Ralph Nader, the consumer advocate and political activist, is running for president as an independent with running mate Matt Gonzalez. He has secured a place on the November ballot in Iowa with the Peace and Freedom Party. Nader delivered a campaign speech at Iowa State University on October 10, 2008. After his speech, Nader sat down with the Ames Progressive.
Nate Logsdon: In your speech, you criticized Obama and McCain for both supporting increased troop levels in Afghanistan. Is that to say that you oppose the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan altogether?
Ralph Nader: Well, surely after 9/11 if they had evidence that the backers of the attackers were over there [they could have sent] a multinational force of commandos using the international law doctrine of hot pursuit to go over there with language capabilities and bribes, and all as a focused laser beam. Instead, we overthrew the Taliban regime, which Bush had just given $40 million to earlier in that year because they had eradicated poppy growing – you know, in the war on drugs. Anyway, we overthrew them and now it’s chaos. There’s one principle in Afghanistan: if you bring in foreign soldiers to control that area, it will just breed its own resistance and the more brutal the soldiers, the more the resistance is going to grow. And that’s all those people have to do, is to liberate themselves from the occupiers. We have other things to do in our country. It’s not going to work. It hasn’t worked historically.
Mukund Premkumar: With the genocide in Darfur ongoing, what’s your view on humanitarian invasions? Are there conflicts that warrant the use of a military?
RN: This is what one country shouldn’t do; this is a UN function. There should be a highly professional, full-time UN peacekeeper force, that the full force of international law emanating from the UN charter can go in when there’s a major slaughter underway, like Rwanda and the Balkans and… southern Sudan is a slaughter, but it’s more complicated. It started out as a North-South civil war, then it broke out into more micro-struggles. But that doesn’t at all avoid an international presence of the African Union. They don’t have enough soldiers there – that’s the problem. Others have not provided them with the budget to pacify the area. And it could be pacified because the Janjaweed, they don’t have tanks and jet planes, it’s basically rifles and horses, with some machine guns and grenades. So, it wouldn’t be hard for a sufficient number of troops from the African Union to settle that and then move the whole area into mediation, because there are a lot of conflicts of rights there; it’s not just Khartoum, there are divisions in the south and oil is complicating it, which the Chinese have invested in.
NL: So, you would advocate the use of an international military force, not just a U.S. force?
RN: No, it can’t be unilateral, no, no, because then they’ll say the U.S. is an imperialist that wants the oil. You’ve got to have a multinational credibility. There’s got to be a standing, professional, permanent peacekeeping force, under UN control.
NL: You’ve said that in a Nader administration the U.S. would be out of Iraq within six months. After the pullout of the troops would you then advocate bringing in UN forces?
RN: Depends. If it can be stabilized with a modest amount of autonomy between Shiite, Sunni and Kurds within a unified Iraq, then they can take care of it. The insurgency melts away and you have a few criminal gangs. There’s a lot of authority in Iraq: the tribal leaders have great authority and the religious leaders have great authority. So, if you give them a stake by giving Iraq back to the Iraqis and the oil back and they can see the economic development and then they see the alternative of total disintegration and chaos, which one are they going to take? But as long as we’re there, we’re going to be pitting one against another because we’ll be preferring one group at a certain time in one province against the other and then you get the revenge killing and there’s a lot of hundred dollar bills passed out. That’s what happens when you have a foreign intrusion into a country that has a difference in… if some [military power] did this to us and they preferred Protestants to Catholics, let’s say, and the Catholics had been on top under Saddam – you know, the Sunnis – there’d be incredible back-and-forth struggle, bloodshed, fighting.
But we need to continue humanitarian aid, which would be a lot cheaper than spending $14 million an hour, which is what we’re spending to further destroy Iraq. And UN sponsored elections. These elections two, three years ago were garrisoned elections, they were clan elections, people voted for clans. A lot of people who wanted to run were disqualified because they had protested or weren’t considered safe enough ideologically.
MP: You’ve had a long history of being opposed to corporate welfare, you’ve been opposed to the bailout, but how would a Nader administration address this issue in the short term – immediately – and in the long term?
RN: By quarantining the real speculative people and Wall Street, let them take their medicine, and then build a firewall to protect from the fallout of the Wall Street swindles and speculation…. And then throw the money into public works to create jobs and retard the recession. That’s the best use of the money because that’s real, you know, it’s not just paper speculation; repairing schools and drinking water systems.
MP: Specifically, what jobs would you create?
RN: All jobs to repair [infrastructure, such as] construction crews. And what it does, it invigorates the local economy because you have activities. You have everything from accountants to people who are quality control inspectors and engineers and construction workers and people who work on repairs and people who supply the people who work on repairs. It’s got a high multiplier effect.
And of course, criminal prosecution and regulation and making the speculators pay for their own bailout through a … transaction tax of one tenth of one percent.
MP: There’s obviously a huge health care crisis, as you chronicled in your speech. How would you move from the privatized insurance system that we have today to a single payer, not-for-profit health care system in a potential Nader administration?
RN: Okay, similarly to what Medicare was in 1964, ’65, it replaced health insurance companies. It basically said, the government is going to supply insurance to elderly people and is going to give them free choice of doctor and hospital, private delivery of health care, and you’re not going to be able to sell insurance to elderly people. And what happened is incomplete so there’s a Medicare gap and the insurance companies filled the gap that Medicare didn’t cover.
But basically, it’s simply full government insurance, free choice of doctor and hospital. Now, all of the countries in the world that have had universal health insurance implemented do not allow private health insurance companies. Why? Because it’s a perverse incentive. They make money by denying claims, by exclusions, deductions, copayments.
Now, there’s going to be an unemployment problem, and HR676 – which is the single payer bill in Congress that has 93 House representative supporters – is addressing that. [In doing this] you’re going to unemploy a few million people that work for Aetna, Signa and so forth. On the other hand, you’re going to save a lot of lives.
NL: In your speech and on your website you’ve praised the work of peace organizations within both Israel and Palestine, so in a Nader administration would you actually engage diplomatically with peace organizations within Israel and Palestine?
RN: Of course. They represent former mayors, mayors, members of the Knesset, former generals, former security chiefs – very, very broad. Look, Obama and McCain don’t want to recognize Hamas, they say it’s a terrorist organization; it’s a resistance organization. … So, 64 percent of the Israeli people, on March 1, Ha’aretz poll, want direct negotiations with Hamas, that’s the way the question was phrased. So, Obama and McCain don’t even want to go with 64 percent; and 28 percent of the Israeli people do not want it.* So, that’s how bad it is.
Of course you negotiate with the peace groups and you’ll see a much bigger coming out of peace groups and peace supporters if the U.S. was behind them. It’s like in this country or any country, the militarists intimidate the peace groups if they’ve got hold of the power. But if the U.S., which has great leverage over Israel, and huge foreign aid to Israel, comes out, you’d see more people in the Knesset, for example, you’d see more retired military coming out to say it: this is the way to go, two-state solution, let’s get over it, back to the ’67 borders. The Arab League in 2002 put on Israel’s table full diplomatic and economic relations, if Israel would allow the Palestinians to go back to their ’67 borders under a viable, independent Palestinian state. You can’t have a better deal than that and the Israeli military government didn’t respond, did not even say let’s talk about it. So, the onus is on who? The onus is on the occupier and the occupier that resists peace talks.
* The poll asked participants “Should direct negotiations be carried on with Hamas for a cease fire deal and the release of soldier Gilad Shalit?” Gilad Shalit was captured in a cross border raid into Israel in June 2006 and has been held hostage by Hamas since that time.