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Exclusive: As Obama and Romney Agree on Afghan War, Israel and Syria, Third Parties Give Alternative
AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in our 100-city tour in San Rafael, California.
President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney squared off Monday night in Boca Raton, Florida, in their final presidential debate before the November 6 general election. In a debate focused on foreign policy, both candidates agreed on a number of issues, including the secret drone war, U.S. support for Israel, the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, and their opposition to U.S. military involvement in Syria. But they clashed over military spending, Iran and Libya. Several key international issues were not addressed at all, including climate change, the economic crisis in Europe, and the U.S.-backed drug war in Latin America.
Last night, Democracy Now! broke the sound barrier once again by adding the voices of two third-party presidential candidates that were excluded from the debate: Jill Stein of the Green Party and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party. We aired the Obama-Romney debate, pausing the tape after each question to give Dr. Stein and Rocky Anderson a chance to respond to the same questions put to the major-party candidates. We also invited Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, but he declined to join us. We recorded the show in front of a live audience here at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael, California.
Today we bring you highlights from our "Expanding the Debate" special. We begin with debate moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS News.
BOB SCHIEFFER: The first segment is the challenge of a changing Middle East and the new face of terrorism. I’m going to put this into two segments so you’ll have two topic questions within this one segment on the subject. The first question—and it concerns Libya. The controversy over what happened there continues. Four Americans are dead, including an American ambassador. Questions remain: What happened? What caused it? Was it spontaneous? Was it an intelligence failure? Was it a policy failure? Was there an attempt to mislead people about what really happened?
Governor Romney, you said this was an example of an American policy in the Middle East that is unraveling before our very eyes. I’d like to hear each of you give your thoughts on that. Governor Romney, you won the toss. You go first.
MITT ROMNEY: Thank you, Bob. And thank you for agreeing to moderate this debate this evening. Thank you to Lynn University for welcoming us here. And Mr. President, it’s good to be with you again. We were together at a humorous event a little earlier, and it’s nice to maybe be funny this time, not on purpose. We’ll see what happens.
This is obviously an area of great concern to the entire world, and to America, in particular, which is to see a complete change in the—the structure and the—the environment in the Middle East.
With the Arab Spring came a great deal of hope that there would be a change towards more moderation and opportunity for greater participation on the part of women in public life and in economic life in the Middle East. But instead, we’ve seen, in nation after nation, a number of disturbing events.
Of course, we see in Syria 30,000 civilians having been killed by the military there. We see in—in Libya, an attack apparently by—I think we know now—by terrorists of some kind against—against our people there, four people dead. Our hearts and—and minds go to them. Mali has been taken over, the northern part of Mali, by al-Qaeda-type individuals. We have in—in Egypt, a Muslim Brotherhood president. And so, what we’re seeing is a pretty dramatic reversal in the kind of hopes we had for that region. And, of course, the greatest threat of all is Iran, four years closer to a nuclear weapon.
And—and we’re going to have to recognize that we have to do as the president has done. I congratulate him on—on taking out Osama bin Laden and going after the leadership in al-Qaeda. But we can’t kill our way out of this mess. We’re going to have to put in place a very comprehensive and robust strategy to help the—the world of Islam and other parts of the world reject this radical violent extremism, which is—it’s certainly not on the run. It’s certainly not hiding. This is a group that is now involved in 10 or 12 countries, and it presents an enormous threat to our friends, to the world, to America, long term, and we must have a comprehensive strategy to help reject this kind of extremism.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Mr. President.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, my first job as commander-in-chief, Bob, is to keep the American people safe. And that’s what we’ve done over the last four years. We ended the war in Iraq, refocused our attention on those who actually killed us on 9/11. And as a consequence, al-Qaeda’s core leadership has been decimated. In addition, we’re now able to transition out of Afghanistan in a responsible way, making sure that Afghans take responsibility for their own security. And that allows us also to rebuild alliances and make friends around the world to combat future threats.
Now, with respect to Libya, as I indicated in the last debate, when we received that phone call, I immediately made sure that, number one, we did everything we could to secure those Americans who were still in harm’s way; number two, that we would investigate exactly what happened; and number three, most importantly, that we would go after those who killed Americans, and we would bring them to justice. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do.
But I think it’s important to step back and think about what happened in Libya. And keep in mind that I and Americans took leadership in organizing an international coalition that made sure that we were able to, without putting troops on the ground, at the cost of less than what we spent in two weeks in Iraq, liberate a country that had been under the yoke of dictatorship for 40 years, got rid of a despot who had killed Americans. And as a consequence, despite this tragedy, you had tens of thousands of Libyans after the events in Benghazi marching and saying, "America is our friend. We stand with them."
Now, that represents the opportunity we have to take advantage of. And, you know, Governor Romney, I’m glad that you agree that we have been successful in going after al-Qaeda, but I have to tell you that, you know, your strategy previously has been one that has been all over the map and is not designed to keep Americans safe or to build on the opportunities that exist in the Middle East.
AMY GOODMAN: Third-party candidate, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, you have two minutes to respond to the question about the situation in Libya.
DR. JILL STEIN: Thank you, Amy, and thank you so much to Democracy Now! for expanding this debate in a way that’s absolutely essential. And as we are getting set up here, I couldn’t hear all of the comments of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, but I’ll respond generally to the issue of Libya and the tragic events at the embassy.
And, you know, it’s very clear that there is blowback going on now across the Middle East, not only the unrest directed at the Libyan embassy, likewise at the embassies really across the Middle East, including in Egypt. We are seeing in Afghanistan our soldiers are being shot at by the police forces that they are supposed to be training in Afghanistan. We’re seeing in Pakistan that 75 percent of Pakistanis actually identify the United States now as their enemy, not as their supporter or their ally. And, you know, in many ways, we’re seeing a very ill-conceived, irresponsible and immoral war policy come back to haunt us, where United States foreign policies have been based, unfortunately, on brute military force and wars for oil.
Under my administration, we will have a foreign policy based on international law and human rights and the use of diplomacy. And instead of fighting wars for oil, we will be leading—as America, we will be leading the fight to put an end to climate change. In Afghanistan and Iraq, we have spent about $5 trillion. We have seen thousands and thousands of American lives lost, hundreds of thousands of civilian lives lost, about a trillion dollars a year being spent on a massive, bloated military-industrial-security budget. Instead, we need to cut that military budget, rightsize it to year 2000 levels, and build true security here at home, bringing our war dollars home.
AMY GOODMAN: Rocky Anderson, presidential candidate of the Justice Party, you have two minutes.
ROCKY ANDERSON: Thank you.
The question was whether the killings at the embassy in Libya were a policy failure, whether they reflected a policy failure. And it is so clear to everyone that the policy failure has been in the way the United States has treated so many nations in the Middle East. We’re like the bully that never got counseling, and we keep wondering, why don’t they like us?
We invaded Iraq and occupied that country. It was completely illegal. Two United Nations secretaries-general declared that it was illegal. It was a war of aggression, and it was all done on a pack of lies. Now, we aggravate the situation by keeping bases in so many other nations, including Saudi Arabia, bolstering these tyrants and, at the same time, engaging in direct, unmanned drone strikes in at least four sovereign nations, killing, in the process, hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent men, women and children. That is the policy failure: our belligerence, our efforts to control, to dominate and to make certain that we will always have that control over the resources in these nations. That’s what this is all about.
We took over the government. We overthrew the Mosaddegh government in Iran in 1953. We’re still paying a heavy price for that. We have a history of doing that in this country. And I think that the American people have finally got it, that we need to start building friendly relationships with these nations and not go around with the kinds of belligerence where not only do we attack these countries, but Mitt Romney calling Russia our greatest geopolitical foe, for heaven’s sakes, when we ought to be working with Russia to bring about a peaceful resolution of what’s happening in Syria. So, this is a holistic problem with a—an imperialist foreign policy that we have to turn around, and the American people can see to it if we join together.
AMY GOODMAN: Justice Party presidential candidate Rocky Anderson. When we come back, we’ll continue with our "Expanding the Debate" special and get responses from all four candidates to moderator Bob Schieffer’s next question on the Middle East, which focused on Syria.
AMY GOODMAN: We continue with our "Expanding the Debate" special, adding the voices of two third-party presidential candidates excluded from last night’s debate: Jill Stein, presidential candidate of the Green Party, and Rocky Anderson of the Justice Party. This is debate moderator Bob Schieffer of CBS News.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Let me interject the second topic question in this segment about the Middle East and so on, and that is, you both mentioned—alluded to this, and that is Syria. War in Syria has now spilled over into Lebanon. We have, what, more than a hundred people that were killed there in a bomb. There were demonstrations there, eight people dead.
Mr. President, it’s been more than a year since you saw—you told Assad he had to go. Since then, 30,000 Syrians have died. We’ve had 300,000 refugees. The war goes on. He’s still there. Should we reassess our policy and see if we can find a better way to influence events there? Or is that even possible? And it’s you—you go first, sir.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: What we’ve done is organize the international community, saying Assad has to go. We’ve mobilized sanctions against that government. We have made sure that they are isolated. We have provided humanitarian assistance. And we are helping the opposition organize, and we’re particularly interested in making sure that we’re mobilizing the moderate forces inside of Syria.
But ultimately, Syrians are going to have to determine their own future. And so, everything we’re doing, we’re doing in consultation with our partners in the region, including Israel, which obviously has a huge interest in seeing what happens in Syria; coordinating with Turkey and other countries in the region that have a great interest in this.
Now, this—what we’re seeing taking place in Syria is heartbreaking. And that’s why we are going to do everything we can to make sure that we are helping the opposition. But we also have to recognize that, you know, for us to get more entangled militarily in Syria is a serious step, and we have to do so making absolutely certain that we know who we are helping, that we’re not putting arms in the hands of folks who eventually could turn them against us or our allies in the region.
And I am confident that Assad’s days are numbered. But what we can’t do is to simply suggest that, as Governor Romney at times has suggested, that giving heavy weapons, for example, to the Syrian opposition is a simple proposition that would lead us to be safer over the long term.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Governor?
MITT ROMNEY: Well, let’s step back and talk about what’s happening in Syria and how important it is. First of all, 30,000 people being killed by their government is a humanitarian disaster.
Secondly, Syria is an opportunity for us, because Syria plays an important role in the Middle East, particularly right now. Syria is Iran’s only ally in the Arab world. It’s their route to the sea. It’s the route for them to arm Hezbollah in Lebanon, which threatens, of course, our ally, Israel. And so, seeing Syria remove Assad is a very high priority for us. Number two, seeing a—the replacement government being responsible people is critical for us. And finally, we don’t want to have military involvement there. We don’t want to get drawn into a military conflict.
And so, the right course for us is working through our partners and with our own resources to identify responsible parties within Syria, organize them, bring them together in a—in a form of—not—if not government, a form of—of council that can take the lead in Syria, and then make sure they have the arms necessary to defend themselves. We do need to make sure that they don’t have arms that get into the—the wrong hands. Those arms could be used to hurt us down the road. We need to make sure, as well, that we coordinate this effort with our allies, and particularly with—with Israel. But the Saudis and the Qatari and—and the Turks are all very concerned about this. They’re willing to work with us.
We need to have a very effective leadership effort in Syria, making sure that the—the insurgents there are armed and that the insurgents that become armed are people who will be the responsible parties. Recognize—I believe that Assad must go. I believe he will go. But I believe we want to make sure that we have the relationships of friendship with the people that take his place, such that in the years to come we see Syria as a—as a friend and Syria as a responsible party in the Middle East.
This—this is a critical opportunity for America. And what I’m afraid of is that we’ve watched, over the past year or so, first the president saying, "Well, we’ll let the U.N. deal with it." And Assad—excuse me, Kofi Annan came in and said, "We’re going to try to have a ceasefire." That didn’t work. Then it looked to the Russians and said, "Let’s see if you can do something." We should be playing the leadership role there, not on the ground with military.
BOB SCHIEFFER: All right.
MITT ROMNEY: But play the leadership role.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We are playing the leadership role.
AMY GOODMAN: Syria—first to Rocky Anderson, Justice Party presidential candidate.
ROCKY ANDERSON: We probably just heard the greatest example of why we need to open up these presidential debates, because the premises under which both of these candidates are operating—the constricted debate does such a disservice to the people of this country.
What do we hear? We hear President Obama say we’ve got to do everything we can to help the opposition, and Mitt Romney is saying we ought to be shipping them heavy arms. This is a call for a bloodbath in Syria. Many in the internal opposition in Syria—and I’m not talking about the outsiders, the Muslim Brotherhood and Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who are helping arm them, and even the Salafis, who are associated with al-Qaeda, going in and helping build bombs for the opposition. Is this really what we want as a country?
We have no business doing anything other than working with Russia and helping to bring about a peaceful resolution. And it can be done. There are many in the internal opposition in Syria that want exactly that approach. And they’re saying—and I think probably the best thing that’s been written about this recently is Jonathan Steele’s excellent article in the latest Nation magazine. What they want is for the international community to butt out, except for helping bring about a diplomatic, peaceful resolution. And as so many of them say, you’re not going to get any democratic advances through more violence in Syria.
AMY GOODMAN: Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein.
DR. JILL STEIN: Yes, and it’s as if there’s collective amnesia here, as if we didn’t just go through a decade, $5 trillion and thousands of U.S. soldiers whose lives have been sacrificed, and far more civilians whose lives have been lost, in an attempted military resolution to these civil and religious strife. And we see that in spite of putting the full force of the United States military and NATO and trillions of dollars in a decade, we have not, with all the power of that force, been able to resolve these conflicts on the ground in Iraq and in Afghanistan. So, how in the world, with a far smaller commitment—given the colossal failure of the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, how in the world are they thinking that a lesser degree of military intervention is going to solve the problem?
ROCKY ANDERSON: But I don’t think that the problem here is that we failed. I think the problem is that we’re trying to assert our will and dictate the result. Can you imagine if there were Muslim countries coming into the United States and occupying us, invading us, telling us how—where to run our government and then running unmanned drones over Canada, Mexico, the United States, determining who is going to live and who’s going to die, and in the process killing hundreds, if not thousands—we don’t know how many—innocent men, women and children? It’s an outrage. And our national security is at risk long-term, because of the hostility and hatred that we’re generating throughout that part of the world. We have got to turn this around. And we, the American people, can do it.
DR. JILL STEIN: Absolutely. And, in fact, this is a failed policy from the get-go. It’s not only failed in its impact; it’s failed from its very conception. As the human rights head for the United Nations, Navi Pillay, points out, that with arms flowing in to both sides in Syria, you have really a catastrophe in the making. We need to stop the flow of the arms. And in fact, the United States and the Obama government, in fact, undermined an international treaty that would have begun to slow down the international flow of arms. So the American role here has actually been to throw gasoline on the fires of virtually every ethnic, religious and national conflict around the Middle East through its—through its militaristic export of arms and the profiteering war industry.
BOB SCHIEFFER: I’d like to move to the next segment: red lines, Israel and Iran. Would either of you—and you’ll have two minutes—and, President Obama, you have the first go at this one. Would either of you be willing to declare that an attack on Israel is an attack on the United States, which of course is the same promise that we give to our close allies like Japan? And if you made such a declaration, would not that deter Iran? It’s certainly deterred the Soviet Union for a long, long time, when we made that—we made—we made that promise to our allies. Mr. President?
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, first of all, Israel is a true friend. It is our greatest ally in the region. And if Israel is attacked, America will stand with Israel. I’ve made that clear throughout my presidency.
BOB SCHIEFFER: So you’re—
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And—
BOB SCHIEFFER: You’re saying we’ve already made that declaration.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I will stand with Israel if they are attacked. And this is the reason why, working with Israel, we have created the strongest military and intelligence cooperation between our two countries in history. In fact, this week we’ll be carrying out the largest military exercise with Israel in history, this very week.
But to the issue of Iran, as long as I’m president of the United States, Iran will not get a nuclear weapon. I made that clear when I came into office. We then organized the strongest coalition and the strongest sanctions against Iran in history, and it is crippling their economy. Their currency has dropped 80 percent. Their oil production has plunged to the lowest levels since they were fighting a war with Iraq 20 years ago. So their economy is in a shambles.
And the reason we did this is because a nuclear Iran is a threat to our national security, and it’s a threat to Israel’s national security. We cannot afford to have a nuclear arms race in the most volatile region of the world. Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism. And for them to be able to provide nuclear technology to non-state actors, that’s unacceptable. And they have said that they want to see Israel wiped off the map.
So, the work that we’ve done with respect to sanctions now offers Iran a choice: they can take the diplomatic route and end their nuclear program, or they will have to face a united world and a United States president, me, who said we’re not going to take any options off the table.
The disagreement I have with Governor Romney is that, during the course of this campaign, he’s often talked as if we should take premature military action. I think that would be a mistake, because when I’ve sent young men and women into harm’s way, I always understand that that is the last resort, not the first resort.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Two minutes.
MITT ROMNEY: Well, first of all, I want to underscore the same point the president made, which is that if I’m president of the United States—when I’m president of the United States, we will stand with Israel. And if Israel is attacked, we have their back, not just diplomatically, not just culturally, but militarily. That’s number one.
Number two, with regards to—to Iran and the threat of Iran, there’s no question but that a nuclear Iran, a nuclear-capable Iran is unacceptable to America. It presents a threat not only to our friends, but ultimately a threat to us, to have Iran have nuclear material, nuclear weapons that could be used against us or to use to be threatening to us.
It’s also essential for us to understand what our mission is in Iran, and that is to dissuade Iran from having a nuclear weapon through peaceful and diplomatic means. And crippling sanctions are something I called for five years ago, when I was in Israel, speaking at the Herzliya Conference. I laid out seven steps. Crippling sanctions were number one. And they do work. You’re seeing it right now in the economy. It’s absolutely the right thing to do, to have crippling sanctions. I would have put them in place earlier, but it’s good that we have them.
Number two, something I would add today is I would tighten those sanctions. I would say that ships that carry Iranian oil can’t come into our ports. I imagine the EU would agree with this, as well. Not only ships couldn’t, I’d say companies that are moving their oil can’t, people who are trading in their oil can’t. I would tighten those sanctions further.
Secondly, I’d take on diplomatic isolation efforts. I’d make sure that Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention. His words amount to genocide incitation. I would indict him for it. I would also make sure that their diplomats are treated like the pariah they are around the world, the same way we treated the apartheid diplomats of South Africa.
We need to increase pressure, time and time again, on Iran because anything other than a—a solution to this, which says—which stops this—this nuclear folly of theirs, is unacceptable to America. And, of course, a military action is the last resort. It is something one would only—only consider if all of the other avenues had been—had been tried to their full extent.
AMY GOODMAN: Justice Party presidential candidate Rocky Anderson, you have two minutes.
ROCKY ANDERSON: This is so predictable. Once again, President Obama repeats the lie that President Ahmadinejad in Iran stated that he wanted to wipe Israel off the map. He never said it. He referred to the regime in Israel one day being in the dustbin of history. It was a misinterpretation, and it is so warmongering of both of these candidates to talk about how they will basically blow Iran away.
Romney wants to impose crippling sanctions. Who would he be crippling? He’d be crippling, among others, some of the hundreds of thousands of people who stood in Tehran in a candlelight vigil in sympathy for the victims of the 9/11 attacks on the United States. And by the way, the people in the United States have stood in solidarity with the Iranian people after their last election with candlelight vigils in this country. It’s time that the people of both nations express their solidarity with one another and express our disdain, our disgust with these leaders who are engaging in this conduct that is ultimately going to lead to utter tragedy for the people of Iran.
Would Mitt Romney say that we should go over and attack North Korea because they have a nuclear bomb? How about Pakistan? How about China? How about Russia? We have an obligation, number one, to start reducing the number of nuclear weapons and provide that kind of leadership, because it’s the United States who has led the way for other nations to build up their nuclear armaments. And if Iran feels like they’re going to be attacked—and that’s all they’re hearing nowadays—of course they’re going to consider building a nuclear capability to deter an attack. But there is no evidence that they have any nuclear capability. And it’s an utter lie, totally baseless, for Mitt Romney to say that Iran is four years closer to building a nuclear weapon.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Jill Stein.
DR. JILL STEIN: And here again, we’re seeing the candidates very similar to each other. They’re both saber-rattling about Iran. They’re both vowing their obedience to the right-wing government in Israel. And they are both saying that they will stop at nothing, but that war will be the last result. So, once again, we’re seeing shades of gray here between the Democratic and Republican candidates, but we’re not seeing what the American people really need and what international security really needs.
In fact, Iran recently hosted the non-aligned nations. It’s not just Iran. It was all the non-aligned nations with them—Brazil and Argentina and many others—that together put forward a proposal for eliminating nuclear weapons throughout the Middle East and, in fact, eliminating nuclear weapons throughout the world. That is the true solution that we should be getting behind. And in fact, I should add that—
AMY GOODMAN: Ten seconds.
DR. JILL STEIN: —this—this slave-like mentality towards Israel is absolutely unjustified. We need to start raising the bar for Israel and holding them to an equal standard for supporting human rights and international law and ending occupations and illegal settlements and apartheid.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. When we continue with our "Expanding the Debate" special after the break, all four candidates discuss the military budget. Stay with us.