BRIAN LAMB: Phyllis Bennis, how would you describe what you do for a living?
PHYLLIS BENNIS: Oh, it's one of those great privileges, I get to work my passion which is working as what we call a public scholar. And for me, it means working against wars and occupations and really bad foreign policies, mostly by our own government. So what does it mean day to day? It means I write stuff, I speak, I talk to people, I work in social movements.
LAMB: Who pays you?
BENNIS: I work at the Institute for Policy Studies, which is the longest-lasting multi issue progressive think tank in the country. It's been around since the early 60s. And we raised money partly from foundations, partly from individuals and we don't take any government money or corporate money.
LAMB: When people give you money, what do they want from you?
BENNIS: You know, it sort of depends, usually, what they want is access to information. People want to figure stuff out, like ISIS has been a great example, you know, who is ISIS? The reason I wrote a book about ISIS was because people kept asking me, where can I get some basic stuff? I don't need to be an expert, I just want the basics. So I said, "Okay. I guess I'll write one."
I think what people want is information. We can't really rely on the mainstream media, the way we used to be able to rely on it. And the -- the internet provides a huge amount of information, but sorting through, it's really hard to know when you look at the internet. What can you rely on? What's pretty shady stuff?
You want something you can rely on, so you go to people that you trust and who share your views, maybe share your view that the way to change the world is to build big social movements against wars, against austerity, against inequality, against racism. All these movements and IPS over the years has worked with all those movements. So I think that's what people want.
LAMB: When do the media in your opinion dig down deep? Give you what you needed?
BENNIS: You know, I said that, I'm not even sure that's really ever been true? I remember it when I was kid, because everybody trusted Walter Cronkite. And maybe it was because Walter Cronkite was kind of condemned after he criticized the war in Vietnam that I started thinking the media really wasn't what we thought it was.
But I think it's been a really long time, it's not about trusting individual journalists, individual journalists -- in my experience, usually work really hard, they're trying to do their best. But it's a system that doesn't work very well. It's owned by giant corporations that also own a lot of war industries for instance.
You have a major network that's owned by the same company -- the same corporation that owns General Electric, which is one of the big military contractors. That can't help but affect how they cover wars and the use of those military goods.
LAMB: They did get out of it, though, they sold it.
BENNIS: Eventually, yes.
LAMB: Well, let's go to your book. For a bit -- on the ISIS thing and you said that this is one of many primers you've done on the world situation. This is understanding ISIS and then new global war on terror. There's one question I want to ask you to start with. What is the difference between a Sunni and a Shia?
BENNIS: It's an important question, although, I'm not sure that it's the most important question in understanding the complex situation we're dealing with.
The origins of the Sunni-Shia divide go back to the 7th century, it goes back to the Prophet Muhammad. Now, I'm not an expert on all the ins and outs of Muslim theology, but basically, it was a disagreement over who should replace the prophet when he died.
And there were two schools who fought, one that said it should be his direct family, another said it should be the person who has been working the closest with him and would continue that line. And that was sort of the beginning of the split.
Now, on a certain level, that doesn't really matter, you know, the actual theological differences are not as important as the political consequences of those differences. So among other things, when you look at the Civil War in Syria, which is now at least seven separate wars that are all being fought to the last Syrian, one of those wars is a power struggle in the region for who's going to be the regional power between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Another is a sectarian war between Sunni and Shia. And that also puts Saudi Arabia and Iran, and some of the other forces in the region that they support, in Syria and elsewhere, on opposite sides. So it becomes a political struggle as much as a -- as a religions struggle.
LAMB: So how much of what we've seen happen in the last 15 years would be happening if there wasn't this split between the Sunnis and the Shia?
BENNIS: Oh, I think almost all of it would still be happening. It might look different, but I think that the origins of all these are far more with oil, with the search for power, for military bases, for foreign occupations, of a number of sorts, I think all of those things are far more important than the Sunni-Shia divide in actually creating the splits and the -- the problems in the region.
LAMB: So since you've had this book on the market, Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror, what is the reaction you've gotten from people who had have read it? Or they say, "I just found out what I didn't know about this whole issue."
BENNIS: You know, the book is only been out for a few weeks, so I haven't gotten too much response yet. It's probably similar to the response I get from articles that I write and articles that I wrote before the book came out, which is basically, "Boy, do I need to know all this? Do I need to know all this detail?"
And I say, "Absolutely not." That's partly why the book is done as separate frequently asked questions, FAQ, it's kind of like a website in -- in the form of a book, where people can skip around and just read a few. If they have a question, go look at that question and see how I approached it.
But I think that's what important is as much as to understand who is ISIS. What are their origins, what did they believe? Why are they so violent? All those questions are important, and I address them all in the book.
But I think that what's more important in some ways because it's something we can do something about is what is the U.S. policy regarding ISIS. Why isn't it working? Can we really go to war against terrorism? Are we just doing the war wrong? Or is it wrong to say there should be a war against terrorism at all? I think those are the questions that in some ways are the most important and that will be the most useful for people who pick up the book.
LAMB: The ISIS folks have turned out to be pretty good with video and audio.
BENNIS: Yeah, horribly so.
LAMB: And I mean, people that know more about it than I do say they're well-produced. I want to just start, this is not only a minute. But this is -- you've seen some of this before, but just set up the feeling that you have when you see the ISIS group and then have you come back and explain some of this.
(BEGIN VIEDO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED PARTICIPANT: I call on my friends, family and loved ones to rise up against my real killers, the U.S. government, for what will happen to me is only a result of their complacency and criminality. My message to my beloved parents, save me some dignity and don't accept any major compensation for my death from the same people who effectively hit the last nail in my coffin with the recent aerial campaign in Iraq.
JAMES WRIGHT FOLEY: This is James Wright Foley, an American citizen of your country. As a government, you have been at the forefront of the aggression towards the Islamic state. You have plotted against us and gone far out of your way to find reasons to interfere in our affairs.
Today, your military air force has attacked us daily in Iraq. Your strikes have caused casualties amongst Muslims. You are no longer fighting an insurgency, we are an Islamic army, and a state that has been accepted by a large number of Muslims worldwide.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: What do you think of what you saw?
BENNIS: It's horrifying, it's absolutely horrifying. And their ability to bring that image so up close and personal is what makes it so horrific. The reality is if you compare the numbers of people ISIS has killed to the numbers of people killed in the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, it doesn't come close.
But that isn't the only comparison you can make. When it's this up close and personal, it has a very specific human effect. And I -- I look away even because I know what comes, even if I don't watch it. And I -- I think most people do. But there's a reason for putting this kind of horrifying reality on -- on video and -- and showing it to people.
One, it shows power and -- and it makes them look powerful and strong. Two, there are clearly some people attracted to that kind of violence, thankfully not very many. But third and I think perhaps the most important is that this is what drives, what we use to call the CNN factor, now maybe should be called the Twitter factor of news and policy which is, it outrages people.
And when people are outraged, they demand that their government do something. And the something unfortunately is almost always military. So it drives the policy of responding to this kind of horrific act with war, which doesn't work, kills far more people than it prevents being killed, and puts us in the position of being the world's oppressor to so many people around the world.
But this is so often the decision, because there's no good alternatives that are considered politically viable. It may be viable in terms of doing the job, but it's not politically viable because it doesn't look powerful enough. And by creating this kind of outrage, these actions -- this horrific torture videos, the killing videos, the beheadings, the burnings, this pushes people in the U.S., in Britain, elsewhere to demand of their governments that they go to war over there which is exactly what ISIS wants.
They want our troops there to be targets. Unlike, Al Qaeda, their goal is not to come here. There's been no evidence and most intelligence officials have said that. There's no evidence that they're looking to create a terror action in the United States, their goal is to create what he just said, a state -- an Islamic State, a caliphate, in territory that we once knew as part of Iraq and part of Syria. And it's a very specific and a very local struggle.
LAMB: Here's a map that's provided -- and I'll tell you, it shows where the strikes have been. You can see in the screen as both in Syria up top, and down below in -- in Iraq. And you say that's -- those strikes don't have any impact.
BENNIS: Well, I think certain strikes will have an impact at certain times, I'm not saying that there's no effect at all. But I think that idea that we can somehow bomb terrorism out of existence simply is a fallacy. You don't bomb terrorism. You bomb people, you bomb countries, you bomb cities. You many hit some terrorist. And for everyone that you kill, you're creating new enemies in their sons, their children, their tribe, their religion, their village, their city, their country.
And I think when we ignore that -- we -- we know that, policy makers will admit -- admit that if you ask them about it. But it doesn't seem to change the fact that as often as we hear President Obama say, "There is no military solution," what we see is military action after military action.
So any specific airstrike might get the right person, more often it doesn't. But even if it does, the consequences of that right action, it got the person it was aiming at, that person may turn out to have been turned in for a bounty. They may not be the right person at all. If they are, they still have a family, they have children, they have a wife, they have daughters, they have sons, they have people who live with them, people who love them.
And when we kill them, chances are their family doesn't think they are terrorist. And particularly because almost all of this strikes hit people in their homes or in their cars, when they're sleeping, when they're driving, not when they're actually fighting. So at the moment that someone is killed, they are being a father, they are being a neighbor. And the response is, "You've killed my father, you've killed my neighbor," not, "Thankfully, you've killed - you've killed my terrorist."
LAMB: Paul Bremer and President Obama made the following comments over the last several years, and I want to get your personal reaction to what they both said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL BREMER: Ladies and gentlemen, we got him.
BARRACK OBAMA: Good evening. Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda, and a terrorist who's responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children. It was nearly 10 years ago that a bright September day was darkened day by the worst attack on the American people on our history.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BENNIS: Well, you know, the killing of Saddam Hussein and the killing of Osama Bin Ladin, if we look at it historically, the conditions in Iraq, the threat of terrorism, the actual terrorist attacks, have gotten worse, not better, since they were killed.
So the notion that that somehow is something to cheer about, I can remember the day that -- the day that that -- that Saddam Hussein was killed, I was in Jordan, and I remember hearing how people talked about it and it was very different than the kind of cheering that I was hearing from the United States.
LAMB: What did they say?
BENNIS: People were very concerned. There -- there was not great love lost, they weren't fans of Saddam Hussein, no one was. But they recognized that since the overthrow of his government, they had lost the stability that accompanied the fact that it was a very repressive regime if you dared to speak against the government.
And that's -- that's a serious problem that I don't think U.S. policy makers took into account. There is the sense that because we identify someone as a terrorist and objectively, yes. Osama Bin Laden was certainly a terrorist. Saddam Hussein, not so much. A repressive dictator, yes, but a terrorist, no. But whatever they were, in our view, they were that one thing and that one thing only. For people in the region, people who are closer to them than we are, they are many things, it's a much more nuanced understanding. We don't do nuance very well in this country.
LAMB: So what about your reaction to President Obama?
BENNIS: Well, you know, it is...
LAMB: What do you think of him?
BENNIS: Today, I'm very proud of President Obama for the agreement with Iran which took a lot of political courage, it shouldn't have. There should never have to be political courage to say we support diplomacy over war. This was a huge victory for negotiations and diplomacy over war.
The fact that President Obama had to use political capital and had to be brave is a real terrible statement about the state of our political reality in this country. But he was brave, he was courageous, so I applaud him for that. I applaud him for the moves on Cuba, I applaud him for what he said yesterday about prisons. So in this last -- this last period, I'm very proud to have voted for President Obama.
LAMB: So why is it brave to lift the sanctions or eventually lift sanctions off Cuba and have relations with them, why is it brave to make this decision with Iran?
BENNIS: It shouldn't have to be brave, it shouldn't brave, it should be normal. Of course we want negotiations rather than war.
LAMB: But you said it was brave, why?
BENNIS: It was brave politically because there's a political price to be paid, because of the right- wing character of our politics where there are hard line lobbies. The pro-Israel lobby being one of the most powerful. The pro-Cuba lobby as it used to define itself which was really the anti-Cuba lobby, the anti-Fidel lobby based in Miami, who are much weaker these days because it didn't transfer to the next generation.
LAMB: But let me interrupt you and just ask you this. He didn't do anything in his first term, he isn't going to run for an office again.
LAMB: Again, I go back to why is it brave for him to make a decision in the last two years of his presidency to do something that won't have any impact on him at all?
BENNIS: You know, Brian, if it was just you and me talking, I'd say it really it wasn't brave at all. But I think in the real world, in this Washington bubble that you and I both live in, there is courage that's required. There shouldn't be, but you know, he's somebody who wants to -- he's going to have a political career after the presidency. Won't be running for office.
But he'll be -- maybe he wants to be -- I don't know what he wants to be, but I assume some of it involves something at universities, something with corporate boards, unfortunately, not criticizing corporation enough. Maybe something with the United Nations, who knows what he's going to want. But he's going to be a young man wanting to do something useful and something interesting, and something challenging. So he doesn't want to completely undermine his own political reputation with his own party for instance.
I wish that we would have a president who said, "You know what, I've been elected to do certain things. End wars, do what I can to end racism in this country, I'm going to change laws, I'm going to do things that my party is going to hate. And you know what? That's just the way it's going to be. If I don't win a second term, so be it."
I wish we had somebody with that kind of courage. Barrack Obama has not been that president. But we have the president that we have and he's been in this context, politically brave in the last immediate period. He's done some pretty terrible things in the last immediate period too, there had been continuing airstrikes, there are continuing drone attacks. He has escalated the drone war to far more countries than George Bush dreamed of. So I'm not a huge fan of president war policy. The fact that he has continued, responding to acts of terrorism with a war maintains continuing the policy of George W. Bush. It was not only a failure, it was in my view, a crime.
I spoke not too long ago at Hofstra University that was hosting the official conference on the presidency of George w. Bush. And at the opening panel, I said that I thought that George W. bush belonged on trial in The Hague for war crimes. I believe that's true. I hope that President Obama will do more to distinguish himself from that legacy of his predecessor.
LAMB: This was back in March that you...
LAMB: I want to run a clip of Tom Basile who is the former Senior Press Advisor for the Coalition for Provisional Authority.
BENNIS: Oh, yes.
LAMB: And he lays down the accomplishments of the Bush administration and if I can get you to respond to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TOM BASILE: In Iraq, despite poor intel, regarding infrastructure, military assets, essential services, mass -- mass looting, a lack of indigenous security forces, the Iraq mission also realized a range of success, also not sufficiently promoted by the administration and frequently ignored by the media.
The training of new Iraqi security forces began within weeks of the creation of creation of the CPA which enabled anybody up to the grade of colonel to reapply to a new professional army. Ultimately, 80 per of the -- of the officers and the NCOs in the new army were from the old army, but they were better paid, better trained, and better equipped.
The Central Bank was reopened and the currency transitioned to a single stable unit within the first six months, it took us two years to do that in post-World War II Germany. Oil production increased, dozens of schools and government buildings were rebuilt including hospitals and healthcare centers. A constitution was developed with Shia, Sunnis, Kurds, and Turkmen, all of the table and systems were created to facilitate an election in an incredibly challenging, and degrading security environment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: What do you think about it from philosophical point, how is -- can somebody like Mr. Basile and you can think so vastly different?
BENNIS: You know, I found it interesting that unlike all of the other conferences on the presidency in this -- they have one for every president in history. This is the only one where the president, the vice president, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, etcetera, etcetera, none of them showed up. This is the first time, none of them showed up.
That's why you have a junior grade PR flack who was on the lead panel because he was the highest ranking official they could get, all right? So, I think that says something about the philosophical basis, there's a reason that George Bush doesn't want to appear. It's not just he doesn't want to debate me, I mean, I'm -- I'm -- I would be flattered to think he didn't want to debate me. But I doubt if that was the issue. I think the issue was they don't want to remind people when Jeb Bush is running for president, that his brother was responsible for the devastation of a country.
LAMB: But go back to the question I asked about, why -- what do you think happens to two -- two different human beings, two different groups of people if they think so differently about war and protection of the American people?
BENNIS: For me, the single word that I think is most important is Internationalism. I don't think of myself first as an American. I think of myself as an internationalist. My country, the country I was privileged to be born into is the most powerful, the most wealthy country that has very existed in the history of the world.
We have more power than -- than the Roman Empire ever imagined. We have more money than anyone had -- had ever dreamed of. We have more of everything. What we don't have is care for our own people. 20 percent of our population's children are leaving in poverty in the wealthiest country by such an enormous scale. The vast disparity of wealth and power in this country, the fact that CEO pay now is at 300 -- more than 350 times the pay of the average worker. That's not just unfortunate, that's criminal, that's absolutely criminal for a country.
LAMB: Yeah, but why -- why?
BENNIS: Why does it happen? It's because powerful lobbies, powerful corporations, economic power, it -- I mean, we can trace the history back in the post-World War II period when most of the rest of the world -- of the developed world had been devastated by the war. The U.S. had gold from the gold rush, and it stood firm because it had not been attacked. We were the only one of the major powers that had not been devastated in war, and boy, did we take advantage of it.
LAMB: What would you have done going back to 9/11, had you been president -- first woman president in the United States? And you're faced with losing 3, 000 Americans...
LAMB: ...in that whole thing. What would you have done, do you think?
BENNIS: You know, it's fascinating. I wrote a book after 9/11 that was looking at U.S. Foreign Policy and what changed and what didn't with -- with before -- it was called, "Before and After" and it was looking at Foreign Policy before and after 9/11.
And I wrote the speech that I thought George Bush should have given on the night of September 11. And what I said was, he would start by saying, we had been this -- we have been attacked in the worst attack on or slow in history. And my first pledge is that not one more person anywhere will die as we search for justice against those who carried out this horrific attack. And then I would have talked about how this means we were wrong about a number of things. We were wrong about the International Criminal Court, we desperately need such a court and we now are going to commit ourselves to not only building that court but strengthening it so it actually has the capacity to respond to a horrific crime.
LAMB: Why do you have faith in the -- in the International Criminal Court?
BENNIS: I don't have faith right now. I think it was terribly weakened from its founding, I was at the founding convention in Rome, and it was horrifying to see, when all of us knew the U.S. was absolutely not going to sign on, but there was the biggest delegation there with more than 200 members delegation whose sole job it was to weakened every aspect of the court. It's jurisdiction, the crimes that could be -- that it was allowed to -- to include, the punishments, all of that was weakened by the United States, by convincing diplomats that if you just weaken it this one little bit, maybe we can get the U.S. to sign on.
And the cynics among us, among the journalists who were there, we all said, of course they're not going to sign on. Don't fall for it.
LAMB: Why not though?
BENNIS: Because we knew that this was in the middle of the Clinton administration that claimed to be multilateralist, but it never was multilaterist. It never really was.
LAMB: But why? I mean, are they evil?
BENNIS: They're not evil. They have a very -- in my view, a very narrow, economically-focused understanding of what it means to be pro-American, to keep Americans safe. It means to keep the corporations safe, to keep the CEO pay high, keep the price of oil low. Those are all American interests. Feeding children who are hungry - that's not so much an American interest. That's sort of a sideline.
So, if you understand that it's power that's operative in Washington, you become pretty cynical about it. It's not about they're being evil. Barack Obama is certainly not evil. I think Barack Obama, the man, understands race and class in a profound way, more than any other president we've ever had, not only because he's the first African-American President, although that's a huge part of it, but also because he's a brilliant scholar.
But what Obama, the man, thinks is not really very important in figuring out what Obama the president, is going to do.
LAMB: OK. The President of the United States sitting in the Oval Office sees this video, they're not Americans that we're going to be watching, but it's ISIS that you wrote this book about. This is one of the ways that they kill some of the people they pick up.
We stopped it but...
BENNIS: It's horrifying.
LAMB: ...these men died.
BENNIS: It's horrifying.
LAMB: But again, you're the president of the United States, you watch it. You're in a democracy people expect a reaction, what do you do?
BENNIS: You react. You say to the world, this is horrific and our obligation is to figure out how to stop this. And if we're serious about stopping it, we have to start by understanding why people would do this, why some people think it's a good thing, why they are attracting more recruits rather than fewer when they show these things, what is happening in our countries and in the regions when - where our troops are operating, where our corporations are in control, where we are buying oil. What is happening that is creating this?
If we don't understand that, it's not about excusing it. For god's sake, this has to be condemned. Condemnation is only the beginning. But if we're not serious about understanding what causes it, we will never be serious about stopping it because you cannot bomb terrorism out of existence.
LAMB: What do you think of our friendship with the Saudi Arabians?
BENNIS: I think it's horrifying. First of all, I think it's always a mistake to talk about friendship. These are interests and they haven't changed in a very long time. You know, one of the things I talk about in my book in this section dealing with the violence of ISIS is that as horrific as all these things are, they're not new or different.
The Saudis traditionally use beheading as their preferred method of capital punishment. In the two days after James Foley was beheaded by ISIS, the Saudis beheaded - I forget the number now, but some number of prisoners who were sentenced for nonviolent crimes. And the Free Syrian Army, the guys we're supposed to be supporting, the so-called good guys, the moderates, these secular guys, they beheaded six prisoners they had taken.
So, this problem of beheading is not only ISIS. It's a huge problem. It's a cultural problem. It's a problem that people feel like there's something legitimate about beheading prisoners. But if we're serious about stopping it, we've got to be looking at what causes it rather than just saying, "Oh my god, these people are animals. We're going to kill them." You can't kill them all.
LAMB: Do you have any idea what causes it?
BENNIS: I think it's a variety of things. I think it's a little easier to figure out what causes it when you look at people who are attracted to ISIS who go and join ISIS or who support ISIS from the West, people in Britain, people in Belgium. These are countries that are sending large numbers of people.
And I think it has to do with the sense in certain communities, second and third generation immigrant communities that they have never been respected, they have never been welcomed as real full members of the society, even when they're born and raised in that country, speak the language. We see this in France. We see it here less, but it's a huge problem.
And I think it's linked to poverty, but it's not only poverty. We see many wealthy young people with a lot of opportunities, when we look at it from our standpoint, but who don't feel they belong, who don't feel they have an opportunity. And here, they see somebody's declaring a state, "Boy, I could go live in that state."
We have to keep in mind, as horrifying as these videos are, and you've shown two of the worst of them, there are other videos, recruitment videos that show - for example, there's one that shows ISIS fighters and their families taking the children to an amusement park. They have pony rides and they have pink cotton candy and it looks like families out for a lovely afternoon. They've recruited a woman gynecologist from the U.K. who's opened a pregnancy clinic for the wives of ISIS fighters in Raqqa, their self-declared capital.
So, these are not only people who can't get a job. It's people who are feeling a profound sense of dislocation, disempowerment, dispossession, disconnection from everything about where they live, where they thought they should belong.
LAMB: So, again, you're president. You've thought a lot about this. You've done work at the U.N. You've been overseas a lot. You're the president. What do you do? You pick up the phone?
LAMB: What part do you have?
BENNIS: Right. I think there's a fundamental reality that no president has been willing to say to the American people, we are not capable of responding in a way that will protect every horrific act and stop it from happening. We can't necessarily stop ISIS from every horrific act of torture or act of beheading.
We have to look broader than that. We're a global power. We need to use our money differently. We need to stop supporting these horrifying absolute dictatorships, absolute monarchies that pass power from not only father to son, but from brother to brother, excluding the entire population from any aspect of political life, that treat foreign workers as if they were pack animals. We have to stop engaging with them as if they were our friends and not even treat them as our allies.
LAMB: Well, I'm not, go to democracy. One of the things that George W. Bush said is that we need to free up the people of Iraq, create a democracy so they can be as free as we are here. Do you think every country in the world should be a democracy?
BENNIS: I think every country in the world should have the right to decide what kind of democracy they want. I don't think that people in Iraq wanted U.S. occupation disguised as democracy. You know, we heard from the colleague on that panel who was defending all the great gains of the U.S. occupation of Iraq and one of the things he mentioned was that there was a constitution that was created with Sunni and Shia and Turkmen, and Kurds all at the table.
Yes. They were all at the table, but it was the U.S. academics who came from Harvard and Yale law schools who were drafting the thing. And those individuals were there to give it political cover. We should be very clear about this. The people of Iraq were not choosing their own constitution.
LAMB: We'll go back to the beginning of all of this when you had Saddam Hussein and his Sunni group which is only, what, 20 percent of the country...
BENNIS: 20 percent to 25 percent.
LAMB: ...whatever, and the rest of them were Shia. He controlled the whole thing. How do you - if you're Shia, how do you get out of that?
BENNIS: Well, there's a huge set of challenges. For one thing, it wasn't a situation where every Shia was terribly oppressed. There was discrimination. There was privileging of Sunnis in high-ranking positions in the military, in the economy, et cetera, for sure. The same is true in Syria, the other branch of the Ba'ath party.
But in those situations, it's up to people themselves to rise up. When the Shia rose up after the U.S. invasion in 1990, '91 and at that point, George Bush the First said, "You know what? We've had enough. We're pulling out. You Shia go rise up. You're on your own." And then, those Shia who resisted were slaughtered. It was a bloodbath.
But it was really a situation where people in their own country have to figure out how they are going to engage with the rest of the world to gain the solidarity, the support, the money, maybe it's fighters that they need. We can look back at the origins of the Spanish Civil War where people from this country, from all over the world, went to fight against fascism in Spain, seeing it as a global fight. But that was a fight that was led by anti-fascists in Spain. It wasn't an invasion by some other country on that side. The invasion was on the side of the loyalist side.
LAMB: Let's go the floor of the United States Senate in May of 2015 and I want you to listen to what Senator John McCain is saying and then again give us your view of this.
(BEGIN VIDE CLIP)
JOHN MCCAIN: Have we completely lost - are we completely lost our sense of any moral caring and concern about thousands and thousands of people who are murdered, who are made refugees, who are dying as we speak? And the Secretary of State says that we should not light our hair on fire.
And what does the president have to say today? The president of the United States today says, "Well, it's climate change that we have to worry about." I'm worried about climate change. Do we give a damn about what's happening in the streets of Ramadi, and the thousands of refugees and the people, innocent men, women, and children that are dying and being executed and their bodies burned in the street?
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LAMB: You know he sounds a little bit like you.
LAMB: He's concerned about people and refugees.
BENNIS: Yes. But this is the same Senator John McCain whose recipe for what to do about Iran, for instance, was not to support a solution that is based on negotiations rather than war. His solution was the very clever, "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, Iran". That was John McCain.
What he's calling for is war in the interest of protecting people. This notion of humanitarian intervention has always created more refugees, more casualties than it was designed to prevent. It doesn't work.
You can perhaps stop a certain action from taking place in one place, but then you're playing whack-a-mole. You're stopping it here and it pops up there. You stop it Syria and it pops up in Iran. You stop it in Iraq and it pops in again over the border in Syria. This isn't a strategy for stopping the conditions that give rise to this.
As long as people say, "If you want to understand what these crazy people are doing, you must be supporting them. You're as bad as they are," as long as that's our opinion, we're never going to have a way out. We're going to be sending troops on the ground. We're going to be sending bombers. We're going to be sending drones to kill more and more people, creating more and more refugees.
Where was John McCain when the refugees were being created in Iraq, when 500,000 children under the age of five were dying because of the sanctions imposed by this country? And the best that Madeleine Albright could say was, "We think the price was worth it." Where was John McCain to say, "What an outrage."
LAMB: John McCain spent five and a half years in prison...
LAMB: ...in Vietnam, saw it up close. I'm going to go back to some Vietnam history because a lot of your involvement in anti-war stuff started with Vietnam.
LAMB: Here is Marcus Raskin, invented the Institute for Policy Studies. He's now 81 years old, participating in a panel discussion of a whole group of people that were anti-war war in Vietnam back in May of this year. Watch a little bit of this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARCUS RASKIN: There are certain things that we should be very happy about, first of all, that we're all together and that we're a community.
Second of all, that you should always hire a good lawyer. Because if you don't have a good lawyer when you're about to lose, you're in trouble. Third is you need street heat and by street heat, you need to be able to organize from the street to get people in the offices to hear what is going on in the street.
And so, there's this dialectic, if you will, between those two relationships and that dialectic becomes the basis upon which real change can occur, not forever, never forever, not for 10,000 years. Give us two generations and let it begin again and at least move a tiny bit further ahead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: As you know, he worked for McGeorge Bundy who was National Security Adviser to both Kennedy and Johnson.
LAMB: Didn't get along over the Vietnam war, left, started the Institute for Policies Studies. How did -- were you in â€¦
.. the other night?
BENNIS: I was. I was.
LAMB: Phil Donahue moderated, Daniel Ellsberg was there, and Cora Weiss from Women Strike for Peace...
BENNIS: This was the panel of the elders and they were each welcomed and introduced by one of the young activists of today's antiwar movement.
LAMB: I guess, the question I'd have for you is that how do you think they all feel about what happened back when they protested the Vietnam war, the outcome?
BENNIS: I think that all of them felt that they were part of history, that that movement transformed the world, as Marc said, not forever. We're back at war now. But there was a sense of engagement. There was a sense of this as a global movement.
And I think if we look further ahead, we can see the origins of the Vietnam era also in the war against - the anti-war movement against the war in Iraq. If you look at the global protest of February 15th, 2003, the day the world said no to war, and according to the Guinness Book of World Records, somewhere over 14 million people on that one day flooded the capitals of their countries and 665 cities to say no to Bush's war.
It was very reminiscent of the massive protest of the Vietnam era, except now, we could do it globally. We had the Internet. That protest had been organized in less than six weeks.
LAMB: But it didn't work.
BENNIS: It worked in a certain way. It did not work to stop the war and that's huge. We were not able to stop the war. But, we were able to do something else. We were able to raise the political price of going to war. So, that, in 2007, when George Bush was, I think, very close to go into war against Iran, his calculation was "I think I won't".
And I think part of the reason we were not at war with Iran over the last five years and part of the reason we were able to have this extraordinary victory of diplomacy over war with the Iran nuclear deal, is precisely because of the anti-war movement around Vietnam, because of February 15th, 2003, when the world said no to war, because the price of going to war has become too high.
The reason that President Obama is relying on drones is because he thinks he can do it with no one paying attention. He thinks that because the pilots are sitting outside their base in Las Vegas and they can go home to dinner every night, that they won't get PTSD like pilots do when they're dropping bombs on people that they see down below. Well, it turns out he was wrong. They are getting PTSD because they are killing people and they know they're killing civilians.
And I think the reason that President Obama has emphasized the drone war is precisely because it comes at lesser cost than direct troops on the ground or troops in the sky.
LAMB: I've heard you talk about your beginning at the University of California at Santa Barbara, your upbringing in California, your parents. I want to ask you something about that because I want to find out what it was that made you first angry about war.
Let's start with your parents. What were they like?
BENNIS: My parents were quite extraordinary people. They were World War II era. My father had fought at World War II and like so many of that generation, when he came home, he put away his uniform and never talked about it. Until a few months before he died, my sister and I never really knew what he did in the war, where he was stationed. He never talked about it and we never asked what he saw, what he did.
He worked - he was a salesman, never made much money, but she was working for my mother's father. So, I never worried that he would lose his job as so many of my friends' parents lost jobs. My mother went back to work when my sister and I were in Junior High School and they never got to go to college. They had family - they were already married when the war ended and they were about to have kids, so they couldn't really use the G.I. Bill. My sister and I were the first in the family to go to college.
So, we come from that background. I grew up a very active Zionist, very active in the Zionist youth movement. So Israel was kind of my framework. But then, when I went to college, it was all about Vietnam. I was just a big too young to have really understood the civil rights movement, but I wasn't too young to understand Vietnam. By then, I was 17. I went to college and suddenly, that took over my life and I sort of never looked back.
LAMB: Let me ask you about one thing there. When you were in college, there was a draft.
LAMB: What impact did the fact there was a draft have on your attitude about Vietnam because of the people around you were worried about having to go into the surface?
BENNIS: I think abstractly, the question of the draft unquestionably broadened the appeal of the antiwar movement, the fact that people were individually being drafted was huge. Ironically, I don't think it played that much of a role in my own thinking, mostly because the people around me who were college students had their deferments. That was where the whole class privilege came in.
It was the college students were not going to be drafted. Then they went to graduate school. They could still wait and not be drafted yet. And it was just a couple of years later that the draft ended and suddenly, it was by the lottery. The draft didn't end itself, but there was a lottery, and so it was determined differently.
But I think that for the creation of that movement, there's no doubt that the fact that young American men were being drafted played a huge part of it, and the race and class disparity, it was overwhelmingly young black and brown people from the ghettos of this country who were being drafted to fight in Vietnam.
When the war in Iraq took off and we saw huge numbers of people joining the military in what we called the poverty draft, because it wasn't really voluntary. It was the lack of other options, the lack of other jobs, the lack of any way to get health care, the lack of money to go to college. All those things drove people into the military, but the dynamics were somewhat different.
So, you didn't see disproportionately black and brown people. It was about proportionate to their numbers in the population. What you saw was disproportionate people coming from tiny towns and rural areas across the country where they had no options, where there were no jobs, there were no colleges, there were no scholarships. They had no options, so they ended up in the military.
LAMB: What would we have seen if I had seen you when you were 17 years old? And when would I have seen you the most angry of that as you're beginning to get - to be anti-Vietnam?
BENNIS: It would have been Nixon's invasion of Cambodia that galvanized students across the country. The Chicago conspiracy trial was underway and we were outraged at that. And then, when he invaded Cambodia, a country that - a neutral country, escalating the war massively in the face of this massive opposition to the war, claiming, I have a secret plan to end the war, yes, it's called escalation. That was what I think was the epitome of the anger of my generation of activists.
LAMB: What did you do about it back then?
BENNIS: Well, what some people on my campus did was burn down the Bank of America. That wasn't me, but that was a level of anger that was happening all - because as one person said in a film that was made about it that broadcast somewhat later said, it was the biggest capitalist thing around because there was a growing understanding that these things were related.
I had been working with the farm workers, helping raise money for the farm worker boycott that Cesar Chavez was leading with Dolores Huerta in of California valleys. And we understand how that was linked to the war in Vietnam, how those who had an interest in maintaining this war in Vietnam were the same forces that had an interest in not paying farm workers a living wage.
The women's movement grew out of that, the environment movement. All of that started in Santa Barbara when the Goleta Slough suddenly had to deal with oil leaks off the coast of Santa Barbara. So, all of these things started to come together and it changed our lives.
LAMB: I'm going to run a piece of video of a person that you knew well. He died in 2003. He's a Palestinian by birth. You're a reform Jew by birth then became an anti-Zionist. We got to find out why. Here is Edward Said.
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EDWARD SAID: Palestinians have always been a problem for the Zionist project. And many solutions have perennially been proposed that minimize rather than solve the problem. The official Israeli policy no matter what, whether Ariel Sharon uses the word "occupation" or not, or whether or not he dismantles a rusty, unused tower or two, has always been not to accept the reality of the Palestinian people as equals, nor even to admit that their rights were scandalously violated all along by Israel.
Whereas a few courageous Israelis over the years have tried to deal with this other concealed history, most Israelis and what seems like the majority of Americans, of American Jews, have made every effort to deny, avoid or negate the Palestinian reality. That is why there is no peace.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAMB: Why did you come to be such an admirer or his - of him? And then, why did you become a Palestinian, whatever, protector or...
BENNIS: I'm not a protector.
LAMB: That's not a protector.
LAMB: I mean, why did you become anti-Zionist?
BENNIS: You know, Edward was a great mentor of mine in the last few years of his life. This was in - this was probably about a year and a half before he died. And I think that one of the things that I was always most proud of growing up Jewish was the concern about ideas - ideas and challenging ideas, challenging each other.
My father would challenge me with ideas and would push me in reading the newspaper and engaging about politics, never about Israel. We never questioned Israel. But for me, it all came back to Vietnam. I had studied Vietnam. I was focused on Vietnam. I was mobilizing against Vietnam. I'd put the Middle East aside.
When I came back to it several years later, I suddenly thought, "I think I might have been wrong about this Israel thing" and I went to my father's library, good Jewish girl. You go and do your research, and I read the works of Theodor Herzl, the father of modern Zionism who wrote The Jewish state.
And I found that he had written these letters begging for support from, guess who, Cecil Rhodes, the great British colonialist, saying to him, "I know your interest is Africa and mine is a little slice of Arabia. Your concern is with Englishmen. My concern is with Jews. So, why am I coming to you for support? Why am I saying your project is just like my project? Because they are both something colonial."
And when I read that, I thought, "Geez, I think I was wrong about this stuff. Nobody ever told me this was a colonial project." And I started looking for more information and of course, that led me directly to Edward Said who was one of the greats of the U.S. intellectual tradition, as well as the Palestinian intellectual tradition because Edward lived here for many years. His family grew up here. He is very much a product of the United States.
And it was in working with Edward that I came to see the question of Palestine as a fundamentally American question, so that I changed how I understood my own work rather than I saying "I'm in solidarity with the Palestinian," this or that, to say my job is to build a movement that can challenge U.S. policy. The U.S. policy is what enables Israeli occupation, Israeli apartheid policies. All of this is enabled by the full protection of the United States, by the $3.1 billion a year that we give directly to the Israeli military. That's what makes it possible for this very small country to emerge as such a world power.
So, I think when we look at the influence of great intellectuals, public intellectuals like Edward Said, whose influence far extended beyond his academic work, you see that linkage, the linkage of issues. You see now among young Palestinians who are taking up the call of the Black Lives Matter Movement. You see a group of people from Ferguson, young activists from Ferguson who went to Palestine last year right after the crisis in their own city to see what they could learn about building movements, about ties of solidarity.
So, we're becoming internationalists I think in this country. I'm very sorry that Edward, among other things, I'm sorry that he didn't live to see the incredible change in the Jewish community, where you now have an organization like Jewish Voice for Peace on the left, AIPAC on the right, J Street in the center, and the Jewish community is becoming a much more ordinary community in that sense, that it has a left or right and a center with lots of fighting going on, as opposed to having the claim, whether it was true or not, that there's only one opinion in the Jewish community.
LAMB: So, how hard has it been for you to get what you believe in published? What kind of reaction have you gotten over the years from the Jewish community?
BENNIS: Well, there was the time the Jewish Defense League shot into my house in L.A., but that's a long time ago. That stuff doesn't happen really anymore. The change has been so profound in this last decade. Something like President Carter's book, "Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid", president or not, ex-president or not, he could never had gotten that book published in this country 20 years ago. Ten years ago, he did, and that was partly because of the work that we have all done on this.
It's not easy. I don't get into the Washington Post and the New York Times, but my stuff gets out on - here on CSPAN.
I confess I haven't pitched much lately because you get sort of demoralized after a while, after being turned down over and over again.
LAMB: What do they tell you?
BENNIS: Mostly, they just don't answer because that's sort of the rule with op eds. Unless they're going to take it, they don't get back to you. So, they don't have to tell you anything. And you're right. I should pitch more actively. That's a good point. I shouldn't blame them for something they haven't done lately.
The New York Times has changed dramatically on what appears on their editorial page - on their op ed page. Their editorial page has changed somewhat, not dramatically, but somewhat and that's very significant. I put a great deal of credence in that.
The media in general is not nearly as bad as it used to be. There's still problems of access, but you have an organization like IMEU, the Institute for Middle East Understanding whose job it is to place Palestinian voices in the mainstream U.S. press and they have amazing work. They get into the pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post and Time Magazine. And all the mainstream media, they now recognize they need Palestinian voices.
During the war in Gaza, in the Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and '09, when Israel tried very hard to keep the international press out of Gaza away from the story, it didn't work not least because everybody in Gaza, when there was any electricity would power up their cell phone or their computer if they had one to get their video and their photographs out into the world. Social media has changed everything.
But the New York Times also had a fulltime stringer, a fulltime - not a stringer, a fulltime journalist based in Gaza who was born and raised in Gaza, a terrific young Palestinian woman, who was there reporting for the Times. So, all of that has changed profoundly.
LAMB: Who has published all your books?
BENNIS: Interlink Publishing in Massachusetts.
LAMB: Who are they?
BENNIS: It's a - I used to say it's a small publisher. It's now, I would say, medium-sized. They publish about 50 books a year. The founder of it is a Palestinian musician named Michel Moushabeck who publishes amazing cookbooks and art books, travel books, a lot of fiction in translation from languages all over the world, and books about the Middle East.
LAMB: And if folks want to read all of the stuff that you do, where do they find it?
BENNIS: Interlinkbooks.com, they can find all the books. They can go to the website of my institute, ips-dc.org to find articles and references to books and videos and all of those of my colleagues as well.
LAMB: What are the chances that in your lifetime the Palestine-Israeli situation will be solved?
BENNIS: I hope I'm not too old to see it. It's not nearly as complicated as people think. It takes a lot of political will. We don't see a lot of that in this county, but the world is changing profoundly. The Arab Spring, despite the defeats that followed it, has profoundly changed that region.
The rights of citizens is now being claimed by people in countries who never believed they had the rights of citizenship. And I think it's going to come back. I think we're going to see stage two of the Arab Spring in all of the countries where it began and beyond.
LAMB: I just have 30 seconds. You hear this a lot from politicians, that the United States is the greatest country in the history of the world. What would you say to that?
BENNIS: I'd say the United States is the most powerful country in the history of the world. We haven't used that power for good very often in the recent period.
LAMB: Our guest who has just written a book called, "Understanding ISIS and the New Global War: A Primer", Phyllis Bennis. Thank you so much for joining us.
BENNIS: Thank you, Brian. It's been a pleasure.