Interview with Phyllis Bennis, Institute for Policy Studies, Fellow

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July 8th, 2004
Transcription by Brian Kanowsky

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. So why don't you go ahead and introduce yourself and your role here at the Institute.
BENNIS: My name is Phyllis Bennis. I'm a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. And I run the New Internationalism Project that works on the Middle East and US-UN relations.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. To start off, a lot of people when I talk about my film -- that it's dealing with a lot of international law issues -- their response is that international law doesn't matter. Why does international law matter?
BENNIS: International law is what prevents the world from floundering into absolute chaos. For the United States, the most powerful country in the world, with greater economic and military and political and diplomatic and cultural reach -- greater than any Roman Emperor ever imagined -- international law has never meant as much as it should. The important thing about international law is that it can protect the weak from the strong, but only if there is political will prepared to back it up. There's no enforcement that just exists outside of what nation-states do. But there is a body of international law, and the question is "What happens when a country becomes a rogue state and steps out of line with what's required by international law?" That's what the United States has done in recent years. It's become a rogue state -- abandoning treaties, "dissing" the United Nations, saying that the UN Charter doesn't matter, "We have the right to go to war against anyone, anytime, anyplace, whenever we choose." This is the kind of violation of international law that puts the whole world at greater risk. Not least because it sets a precedent, it sends a message that any country -- once the US has done it -- any country that chooses can then go in the same direction and say, "Well, we're going to respond militarily if we think that some day in the future we might be threatened." It's not even the notion of a preemptive strike that implies that there is an imminent danger that at the last minute you're trying to head it off. In the case of the Iraq War, of course, there was no threat. There was no "imminent danger." There was no "emptive" there, if you will. It couldn't even be a preemptive war. It was a preventive war. And that's specifically what treaties like the United Nations Charter, like the Geneva Conventions, like the Declaration of -- after the Nuremberg Trials, are all designed to prevent is aggressive, preventive war.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: And if you look at the US Constitution, there is a section that says 'All treaties signed by the government shall be the supreme law of the land.' Is that -- In America, is domestic law -- does it trump the international law? Or how does the hierarchy work?
BENNIS: The hierarchy in the United States, like in most countries, is always that domestic law comes first. The problem is, using that as a claim to be violating international law doesn't work for the reasons that you just said. International law, once it is ratified by the Senate, becomes part of domestic law. So when the US violates the UN Charter, it's violating its own laws. When it violates the Geneva Conventions, it's violating its own laws. These are not things that exist outside of American jurisprudence. This is part of our legal system.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. So I just -- I'm not going to be having my questions.
BENNIS: Ah. Okay.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So I just wanted to clarify. and follow up there -- So in the case of the UN charter, explain that in the terms of a treaty being signed, and then being ratified and then being part of US law.
BENNIS: In international law, something exists when it is signed. And then when it's ratified by the parliament of the country. In the United States, domestic law and our Constitution says that treaties, once they are signed and ratified, become part of our domestic law. So when the US violates -- whether it's the United Nations Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the Declarations around the Nuremberg Trials, that came after the Nuremberg Trials -- all of those violations of international law are also violations of domestic law. There's no hierarchy that can choose between them. Because domestic law requires that we take seriously the obligations under international law.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: [Pause to take off bracelets]... So when I talk to conservative international legal scholars -- like Ruth Wedgwood -- it seems that they have a different argument. What is their argument -- What is the loophole they're trying to say?
BENNIS: The loophole is one of power. Those who would say that we are not obligated to abide by international law are essentially doing what was written about centuries and centuries ago. If we look at the Melian dialogues of the Ancient Greeks -- this was the debate at that time. When the new democracy -- such as it was in Athens -- started to feel a little threatened. They felt like their little democracy was maybe too fragile, maybe too small, they needed land. So they went to the island of Melos and said, "We're taking your island." And the Melians said, "We don't think so." And the Athenians came back with, "Well, sorry, but we're bigger and stronger than you. We're taking your island." And the Melians said, "But what about democracy that you guys are supposed to be so hot on?" And their answer was, "For us there is democracy. For you, there is the law of Empire." What these people are putting forward is the law of empire that distinguishes the United States from all the other countries in the world. The US claimed it went to war against Iraq in 1990-91 and again in 2003 because Iraq had violated UN resolutions. That was the official rationale. "And the UN would be irrelevant if it didn't go to war first." Instead, the US is saying, "We -- the United States, because we are bigger and stronger than every other country in the world -- we have no such obligations to abide by international law."

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. So can you explain the legal rationale that the United States ended up using to go to war in Iraq with the cease-fire agreements 678 and 687?
BENNIS: There were very few instances where there was even an effort made to rely on legal justifications. What we were told was the reason for going to war was that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction that posed an imminent danger. And that Iraq was in league with those who had carried out September 11 terror attacks, and we would be in danger again if they provided weapons to those people. In fact, they both turned out to be lies. Now arguments were made regarding Iraqi obligations under resolution 678, which was the original justification for going to war back in 1990. But I don't think anyone ever took that very seriously. The notion that 13 years after one war you can sort of use an old, expired resolution as the basis of going to war again. No one tried very hard to make that a believable argument. The argument was power trumps law. And because we're powerful, we are not obligated to abide by international law.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So do you see a kind of hypocrisy in promoting democracy while violating our own laws?
BENNIS: The US is not promoting democracy in Iraq. It's promoting the illusion of democracy for sale at home. What it's promoting in Iraq is a way of maintaining control: Economic Control, Political Control, Strategic Control -- through 14 new permanent bases that are being built in Iraq, US bases. Control of the Iraqi economy through a series of laws that were imposed by the US proconsul Paul Bremer -- most of them in just the last weeks before he left in the pretend handover of power on June 28th -- that included absolute privatization schemes for the entire Iraqi economy, requirements that Iraq's corporate regulations be aimed at making Iraq qualify for membership in the WTO. A whole host of limitations on the rights of Iraq -- whether the government or the people -- to prevent complete control by outside forces. Including a law that says that any Iraqi institution can be purchased 100% by foreign ownership, and with 100% repatriation of profits out of the country, with the imposition of a 15% tax limit, imposing the kind of low-tax theories of the Bush administration here in the United States on this impoverished country -- Allowing free reign for corporations to steal as much Iraqi money as they want and take it out of the country, because they won't be obligated by significant taxes. So it's a disastrous situation for Iraqis, but it certainly is not democracy.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. You talked about expiration of the resolutions, and I've talked to Michael O'Hanlon who seems to buy into this "violation of the cease-fire agreement" means that we can go to war again. So can you explain how the cease-fire -- what the -- you know, how --
BENNIS: Right.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: That it remains seized, and what actual --
BENNIS: Well, yeah. I'll do a little of it. But I'm not going to go into that kind of detail.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay.
BENNIS: Because it's boring and stupid for anybody listening.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay, that's fine.
BENNIS: So yeah.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So. Well let me just [laughs]
BENNIS: You really -- I'm telling you, you don't want that in your movie.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. So we'll just leave it at that.
BENNIS: [laughs]
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Is there -- There seemed to be a lot of mention of "serious consequences" by the Bush administration. Is that something that was in the preamble or operative paragraph, or what kind of -- was there ambiguity there?
BENNIS: There's a lot of language in these various resolutions that talk about "severest consequences." This was a term that the US insisted on. And the problem was, it was never defined what were to be the "severest consequences." So the US position was -- right from the beginning -- and this was true in earlier resolutions as well. One back in 1998, as well as later ones -- where the US position was "severest consequences" mean that "If we think after that Iraq has violated anything that they are obligated to do, we have the right to go in unilaterally, without an additional resolution, without any permission from the Security Council -- Just on our own, we can go in and declare that because we can impose 'severest consequences,' we can go to war." The rest of the Council all uniformly said, "No." When this first came up -- when this language was first imposed back in 1998, I remember it well -- the Council meeting -- every one of the ambassadors came out, one right after another. And they all said that "It does not mean that any country, including the United States, has the right to move unilaterally and impose a war or impose anything on Iraq. That if there was a future violation, it means that the Council has to reconvene and decide what should be those 'severest consequences.'" The US ambassador came out last, and he sort of looked around -- he was very tall, and looked down his nose at people and said, "We think that it does." And he walked away. That was the end of that. And just a few months later the US began the Desert Fox bombing attack in Iraq in December of 1998. So there has been a history of the US going through the motions of using the instruments of the United Nations, when in fact they were approaching it in this thoroughly instrumentalized way of using the UN for their own purposes. Very much in keeping with what Madeline Albright said in 1995, when she was the United Nations ambassador, and she said, 'We don't usually admit it here in New York, but the United Nations is a tool of American foreign policy.' That's a pretty bold statement for somebody to make. It's not new and different for those of us who had been watching what the US was doing. But for the US ambassador to the United Nations to make such a claim so publicly without a hint of, "Maybe we should be a little bit ashamed of this." That was a bit of a problem.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So do you see a pattern of the Bush administration not even really wanting inspectors to go back in, and for inspectors to even work, but that they were just looking for a justification to go to war?
BENNIS: Absolutely.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. I'm sorry.
BENNIS: Alright. There's no question that the US did not want the UN inspectors to be able to finish their job. By the time the inspectors were forced out, when the US was about to begin its massive bombings in the Spring of 2003, it was clear that they were able to work, they were working unimpeded. The threats to the Iraqi regime had been sufficient that the regime had backed down from its restrictions earlier on. And they were allowing free reign to the inspectors. And the inspectors had not found anything. And it had become clear that they were not going to find anything. To this day, of course, even the US inspectors that followed after the war have found nothing. No evidence of viable weapons of mass destruction -- whether biological or chemical or nuclear or anything else. So I think that many in the US intelligence community, such as it's called, knew that it was very unlikely that they were going to find these things. And they didn't want to leave it for the end when they would have to then create a new justification. In fact, it was a combined effort to both stop the process of proving that there were no weapons of mass destruction that provided a serious threat, and at the same time, asserting as a principle, "We don't need the United Nations to give us permission." Despite the fact that the UN Charter says precisely the opposite. The UN Charter is vague and confusing about a lot of things, but one of the things it's very clear on is 'When is it legal to go to war.' And there's only two instances. One is if the Security Council says so. So in fact, back in 1990, when the Council passed resolution 678, it was still -- in my view and the view of many, many people around the world -- still illegitimate when the US went to war. But it wasn't illegal in the same way technically, because technically the Security Council had endorsed that call for war. In 2003, the Security Council stood firm. The General Assembly stood firm. The Secretary-General stood firm. They all refused to sign on to the US drive for war. And that meant that the US was going to war without authorization. The only other authorization in the UN Charter that would make a war legal is in Article 51, where it says that "self-defense remains the right of every country." The problem is Article 51 is drafted very narrowly for good reason. It didn't want to leave a lot of loopholes of how that might happen. What Article 51 says is that a country has the right of self-defense, it has the right to respond militarily "if" -- the crucial word -- "if an armed attack occurs." Now some have said that should mean "If an armed attack is about to happen." Whether you agree with that or not, that wasn't the case here. And it goes on to even further narrow what that self-defense means to say it can only apply "if" the armed attack occurs, and then only until -- so it's a second conditionality -- until the Security Council can meet and decide what to do. In the case of September 11th, the Security Council had met and decided what to do. It was a series of efforts that had to do with tracking money, identifying potential terrorists that were trying to cross borders. It did not include a call for war. So the claim that somehow Article 51 was legitimately met is simply another lie.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Some people that I've talked to, they say 'It doesn't matter if the war was illegal. It's just merely a political decision that -- it's just like -- it's not enforced. The resolutions aren't enforced -- that there's no trial for war crimes or anything.'
BENNIS: I think that it's very important to recognize how important the role of the United Nations -- and the refusal of the United Nations, particularly the Security Council, to endorse that war -- really was. At the end of the day, we were not able to stop the war. We were not able to prevent the war from going forward. But we did build a global movement that was more powerful than I think any civil society peace mobilization has been in more than half a century. And a big part of the reason it was so broad, particularly in the United States -- where there was still a great deal of fear after September 11th -- fear that had continuously been whipped up by this administration. The administration had been a very -- had used very effectively fear as a weapon. But in that context, there was a huge mobilization of people who said, "I am not prepared to sign on to an illegal war, to a unilateral war, to a war without United Nations approval." So when we had, for example, the Cities for Peace mobilization, 165 cities around the United States -- from the giant cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Baltimore, Cleveland, all across the country to tiny little villages like Telluride, Colorado and Berkeley, California . All of these cities, 165 cities, passed resolutions in their city councils saying no to a war without United Nations approval. Now many of them would have signed such resolutions anyway, but not 165. Not the giant cities run by very careful establishment politicians. It simply would not have happened. So we were able to build a much wider, broader movement because of this issue of international law and the United Nations, and the UN Charter being violated. People in the US, despite what our government likes to tell us -- People in the United States take the United Nations very seriously. Every poll indicates that, and the mobilization that happened in the run-up to the war was more proof of it.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: A lot of people also say that the French had impure economic motives. And that they were just taking international law because that was the easy argument. Can you talk about that compared to also the US motives?
BENNIS: There's no doubt that the anti-war governments that emerged in the context of the United Nations vote were overwhelmingly opposed to the war for very narrow, self-interest reasons. Certainly Jacques Chirac had not become suddenly concerned about the plight of Iraqi children. Vladimir Putin was certainly not suddenly concerned about human rights. But for whatever reason, when they came out against the war, they were standing on the same side as international law. So from my vantage point, I didn't care that their ultimate reasons were impure. The other countries on the Security Council -- Mexico, Chile, Cameroon, Guinea, Pakistan -- these were countries that were under enormous pressure at home. These were governments that were under tremendous pressure not to give in to the US pressure that was urging them -- demanding that they support this war. Instead, they had to deal with a massive, mobilized population that was saying no to war, and where political opinion polls were indicating opposition to the war was 75, 85, 90, 92 percent in some of these countries. And at the same time, their political mobilization at home was part of a massive global mobilization that was consciously global. And that was defining itself in global terms. The slogan of the massive demonstrations on September -- Oh, Sorry -- The slogan of the massive demonstrations that were held on February 15th, 2003 -- just before the war began -- the slogan was, "The world says no to war." And that was the slogan in all of the countries around the world -- 665 cities -- there were demonstrations that day. Beginning in Australia and New Zealand, and jumping across mainland Asia and into Europe, and across the Atlantic, and eventually hitting the United States from the East Coast to the West Coast. There were demonstrations of millions -- the estimates are somewhere between 12 and 14 million people were in the streets that day. And people that were in the streets understood it as a global mobilization. That same morning in New York -- when a small group met with Kofi Annan, just before the mobilization demonstration began in New York -- there was an extraordinary moment when the delegation led by the Archbishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa, looked at Secretary-General Kofi Annan across the table -- these two African statesmen, who had known each other for many years, had both won the Nobel Prize for Peace, both holding the hopes of the world on that very singular day in an extraordinary way. And Bishop Tutu said, "We are here on behalf of the people that are marching around the world today. And we're here to tell you that those people marching in all those cities all around the world claim the United Nations as our own. And we claim it in the name of our global mobilization for peace." It was an extraordinary moment. And I think that many people around the world understood the role of the United Nations, the role of international law, that way on that day.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Can you talk about how the mainstream print and television news media covered the issues of international law versus -- Did they take the Bush administration's word for it? Or did they --
BENNIS: The coverage of the run-up to the war largely ignored the issue of international law. I don't think there was any need for anyone in the Bush administration to urge reporters not to touch this. It simply wasn't part of the political discourse in a way that would have led any -- or most reporters, I should say, there were exceptions -- but most reporters in the mainstream press simply did not participate at any time before the war, after the war, during the war, in the same way that most political pundits in this country don't think or write about international law. As the biggest most powerful country in the world, we don't depend on international law to keep us safe. We never have. And unlike other countries, as a result, we don't think in those terms. We think in terms of what our own rights are, as a country. We don't think in terms of our obligations as a part of a global community. So it's not surprising. I don't think it was some great conspiracy not to talk about it. It simply was not an issue that was part of the discourse of this country, and remains so today.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So if international law -- If they assumed that it was relevant, and important, what type of questions might the media have asked?
BENNIS: I think the way that we need to understand this is not so much that there were specific questions that should have been asked, but an entirely different understanding of the significance of the United Nations process. The way it was described in this country in the press was as a "power struggle," and it certainly was that. But we didn't put it in the context sufficiently of a legal requirement. That it wasn't simply a matter of US diplomacy would be better served if we went and invaded Iraq with a coalition behind us. That was the normal discourse that was the description here. No one said, "If we invade Iraq without authorization from the Security Council of the United Nations, we stand in violation of the UN Charter, and we stand in violation of the laws of war, the Geneva Convention, and we then become an outlaw state. We become a rogue state." No one took it to that level. No one said that that was what was happening in the mainstream press. But indeed, that was precisely what was happening. And all around the world, the opposition to the United States grew and grew to the point where, now, in recent reports -- the Institute for Policy Studies has recently produced a massive report on the costs of war. One of the costs is the cost in security in the world and for Americans. And Americans are qualitatively and quantitatively less safe now because of the war in Iraq. The Institute -- Sorry -- The International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, one of the most prestigious military institutions in the world, has said when they were asked, "What has been the effect of the war in Iraq on al Qaeda?" Their answer was "Accelerated recruitment." That's what this war has brought us. It has transformed Iraq into something it never was before -- a hotbed of international terrorism. As terrible as the regime of Saddam Hussein was, as repressive as it was, it never was involved with international terrorist expansion around the world. The US figures themselves -- "The Patterns of Global Terrorism," published every year by the US State Department -- has been very clear that not since 1993 has there been anything even accused -- has ever -- Let me try that again -- Not since 1993 has Iraq been even accused of carrying out some international terrorist attack. That one is contested. But even if it happened, it was the failed attempt to assassinate George Bush, Sr. -- after he was out of office. But whether or not that happened -- it obviously didn't succeed, which is good. But it's not clear that it happened at all. But nothing has happened since that time. The US never even claimed that there were international terrorist attacks against Americans or against anyone else from Iraq. That simply wasn't what the Iraqi regime was involved with. Now, it is. Now, that's what we have in Iraq. So we have been made qualitatively less safe as a result of this war.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: One thing that you hear a lot is that Saddam was in violation of all these resolutions. And that the United States had to go in and enforce them. Can you talk about who has the authority to even do that?
BENNIS: There's little doubt that Iraq was in violation of a number of resolutions. It wasn't quite as high a number as the US sometimes claimed, but there were violations. They were obligated to prove that they had in fact destroyed their weapons of mass destruction. There's now every bit of evidence that they did, in fact, destroy their weapons of mass destruction. But without being able to document it. And certainly, they prevented the United Nations inspectors from having full and easy access in the country for some years. So there's no doubt that there were violations. The question then becomes "Which violations in the United Nations are taken seriously? And which are not? Who gets to choose? And who gets to decide about a response?" If we look at what country has violated the United Nations Charter and specific United Nations resolutions more than any other, by far, it's Israel. And yet we never hear even a discussion about -- I'm not even talking about going to war against Israel, but -- which I would not support -- but I would support sanctions of some sort against Israel. That's never even been included as an item of possibility. No other country has usurped, in the same way as the United States has over and over and over again towards Iraq, the right to -- in the words of the Bush administration, "to enforce UN resolutions." If a UN resolution is not being enforced, it's up to the United Nations itself to make that decision. When UN Security Council resolutions are passed, and this has been true of all the resolutions regarding Iraq -- particularly important in the ones that are passed under Chapter 7 of the Charter, which is the chapter that authorizes the use of force. If a resolution is passed under Chapter 7, and allows the use of force, they always end with the final article that says "the Security Council remains seized of the issue." And what that means is, "It's our issue. Keep your hands off." It means "It belongs to us. It's on our agenda, and we're going to keep revisiting it until it's resolved." So if the US or any other country on the Council -- or not on the Council -- believes that the Iraqis or anyone else is violating some resolution, they have every right to go back to the Council and say, "We have a problem here, guys. This country is violating what we said they had to do, and it was taken under Chapter 7 -- that's very serious. What are we going to do about it?" No country has the right unilaterally to say this country is violating what we said they have to do and therefore we're going to go to war against them -- and do it in the name of the United Nations. That's a complete -- not just distortion -- but it's a complete reversal of what the United Nations is all about, which is the idea of collective responsibility for peace and security.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Now on November 8th, John Negroponte seemed on the surface to be speaking with a forked tongue by saying "there's no hidden triggers," "no automaticity," but at the same time saying, "There's nothing to prevent us from defending our country." Can you talk about how that was received within the international community? And did he mean that 1441 actually didn't matter because they already had authorization from 10 years ago?
BENNIS: I don't think that John Negroponte's remarks had anything to do with specific references to earlier resolutions. These were political assertions that were being made. And that is, "We say the United Nations resolution is being violated. We claim the right to redress it. And the rest of you -- if you don't like it, too bad." It was really a smack in the face to the Security Council, and to the United Nations as a whole. Saying there's "no automaticity," we just claim the right to do it on our own. So this has been the habit and the pattern of how the US has used and abused the United Nations all along.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: And an you explain a little bit what you meant by "automaticity" -- meaning that -- how they interpreted that as getting a second resolution?
BENNIS: At the time that the US wanted to go to war against Iraq, and was forced by political pressures to go back to the United Nations and get a resolution endorsing it, there was one resolution that had been passed -- that was a further assertion of Iraq's -- demands on Iraq to allow in the inspectors and to abide by earlier resolutions. The US said that that resolution was sufficient to justify a unilateral US response if there was any further violation by Iraq. The term that was coined -- which actually had come back from 1990 in the earlier run-up to -- Sorry -- The term that was coined, which actually had been coined first by the Russian ambassador back in 1998 in the run-up to what became the Desert Fox bombing campaign by the Untied States -- the term was "automaticity," which basically meant that the resolution had something in itself that allowed for an automatic response. That that was all you needed. That if after that was passed, if Iraq violated anything, any country had the automatic right -- that's what "automaticity" meant. Now every other country said that "This resolution does not have automaticity in it" -- every one of them. Only the US said, "We think it does." And that seemed to be enough for them. So they used that and said, "We don't like what Iraq is doing. We're going to use this resolution even though there is no second resolution actually authorizing military force, we're going to go in and use military force just because we can."

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: It also seemed like Bush was in a way playing the US Congress, saying "We need to pass this resolution to get us leverage at the UN.' But once the UN was passed, then he was like, "We don't need anything to do with the UN." So can you explain that?
BENNIS: The US Constitution requires that going to war can only be done by the Congress. The Commander-in-Chief is the President, the Commander-in-Chief has the right to deploy forces, but declaring a war -- going to war -- is the purview of the Congress. The claim was made by the Bush administration that they needed the Congressional authorization to go as far as they wanted to go -- in order to have leverage at the United Nations, "To let them know we're serious" was the way it was talked about. In fact, that was a lie. They had no intention of relying on the legitimacy of a United Nations decision. There were many in the Bush administration -- among the ideologues in particular, especially around the civilian leadership of the Pentagon -- who had actually opposed going to the United Nations. Not only did they think that if we don't get the resolution that we want, we should go ahead without it. They thought that, on principle, it was a mistake to go to the United Nations even if we could get the resolution, because they wanted proof that we were not obligated to do so. They denied what is very clear in the UN Charter, that no country has the right to go to war against another country unless it has been attacked. Iraq did not attack us. That was why there was this constant reiteration of the alleged but false claim about the link between Iraq and al Qaeda -- Iraq and September 11th. So on a few occasions, both President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and others in the administration did say specifically that Iraq was involved. Iraq was responsible in some ways. But they didn't say that very often. What they said over and over and over again was a segue that left unmistakable the understanding that there was such a connection -- without saying anything that was concrete enough to be held accountable. So it would go something like this: 'We must never have another event like the terrible events of September 11th. And we must go to war against Iraq so that we never have another event like the terrible events of September 11th.' And you want to say, "Wait a minute, roll that tape back. Where's the missing link here? Where's the space? What's the connection?" The answer was, "There was no connection." But if you say it over and over and over again, in an era of enormous fear in this country, what you have is what we had until just a few months ago where 70% of Americans -- 70% of Americans -- believed that Iraq was responsible for September 11th. And even after the grudging acknowledgment by President Bush -- and the continuing assertion of the same point by Vice President Cheney -- but when President Bush finally, grudgingly admitted, 'No, there really was no operative link' -- 49% still believe it. So it speaks to the question of the constant repeat of something -- even if it's not true -- can have enormous impact.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: There seemed to be a shift in the Bush administration when they said we don't need a second resolution and then they switched at the end of January. And a lot of journalists -- and even the think tank policy analysts -- said, 'It's just a political decision in Britain that caused it.' Can you talk about the relevance of that switch, and what kind of follow-up questions should have been asked?
BENNIS: There was no specific switch of policy. The US never took seriously the need for a second resolution. It didn't actually acknowledge in totality the need for a first resolution. This was a political ploy. It was a political judgment that was going forward. Now, clearly the first resolution did not authorize war, but that was not the concern of the Bush administration. They were not prepared to accept the legitimacy of UN decision making in going to war. So the initial goal of wanting a second resolution was very much driven by Tony Blair's need for a second resolution. In Britain, they take international law much more seriously than we do in the United States. And there was a demand in the Parliament for a second resolution before going to war. And in keeping with trying to make best friend Tony Blair happy, the Bush administration said, "Okay, we'll go through the motions, and try to get another resolution." When it became clear that it was not going to be as easy as they had anticipated, the US said, "Okay, we went through the motions. We tried. We didn't get it. Now we're going to war anyway, and you better come along with us." And Tony Blair said, "Okay." And that what was led to the accusations of Tony Blair as Bush's poodle. The accusations that Blair had sold out British interests and Britain's relationship with Europe in order to maintain his relationship with the Bush administration in the context of Iraq policy. So this was never actually about ensuring a second resolution. What was extraordinary about that period -- Really the whole period from September of 2002 until May of 2003 when the final resolution almost authorizing the occupation was passed -- was the fact that for those eight months, there was this extraordinary willingness of the United Nations to stand defiant of the Bush administration's demand for approving their war. Where you had very poor countries on the Security Council, who ordinarily would never say "No" to the United States, suddenly standing up to the US because they had no choice. There was a global movement demanding it. There were powerful countries backing them up. So a country like Cameroon or Guinea, or countries slightly more wealthy but still not very powerful, like Chile or Mexico, could look to France and Germany and -- somewhat Russia -- to back them up when they said, "No." And what was so interesting about that period is that for all of the threats that were made to those countries by the United States -- And the mood at the United Nations was a very grim mood. People remembered the Yemen Precedent of 1990, when the Yemeni government was one of only two governments -- the other being Cuba -- who voted "No" on authorizing war against Iraq in 1990. And no sooner had the Yemeni ambassador put down his hand, then there was a US diplomat at his side who said, "That will be the most expensive 'No' vote you ever cast." And sure enough, three days later, the US cut its entire aid budget to Yemen. That model -- that precedent has hovered over the UN ever since. People talk about it all the time. And people were talking about it then. But the mood was different. And the fact that there was this international mobilization made it possible for those governments to say "No." And what was so fascinating was that the Yemeni precedent didn't hold. So Cameroon and Guinea didn't lose access to the money they were supposed to get -- the little bit of aid money they were supposed to get under the African Growth and Opportunity Act that they had been threatened with losing. Chile did not lose its free trade agreement. It was a terrible agreement -- they never should have passed it anyway. But the Chilean government wanted it, and they were afraid they were going to lose it. They didn't lose it. The Mexican government was threatened with losing any future immigration negotiations. They didn't lose those negotiations. And indeed, just a couple of months later, in Cancun, when the WTO met -- when the World Trade Organization met, suddenly looking at that model of how countries had stood up to the United States, had said 'No' to the US, and lived to tell the tale. You had a very similar level of opposition that emerged with what became known as the "Group of 21" -- under the leadership of South Africa and Brazil and Argentina with India and China involved as well, saying "No" to the globalization plans of the United States and Europe. So this was an extraordinary moment for the United Nations, not because some objective notion of international law was somehow newly on the agenda. But just because there was an international mobilization demanding that governments take it seriously.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: A lot of the arm-twisting that was going on -- a lot of carrots and sticks -- is that type of behavior -- the persuasion tactics that the United States was using on these other member states -- is that legal? And if it is legal, then does it somehow corrupt the whole UN process?
BENNIS: The use of bribes and threats and punishments in the United Nations goes all the way back to the founding of the UN. At the founding convention in San Francisco, the US had already wiretapped -- using rather primitive means, but it worked -- the hotel rooms, and in some cases, even the train cars of the delegations arriving in San Francisco. So they knew even before they arrived "What were the issues that were most important to them. Where would they be willing to compromise. And how could the US maneuver through it." So that corruption -- that undermining of the UN's independence and legitimacy has a very long history. The newer version was something that emerged in the Fall of 2002, when the story broke in the British press about the US newly being found out -- Sorry, I'm losing my train of thought -- The --
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: It was March 2nd, right? With Katherine Gunn.
BENNIS: Yeah. So you know that story -- You have that story from somebody else? So I don't have to do it?
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Well, I mean -- from James Paul mentioning it briefly. But --
BENNIS: Well, if Jim has it. I mean, then you don't need it from me.
ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Well, okay. Just the --
BENNIS: Right. What we had in the spring, just before the war, was a new incident that had been reported in the British press, in which it became clear that the US was now furthering their wiretapping of missions at the United Nations -- particularly missions of countries on the Security Council. Now some of that is in direct violation of UN rules. No member state has the right -- even the host country -- as the US is known in the United Nations parlance -- no country has the right to wiretap the sovereign territory of another country -- which is what a UN mission is. It's like an embassy. It's considered sovereign. Now anyone who believes that the US -- and others, we shouldn't say the US is the only one, but they have by far the most access both by being the host country and by being the most advanced technology -- Clearly, everybody knows that this happens all the time. But it doesn't mean that it's an acceptable form of diplomacy. It does stand in violation of what diplomacy is supposed to look like. And the fact that everyone knows it exists doesn't make it any more acceptable.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: A lot of the television journalists, from my viewpoint, didn't have a good sense of the no-fly zones, and the history of the no-fly zones. They would take the Bush administration's word that if there was a plane fired down we could go to war.
BENNIS: The issue of the no-fly zones was a very complicated one. The no-fly zones never existed in any UN resolution. There was never a call to create no-fly zones. There was never a call to enforce no-fly zones. So when President Clinton stood up and said, "We are supporting -- We are enforcing United Nations resolutions with those no-fly zones," I wanted to raise my hand and say, "Excuse me, Mr. President, what resolution are we talking about here? Where do you claim that there's a resolution that says there should be no-fly zones?" It simply didn't exist. The no-fly zones were put in place by the US with support from the British -- early on there was some support from the French, but they withdrew quite quickly when it became clear what was happening -- and it was a clear violation. It was not ever approved by the United States. So in fact -- Sorry -- It was never approved by the United Nations. So in fact, when Iraq fired back at those planes that were violating its airspace, it was Iraq who had the right under Article 51 of the UN Charter to use the right of self-defense. Because those planes were not monitoring a UN-sanctioned no-fly zone. It was simply imposed by the United States.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Can you talk about the regime change policy? And how regime change is not really --
BENNIS: The US has often used the term "regime change" to talk about its policy in Iraq. This wasn't new to the Bush administration. This was something the Clinton administration signed on to in 1998. But it's important to recognize the political forces that were at stake in that policy. Claiming the right to overthrow the regime of another country -- another member state of the United Nations, for instance -- stands in complete violation of international law. That has never bothered the United States or some other powerful countries. In the context of the United Nations, you had a scenario where this was simply asserted as what the US intended to do. The UN was kept completely out of the loop. In the context of US politics, it was very different. It was in 1998, when a group of what I consider rightwing ideologues -- who at the time were not in positions of power in Washington, but were in various universities, were in various think tanks, were on corporate boards -- came together and drafted a letter to Congress, demanding harsher implementation of the sanctions against Iraq, and the creation of something that came to be called "The Iraq Liberation Act" -- which among other things made regime change in Iraq, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime, the official law of the land for the United States -- for the US government. What happened in 2000 was that in December of 2000, after the contested election that Al Gore won, the Supreme Court put in power the George Bush administration that had not won the election, but suddenly were made the President and came into power. And that administration pulled into various positions of great authority as not only Vice President and Secretary of Defense, but as the Deputy Secretaries, the Under-Secretaries of very influential positions, many of the people who had been part of the collaboration around that 1998 letter calling for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. So people like Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Donald Rumsfeld -- the whole gang of them -- had been pulling for this policy way before they were even back in power in Washington. This wasn't a new issue. So the issue of regime change is something that has long been something to be talked about. It was only with the Bush administration's coming into power in January of 2001, and in their first confirmation hearings, Powell, Rumsfeld, all talked about the need to overthrow Saddam Hussein. This was not something that had anything to do with September 11th. This was on their agenda long before.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: ... Okay. When you look at why this war happened -- a lot of people on the Left say, "It's oil." But we don't have actually access to oil. What proof that if any do you have?
BENNIS: There were many reasons for this war. They had to do with ideological reasons, the drive towards empire. They had to do with oil -- which was not so much about access to oil, because the US doesn't use that much oil directly from the Middle East -- but it had everything to do with the US remaining as the guarantor of access to oil for its allies in Japan, in Germany, in the rest of Europe, countries that do depend on Middle Eastern oil, particularly oil from the Arab Gulf -- or the Persian Gulf. And in this scenario, the US could have a great deal to say about prices, about maintaining stable pricing policies, maintaining free access under their control. So it was an issue of strategic control. There was also the issue of expanding US military reach. The fourteen permanent bases being constructed in Iraq after the so-called end of the occupation, should give us a much better clue as to what US intention is, than does the statements that "We will stay to do the job, and not one day longer." Well, the job seems to be permanent occupation of Iraq.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. Great. And I think that's it.