As President Donald Trump makes a surprise visit to Iraq this week and defends his plans to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria and about half the nearly 7,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, we get response from leading antiwar activist Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink. “We want to challenge Donald Trump … by pointing out that he continues to support the war in Yemen and the repressive Saudi regime,” Benjamin says. Her recent piece for Salon.com is titled “Bring the troops home—but stop the bombing too.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. President Trump paid a surprise visit Wednesday to a sprawling military base in western Iraq. Trump was joined by first lady Melania Trump, as the president posed for selfies with troops and autographed red “Make America Great Again” hats. It was Trump’s first visit to an active war zone since he took office nearly two years ago. During a speech to soldiers, Trump defended his plans to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria, half the troops, about 7,000, from Afghanistan.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: America shouldn’t be doing the fighting for every nation on Earth, not being reimbursed, in many cases, at all. If they want us to do the fighting, they also have to pay a price, and sometimes that’s also a monetary price, so we’re not the suckers of the world. We’re no longer the suckers, folks. And people aren’t looking at us as suckers.
AMY GOODMAN: But Trump said he has no plans to withdraw the more than 5,000 U.S. troops who remain in Iraq. During his brief trip, Trump did not meet with the Iraqi prime minister, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, or any other Iraqi officials. In a statement, a bloc of Iraqi parliamentarians condemned Trump’s visit as a, quote, “flagrant and clear violation of diplomatic norms,” unquote.
Well, for more, we go to Miami, Florida, where we’re joined by antiwar leader Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink. Her recent piece for Salon.com is headlined “Bring the troops home—but stop the bombing too.” She’s also the author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection.
Medea Benjamin, welcome back to Democracy Now! Why don’t you start off by responding to what the president has laid out in the last week—pulling all U.S. troops out of Syria, half the troops out of Afghanistan?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: I think that’s a positive move, and I think we should be asking for more. We should say we want the troops—all the troops—out of Afghanistan.
We want to challenge Donald Trump in what he’s saying by pointing out that he continues to support the war in Yemen and the repressive Saudi regime, that he has put us in a dangerous course with Iran by pulling the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal. He continues to support more and more money to the staggering Pentagon budget. We should challenge all of these things, not let him be seen as the, quote, “antiwar president,” which he is not. But we need the Democrats and others to come out and say, “We want a real peace plan to revision U.S. foreign policy.”
AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to some of the clips, not of Republicans, but of Democrats, who were condemning what President Trump has proposed. For example, let’s go to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who condemned Trump’s decision to withdraw troops.
REP. NANCY PELOSI: “Donald’s right. I agree with him.” Putin. Imagine. That is the comment of Vladimir Putin on the actions taken by the president of the United States in relationship to Syria, an action that was taken without the benefit of the thinking of our national security establishment and our intelligence community included in that, a decision made in a cavalier fashion in terms of our allies in the fight against terrorism, a decision that is dangerous.
AMY GOODMAN: And this is Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire speaking on MSNBC after Trump announced the troop withdrawals.
SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN: I think this will be considered one of the worst foreign policy blunders of this century—certainly of this century to date. ISIS has not been completely defeated. We know there is a stronghold where there is still active fighting going on. We know there are thousands of ISIS fighters who have melted back into villages.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that was Senator Jeanne Shaheen and, before that, the person expected to be the House speaker come January, Nancy Pelosi. Medea Benjamin, your response?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: The biggest blunder of this century was the invasion of Iraq, which Jeanne Shaheen was in favor of. It’s very unfortunate that there are still members of the Democratic Party that voted for the Iraq War that are poised to be in very important positions in government right now. We have Steny Hoyer, the majority leader, was in favor of the Iraq War. We have Eliot Engel, who is going to be the Foreign Affairs Committee chair, who was not only in favor of the Iraq War, but he was one of the few Democrats against the Iran nuclear deal. He’s in favor of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem in Israel. You have people like Adam Smith, who is going to be the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee, took over $250,000 from the weapons industry and only shifted his position on Saudi Arabia, for example, because he was challenged from the left.
So, we have Democrats in high positions who have been pro-war. Many of them vote every year for this incredibly inflated Pentagon budget. And they have to be challenged. And they are being challenged by some of the very wonderful Democrats we have, like Ro Khanna, who has been a tremendous champion to try to stop the war in Yemen. And we have the wonderful incoming members of Congress who have to have the same energy and determination that they have around a New Green Deal to say we need a new peace deal.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to President Trump, this time his comments in Iraq to U.S. troops.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We’re not nation building. Rebuilding Syria will require a political solution. And it’s a solution that should be paid for by its very rich neighboring countries, not the United States. Let them pay for it. And they will. They will. In fact, Saudi Arabia yesterday, you probably read, stepped up to the plate and has already made a commitment of substantial funds for development. And President Erdogan of Turkey has also agreed to take out any remnants of ISIS. And we’ll be working with them.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about this, Medea Benjamin. Let’s talk about the U.S. troops being pulled out of Syria and what he’s saying about Saudi Arabia. He tweeted—he referred to Saudi Arabia as “Saudi A” and said they’ll be financing the rebuilding of Syria, this also as the Saudi regime has apparently been reshuffled with, once again, Mohammed bin Salman further consolidating power.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I think this is similar to Trump saying that Mexico is going to pay for the wall. The Saudis pledged, back in April, a pittance, $100 million, for the rebuilding of Syria, which is supposed to cost somewhere around $200 billion. The Saudis have not—what they really need to do is stop the bombing in Yemen and pay for the rebuilding of Yemen. The U.S.—this is where we diverge with Trump—should be paying reparations in Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan, for all the damage that we have caused. But Saudi Arabia is not going to be doing it.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia right now, with the Trump administration, both Jared Kushner and the president, still remaining, clearly, extremely close to the Saudi regime, this even as the CIA says it’s determined with high confidence that Mohammed bin Salman was involved with the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, back October 2nd? The significance of this?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: It’s quite extraordinary that the president continues to cling to Mohammed bin Salman, instead of doing what others in the Republican Party are doing, of saying—singling him out as the problem. What we are saying, it’s the Saudi—entire Saudi regime, not MBS himself, that is the problem.
And we are making tremendous gains now in Congress to send that message. There will be a new vote in both the House and the Senate to stop U.S. support for the Saudi war in Yemen. There also was a unanimous voice vote in the Senate to condemn Mohammed bin Salman for being responsible for the murder of Khashoggi. This is a historic turn inside the Congress, where it has traditionally been in favor of the relationship with Saudi Arabia.
We have to use this moment and go further, push for a cutoff in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, and really use this as a time to realign the United States away from its very destructive relationship with Saudi Arabia and to have a more nuanced relationship in the Middle East, including one where we are not on the verge of trying to make the Iran economy collapse and pushing for a war in Iran, but go for normal trade relations and diplomatic relations with Iran. This is our moment to do it, but we need the Democrats to step up and take this position.
AMY GOODMAN: And to those who are concerned about what will happen to the Kurds, that have been the allies fighting in Syria against ISIS alongside the U.S., that President Trump had a conversation with the Turkish strongman Erdogan? They arranged a Patriot missile sale to Turkey. Erdogan wants the U.S. out, because they want to go after the Kurds in Syria from Turkey.
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Unfortunately, this is a moment when the Kurds are in more danger. It is not something that came out of the blue. They knew this for the last year, because Trump had been talking about it. And they have started negotiations with the Syrian government to try to get protection there, because the Syrian government doesn’t want the Kurds to come into—the Turks to come into Syria, as well.
But we, in the international community, should be doing a tremendous outcry now to stop the Turkish government from sending troops into Syria. We should do that at the United Nations. We should be doing that in front of Turkish embassies around the world. This is the time for us to step up as a world community to say no to a Turkish invasion of the Kurds.
AMY GOODMAN: And your response to a New York Times front-page piece today, “Trump Unites the Left and Right, Against His Plans in Syria and Afghanistan”? Your thoughts?
MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, they’ve got a strange definition of the left. I would say it’s some of the liberal Democrats. And many of them have come out against the withdrawal because it’s Trump that’s doing it.
But I think we—this is our moment to shine. This is our moment, as the real left, to step up and say we need a total revisioning of U.S. foreign policy. We need to look at the budget, particularly, that is over $700 billion. And if you put the add-ons in, it’s over a trillion dollars. We have to stop the trillion dollars we’re supposed to be spending over the next decade to modernize our nuclear weapons. This is a moment for a real left to come forward and say, “Divest from the war machine.” And people can go to our website, CodePink, or DivestFromWarMachine.org, to find out how they can help.
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