KARACHI, Dec 3: David Barsamian barely finished high school, yet he speaks with the polish of an erudite scholar. The award-winning Armenian-American radio producer, journalist, author and lecturer has published interviews of Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, Eqbal Ahmad and many other iconic intellectuals, while he produces Alternative Radio, a recognised weekly one-hour public affairs programme that is distributed free to stations in the US, Canada, Europe, South Africa and Australia.
Based out of Boulder, Colorado, USA, he is currently in Karachi to present the Dr Eqbal Ahmad Distinguished Lecture titled ‘What we say goes — America and the world’, which will be delivered on Tuesday, Dec 4. Mr Barsamian sat down with Dawn and discussed various topics related to his areas of expertise, namely US foreign policy, the media, propaganda, and corporate power. Here are excerpts from the interview.
Q: How do you view the current official US-Pakistani relationship?
A: It’s very utilitarian as far as the United States is concerned. Washington sees Pakistan only through its own lenses, of what use is it to Washington’s interests in South Asia and West Asia. I don’t see it on an equal basis at all. There’s almost a colonial type of structure where you have power in the US and you have the subordinate entity here in Pakistan. It’s not a friendship of equals. It’s a marriage of convenience.
Q: Do you think there’ll be a major shift in US foreign policy if a Democrat enters the White House in the 2008 elections?
A: There may be a shift in tone but not in emphasis on issues of US domination of the world. If I could use such a blatant term as imperialism … hegemony is a word that is being commonly used in place of imperialism. There’s not much difference between the Democrats and Republicans. They agree on basic strategy, that overall the US should control the world, that it is the leader. So they will differ on the tactics of how to do that. For example, after this catastrophic disaster in Iraq, which is one of the major war crimes of the modern period for which Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and the others that planned this war, in my view, should be tried for war crimes, is not being discussed. What are the Democrats saying? ‘They should have done it better. There should have been more troops, more money etc.’ It is all criticism of the tactics, not of the basic thing, which is: Does the US have the right to occupy and invade any country of the world?
One thing, though, that distinguishes this particular group that’s in power in Washington today and that is what I would call the ‘Taliban aspect’ to them. They are religious fundamentalists. They have their own mullahs that give them directions. They are extremely Christian-oriented and Christian-centric. They have wedded theocracy with democracy. Bush has said that God told him to strike Afghanistan and Iraq. Presumably God is also telling him to strike Iran. I guess Bush must have God’s mobile number or e-mail. How is that different from Osama and the Taliban? They also claim to be speaking on behalf of God.
Q: We see that in the US there are two principal political parties. The case in the UK is similar. Is western democracy all that it’s cracked up to be? Instead of a one-party state, you have two-party states.
A: That’s an apt description. The Republicans are the party of the super-rich, and the Democrats are the party of the rich. So you can pick between the two. It’s not like the Democrats are representing the working class and the Republicans are representing the ruling class. They’re both representatives of ruling elites. The difference is on the level of clothing. Someone will wear kurta pyjama, someone will wear a sherwani and someone will wear a suit and tie. That’s the difference. Democracy in the US exists but is deeply flawed. It needs to be revived and rehabilitated. It has been corrupted by money. The whole political system is awash with capital. There may be a lot of misunderstanding in Pakistan about the actual functioning of American democracy. On the surface everything looks open and transparent, but in many ways it’s become very problematic.
Q: Countless people took to the streets in Europe and the US against the Iraq war, but it went ahead. So the will of the people was ignored by western leaders. What would you say about that?
A: There democracy is not functioning because if democracy means the rule of the people, then the voice of the people was ignored in this instance not only in the US but in Britain, Spain and Italy. These were the four main components of the so-called ‘coalition of the willing’. It was a very interesting development because it was the first time really in modern memory that an anti-war movement began before the war started. Usually we’ve had to wait for hostilities to begin and then a peace movement would develop. In this instance it was so clear to anyone who took a moment to examine (the situation) that this was a totally bogus war that had nothing to do with liberty or democracy. It was all about oil and extending US military power in the heart of the Middle East.
A whole elaborate tapestry of lies was invented by the White House, the Pentagon and the CIA. The American media became the conveyor belt for these lies willingly. The Americans are now saying that they want permanent bases in Iraq. They’re building the biggest embassy in the world there. It’s the size of Vatican City. It can only indicate that they have plans to stay in Iraq to control the oil and natural gas of the Middle East and to dominate that region for a long time to come. By now three quarters of the American population is against the war. But the government is not listening. I think you have a similar experience here in Pakistan on certain issues, where the people don’t want something but the government says we’re doing it anyway.