Council on Foreign Relations
New York, N.Y.
PETER OSNOS: Good evening, everybody, and thank you for coming. It's been nearly 40 years— in fact 39 years— since Ralph Nader appeared on the public scene. Very, very few people have that kind of durability: Fidel Castro— [laughter]--Bob Dylan— [laughter] --Jesse Jackson. We can take the rest of the names out in the hall for later.
Mr. Nader first challenged General Motors in 1965 and created the consumer rights movement in the United States. The country has unquestionably benefited from his advocacy and that of the scores, really hundreds of young activists he trained and inspired.
Now Mr. Nader is running as an independent candidate for president, and to put it bluntly, driving many of his admirers nuts. National polls give him as much as 5 percent of the popular vote, which would have a decisive effect or could have a decisive effect on the Electoral College results in November, some people would say for the second time.
Mr. Nader is here today to give us a speech on foreign policy and security of about 20 minutes. Then I will spend a few minutes with questions of my own— I guess the privilege of the moderator— followed by questions from the floor. The meeting is on the record. The Council requests that you turn off your cell phones. And please join me in welcoming Ralph Nader, independent candidate for president. [Applause.]
RALPH NADER: Thank you very much, Peter, and ladies and gentlemen. [Inaudible]--try to cover the topic that's under my rather ambitious title is best reduced to a sentence, which is how to twist the tale of the cosmos in 20 easy minutes. It's not likely to be achieved, so I hope you'll take these remarks as suggesting a change in directions and a redefinition, modestly, of foreign policy and national security and our role in the world.
When I was majoring in international relations at Princeton [University] in the mid-1950s, studying a number of foreign languages, it seemed that there was a more hopeful horizon. The Korean War was over. Vietnam was not on the horizon. And we all remembered President [Dwight D.] Eisenhower's "Cross of Iron" speech in 1953, when he basically said, "Is this the way we want to have a world, with massive armaments and an arms race? Isn't there another way?"
Looking at it from this vantage point, it seems the world is not doing very well these days. We have all the data to suggest that there are nice pilots of light and achievement here and there, but half of the world is living on $2 or $1 a day and all that entails. And we certainly haven't rolled back the scourge of hunger and starvation very much, and we certainly haven't done anywhere near what we should do on disease. And our struggles with the arms trade seems to be bearing fruit primarily between us and the former Soviet Union in terms of nuclear weapons reduction, but otherwise, it's proliferating all over the world in a very profitable manner, with no small degree of taxpayer subsidies.
I'd like to divide my remarks in three categories: one, the challenge to the empire syndrome of the United States, the challenge of corporate globalization, and the challenge of becoming a humanitarian superpower in addition to our being a military superpower.
Our accretions of empire seem to have grown up like topsy. We have bases in about a hundred countries. We've got troops still hanging over from World War II defending prosperous countries in Western Europe and East Asia that are perfectly capable of defending themselves against non-existent enemies. We have almost a layer of Pompeii characteristic to our military budget. It seems that every time some new need arises, we don't replace obsolete weapons of strategically useless weapons in the pipeline, we just add more and more money, so that now one-half of the federal government's operating expenditures goes to military budget. One-half. And we have no major state enemy left in the world, yet we have many weapon systems in the pipeline costing hundreds of billions of dollars that were originally designed for the Soviet Union-era of hostility.
The military budget has become another taboo in the discussion of foreign policy. The discussion of the military budget has been less incisive and less focused than even 10 or 20 years ago. It's almost out of control. The Office of Management and Budget, in our discussions with that important agency in government, has thrown up its hands in terms of its inability to apply any cost/benefit criteria either to the Defense [Department] budget or to the [Department of] Homeland Security budget. One of their top officials said, "Completely out of control." The General Accounting Office has pronounced the Pentagon budget to be unauditable. And it is not a political issue this year.
Now there is a certain imperative that accrues to a runaway military budget, other than starving programs for domestic necessities, and that imperative is that it entrenches beyond the wildest nightmares of President Eisenhower the military industrial complex— entrenches it not only in size, not only in determination, not only in embracing both parties in the Congress, with some luminous exceptions; but also now the line is blurred between what is governmental function in the military area and what is the private corporate contacting function. And so increasingly we are seeing that the principal jobs program in the United States today is spanning the globe and developing hundreds of companies who have vested interest in not turning away from adventures and military entanglements, because they are so profitable.
This is a process that [Professor Emeritus of Industrial Engineering] Seymour Melman at Columbia University has pointed out— the consequences of heavy militarization of our budget and what it means to civilian science and technology, and the disinvestment in our public infrastructure here at home.
Without going into great detail on the situation in Iraq, a few historical points are important. First, Saddam Hussein was the U.S. government's dictator and ally against communism. We had a role with the British in the late '70s in helping him entrench himself [and] provided him with a list of suspected communists, which he quickly disposed of. And he was a convenient buffer against the ayatollah regime in Iran, with our support— logistic, financial, and weaponry.
He made a mistake in 1990 because he got the wrong signals from some of our diplomats and invaded Kuwait, and he became our enemy. The economic sanctions that the U.S. and the U.N. imposed were in clear— in my judgment— violation of international law in terms of their consequence, which the overwhelming brunt [of which] was felt by innocent civilians, including small children, who died in the hundreds of thousands, according to the American Physicians Task Force, which kept close surveillance over that situation in the '90s. That is not a bright chapter in American history, to say the least.
The drumbeat to war started under the Clinton administration with the resolution in Congress pronouncing regime change in Iran [sic] as part of American foreign policy in 1998.
After 9/11, it's now become quite clear that whatever emphasis there was on the al Qaeda apparatus, there was a superior emphasis on removing Saddam Hussein from Iraq. What's interesting about this is the following. It illustrated, in ways perhaps never before illustrated in our country, the fragility of our democratic institutions. Here is a nation run by a tottering dictator presiding over dilapidated army, with troops not willing to fight for him, surrounded by hostile Kurds to the north, hostile Shiites to the south, surrounded by three very powerful countries compared to his military ability: Iran, Turkey and Israel. And had he directed one aggressive threat toward any of them, they would have obliterated his regime. And yet Iraq under Hussein was viewed as a threat to the United States.
But what was most troubling was the lack of any deliberative process by the U.S. Congress, which was stampeded into this situation, [the] lack of any deliberative or investigative process by the mass media, which clicked their heels and loved the graphics that they were given, and without a deliberative attentiveness to the perceived concerns of the American people.
Before the invasion of Iraq, we tried to have [President George W.] Bush meet with one or more distinct groups in our country who had knowledge and were concerned about the invasion of Iraq. Thirteen of these groups, with very little press attention, wrote open letters to President Bush in February and early March, asking for a meeting. They included letters signed by the National Council of Churches, former military officers, former intelligence officials, student groups, women's peace advocates, a business group, labor group. I don't know of any other impending hostility that had such an ecumenical coming-together, expressing doubt and opposition to the pending move. None of these letters were answered by the White House. There were no meetings. President Bush, being the messianic militarist that we've come to know so well, was not interested in meeting with anyone who was critical of his proposed Iraq policies.
That was a severe scar on our democratic fabric, it seems to me, when a president plunges a nation into war without asking for a declaration of war— instead, a war resolution that abandoned the congressional authority under Article I, Section 8 [of the U.S. Constitution] and gave the president the authority to decide when and how to declare war. Plunging our nation into war on what is now a very well-documented platform of fabrications, deceptions, and prevarications, to me, rises to the level of a high crime and misdemeanor, and warrants impeachment proceedings to be initiated in the House of Representatives. It's hard to conceive of a more capable candidate for the invocation of the impeachment authority reposited in Congress by our Founding Fathers.
Our Founding Fathers did not view Article I, Section 8, as a technicality. James Madison believed that it represented one of the higher wisdoms of the deliberations in the creation of that document. They did not want the declaration of war authority put in the hands of one person in the White House. They wanted it in Congress, to be deliberated.
Now in a world of missiles and instant potential for obliteration, that has often been viewed as an anachronism. But this was not an instant decision. This was a warming-up, a beating of the war drums going on for months, and meshed very well with what the Founding Fathers had in mind in terms of having the decision be a deliberative process, which it was not.
It's surprising to us in Washington— and maybe in other places in the country— how Article I, Section 8, has been treated as a technicality. [Inaudible]--once said the last war that Congress has declared was the War on Poverty, under [former President] Lyndon Johnson.
I don't think it's a technicality. I think, had Congress deliberated it, had there been hearings on it, a lot of what came— has come out since would have come out earlier. Some prominent people who are aware of what was going on might have come forward. The public might have been more educated, the media been informed other than the unilateral pipeline from the White House and the Pentagon. And we might not have had this quagmire that's developing in Iraq.
How to get out of Iraq? It seems there are two futures that can be presented to the mainstream Iraqi people. One is the future that they now see before them, which is an endless, even a permanent military and corporate occupation of their country with a puppet regime in place and with no light at the end of the tunnel. There's far more resentment in Iraq about their workers being unemployed and being unable to do the work that's being done under military contract by the Halliburtons and other companies or bringing in foreign workers while Iraqi truck drivers stand by idly. And of course, they're very concerned over the oil company takeover of their precious and almost only natural resource.
That kind of future is not going to separate mainstream Iraqis from the insurgents and the resistance. It's going to increase the sympathy of mainstream Iraqis, who are the overwhelming majority, with the insurgents and the resistance. An alternative future that will separate them, distance them from insurgencies and the resistance, would be to declare a set date for a corporate and military withdrawal by the United States from Iraq— let's say until the end of the year— with a phase-in of international peacekeepers from neutral countries who are experienced in that effort, as well as from Islamic nations, and that that be correlated with internationally supervised elections to avoid any impression that a puppet regime is going to be put in place, with continued humanitarian assistance until the country gets back on its feet. That will give a stake to the mainstream Iraqi people and fortify the position of a more peaceful resolution for this reckless adventure.
Of course, that does not resolve the overall problem of stateless terrorism, although it tends to diminish some of the increasing recruitment of stateless terrorists by what's going on in Iraq. And I make a distinction between stateless and state terrorism, because by far more civilian deaths have occurred in the last 50 years from state terrorism than stateless terrorism, yet stateless terrorism is subject to certain restraints. In fact, Secretary of Defense [Donald] Rumsfeld, Secretary of State [Colin] Powell and President Bush himself, in a period of two or three months after 9/11, said that this kind of terrorism thrives in an environment where there is despotism, destitution, poverty, illiteracy, and so on. And of course, that's not exactly noncliché-ish, but it is quite interesting that it was stated by these three gentlemen without any follow-up in terms of any change of our foreign policy. From large international support for us right after 9/11 to large international opposition to our country, one might think that that would set certain reflective patterns loose in the administration, but it seems to have only stiffened their spine and nourished further Vietnam-type assurances that things are going well and that what isn't going well is being exaggerated by the media.
Stateless terrorism such as 9/11 has certain characteristics. They're not doing it for the money. The terrorists of 9/11 did not come from Scandinavia. They came from countries where we have had more than a few roles in shoring up despots and dictatorships over them. They were not particularly poor, these hijackers, but that isn't the way it usually happens; it usually happens from people who are in the middle class and who absorb the perception of the suppression and repression that they see other people less fortunate than they subjected to. It's called the resistance ideology.
I think that, in many ways, there's been a vast overreaction. One recalls General Douglas MacArthur's warning in 1957, who says watch out when government exaggerates foreign threats in order to expand military budgets. To say that the Bush administration has exaggerated the threat of Saddam Hussein is pretty much commonly accepted, except for a few who will never accept it, because they're complicit in the decision to invade the country. But to say that he has exaggerated the threat of al Qaeda terrorism is to tip one's toe into a hornet's nest, if you're a politician in Washington, because who knows what will happen next week?
But if we take the characterization of the Bush administration, that al Qaeda has cells all over the United States composed of people who hate us adequately funded for terrorist activities and are the subject of the world's greatest manhunt and they still have not struck back, we're entitled to ask the impertinent question: was this criminal gang and its reach exaggerated in order to fulfill a clear menu of political advantages to the Bush administration?
Advantage No. 1 is you chill the other party, the Democrats. Advantage No. 2 is you chill dissent against the president. Advantage No. 3 is you distract attention from domestic necessities and programs that the Republican Party is not very suited to responding to. Advantage No. 4 is a lot of corporations get a lot of contracts abetted by corporate officials who are pouring money into President Bush's $200 million private kitty; and there are other ties between the corporate world and the Republican party that need not be detailed here. Advantage No. 5, he maintains his position in the polls, until recently.
Now when you give the president of the United States so many advantages, it does reflect on the opposition, doesn't it? Doesn't it reflect on the Democratic Party opposition? Doesn't it reflect on the citizenry as a whole who has allowed itself to be led into these quandaries, into these alienations worldwide without sufficient organization, beyond the rallies and the few groups who have stood tall against this foreign policy and foreign military policy? I think it tells a lot about the fragility of our democracy and provides lessons that we should learn.
Stateless terrorism has to be subjected to more immediate laser beam intensity. If we start dealing with it by overthrowing regimes, pushing around countries, flouting international law, piloting our soldiers anywhere without any concept of national boundaries, and having a president who talks like an out-of-control west Texas sheriff, we are only going to be producing more stateless terrorism. The first rule of combating stateless terrorism is not to engage in courses of action that increase the number and resolve of stateless terrorists.
I want to move now to corporate globalization. This is perhaps one of the most least-understood part of our foreign outreach. NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement] and WTO [World Trade Organization] are international systems of autocratic governance subordinating domestic parliaments, legislatures, agencies, and courts to the imperative of international commerce. Also subordinated by the mandate of WTO and NAFTA are environmental, consumer, and labor measures which have to meet the test of being the least trade restrictive and that they've chosen the most available alternative to being the least trade restrictive.
This turns our progress in our country completely around. It's not only that NAFTA and WTO are autocratic and secretive institutions, off bounds in their tribunals to the media and their citizens, including the Geneva tribunals. It's not only that the decisions are made which are able to be enforced on the signatory nations in a closed courtroom with no transcript, no independent appeal, and no ability for anybody to participate other than the representatives of national governments. In other words, our state laws, which could be challenged— we cannot send state attorneys general to represent New York state in Geneva.
How this monstrosity of autocracy could get through the Congress can only be explained by the fact that only one member of Congress ever read the several hundred pages of the WTO agreement before the vote was taken in 1995. The WTO agreement was summarized by the U.S. trade representative and trade associations in ways that avoided the procedural outrages and the secrecy that was involved.
Indeed, there has never been a greater loss of local, state, and national sovereignty in our history, and there has never been one with less rigorous examination by the U.S. Congress. I remember I testified before the House [of Representatives] Ways and Means Committee. You have to be polite, and you say, "Dear Mr. Chairman, distinguished members of the House Ways and Means Committee, it is indeed a pleasure to testify about the World Trade Organization proposal before this committee, before members of a committee who have actually read it." And the chairman looks up at me— Congressman [Sam] Gibbons [D-Fla.]--and he says to me, "What makes you think any of us have ever read it?" That's a very sobering thought.
As a result, the trajectory of our progress in our country— which has been marked by subordinating commercial interests to the interests of abolishing child labor, of advancing auto safety, of advancing environmental [and] fair labor standards— has been completely turned around by a federal law called the World Trade Organization Trade Agreement. Now it's "commerce uber alles." Now it's the subordination of noncommercial values and human rights— labor, environment, consumer— to the imperatives of international trade.
Indeed, some of the major countries, like Canada, Japan, U.S., Western Europe, have put out reports annually listing all of each other's laws— and there are hundreds of them— that they believe to be GATT [General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade]-illegal and subject to eventual challenge.
I think we have to initiate our six-month withdrawal notice pursuant to renegotiating these trade agreements so they are pull-up trade agreements, not pull-down trade agreements, so they prevent child labor-produced products from being sold to international commerce when we cannot buy a product made from child labor in this country because it's illegal in this country, but it's not illegal to import products from child labor because that is permitted under the World Trade Organization rules.
Renegotiating it will give the world a chance to move upward on the standards of living and environment, and it will give us a chance to separate labor, consumer, and environmental matters so they are not subordinated by trade, so that trade agreements stick to trade, and we have international treaties on environment, on labor, and on consumer issues like the price of medicines— and that is now quite a controversy.
The third point, just briefly, in terms of redirecting and perhaps redefining our foreign relations energies, recalls a comment by [American psychologist and philosopher] William James. We need very, very strenuously in this country to have a moral equivalent of war. And we need to become a humanitarian superpower not just because of what the word "humanitarian" means in our finest traditions, but also in our own enlightened self-interest and health and safety.
If we look at the U.N. Development Program's descriptions of how little it takes to substantially reduce starvation and diseases relating to contaminated water and other critical prerequisites of survival, it is a shame on our conscience that we cannot muster the $30 billion or $40 billion between the Western nations to pursue those goals that have been determined to be very practical, affecting hundreds of millions of children and poor adults in the Third World.
We need a major assault on the greatest weapons of mass destruction heading our way. They're called bacteria and viruses. They're called tuberculosis and AIDS and malaria and other diseases. We have no coherent national strategy to deal with what the physicians at the Centers for Disease Control have been warning us for years. We're heading for a major pandemic from China reminiscent of the 1919 influenza epidemic. And while [former U.S. weapons inspector] David Kay returns to report to his president from Iraq after having spent $500 million and 1,500 inspectors in a vain quest for the weapons of mass destruction, we have no more than two dozen full-time infectious disease specialists working in China with the Chinese authorities to try to head off a mutation that could take hundreds of thousands of lives in this country and millions in other nations.
We need a collaborative effort on converting the world's energy from fossil fuels and nuclear to renewable energies which are practical and within hand. In fact, we're slipping behind [other] Western nations in our solar energy performance.
A good step has been taken with the International Tobacco Control Treaty. Who would have dreamed that that would be a reality just 10 years ago? Who would have dreamed that the tobacco industry, which produces cancer and other respiratory diseases, would be on the defensive? Nobody would have dreamed that, except the people around the world who, as citizens, began to connect the civic displacement of tobacco globalization. A good lesson for us.
We need to have greater collaboration about oceans and forests, the critical ecosystems. Much has been talked about tropical forests; less about the critical nature of our oceans.
We need to have a much more aggressive attack on the sex trade that is, in its order of magnitude, a massive illicit industry that is as cruel as any line of commerce and the nightmares of our common humanity.
We need to do something about how we generate capital formation in ways not thought of by the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and the World Bank. They didn't think of microcredit and Mohammed Yunus and the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, but it works and it's beginning to spread.
We need to have a common assault on illiteracy and learn the lessons of [Brazilian educator] Paulo Freire and his simple ways to teach illiterate peasants in a short period of time how to be literate.
We need to remember the great innovation of Hassan Fathy, the people's architect in Egypt who taught impoverished Egyptian peasants how to build elegant small homes from the soil under their feet.
We need to show how we can preserve a great amount of food in the Third World, 30 percent of which is lost to pests and rodents and fungus. And we know more about how to do something in that regard than anyone else in the world. The name of the game is Cargill. The Cargill Corporation is the world's expert in that and is not lifting a finger, nor is our own government. And we talk about starvation.
We need to do something about arms traffic in the world. Four billion dollars is spent on military in the world by the world, and 50,000 small children are dying from the most preventable diseases every year— every day, excuse me— from the most preventable diseases that come from contaminated water, measles or other vaccine-receptive ailments.
And finally, we need to have a major effort here to embrace the American people in foreign relations and military policy. Someone almost gets the impression in Washington that there's a rigorous attempt to exclude them, not to inform them, not to engage them; that somehow it's off limits because this is an area for expertise. Well, we know where that expertise has brought us over the years, haven't we? It's not just the best and the brightest. But we also know that there's an increasing rebellion in the establishment of foreign policy specialists and retired diplomatic and intelligence and military officials. I guess that this may be the only war we've ever been plunged into that was against the opinion, the considered opinion, of so many retired diplomats, intelligence officials, and military officers, not to mention against the considered opinion of the U.S. Army in the Pentagon and many good and sensitive people inside the CIA, the Department of Defense and the State Department. That is perhaps a hopeful note, which is where I'll end my brief comments.
Thank you. [Applause.]
OSNOS: Well, thank you, Ralph.
NADER: Peter, you too.
OSNOS: That was predictably and characteristically a provocative and thoughtful thought. Thank you. And I hope that the members will question you on it. I'm going to exercise the privilege of the moderator to ask you a couple of— well, three really— political questions, which I hope we can deal with quickly so that everybody feels they got them in even if.
The first one is that you've said that you're running as an independent for president because the two major [parties] are so closely aligned on policy. And yet the prevailing, or at least the widespread, view in the country is that we are more polarized, in many respects, than we've been in a generation. So the real question is, do you think the parties are really indistinguishable, or are we polarized? How do you reconcile the paradox?
NADER: Both. Both. I mean, they are polarized in certain social issues, which we all know about— for example, pro-choice, pro-life. They're polarized on access to the civil justice system. There are significant differences on Social Security and Medicare.
But on the fundamental issues that affect the future of democracy, they're on same page. They're selling elections to the highest bidder. They've corrupted our politics by depending more and more on money. That, of course, rolls over in terms of government. And they are unwilling to challenge the sovereignty of giant corporations over the sovereignty of the people. And to me, that's on the same page, on the basic structural prerequisites of plutocracy, instead of democracy.
I could go into a lot of other issues where the rhetoric is different, but the reality is very similar. And the way I do it is, I go through one department after another— the military budget, the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve. Even the regulatory agencies, apart from the rhetoric, have been going downhill in terms of enforcing the health and safety laws, under [the] Clinton-Gore [administration], as well as Bush.
OSNOS: You have a well-earned and well-honed reputation for tenacity on principle. And yet the political system, even the one that you've described, requires considerable compromises to get things done. What makes you think that your brand of stubbornness would work in the White House?
NADER: See, it's only stubbornness in terms of the context of surrender, isn't it? [Scattered laughter.] That's— it's— [laughs] --actually, I've often said why should one have to compromise when you're coming up against— you're up against corporations that force the compromise anyway? Why help them? You never get anywhere near what you're asking for, even though a lot of things we asked for in the old days are now considered commonplace— you know, the blasphemy of the consumer-environmental-workers movement in the old days, now the commonplace of today. But when you're in a contest with Citigroup or ExxonMobil, you know, they tend to have a very successful rate of forcing compromises.
OSNOS: Yesterday on George Stephanopoulos's [television] program ["This Week"], you mentioned a couple of possible vice presidential candidates— for [presumed Democratic nominee Senator] John Kerry, not for you. As I recall, both of them are people who had voted in favor of the Iraq war initially. Are you, in fact, as some people have suggested, sending a message to Kerry, to the part of the population that is disenchanted with the war, that you might be willing to modify your position and your candidacy if the posture on the war were to change somehow?
NADER: No. I—
OSNOS: You said Kerry was presidential.
NADER: Well, I was in the— because I was asked the question, "Is he presidential?" What am I going to do?
OSNOS: You could have said he's a shnook.
NADER: I'm not saying— I mean— [laughter]--
OSNOS: You said that George Bush should be impeached. I mean—
NADER: No, but he was asking almost a physical appearance question. That's another story. [Laughter.] The reason why I mentioned [North Carolina Senator John] Edwards and [Representative Richard] Gephardt [D-Mo.] is because I'm always asked, for some reason, how can the Democrats help themselves. [Inaudible]--is I think one or both— either of them would help Kerry. They're not going to have any surprises and they've already been vetted. They're good on their feet. They have their own constituency. And if he tries someone new, he may lose a month or two getting over some disclosure, whether minor or major, of the vice presidential candidate.
OSNOS: The sense that you may have been, in the meeting with John Kerry and then your comments yesterday and so forth, creating a means for you to reach an accommodation with the Kerry campaign at some point between now and November, that really wasn't what you were doing at all?
NADER: --cause I was trying to do something that's counterintuitive. You see, presidential politics have been very stagnant. I think other than the use of the Internet, which the Pentagon developed, presidential politics hasn't had an innovation since television makeup— [laughter] --in the 1960 [John F.] Kennedy-[Richard] Nixon debates. I mean, it's extremely stagnant.
So I'm trying to put forward to Kerry and the Democrats, "Look, we both want to retire George W. Bush." There's nobody who wants to retire him more than I do. I've watched the Democrats for 10 years lose to the extreme wing of the Republican Party at the local, state, and national level. I'm not willing to let them lose again. I'd like to see a second front opened.
I know the system is rigged against third-party independent candidates, so I was trying to say to John Kerry and others there are certain areas that we can collaborate against Bush by staking out common positions like living wage; national health insurance now, not step by step; ending corporate welfare as we know it— that's Kerry's position— and confront the Bush administration. Even though we're competitors in a modest way, confront him. And by coming together on those issues, Peter, we give them much bigger visibility.
Now those are issues the Democratic Party should be supporting. I mean, [former Counsel to President John F. Kennedy] Ted Sorenson, in one of his books that came out in 2000, had a devastating page of unmet concerns in our country and how we don't have the right priorities. But to try to do anything counterintuitive to stagnant presidential politics is very difficult. I'll keep trying, though.
OSNOS: Good. Let's go to the floor. Please wait for the microphone and identify yourself and your affiliation, if any. And first question is right there— [inaudible] --over there in time. We have 15 minutes for questions, so let's try to be concise.
QUESTIONER: I'm Marleen Sanders, former television journalist. You said you want to get rid of George Bush, and yet you've been blamed for putting him in the White House the first time. You're running again; do you want to do it a second time?
NADER: Well, first of all, I think [former Vice President] Al Gore won the election. I think he won it in Florida. I think it was taken from him by the entourage from Tallahassee to the Supreme Court. So I'm not willing to have my campaign be used as a selective "what if."
I mean, if you want to get into the "what if" game, what if Tennessee, what if Arkansas? You know, what if 250,000 Democrats didn't vote for Bush in Florida? There's a "what if" for you. What if the mayor of Miami didn't sabotage the Gore campaign because he had a tiff and he sat out the election when he could have brought out thousands of Cuban-American voters.
Picking "what if" as the— [inaudible] --means that the agenda behind that choice is that the two parties own the voters in this country and that third parties just get out of the way and not compete. And that's not acceptable to me. I think more voices and choices are a better way of changing American politics, which have a lot to be changed. They're in great need of reform.
The other thing is that the dynamics of elections are very complex. For instance, it's been said to me by a consultant to the Gore campaign that, in order to ward off our modest challenge, Gore began talking more populist talk. When he made the populist talk, he was improved in the polls. When he took up [his running-mate Senator Joseph] Lieberman's suggestion of downtoning the critique of corporate power, the drug companies, HMOs [health maintenance organizations], he didn't do as well.
So please allow for the opportunity for people to have their freedom to run for elective office and to make politics in an era of massive redistricting of our country into one-party districts more competitive.
OSNOS: Right here, first row.
QUESTIONER: Mr. Nader, I didn't quite understand the answer to the last part of that question, so I'll ask it another way. In this coming election, how specifically— since you are so against the Iraq policy and the Bush administration in general— how specifically do you see your candidacy as helping to defeat Bush rather than helping to defeat Kerry? I don't quite see the mechanics of that.
NADER: Well, let me explain it again in a more— in a different manner. The members of the party out of power usually come back into the fold in the next election. It's the members of the party in power that have the luxury of fury. And there's a lot to make conservatives, liberals, Republicans, and independents who normally vote Republican furious with the Bush administration, furious on the massive deficit, furious on their taxes going to corporate subsidies, furious on big-government Patriot Act, furious on sovereignty-shrinking WTO and the NAFTA, and even furious on the corporate crime wave. And they lost their 401(k)s [retirement accounts] too.
Now, all these examples are ones we've worked on. All these examples are in the conservative literature of protest that's building up against Bush. So whether to encourage them to remain home or to vote for this independent candidacy, I'm pretty persuaded, given the wholesale abandonment of liberals such as you from any possibility of voting from this candidacy, that will take more votes away from voters that otherwise would have voted for Bush.
We have been completely abandoned by liberals. And I say to them, "Fine, you go vote for Kerry. Bring all your liberal friends and vote for Kerry." It's a big country out there. There are a hundred million voters in this country who don't vote. Let's try to scramble for some of them.
OSNOS: Right here in the second row.
QUESTIONER: [Inaudible]--President Bush or Senator Kerry?
NADER: Well, look, Irish Americans have some cachet in discussing the struggle between Ireland and the British. Yeah, I know a little bit about the area, am familiar with the language, and if you want me to talk about anything specific, I will.
QUESTIONER: My name is Roland Paul, with Ivy, Barnum, and O'Mara. Mr. Nader, just to help to see where your line on foreign policy is, did you support the war in Afghanistan or not?
NADER: No, I did not. I supported a multinational commando corps to zero in on the backers of the attackers rather than to expand and overthrow a regime which now has got us bogged down because of all the warlords and the fighting and the narco-state that we've now re-established. After giving the Taliban $40 million in early 2001 for good behavior and stamping out the opium trade, we now witness Afghanistan coming back to be a leading supplier. And there's a lot of misery in Afghanistan, and we don't have the stamina to hang in there. We're not going to appropriate the funds that we promised to help rebuild them. And we missed getting the backers or the attackers. I think it was not laser beam-focused enough. Yes.
OSNOS: Is there anybody over on this side, or is it just the left side over here that— [laughter]. It seems everybody— I'm just— I want to— if I may, just to follow up on the last thing you said, so maybe— because I've been chewing on it. You— you did create a scenario in which the issues that you think are important would be elevated, that there would be people who— and, you know, stipulate that what you said in your remarks and what you said subsequently really resonates on a fundamental level. And so much of what you've said over the years has turned out to be true on so many things. But we're all realists. And we saw what happened after 2000, and we know where we are today. We know that there— it wasn't as though the 2000 election really wasn't going to matter; it did matter. So the question I guess is, is there a scenario in which people paying attention to your issues and your sense that they've paid attention to your issues would lead you to some formula in which, to take the questioners' point here, there wouldn't be an issue at the end of it of whether your attack had thrown the election to George Bush? Is there— is there a scenario that you can imagine, without at this point conceding that you're going to pull out, but that— that really drives the points that you think are important home?
NADER: First of all, we've been blocked now, the citizen groups in Washington, by both parties for 30 years on a whole panorama of issues. The last breakthroughs we had was in the late '70s. And it didn't matter for many of our issues, contrary to popular impression, whether it was Democrats or Republicans in charge. Either the Democrats were very weak on offense, or they were weak on defense. They couldn't stop bad things the Republicans were doing even though they had the votes in the Senate and in Congress from time to time to do so. There's nothing that can resolve what you're talking about that transcends rhetoric, because between now and the election, it's only rhetoric. We're quite accustomed to separating words from deeds. And the rhetoric isn't going to work enough any more.
You see— here's the point. Let me make it very clear. If your biggest— one of your biggest issues is pro-choice, and both parties came out against choice, I don't think the pro-choice movement would waste five minutes without starting a new party or an independent candidate. If your biggest issue is the hands-down, uncritical support of the Israeli military government and both parties were against Israel, the Israeli government, it wouldn't take 10 minutes for the pro-Israeli consensus in this country to start an independent and a third party. If your biggest issue was to not renew the assault ban— the ban on assault rifles, how long would it take the NRA to form a third party? Well, we have 30 critical issues that we've been working on for years that involve health and safety and the future of our country and childhood and the world that we've worked on because we have so many groups. And they have been shut out increasingly since 1979, with the oil crisis; shut out by both Republican and Democrat. Couldn't get hearings, can't get petitions responded, on and on.
So I ask you, if on your major issue you would reach a breaking point with the two parties, how can you not at least sympathize with our 30 issues and how long we've waited, how many times we've given the Democrats the benefit of the doubt? I had 14 people full-time in 1984 going all over the United States, showing the difference— trying to— between [then-Democratic nominee Walter] Mondale and [Republican nominee President Ronald] Reagan, and then [in 1988, Democratic nominee Michael] Dukakis and [Republican nominee George H.W.] Bush, and it didn't make any difference. We cannot deny the opportunity of millions of Americans the opportunity to vote for the candidacies of their choice. They deserve a broader choice because they deserve a better future.
OSNOS: Yes, sir. Do you have a— are you a Nader— ah, go ahead.
QUESTIONER: Mr. Nader, Scott Harold, Columbia University. I'm a graduate teaching fellow at Columbia University. We have many people who ask a lot of questions on campus and give a lot of speeches on campus. I remember in 2000 you ran on the Green Party ticket. In 2004 your agenda sounds very much like some of the socialist groups that speak on campus, and in fact they've long argued that you have to build a powerful labor-based movement in order to change politics in the United States. Yet you're running this year on a Reform Party, a party that has had a long tradition of interacting with very questionable— people whose ideals are not the same ideals as yours. I'm wondering, why are you running as an independent and not as a party candidate? And why switch parties, especially switch to this party?
NADER: Well, I'm not running on the Reform Party. I just accepted their endorsement. It's quite different. I'm willing to accept the endorsement of the Green Party if they don't nominate a presidential candidate. The problem is, the Green Party couldn't make up its mind whether it wanted a candidate— whether it wanted a candidate who kept out of the close states. They're all divided and they're not going to make up their mind until late June at their convention in Milwaukee. And by then, it's too late. I mean, so many state deadlines for getting on the ballot— North Carolina and Oklahoma and so on— would have been expired. And so you couldn't have another option if you waited until late June. So that's why I told them a long time ago— I said, "Look, if you're a political party, run a candidate." You don't decide until your convention whether you're going to run a candidate under what conditions.
Now, being pro-labor isn't exactly being socialistic. I don't know what they're teaching you at Columbia these days. [Laughter.]
OSNOS: Right here. Can you stand up and identify yourself, please?
QUESTIONER: Oh, yes, my name is John Moran. I'm a former member of the New York state committee of the Green Party, and I'm currently the treasurer of the West Side Greens. And I have worked very hard for Mr. Nader's campaign in the past and currently. So, I am very— I very sorely remember you spoke of being shut out. Something else you were shut out of was the debates, the presidential debates, and I think that was a very salient issue for all of us. And I notice here on a sheet, I picked up, it says Council on Foreign Relations Campaign 2004. They talk about a web site they're setting up and they hope that they will be able to leverage the power of the Internet to inform the public on foreign policy. And I wonder if one important means of informing the public on foreign policy wouldn't be to struggle to get you into the debate?
NADER: Yes. Well, one of the benefits of the 2000 campaign is that it led to the creation of a new debate commission called the Citizens Debate Commission, and its board of directors is represented by conservative and liberal leaders of nonprofit groups— from Common Cause to [conservative radio talk show host] Alan Keyes, and from [conservative political strategist] Paul Weyrich to [activist and author] Randall Robinson— because they have a common interest in breaking the grip of the Commission on Presidential Debates, which was created and is dominated by the two major parties. And the web site on that is opendebates.org.
And this morning they held— the Citizens Debate Commission was scheduled to hold a press conference in the National Press Club, announcing five debate locations and inviting the candidates to participate. So there's an attempt— and a lot of it depends on the [television] networks, of course, and whether they'll cooperate— to loosen up the framework, diversify the candidates on the debate and have them real debates, not parallel interviews.
So we hope that that will occur. I mean, that's one of the benefits of what happened in 2000. I think the majority of the American people favor that. In fact, in 2000, numerous polls, led by the Fox poll— 64 percent— wanted me and [conservative Patrick] Buchanan on the debates, if only as a cure against insomnia. [Laughter.]
OSNOS: I've got a question that was handed me here from the web site and we're going— in keeping with the importance of the web, I'll read it. From Alexander Hayek, Lonbridge Associates Limited in London: We seem to be willing to spend $150 billion on a war in Iraq in order to protect our access to Middle Eastern oil, but not willing to spend that kind of money on developing mass transit systems and alternative sources of energy. As president, how will you deal with our oil dependency?
NADER: Well, the way so many task forces have recommended. We move very rapidly into energy efficiency modes. We don't spend eight years of the Clinton-Gore administration and not make one proposal to improve the fuel efficiency of motor vehicles. We lost eight years there.
So the practicality of fuel efficiency is overwhelmingly available to us. We've already done a lot of work as a nation in this. We'd be paying $160 billion more a year if we were as inefficient as we were in the mid-70s. So there has been progress. But it's been stagnant in the last 10 years or so. There's been very little progress. And now the average fleet fuel efficiency in our country is the lowest in 21 years. It's about as low as it was in the 1980s. So energy conservation, energy efficiency, and all technologies.
The second is to move more rapidly on solar energy. That's wind power, photovoltaics. The prices are going down, and they're quite competitive now. If you take externalities into account, they're very competitive. Photovoltaic, solar, thermal, biomass, and wind power. Wind power now is the choice of— is the technology of choice for electric utility executives. If they want to build a new electric generating plant, they would look to wind power, for all the obvious reasons, now. So it's a fast-growing form of solar energy.
But I asked John Kerry that question, and I say— he's saying, "I've been for inefficiency [sic] and renewability." He made a very impassioned plea. I said, "All right. And the next step is, who's opposing this?" He said, "The oil industry." I said, "You're right, and the coal, and in nuclear." I said, "How you going to break the grip of the fossil fuel industry that's blocking what you want to do by converting our country to a more efficient energy?" And he says, "Just let me get in the White House. I'll use the bully pulpit."
Then I said, "Well, what are going to do about [House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay [R-Texas] and [Senate Majority Leader] Bill Frist [R-Tenn.] and the Republican control?" He says, "Just let me get in the White House." I didn't think that was a sufficient answer."
OSNOS: Is that a quick question you have there? Because we're running up against the deadline.
QUESTIONER: Sir, it's Raghida Dergham, Al-Hayat. It's a follow-up on what you said—
OSNOS: Could you identify yourself? Sorry.
QUESTIONER: Raghida Dergham, Al-Hayat. You said that the administration or anybody— the Bush administration should declare a set date for the withdrawal from Iraq— say, the end of the year, to use your words. You're not proposing anything in particular that will happen from now until six months. And given the fact that the administration today launched a Security Council resolution which would have the multinational forces established, will be also— they will withdraw them should the Iraqi government, elected in January, ask for the pullout. So how different are you now after this proposal? And what do you mean in the six months? What do you do, other than setting the date for withdrawal?
NADER: I don't find any credibility in that resolution, because when the Pentagon is planning to build 14 military bases in Iraq, that means the Bush administration is planning an indefinite occupation and control of Iraq, and transforming Iraq into a major military base complex for that whole region as we withdraw some of our bases from Saudi Arabia.
The proof in the pudding is whether we're going to give the Iraqi people a stake in an independent government with suitable autonomy for Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds, or we are going to basically tell them, "Yeah, you can have your own government. You can elect it in January, but we are the real sovereign, we're the military sovereign." When [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs] General [Richard] Myers was asked recently before Congress, is this new Iraqi government going to be able to control U.S. military decisions, the answer was clearly no. The military is going to do what it's going to do, and that brings the corporate occupation of Iraq along with that de facto sovereignty.
We just don't understand. You know, we should put the shoe on the other foot. Nobody likes to be occupied, and if we were occupied, we would want the occupier to give us a light at the end of the tunnel before we believed the occupier. And if the occupier is basically playing the cycle of violence game, which is, "Well, we won't get out until the guerrillas and the terrorists stop, et cetera," and then it becomes— and then, "We're going to strike back and we're going to do this," then you get caught in a cycle of violence. And when you're caught in a cycle of violence, you're a prisoner of violence.
OSNOS: You know, when I started, I— we've got to stop. I just— I did make a comparison between you and Fidel Castro. I saw the other day that his doctor said he's going to live to 140— [laughter]--which I think on that basis, Ralph, gives you a hell of a good, long run. [Laughter.] Thank you very much for coming today.
NADER: Thank you. Thank you. [Applause.]
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