Ajamu Baraka: Countering The Amateurism Of US Foreign Policy
Above photo: Shealah Craighead/White House/EPA/Shutterstock.
The morning after Trump’s assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandes in Iraq, Clearing the FOG co-hosts spoke with Ajamu Baraka, the national coordinator of the Black Alliance for Peace about how people should understand what happened in the larger context of US imperialism and what the action means for the broader peace movement. Baraka also talks about the almost three-year-old Black Alliance for Peace and its current focus on the law enforcement surge domestically in seven US cities, four of which are predominantly black, known as Operation Relentless Pursuit. For the full program, which includes a discussion of the most recent antics by Juan Guaido in Venezuela and what has been learned about the situation in Iran and Iraq, click here to listen to or read the transcript of the show.
Clearing the FOG (CtF): President Trump ordered the assassination of the General of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Pentagon carried that out. What is your reaction to this?
Ajamu Baraka (AB): It’s a very dangerous escalation that continues the rogue state activities of this administration and previous administrations. But this is particularly dangerous in that the consequences of it are unknown.
It’s interesting to hear people portraying this as something that will destabilize the so-called Middle East. That process started with the invasion of Afghanistan and then the invasion of Iraq almost 20 years ago. The so-called Middle East has been destabilized. This situation with the assassination is an escalation in that now it will be another direct confrontation between two states.
Since the invasions, you had a series of proxy wars in the Middle East, but now there’s a real possibility of a direct confrontation between the US and Iran because this assassination cannot be seen in any other terms but as an act of war. So it is a very dangerous escalation that has both political implications for the Middle East but interestingly enough also political implications for the US domestic politics. Everyone is waiting with bated breath for Congress to reconvene so that this impeachment spectacle could continue, but guess what the whole conversation is all about today and for the next few days.
CtF: Let’s talk about the context of who General Soleimani was because he was very well respected and loved in Iran. He had a greater than 80% approval rating. He worked to defeat ISIS in the region and also worked to build networks in the Middle East. Past presidents talked about assassinating him but they felt that was going too far. Did Trump do this unilaterally and the Pentagon was just following through or how do you think that went down?
AB: I know that what is emerging is sort of a line that says that this is another example of the precipitous nature of Trump’s decision making but I don’t think that really was the case. The way I’m looking at what has unfolded over the last couple of weeks there in Iraq, I see this as a very cynical manipulation on the part of the US intelligence agencies along with Israel to create the pretext for a strike against Iran.
The back and forth between the various proxy forces with the US strikes last week really galvanized opposition to the US but also created the conditions for the US to claim an imminent threat and self-defense in order to strike at Soleimani. So while one can argue that the consequences are such that they can be seen as counterproductive to longer-term US interests, it appears that there was some degree of thinking that this was something that would be to the US’ strategic advantage.
How the US can remain in Iraq without another situation where they just decide to completely flaunt international law and decide that they’re going to remain in Iraq even after they may be asked to leave is something that could be one of the possible consequences of this strike. It makes no sense in terms of their longer strategic objectives to make the strike at this time.
Soleimani was someone respected but we know that there are some powerful forces in the US state that have been advocating for a conflict between the US and Iran for quite some time. This move may be reflective of the ascendancy of that element in the foreign policy decision-making community.
CtF: The US’ action really is reckless. It looks like the flailing of a failing Empire. The US lost in Syria, is failing in Yemen with Saudi Arabia and is being pushed out of Iraq by the Iraqi government and the Iraqi people. It’s been unable to confront Iran in any successful way despite its maximum pressure strategy. Soleimani has already been replaced by Iran. Is this part of the downward spiral of failed US foreign policy?
AB: Your comments are correct in terms of one way of looking at this is not the consequence of a US state that is riding high like it did 20 years ago in terms of unquestioned global hegemony, but a state that is, in fact, feeling the pressures of the emergence of other states, regional powers that have been actively challenging US hegemony. The response has been more dependence on the use of military force, jettisoning international law, and using sanctions to try to maintain its economic dominance.
All of these elements are interconnected and are reflective of a state in decline but a state with enormous capacity to inflict damage and suffering on millions of people. So it is those elements but there is some thinking involved in this. The objective is to try to maintain their control of that region. The issue is that in trying to realize those objectives, they are making some dangerous strategic choices that are counterproductive to their objectives.
This is one of those moves that can only enhance the power of Iran, which they claim to be opposed to. It has now a consolidated domestic opposition to the US in Iraq where just a few weeks ago there were significant fractures in the Iraqi culture as it relates to the Iraqi government. But now those forces have come together in a unified voice in demanding that the US be ejected from Iraq.
So this to me is a continuation of the kinds of amateurism that we’ve seen emanating from the US’ foreign policy community for quite some time, engaging in actions that are objectively counterproductive. It’s my opinion that the last group of competent pro-imperialist decision-makers in the US state was under the first George Bush regime. Since then, the US’ foreign policy community has been basically almost clueless in terms of how to take advantage of their newfound hegemony in the 1990s and how to maintain that hegemony in the 2000s.
CtF: The Afghanistan Papers really bore that out showing how the Pentagon really didn’t know what it was doing and was misleading everybody about what was happening in Afghanistan. The recent situation in Iraq started with the death of an unnamed US contractor. The appropriate response would be to resolve it through a process involving the Iraqi government, not bomb Iraqi military forces. What do you think about the fact that Iran, China and Russia just concluded military exercises? How do you think that this is going to impact the global power dynamics as events unfold?
AB: I think that those maneuvers were great theater, but they have no major impact on what might unfold in any kind of military way in the so-called Middle East and in the Mediterranean. Neither the Russians nor the Chinese are going to allow themselves to be pulled into any kind of conflict between the US and Iran. So that was theater.
I think the main objective for anti-war and anti-imperialist forces is for us to aggressively advocate for peaceful resolutions of these issues, for non-intervention, respect for international law and upholding human rights, including the right to self-determination and national sovereignty. That has to be our role and it has to be something that emanates from the bottom up and primarily in the imperialist countries both the US and throughout Western Europe.
We’re in very dangerous times and the only way in which we’re going to be able to put significant pressure on the US state’s warmongering is for it to be a public opposition. We cannot depend on any other state taking that kind of role because these states are cautious and they’re not going to jeopardize their national interests even though they may be seeing how reckless the US is and that ultimately they’re going to be forced to act.
At this point, in my opinion, they are not going to jeopardize their national interests by being pulled into this conflict between the US and Iran. What they could do and should do is they should call for an emergency session of the UN Security Council because this is a threat to international peace. This scenario has to be addressed by the international community and the only body that can authoritatively comment on this is in fact, the Security Council.
CtF: The rule of law should predominate, of course, and if we had a strong international law system, then people would be held accountable for these kinds of decisions, people like President Trump ordering this assassination and the people who carried out the order. They won’t be held accountable and Iran is now in a situation where if they don’t respond, that looks weak. If they do respond, it has to lead to escalation. What does the peace movement do now, where should we put our emphasis to try to reduce the tensions in this situation?
AB: You know we have to be able to strategically recognize when we have opportunities to advance the peace agenda and I really believe that this is one of those historical moments. Among the public, there is a growing weariness to the ongoing wars and to the idea of another major escalation or another major war. The polls indicate that the public does not have the stomach for it.
There’s a real disconnect between the policymakers in the Congress and the public and we need to seize upon that. This should be the moment that we aggressively advocate for an expansion of the anti-war movement, for advocating for international law and for respect for human rights. These are some of the ideological agitation points that we need to aggressively raise.
We need to put pressure on these politicians, in particular, the ones who are running for the Democratic nomination, so they have a clear and definitive stance on where they are with US lawlessness and US imperialism. The ideological struggle, in my opinion, is one in which there are some advantages that we could glean from this if we recognize that and begin to move aggressively toward exploiting these mistakes that the US state is making.
CtF: The US military is having trouble recruiting enough people to fight and the US doesn’t have the resources to fight a great power conflict. This is an opportunity to look at the reality that this approach of the United States has not served anyone’s interests, except maybe the weapons industry and those who profit from it. In terms of creating any kind of security or sustainability for the world, the US’ foreign policy has been quite disastrous. Can you tell us about the Black Alliance For Peace and what kinds of things it is doing?
AB: We are part of the anti-war movement, the anti-imperialist movement in the US and we are advocating that we take advantage of this moment. We are encouraging everyone to join the national mobilizations that are taking place this Saturday demanding that there’s no war with Iran and that all US troops should be taken out of Iraq. We say that all US troops should be taken out of the entire Middle East and that the region should be a region of peace with complete and total demilitarization.
We are pushing the idea that we need to build the anti-war movement. We’re suggesting to elements in the anti-war movement that beyond this Saturday we begin to push out the absolute necessity for the public to be organized into an anti-war bloc and that all of us should be pushing for people to join organizations. I’m suggesting that UNAC [United National Antiwar Coalition] take the lead in that because it is the coalition that is the anti-war voice, the anti-imperialist voice. We should be pushing for people to be organized because we can’t do it by ourselves. We can’t do it as individuals. So that is what the Black Alliance for Peace as part of the broader anti-war movement is doing.
Specifically, we are connecting up this uptick in militarism on the part of the US state with the surge that was announced by the Trump administration domestically. The Trump Administration said they wanted to have a surge to combat so-called crime. And we know that what that really means is a surge that is targeting the black and brown working-class and poor communities in the US. They announced the seven cities for the first phase of their surge including cities like Baltimore and Detroit. Four of the seven cities have majority black populations. So we are connecting that to the ongoing and intensifying war against the black and brown communities by the US state.
We are also demanding the closure of AFRICOM and all of the US bases abroad. All of this is in the context of what needs to be done in terms of building a more effective and visible anti-war movement. And we think that strategically this misstep by these amateurs in DC allows us to take full advantage of that by pushing the more definitive open clear anti-war position that I think will resonate with the population.
CtF: Pew came out with a poll that said veterans and the US public believe that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were a waste of resources and poor decisions. President Trump got elected attacking these stupid Middle East Wars as he called them and saying how we were wasting trillions of dollars and getting nothing. Public opinion supports the Green New Deal and confronting climate change. Of course, a war economy is inconsistent with that. There seems to be a real opportunity in this next decade as US Empire is failing for putting forward a totally different vision, a peace economy that invests in communities that have been neglected and puts in place a whole new energy system that is sustainable and clean.
AB: You are absolutely right. What you described though is the tasks and responsibilities for the movement. What we have to do is narrow those tasks and responsibilities down to clear and simple messages that correspond to where we see the consciousness of the people today and take full advantage of the strategic opportunity to talk about how the public’s resources are being squandered in support of the ruling class’ military agenda.
It’s a desperate attempt to try to maintain this global hegemony to the detriment of the vast majority of the people in this country and globally. So, intensifying the understanding of the class war that these policies represent is really where we need to be focusing our attention.
It’s a process. Right now we take advantage of the fact that people are concerned about a possible war and we connect that to this obscene budget that was passed by the US Congress. We connect that to the lack of opposition from Republicans and Democrats to the US war agenda, and we remind people that the interests of the ruling class aren’t necessarily the same interests of the vast majority of working-class, poor and middle-class people here in this country.
CtF: We’re already hearing all sorts of messages in the corporate media and from candidates running for president that General Soleimani was a dangerous man, and so it was good to kill him, but we don’t actually want to escalate a war with Iran. What is your advice to people in terms of what they’re going to be hearing and how they can best respond to that?
AB: We want people to be reminded not to fall for the line that says that this individual deserved to be murdered and that the only issue to be considered is what the strategic consequences may be for this assassination.
We have to support the idea that the planet has to be governed by some objective international rules, that the US has no moral or political or legal right to engage in this kind of conduct, that this assassination is, in fact, an act of war just like the sanctions are acts of war and that they have real consequences not only for the individuals that are targeted but for masses of people in these various states.
If we’re going to have any kind of global governance that is based on justice and if there’s going to be any possibility for peace, we’ve got to reinvigorate a commitment to multilateralism and to international law and the standards and processes connected to that. We’ve got to oppose US unilateralism and rogue-statism if we’re going to avoid the possibility of a global conflict that could end life as we know it on this planet. That has to be our position.
Don’tengage in any long-term conversation about the nature of this individual or even on the government in Iran. Our responsibilities as citizens of Empire is to oppose intervention and to oppose US militarism any place on this planet.
CtF: That’s the work that’s cut out for us. Thank you so much for taking time to speak with us today. We urge our listeners to check out the Black Alliance for Peace and get involved.