask him what he would do differently, can`t name a single thing.
Has had almost nothing to say about the NATO alliance. Almost
nothing to say about the European economic crisis. Has said he would
introduce sanctions on the trade sanctions in China on his first day,
except, oh, in his book, he says he`s opposed to trade sanctions. So,
really in terms of what are the things he believes about what policies will
serve America`s interest in the world , I`ve got nothing for you.
REZA ASLAN, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: It`s an appallingly poorly
run campaign. My heart goes out to him a little bit. I mean, his original
idea was do no harm. Everybody is disappointed in Obama. The economy is
in the tank. Just be the other guy.
And that works for a while, but now we`re two months away from the
election and it`s time to take a position on things.
I understand what Eli is saying. He`s in a terrible position. He`s
got a deeply fractured political party that if he loses might really spell
the end of the GOP, as we know it.
But, nevertheless, if he doesn`t act boldly, if he doesn`t take
positions that might alienate somebody in his own party, the people in the
middle aren`t going to take him seriously.
SEDER: There`s no second principle, clarity and purpose. We`re not
PHYLLIS BENNIS, INSTITUTE FOR POLICY STUDIES: Let`s look at where
there are some significant differences. I think there`s some real dangers
here that we are maybe glossing over a little bit. On the question of
Iran, there is a clear difference between the so called red lines of the
Obama administration and the red lines of Mitt Romney.
I`ll tell you what they are. He`s gone --
ASLAN: He`s jumped those red lines again on George Stephanopoulos.
BENNIS: But the overall position has been, we will accept the
Israeli red lines which are the notion of nuclear capability on the part of
Iran. He`s at times pulled back from that. That his advisors have gone
out. And at times, he said it.
I agree with Eli, it hasn`t been consistent.
ELI LAKE, NEWSWEEK: He just said this week that his red lines were
the weapon which is the exact red line of Obama.
BENNIS: That`s true. But his advisors came back after that again
and said we would not allow nuclear capability. And that`s a hugely
different level of threat. There`s a threat when you say red lines at all
because it undermines the possibility of diplomacy, but when you --
LAKE: Why wouldn`t it enhance the possibilities of diplomacy?
BENNIS: Right, because I don`t think that -- among other things, the
Congress is making it very difficult to be real diplomacy. There haven`t
been real discussions, real diplomatic engagements yet since the Obama
BENNIS: But let me just say that the notion of having red lines is
inherently dangerous in my view. But when you have a red line that says,
"We will prevent a nuclear weapon" is one thing. When you say, we will
have -- we will use military force to prevent nuclear capability, the
Israeli position, that means today. That`s arguably been reached today.
And that`s a much more dangerous scenario here. That`s a huge
difference between the two campaigns.
HURLBURT: So the other key difference, I think, is, as you say, the
administration has been fairly clear. The Romney campaign has been all
over the map. Meanwhile, the security establishment in the U.S. and even
the security establishment in Israel, we also saw Scowcroft, Brzezinski, 30
national security leaders come out with a report this week saying we have
not had a serious enough conversation about costs and benefits.
One of the costs is you lose the ability to marshal the international
community behind you if you launch an attack. And nobody in the Romney
campaign shows any awareness of wrestling with just how hard this is -- to
go back to the question of what would President Romney do? And that to me
is the key difference --
BENNIS: But what President Obama is not doing and what I think he
needs to do is get out in front of this debate and say, it`s not about
where is the red line, it`s about the fact that all 16 of our intelligence
agencies, most of the Israeli intelligence agencies, but all of ours agree
on the three key things. Iran doesn`t have a nuclear weapon. It`s not
building a nuclear weapon, and has not even decided whether or not to build
a nuclear weapon.
And when that`s the case, even talking about this only serves the
interests of Israel diverting attention.
LAKE: That`s incredible.
BENNIS: That`s exactly what NIE said in 2007 and again 2011.
LAKE: I think that`s a very curious interpretation of it.
LAKE: Listen, everything that we know about the Iranian program is
because someone in the international community caught them. We know --
BENNIS: Yes, terrorists of the U.K. are the ones that, quote,
LAKE: How does that support your point, though? I don`t understand
SEDER: Let`s let Eli --
LAKE: The IAEA`s latest report has said they`ve doubled a number of
these admittedly crude P1 centrifuges in an underground base in the middle
of Fordu. They have refused to agree to numerous requests from the
international community to stop their enrichment. They have a missile
program, which also the NIE says, and they continue to work on this.
What the NIE and what the intelligence communities believe is that
there has not been a decision to take all of these components and turn them
into a nuclear weapon. But that`s very different than saying they don`t
have one and they`re not going to build one.
ASLAN: The larger issue here is where does foreign policy in the
United States stand? I think that what you`re seeing is a real backlash,
not just from those on the left or the Democrats, but even from those on
the right about the notion that a foreign government like Israel, even an
ally of ours, can dictate to us what our foreign policy instruments should
or should not be I think is rubbing people the wrong way, I mean, maybe for
all the wrong reasons.
LAKE: I don`t think that`s what this is about. I think Israel has a
very different view of the threat. While the Israeli security
establishment is weighing a lot of different issues, including what it
would do to the U.S./Israel alliance if Israel unilaterally strike, it`s
not that the Israelis are saying, we need you to do this right now. It`s
saying, we`re going to do it if you don`t do it. That`s what I think we`re
at right now.
BENNIS: It`s being enabled by our arms, by our money. That $4.1
billion a year that we gave this year, $3.1 billion over every year for 10
years, we`re talking about $30 billion of our tax money going directly to
aid to Israel. And while the Israelis are claiming it`s an existential
threat, what it`s an existential threat to the Israeli nuclear monopoly
that exists today in the region when they are the only country in the
region that has a nuclear weapon, not under IAEA inspection, not
acknowledged, and where the U.S. refuses also to acknowledge it.
The effect of it that no one is talking to the Israelis and we`ve
seen it for months now. No one is talking to the Israelis about
settlement, about the continuing occupation, about siege of Gaza. None of
these things are on the Romney agenda because, oh, my God, we`re hearing
that Israel thinks it`s under existential threat.
The existential threat is on its nuclear monopoly.
ASLAN: Just to respond to what Eli said, I think it`s important that
Bibi has made it clear, and Ehud Barak himself, they are more or less
admitted that by themselves, an Israeli strike on Iran`s suspected nuclear
strikes could at the very least perhaps slow down their nuclear progress.
The only thing that would truly disrupt it is an American strike.
Bibi has made it very clear in his actions and in his words what he
wants is an American military attack. An Israeli military attack is just
not going to do it. When he threatens an Israeli military attack, the
purpose of that threat is to force Obama into action, to force the American
military into action. It`s really quite remarkable that be or any foreign
leader has so deliberately inserted himself into an American election the
way that he has.
As Shaul Mofaz himself said, you know, I mean, it`s really quite
remarkable that Bibi or any foreign leader has so deliberately inserted
himself into an American election.
LAKE: I think that that`s all spent. I just don`t think that that`s
SEDER: We`re going to talk more about this in the next segment
because we`re going to talk about Bibi Netanyahu is arriving in the United
States either today or tomorrow and will be on "Meet the Press." And we`re
going to follow up more on this because he`s certainly been in the news and
this has also involved the presidential campaign with Mitt Romney.
I want to say, Heather Hurlburt, executive director of the National
Security Network -- thanks for being here.
And we will be right back and talk more about Israel and Romney, and
the presidential campaign.
SEDER: We`re discussing Romney`s position on the standoff over
Iran`s nuclear program. And Romney has promised that as president, he
would seriously consider military action if Iran does not immediately stop
enriching uranium. He`s claimed that if President Obama is re-elected,
quote, "Iran will have a nuclear weapon."
The Obama administration has been decidedly more cautious,
implementing harsh economic sanctions, but refusing to set a time line on
Iran`s nuclear facilities. That approach resulted in a major flair up this
week between the United States and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Again on Sunday, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated
the Obama administration`s commitment to a peaceful settlement in an
interview with Bloomberg Radio.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We`re not setting deadlines.
We`re convinced that we have more time to focus on these sanctions to do
everything we can to bring Iran to a good faith negotiation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SEDER: Netanyahu who has demanded that the U.S. set a timeline for a
military strike against Iran responded to some of his harshest criticism of
the Obama administration to date.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: The world tells Israel,
wait, there`s still time. And I say, wait for what? Wait until when?
Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before
Iran don`t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SEDER: As "The New York Times" reported yesterday, Obama personally
rebuffed Netanyahu`s call for a red line with a phone call with the Israeli
premiere on Tuesday. In an interview on Thursday with ABC, Romney
criticized Obama`s Iran policy but admitted that as president his red line
would be the same as President Obama`s.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: My red line is Iran may not
have a nuclear weapon. It is inappropriate for them to have the capacity
to terrorize the world.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: But your red line going forward is
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SEDER: Joining us now is Hooman Majd, an Iranian journalist, an
author of "The Ayatollah`s Democracy: An Iranian Challenge."
HOOMAN MAJD, AUTHOR: Good morning.
SEDER: Also, I want to bring in Daniel Levy, a senior research
fellow at the New America Foundation`s Middle East task force and a former
special advisor to the Israel prime minister during the administration of
Ehud Barak via Skype.
DANIEL LEVY, FORMER ISRAELI NEGOTIATOR: Hi, Sam.
SEDER: Daniel, let`s start with you. In Israel, are there politics
that are taking place in Israel that is sort of pressuring Netanyahu to
come out and really take on, I guess, Secretary of State Clinton`s sort of
refusal to put down a red line or is this -- in other words, is he -- he
seems to be sort of flanked on both sides now.
LEVY: I think it`s very important for your viewers to know that
there is not pressure in Israel nor has there been to take a hard line and
to preemptively launch a solo military strike. The only protests there
have been throughout the Iran/Israel situation have actually been in the
opposite direction. There have not been massive protests. They`ve been
against military action.
This is very top driven. Part of it one can understand, it`s quite
clear what Netanyahu`s preference is in the American election. It`s clear
that he wants the -- this to be a distraction and for the Palestinian issue
to go away. He clearly wants to push the Americans as close as possible to
articulating positions and doing things in terms of a military positioning
in the Gulf.
It will make a clash more likely. But at some level, it`s difficult
not -- though one hates to go there -- it`s difficult not to ask questions
about what the former head of the Shin Bet, one of Israel`s security
agencies calls Netanyahu messianism.
There is a sense that perhaps Netanyahu sees his role in this world
in the sweep of Jewish history as to attack Iran, but that cuts against
everything we know about Netanyahu as a risk averse politician who doesn`t
like making decisions and who could well lose politically because what he`s
doing right now is beginning to have a cost in domestic political terms for
Netanyahu because people are seriously questioning is this guy fit to
govern and fit to manage the U.S./Israel relationship.
SEDER: Yes, in fact, I mean, we`re starting to see evidence of -- I
mean, you`re saying this is a top down driven in Israel, and we had defense
minister Ehud Barak in the "Jerusalem Post" on Tuesday, wrote, do not
forget that -- was quoted as saying, "Do not forget that the U.S. is
Israel`s main ally. We have to remember the importance of our partnership
with the U.S. We should do everything possible not to harm it."
This is coming off of what I believe was Barak`s essentially backing
off the notion of a unilateral strike.
Daniel, I mean, is Netanyahu`s coming out and sort of rebuffing
Secretary of State Clinton, is that in response to sort of losing support
amongst the political elite in Israel?
LEVY: I think Netanyahu has gotten to a position where he feels he
has to double down, which is what I think we`re seeing in significant
measure. He would have liked to be able to claim, I think, that whatever
next happens in terms of sanctions going forward, in terms of language
becoming more harsh, that this is down to him continuing to make credible
and real the possibility of an Israeli strike. And he will then turn to
the former Mossad heads or even to his own defense minister and say, you
see, if we hadn`t of stuck with my approach we wouldn`t have gotten these
developments moving forward.
But he`s also backing himself into a corner in terms of the boy
crying wolf, and I think his defense minister, Ehud Barak, though it was
time to climb down from the ladder.
And Ehud Barak said, look, I`ve seen the American plans for a
possible strike. The deputy chair of the joint chiefs was just over here.
I think now we can be a little more calm in knowing that America is
Netanyahu chose not to use that as an opportunity for climbing down
the ladder. That has to do with domestic politics. That has to do with
his view of American politics. Don`t forget that I think Netanyahu in a
significant way also thinks even if Obama wins the elections, I can stare
He was caught on video, you know, after his first term of prime
minister saying America is an easy thing to lead by the nose I think is the
right translation. So, I think Netanyahu may have good reason for thinking
this, feels that the United States president even if re-elected will not be
willing to be in an ongoing standoff with the Israeli prime minister and
that his forces that he can put into play in Obama`s backyard are strong
I think it`s a high risk strategy. Many Israelis are deeply
uncomfortable with it, but it makes sense for Netanyahu`s viewpoint.
SEDER: I want to thank Daniel Levy from the New America Foundation`s
Middle East task force for joining us this morning. Thank you, Daniel. I
LEVY: Thank you, Sam, and to your guests.
SEDER: We`re going to take a break and we`ll come back and we`ll
allow you guys to answer that question, and particularly after President
Obama has rebuffed, I guess, Benjamin Netanyahu`s rebuffing of secretary of
state. We`ll see if you think that Netanyahu still feels that same way
about leading America by the nose.
SEDER: We`re talking about how this past week, there has been an
imbroglio between Benjamin Netanyahu and leaders of the Obama
administration and there may be some type of -- maybe not a turning point
in the mind of Netanyahu about his capacity to lead the American
administration. But let`s just talk just briefly of what Mitt Romney would
do in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is a pretty
stunning, I guess, outsourcing of foreign policy.
Here he is at the Iowa Republican presidential debate in 2011.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: I`ve also known Bibi Netanyahu for a long time. We`ve
worked together at Boston Consulting Group. I`d get on the phone to my
friend Bibi Netanyahu and said, would it help if I said this? What would
you like me to do?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SEDER: Hooman, does that give you confidence?
SEDER: Will President Romney call up every foreign leader and ask
him what he`s supposed to say?
MAJD: Talking points from Bibi.
But I think it`s important to mention that in the Middle East and
particularly in countries like Iran which don`t have good relationships
with the United States, people already think that the White House calls
Bibi Netanyahu, or whoever is the prime minister of Israel, or at least
Israel influences foreign policy when it comes to the Middle East.
Certainly, the Egyptians think that. A lot of the Egyptians think that.
People across North Africa and the Arab world think that Israel basically
runs our foreign policy. Not to the degree that -- would be President
Romney said, but at least to a large degree.
So I think, yes, it`s something that is a little scary. I think
Obama has demonstrated at least this week that he`s not that kind of
president and I think that probably resonates quite a bit in the Middle
East. I think it probably gains him some measure of sympathy among the
people who are already against American foreign policy saying, wait a
second, no, we don`t set red lines when you tell us to set red lines.
By the way, as everybody here has mentioned, there already is a red
line for Iran. Iran knows that that red line is there. And Iran`s
response to that red line has been, we`re not building weapons, so what`s
the problem. You know, I`m not saying that they`re right, but I`m just
saying that`s been their response.
And certainly I think it`s true what Hillary says and what Obama has
said, that there is plenty of time. I know Netanyahu said, "Wait for
what?" Wait for there to be a point at which there is no more time to stop
Iran from having a nuclear weapon.
By the way, I think this is a much bigger issue. The war idea, and
Phil Keller wrote about this in "The New York Times" this week, a very good
op-ed about this issue of going to war with Iran. Let`s think about it.
Even if Iran decided tomorrow to build a nuclear weapon, the only way that
we could actually prevent them from doing that, actually prevent them from
doing it is a ground invasion. Let`s be honest about this.
There is no way to prevent Iran if they make that decision to build a
weapon, at this point that we can stop it. We can`t stop it with a strike.
We can delay it. I think even the United States can`t stop it. We can do
it by changing the regime and installing a puppet government there.
I don`t know if that`s` going to work. That`s probably the minimum
that would be required. And nobody wants to talk about that. They want to
talk about surgical military strikes. They don`t want to talk about the
number of people who are going to die.
When I`m in Iran and have been there, I`ve talked to people who are
anti-regime people who have been in jail and have been tortured who say, if
there is an attack, we`ll fight for Iran.
So, it`s not as simple as we think. Let`s bomb the facilities and
we`re going to be OK. So, I think it`s a much larger discussion.
SEDER: Eli, when you hear -- I know this is obviously a campaign,
but when you hear President Romney -- would be President Romney saying I`m
just going to call up and find out what he would like me to say, is that
LAKE: I think he`s basically saying that Israel is an ally. He
would consult as Obama consults with other U.S. allies. How`s that any
different than when Obama talks about his fondness for Erdogan in Turkey or
Bush has talked about his fondness for Tony Blair.
SEDER: It`s weird.
LAKE: It`s very strange.
LAKE: It plays into a kind of paranoid fiction that many elites
unfortunately in the Middle East believe. As our friend says just now,
that there is some sort of relationship of a wag the dog where the Israelis
are dictating U.S. foreign policy or controlling U.S. foreign policy. And
sadly, we`ve seen in recent years some people in the U.S. media and others
echo this kind of thing.
I just think that that`s not how the world works.
SEDER: We`ve talked about it.
LAKE: That`s something more about the Hussein theory.
SEDER: We talked about that clip of Netanyahu saying that he thought
that he was wagging the dog a little bit.
Let me ask you this. Do you think Netanyahu thinks that that dynamic
is changing? In other words, what we`re watching this week where he`s
saying that we`re running out of time, do you think that he`s talking
necessarily about the window for a strike against Iran in his mind is
closing or is it that his opportunity too -- maybe with the election and
the way that the election is heading, that his opportunity to get America
on board with that is closing?
LAKE: I think it`s pretty clear. Prime Minister Netanyahu does not
believe Barack Obama when he says he will prevent Iran from getting a
nuclear weapon. He thinks that Obama`s real policy in a second term would
be containment and he thinks that that`s something Israel can`t live with.
I have to say, I think all of these Israeli national security experts
who are sometimes dissidents in Israel against Netanyahu`s policy, I don`t
think they could live with that either.
BENNIS: Can I just come back to this question of who makes U.S.
foreign policy? I don`t think Israel makes foreign policy. I think the
But I think U.S. policies since the days of the Cold War has looked
at Israel as a crucial strategic -- not just ally -- arm of U.S. policy.
And then we lost it as a strategic asset with the end of the Cold War. And
for about 10 years, Israel -- there was a big debate about is Israel now
maybe even not only an ally, not only an asset but maybe it`s a problem for
us. During the First Gulf War in 1991, we saw George Bush 1st being
willing to make a challenge to U.S. support for settlements.
But then, all of a sudden after September 11th, Israel is back as a
All the time, you have a lobby in this country which is very
influential. There`s no question about it. It doesn`t make the policy.
But based on this question of the intersection of the interests and work of
the lobby and the strategic views of the Pentagon, in particular, of Israel
as the strategic --
LAKE: Can I say? I want to respond to that.
SEDER: I`m going to give you a chance to respond.
BENNIS: Let me finish.
SEDER: I`ll give you a chance to respond to that, Eli, and a chance
for you to finish. We`ll be back after this hard break.
SEDER: OK. So, Phyllis, why don`t you finish your point about the
relationship between Israel --
BENNIS: Yes. You know, we heard, Sam, last year, there was a moment
about how we were hearing about how the U.S. is criticizing Israel too
much. We heard from the Republicans that the Obama administration is
throwing Israel under the bus.
Well, let`s look at what really happened. We didn`t see even any
pressure around settlements. We heard a series of requests. Please stop
building settlements. Answer? No.
Pressure would have looked like, stop building settlements, it`s
illegal. Answer: no. Answer to that, OK, you are an independent country.
You can do what you want. But you know the $4 billion we`re giving you
this year, actually, it was only $3.1 billion at that time, we`re not doing
that anymore. You know how we protect you in the U.N. so that with all of
the resolutions that are passed, no Israeli officials are ever held
accountable for potential war crimes? We`re not doing that anymore.
That`s what pressure looks like. And we haven`t seen it. That`s not
because the Israelis say it, it`s because that`s been U.S. policy with both
parties in power for way too long. When we see as we were hearing, in the
Middle East when people see what the U.S. did, for example, when the
Palestinians were accepted as a member of UNESCO and the U.S. response is
to cut $70 billion --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, $70 million.
BENNIS: Seventy million dollars from the UNESCO budget that goes to
tsunami warnings that are crucial to U.S. interest, people are saying, why
would they do that?
SEDER: Eli, respond to that. Do you think --
LAKE: Well, very briefly, then I want to get to more of the Iran
point about Israel. The first year, Netanyahu did agree to a settlement
freeze, there was a disagreement about whether it applied to East
Jerusalem. And it was --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It didn`t.
LAKE: I think that there had been some efforts to give a speech at
He did give a speech at Bar Ilan University I think at the urging of
President Obama. But the point about Iran and Israel --
SEDER: Hold on a second. Before we get to Iran, I mean, do you
think that the United States, particularly under the Obama administration,
has been pressuring Israel more on things like settlements than in the
past? I mean, do you really think there`s within an increase in sort of
LAKE: I would say that you started to see it under the Bush
administration when Colin Powell and George W. Bush at the U.N. called for
a Palestinian state. You`ve seen evolution of at least the level of
official that would express concerns about settlements.
For many years, it would be something that would be done in a press
release from U.S. counsels under President Obama. The president of the
United States articulates it himself and that --
SEDER: There`s been an evolution?
LAKE: Phyllis Bennis is correct in the sense that there hasn`t been,
you know, threats of the fundamentals of the relationship. There`s a
strategic reason for that. Everybody knows Israel -- America is Israel`s
most important friend and that how the United States treats its allies is
observed by everybody else about whether it`s good to be America`s ally or
BENNIS: But 25 percent of our entire foreign aid budget going to
the 23rd wealthiest country.
LAKE: We get it, you don`t like Israel. I understand, I`m just
BENNIS: Tax money.
LAKE: Fair enough.
SEDER: We`re not going to give 25 percent to all of our friends.
The example is --
LAKE: I don`t think the aid --
SEDER: Let Reza give --
ASLAN: Well, I`m going to help you like get to the Iran point,
because there`s a larger philosophical issue here. And that is this
question of whether America`s interests in the region are in alignment with
Israel`s interest in the region. You hear this from politicians constantly
that our values, our interest are the same.
Well, they`re not the same. Our interests are actually sometimes
LAKE: I agree with that.
ASLAN: Iran is a perfect example of that.
LAKE: I don`t know about that.
ASLAN: It is in Israel`s interests to cease all uranium enrichment
in Iran, full stop. That will never happen and it is not going to be Obama
policy because it`s a failed start.
So, in this particular regard, we`re talking about negotiations,
Netanyahu can say from his position that negotiations have led nowhere
because Iran is still enriching uranium. Fact, true, except that Iran is
going to continue enriching uranium regardless of whatever the outcome of a
President Obama, who`s running for office, can`t negotiate with that
postulate. He can`t begin by saying, number one, yes, you have a right to
enrich uranium. He has to wait until the elections are over.
There`s this weird sort of pause when it comes to Iran. The pause is
a perfect way of putting this. What Obama is saying not -- there`s time,
there`s time, there`s time. He`s saying to really do something about
Iran`s nuclear program, I`m going to have to say things and sacrifice
things that will hurt me politically and I will not do that until the
elections are over.
SEDER: We`ll take a break and we`ll pick it up from there.
SEDER: So when we broke, Reza was making the point that President
Obama`s restricted by the campaign in terms of what he can say in
MAJD: What he can do, actually. I mean, let`s -- Netanyahu is right
about one thing, that negotiations and diplomacy haven`t worked. The
reason they haven`t worked because they don`t exist. They haven`t existed.
What has happened in the last year is that the United States has made
offers to Iran that have been "take it or leave it" offers, that would have
been impossible, and I think the Obama administration knew ahead of time
because the Russians told them, the Turks told them, other people told them
that these demands will not work unless there`s relief elsewhere like on
the sanctions for example which the U.S. says no.
So, the Iranians know this too. They`re sitting there and waiting
for the election to be over as well. They`re not stupid.
They`re saying, we understand, we know what the situation is for
Obama. And for them, they`re saying we don`t really care who`s the
president, but we know nothing is going to happen until then. So, we have
no incentive to do anything right now. The only thing they have done and
it`s significant, I guess, been pointed out in the press a little bit, a
lot of that -- some of that 20 percent enriched uranium has been converted,
according to latest IAEA report, to fuel plates which can`t then be
reconverted or reprocessed into fuel.
So, what they`re doing is sitting there with this, you know, status
quo not increasing -- increasing the number of centrifuges but not actually
running them for example in Fordu. Trying to leave it as it is, you know,
try to play out the sanctioning until November and then see if there`s
actually going to be real offers then.
LAKE: The first year of Obama`s administration he wrote personal
letters to the supreme leader and he announced that there would be a pause
to any further sanctions. And he said that America and under him would be
interested in discussions and the Iranians responded by stealing an
election that was won by their more democratic opposition, murdering lots
of protesters, and then concealing and underground facility known as Fordu
from the world until smoked out by U.S. intelligence.
And that`s how the Iranians responded. I think the issue here is not
MAJD: I think that`s a way of putting it.
LAKE: Well, the issue here --
SEDER: You think that`s directly in response?
LAKE: I`m saying that the Iranians have --
MAJD: That`s preposterous, Eli.
LAKE: How is it preposterous?
MAJD: It`s very simplistic way of looking at it.
LAKE: Correct way.
MAJD: No. You can actually go look at the quotes. The supreme
leader gave a speech when Obama was elected saying, we think his words are
great. We understand his words, but now we`d like to see some action.
SEDER: If you`re going to say President Obama writing this letter is
-- causes the --
LAKE: I didn`t say that. I didn`t say that. I`m trying to make a
point is that there have been good faith efforts under lots of presidents
to try to reach a deal with these people.
LAKE: They`ve been a radical revolutionary fanatics that are not
interested in an entente.
LAKE: You know what? I just think that`s a fiction. There have
been so many efforts.
BENNIS: No, there haven`t.
LAKE: And trying to reason with them. They always say no.
MAJD: What about 2003?
LAKE: What about 2003? What about it?
MAJD: What about the offers that were made?
LAKE: -- is that what we`re talking about? We`re talking about the
MAJD: I happen to know the person who was the author of it who is a
close associate of the supreme leader. That was a real offer. A number of
LAKE: Not according to Dick Armitage.
MAJD: If you want to believe him --
LAKE: And, by the way, if that was a real offer, then why did they
continue to send hundred killer teams against U.S. forces in Iraq?
LAKE: I don`t buy it. I don`t buy it.
ASLAN: It serves its own interests. Those interests are absolutely
against America`s interests. And so when Iran supports Hezbollah or
supports Hamas or continues movement on its nuclear ambitions, we see that
as a direct attack against us when in reality it`s just them supporting
their own national security interests, which is what they`re going to do.
If we`re going to have a good faith negotiation, look, Iran has lied,
it`s cheated, let`s not pretend otherwise, OK? It has not met its
BENNIS: Nor has the U.S. on nuclear weapons, let`s be clear.
ASLAN: The larger issue is that there is a framework for give and
take. There is a framework for a pause in nuclear enrichment or a reducing
of it to 5 percent or 3.5 percent in exchange for a slow removal of
sanctions. That is something that both the Obama administration and the
Iranian government have given positive signals to, but it ain`t going to
happen until the elections are over.
SEDER: That`s where we`re going to have to end it.
So what do we know now that we didn`t know last week? My answers and
the panel`s after this.
SEDER: So what do we know now that we didn`t know last week? Well,
we know voters rights groups in Florida won a partial victory from the
Florida Department of State agreed on Wednesday to inform 2,625 citizens
who were mistakenly removed from the voter`s roles that they may indeed
vote in the November election.
We know that although Republican governor, Rick Scott, has spent
months warning about massive voter fraud, Florida has caught and charged
and convicted only one person of the crime, Canadian named Joseph Seaver,
who pleaded guilty to obtaining a firearms license by falsely claiming he
was a U.S. citizen.
We know that unless it can be moved in court that Florida broke the
federal law banning voter purges within 90 days of a federal election,
Governor Scott intends to continue his crusade against this imaginary
threat up until Election Day. We know that democracy is under attack in
Florida not only when it comes to who is allowed to vote but also what they
are allowed to vote for.
Although citizens in Orange County gathered and verified the
requisite 50,000 signatures to get earned sick leave on the ballot, we know
the Orange County commission voted unanimously to delay consideration of
the measure after lobbyists for multibillion dollar corporations like
Disney weighed in.
We know the commissioner said they need to delay until October 16th
to find a less confusing ballot title in summary, which is unfortunately
almost a month past the deadline of printing the ballot.
We know that even though the "Orlando Sentinel`s" editorial board
agrees with critics of the proposal, it called the commission maneuver a
part of a, quote, "bag of dirty tricks," that the commissioners had broken
faith with county voters. And then the board asked, is it any wonder so
many are cynical about their government?
We know that the strike by 29,000 public school teachers and support
staff in Chicago kept students out of school this week. We know despite
the havoc it created, 55 percent of voting households and 66 percent of
parents of public school students support the strike.
We know that the teacher`s union and Rahm Emanuel continued to
negotiate on Friday without reaching a deal. And we know that, so far,
public school parents have the teacher`s backs.
Finally, we know that while vice president presidential nominee Paul
Ryan tries to fire up the Republican base for Mitt Romney, polls show that
Ryan`s congressional opponent, former UP guest, Democrat Rob Zerban is
gaining on him in increasingly competitive race for his House seat. We
know that Zerban`s polling from FM3 research shows that after voters were
read a profile statement about Zerban, he was only 8 points behind Ryan, 39
to 47 percent, 11 percent remain undecided.
We know that Zerban, a chef and former business owner, has been
casting Ryan as an out-of-touch Washington insider who never had any real
world experience running a business. If voters want real change in this
election, we know they are going to have to pay as much attention to key
down ballot races as they are paying to the presidential campaign.
I want to find out what my guests know now that they have what they
didn`t know when the week began.
Let`s start with you Hooman.
MAJD: I think -- we always knew that Mitt Romney was pretty tone
deaf when it came to foreign policy. Now, we know he is incredibly
insensitive when it came to what happened in Egypt. I think that that`s
something that will resonate with voters over time. I think it`s not going
to go away.
His statement and his doubling down on his statement about the deaths
of -- the protests and the deaths of the American diplomats in Libya is
something that shows that he is, as people have pointed, not prepared to
take that 3:00 a.m. call.
ASLAN: I will take Max Fisher from "The Atlantic" for this. What we
know is that even though we keep talking about the Middle East as the
Muslim world, that of the top five most populist countries in the world,
only one of them is in the Middle East, Egypt. And, in truth, when we talk
about the 21st century and the Muslims, we are going to be talking
increasingly about Indonesia and Malaysia and South Asia and Turkey. This
is where the future of Islam actually rests.
And I don`t think it`s, you know, any irony this was the parts of the
world ion which the protests were most peaceful and which there wasn`t
violence, they weren`t Americans or consulates.
SEDER: And Phyllis?
BENNIS: We know that the discourse on how they see the Middle East
conflict, and particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has changed
dramatically and continues to change. And we know that again this week
when we saw at the DNC, the response to what was claimed to be a two-thirds
vote in support of moving the embassy to Jerusalem, where it was clearly
not a two-thirds vote. And there was a great deal of anger on the floor so
that the grassroots of the Democratic Party itself is joining that much
wider shift in public discourse on this question.
LAKE: We know from the unauthorized Navy SEAL book about the bin
Laden raid that bin Laden was found by a woman from the CIA known as Jen.
And we know from a feature story I have in "Newsweek" coming up on Monday
that women, more often than not, tend to be what are known as targeting
analysts, who often find the location of senior terrorists and other narco
traffickers that are either captured or killed by Navy SEAL teams or drone
SEDER: All right. Well, my thanks to Iranian journalist Hooman Majd
and Reza Aslan from the Council of Foreign Relations, Phyllis Bennis from
the Institute of Policy Studies, and Eli Lake from "Newsweek" and "The
Daily Beast." Thanks for getting UP with us.
And thank you for joining us today for UP. Join us tomorrow, Sunday
morning at 8:00.
Coming up next is "MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY". On today`s "MHP," the
looming landslide. New polls and other signs point to a potential big win
for President Obama. But the coordinated effort underway to intimidate
voters at the ballot box could be the undoing of Democrats. Melissa has
the author of a new report with details on "MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY" coming up
We`ll see you right here tomorrow at 8:00. I`m Sam Seder from the
"Majority Report" at MajorityReport.fm, in for Chris Hayes. Thanks for
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