The whole world, except America, knows that Iraq cannot threaten the USA
Vladimir Pozner is the popular Russian and American TV journalist, the host of the political program Vremena (Times) on Channel One Russia, and also the former host of Pozner and Donahue at CNBC. In an exclusive interview with Pravda.Ru, he talks about his love of America, about the mistakes made by the American people and declares that the war against Iraq is going to bring great trouble to the United States.
Mr. Pozner, the whole world watches news very tensely at the moment. I would like to know what you think about the reasons why Bush’s policy enjoys so much support in the USA. The statistics say that almost 70% of Americans support the military solution of the Iraqi issue. Yet, you have recently said that your colleague and friend Phil Donahue was fired because of his stand on Iraq. Do you think that the manager of a channel is supposed to be that afraid of just one program, while the public opinion stands for it?
As a matter of fact, what is the freedom of press? I liken freedom of press in any country to a corridor. It might be a rather narrow one, like it used to be in the USSR, or it might on the other hand be wider. It will remain a corridor either way. If you attempt to break that wall, you will have problems. The width of your corridor is inversely proportional to the level of influence. This is the case with any country.
However, I would like to give some practical examples from America — a country which is a symbol of democracy.
Jon Alpert, a well-known NBC reporter, offered to penetrate beyond the front line in 1991, during the first Iraqi war, which was called Operation Desert Storm. I would like to point out that no reporter, either American or from abroad, was allowed to obtain information from any other sources, except the American military command in Iraq. Jon Alpert offered to break that rule.
The then manager, NBC News’ executive producer, ventured to do that. Alpert managed to film the things that happened in Iraqi towns. As it turned out, not all smart bombs were actually smart. Some of them missed their targets. It turned out that there were casualties among women, children and elderly people. Alpert showed those people and their crying relatives to the management. He showed the ruins of apartment buildings to them as well. As a result, the reporter was fired with a wolf’s ticket.
I was in the USA back in those days. Phil Donahue and I were getting ready for our talk show. We invited Jon Alpert, as well as the NBC News executive producer to come for the program, on which we discussed Jon’s dismissal. It was incredibly interesting and funny for me, since the executive producer said that the question was not about the fact that Alpert showed something wrong. He said that it was all about the fact that the channel had no money for stringers. That is why the management of the channel was forced to shut his contract down. Why didn’t they show the material? Lots of cumbersome excuses were made.
There was an incident that happened to me. After Roger Ailes became the new director of CNBC channel, it was time to prolong our contract. It was the spring of 1996. We were told that the administration was ready to prolong it, although there was one condition stipulated. The administration was supposed to control our programs, determining the subject of our discussions and our guests. We refused this, telling them that it was paramount to censorship. Ailes replied that he did not care what we called it. Our contract was not renewed. Our high-rated program “Pozner and Donahue” simply vanished from the TV screens overnight. It is worth mentioning that there were no comments made about this, either by our television colleagues, or in the newspapers.
Here is another story. There is a wonderful TV host called Bill Maher. He was the host of the talk show that was entitled “Politically Incorrect”. At first, the program was shown on a cable channel. It was so popular, which made ABC invite him to work for the company. When the bombing started in Afghanistan, Bill Maher said in one of his shows that it did not take much courage to bomb women, children and civilians from above. He was fired, although he was a very well-known figure.
What happened to Donahue? It was basically the same. Donahue decided to quit television in 1996. He just left it. His famous talk show “Donahue” was over with as well, together with “Pozner and Donahue” that we hosted together.
Phil did not do anything on television for six years. MSNBC had a low rating, so the company decided to address Phil Donahue, searching for someone who might make their rating higher. It was in 2002. As far as I know, Phil did not want to go back on television. Yet, regarding the background of the situation, what was happening in the States at that time, he decided that he should go ahead, just to provide an alternative point of view. He wanted to give something that would oppose Washington’s official position. He was talked into it. Phil worked for seven months. Phil Donahue’s talk shows enjoyed highest ratings from the very beginning of all prime time shows - from seven p.m. till ten p.m. The rating was growing. However, it was his contract that was not prolonged. They explained to him the reason why in advance. His viewpoint regarding Bush’s policy on Iraq was not good for the administration of the channel.
In which way can an “alternative point of view” complicate the work of a TV channel?
There can be various reasons found, and one may interpret them in all possible ways. I am not authorized to say that they were afraid of the White House expressing its dissatisfaction to them. Yet, it is obvious that they did not feel comfortable about that point of view. That is why the talk show was shut down.
What sanctions can there be?
There can be sanctions applied by advertisers. A channel cannot exist without them. It is possible to show a certain pressure on advertisers as well. In addition to that, there is public opinion, which presumably supports Bush. It basically happens because Americans do not have any other information.
Let’s take the opinion polls, which are conducted in other countries, including such America-friendly countries as Ireland, Great Britain and Mexico. Those polls prove that the majority of those countries’ populations are against Bush. According to the results of a recent opinion poll in the UK, 32% of respondents are afraid of Saddam Hussein, while 68% are afraid of George W. Bush.
Americans do not have that information. Moreover, they do not understand how some people can stand against them. They perceive such a position as ingratitude on the part of the whole world. It’s like “we are so fine, kind and sincere, but those people, who we feed, stand against us now”.
Why aren’t they informed? Because their mass media are not informed either. It is possible to find “for” and “against” columns in newspapers. Yet, as far as the television is concerned, there is only one opinion there.
The most daring one of them is a careful and a neutral opinion. More often one can hear things like, “go ahead, you guys”. You will never hear anyone saying on television that America might have serious problems because of that. No-one will try to understand why the whole world opposes America’s incursion in Iraq.
I assert that Russian television is much more liberal today than American TV. To my mind, it is the USA that has the least freedom of speech amid other democratic countries at the moment, speaking of television.
Where do you think American supremacy comes from? What makes them “make the world more perfect” all the time? Probably, they are not interested in somebody else’s opinion?
Americans are interested only in themselves, that’s a fact. However, Americans are not the only nation which thinks that it is perfect. There is a joke: the French do not think that France is the best country in the world. They know it.
On the other hand, Americans have a very dangerous combination. This is the combination of the feeling of supremacy and ignorance. America is a wonderful country. It has achieved amazing progress. No-one denies that, and a lot of people envy America.
I would not like to make general statements, but the majority of Americans are certain that the USA is unique. They believe that it is so very supreme, which makes any kind of anti-American criticism absolutely out of the question. This is the way the American mindset is. This is what American movies, television and schools teach.
For two hundred years?
Yes, I mean that the state, which was established after the American war for independence, was unique. It did not have any peers in the rest of the world. It is the first country of modern democracy. If you read the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, you will be struck with the level of philosophy on which this country was based.
Americans have wonderful legacy. They ought to be proud of it. However, a few people know something about that legacy. As for common American people, they are not very well educated. Common Americans do not read much, so they do not know a lot of their own history. Nevertheless, they believe that whatever the USA does, it is correct.
Why did the Vietnamese war cause such great damage? It was not caused by the fact that Americans lost it. The problem is that they were not right. They defended something wrong. This is absolutely impossible for Americans. They always stand for kindness, correctness, for freedom and democracy. Always.
That is why they perceive Iraq as evil, which threatens them. They do not ask themselves in which way such a small country as Iraq might threaten them. They are certain that Saddam Hussein has to be removed for the happiness of all the Iraqi people. This is a very American way of being, so to speak.
But this is like the reaction of a child.
To a certain extent, it is, but it is not really a question of childishness. It is naive ignorance, added to the feeling of supremacy.
We get a lot of emails from our readers all over the word. I often can see that this position evokes indignation.
Let’s make another comparison. Let’s assume that a person criticizes the policy of Israel. A lot of Israelis, as well as the majority of Jews that live all over the world will consider such a person an anti-Semite. In other words, if you criticize something about Israel, it means that you are an anti-Semite. It’s absolutely wrong. I think that Sharon brings harm to his country. Yet, their mindset automatically implies anti-Semitism to any criticism of something Jewish. We have the same thing here: if someone is against Bush’s policy, this means that this someone is against America. It’s totally wrong. I love America. I grew up there. It is my country as well. Yet, I understand that Bush’s current actions will bring a lot of trouble to America.
Great Britain is America’s closest ally. Britain backs up the idea of war, which made Tony Blair face a lot of opposition. Does it mean that English people are against the USA, or should Americans think that this policy has a flaw? People believe everything and question nothing only in totalitarian countries. It is implicit belief, the unwillingness to ask questions, to doubt the president and the government, although it is a painful process. Yet, it is the way society and democracy work.
What danger does the given situation pose to the States?
Since 250 thousand soldiers were deployed there weeks ago, I do not see an opportunity for Americans to call them off. That would mean the loss of face for America. That would mean a death sentence for Bush. There is an American expression – “Paint yourself into the corner”. They have done that, they have no way out.
It is obvious that the war is inevitable. It is clear that it will happen without a UN resolution.
Which consequences might follow?
First and foremost, it will be a very serious blow to the United Nations. This organization will virtually find itself in the same situation as it was in with the League of Nations. I understand that one can criticize the UN for a long time, although it is better with it than without it. Such a step would mean that the UN is an advisory board, its decision not being binding, manipulated by any great power. This is a very bad example. America has its power today, someone else might have it tomorrow too.
Secondly, it is impossible to predict what is going to happen in the Arab world, and what instability might occur as a result of the war. Yet, it is absolutely clear that it will strike a very serious blow to the American economy, and then - to the economy of the rest of the world.
In addition to that, some people around Bush - Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Minister Donald Rumsfeld, and some others - think that America is the only superpower that is free to do whatever it wants to. This point of view is very dangerous, because a lot of countries possess nuclear weapons nowadays.
To crown it all, terrorism by Islamic extremists will grow a lot. Terrorism cannot be defeated by force. The American democracy will undergo serious changes, while the number of acts of terrorism will increase in the world and while anti-Americanism will grow. Freedom will be more and more restricted under the disguise of protection and security. This can already be seen on American television.
What can America gain? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Well, there will be no more Saddam Hussein. So what? What will America gain from it from the point of view of its power, authority, respect? They set up a goal, which makes other people have an aversion to it. Who is going to believe that the USA decided to save the Iraqi people from Saddam? What about saving North Koreans from Kim Jong-il? It would be good to save the Kurds in Turkey too. This is not what they are going to do all the time, definitely not.
Phil Donahue told me that the current situation reminds him of the 1950s. The then chief of CBS, Bill Paley, demanded that his employees should vow fidelity to America. However, I believe that American democratic institutions, the American system, will straighten the pendulum out. America’s founding fathers laid the foundation of the mechanism which will correct the current defect.
I am sure that it will happen, although I do not know when and at what cost.
Vladimir Pozner was interviewed by Inna Novikova PRAVDA.Ru
Translated by Dmitry Sudakov