Thursday, January 27, 2011

Deadline pundit punditing on Obama's SOTU on Press TV

To learn more about the issues that Obama addressed in his annual speech, Press TV conducted a phone interview with Ian Williams from Foreign Policy in Focus. Following is the transcript of the interview:

Press TV: Obama mentioned, indirectly, about the US economic decline but all the indications are that the US is currently on the decline as an economic powerhouse worldwide and that became very clear by [Chinese] President Hu Jintao's recent visit there. Do you think that he did good enough job in the speech of not only realizing this fact but relaying it to the American public?

Williams: That was a very carefully crafted speech because he was, on the one hand, playing to the old American gallery of exceptionalism: we are wonderful people, we can do it, we have potential, we can rise to the occasion and on the other hand, he was warning that decline is heading up so they have to turn around and do something about it because although the US obviously is in a far more powerless economic state that it was four or five years ago, it is still the biggest economy in the world and people still do use the dollar so it is not exactly broken yet even if it is breaking.

Otherwise, he was very careful on the issues that he missed out on. He didn't mention foreclosures; he certainly didn't mention the Israel/Palestine issue. I think a lot of what he was saying was really a careful case of entrapment for Republicans because he was taking them on the face value and very often when Americans say they want cuts in spending, they mean they want cuts in spending in things other than what I want. If cuts in spending means defense, then they are not going to like it, if cut means in their own district, they don't like they either. He was very careful in what he said and what he offered as well, he invoked the role of lobbyists and both parties are almost run by lobbyists but the Republicans far more so and has thrown the gauntlet down to them, let's simplify tax. You say you want to reduce cooperation tax, let's have a low rate of cooperation tax but make sure everybody pays it and stop exemptions into it.

So a lot of what he was saying was really a careful trap. He said let's reform Health care, but you'd better not take away people's coverage who have got cancer and all of this is a very nuance response to the slogans from the other side [Republicans].

Press TV: Moving on to the foreign policy front, he said that the Iraq war is coming to an end, but of course we have reports that say some American bases may remain in Iraq and many forces will remain in Iraq to train Iraqi forces. How accurate was what he said, especially on foreign policy front?

Williams: A lot of what he was saying was quite true, but let's say he told the truth but not the whole truth. He never said that he was against the war in Afghanistan; he said he would withdraw troops from Iraq and that he would make sure that the Taliban are beaten in Afghanistan. So, he is not breaking any promises there. The fact that it is taking so long is making it very unpopular with the American public and he has to do something about that. But there he was saying it to the Republicans because no Republican administration is going to turn around and say the war that President Bush started was wrong and you should pull out so he is on fairly safe ground. We have to remember everything, especially at this juncture, was addressing the domestic audience, it was not addressing the world at large.

Press TV: On the issue of Tunisia, he said that the US stands with the people of Tunisia. With protests being seen yesterday in Egypt as well, and we can only imagine that Mubarak's knees are now shaking in his palace, and these are all of course US allies, is it not a bit hypocritical then for him to say that the US stands with the people of Tunisia when the US for decades has stood not in fact with people of Tunisia but with the leaders of Tunisia?

Williams: Well, now it stands with the people of Tunisia. It is true as I said he was telling the truth but not the whole truth. The fact that until the day the dictator disappeared, the US was one of its most staunch supporters, he chose not to mention that and he chose not to mention Egypt and the democracy protests there. So it is usual for them mentioning items they look upon favorably and ignoring those that they don't.

In general, his foreign policy is not going to go well in the State of the Union. For example he talked about the cuts in defense budget, and I think if you examine that, he is not actually cutting the defense budget, what they are offering to do is to cut the rate of increase in the defense budget, which is a play with mathematics, which means the defense budget is still going to grow, is still far too large but they are going to trim some parts of it off, they plan for spending on useless dinosaurian defense systems that only benefit the lobbyists in the aerospace industry.

Everything he says has a different interpretation but by most standards what he has been doing is to challenge the Republicans to meet on their own grounds. You want to repeal the Healthcare bill, hey, come on then, take the insurance off those people who just got it under this bill, make sure you have the money to pay for all of the extra things that they are involved, the 130 trillion dollar extra costs. He is saying about the government, he said you are attacking the government, look at what the government has done for this country, do you really want the government to stop building roads and bridges; you really want to stop developing the science that made transistors, the Internet and all of the other things. In that sense, in the good social democratic way, he is challenging the basic neo-liberal instincts of the Republicans and the Tea party people, really showing them to be hypocrites. He says you want to be bipartisan, stop shouting silly slogans and come and work to solve these problems and this is the way to do it.

Press TV: On the issue of jobs that a lot of people say was the main focus of his speech, considering the fact it was the number one domestic issue within the US, he said that the US is at risk of losing out to rapidly developing economy in south Asia, specially China and India, etc. Do you think that he was able to say anything of significant in his speech concerning that issue?

Williams: This speech was broad and he didn't get into particulars. However, he is talking about improving American education system using federal money which Republicans...they want to reduce government spending, so there is the challenge. He is talking about developing infrastructure, he is talking about developing green technology, he has been talking about using government money for basic research and for grants for cutting-edge technologies in energy saving etc. And some of the things he said were, by his standards, pretty bold. He said he wants to end tax concessions to oil companies because they are making quite enough money as it is that is a direct challenge to Republicans who are bankrolled by the oil companies even if their Tea party demonstrators denounce them.

Interestingly he has restated that he wants to take back the tax cuts on the richest percentage, that is quite surprising. He didn't hedge there, that is what he wants to do and this is unconscionable that you give money to the richest people in the society.


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