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Donald Trump has shaken the national security establishment to its core with his pledge to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan. This week on Intercepted: Trump says he wants to end U.S. wars abroad, while he threatens to use emergency powers to further militarize U.S. immigration enforcement. On Twitter, Trump advocates isolationism, while embracing lifelong warmongers like John Bolton and Benjamin Netanyahu. Investigative reporter and historian Gareth Porter analyzes Trump’s pledge to pull troops from Syria and Afghanistan. He breaks down why Israel and the Pentagon don’t want to see an end to U.S. militarism. Historian Greg Grandin lays out the nativist roots of the U.S. Border Patrol, its connection to CIA dirty wars in Latin America, and nearly 100 years of brutality and impunity. Sudan has been rocked by large demonstrations for the past month, threatening the regime of Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court. Despite Bashir’s pariah status, Trump has lifted some longstanding sanctions against his regime. Journalist Hana Baba discusses her recent trip to Sudan and what the protests are really about.
[“You Never Can Tell” by Chuck Berry plays.]
Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winnfield: How you boys doing? Hey, keep chilling. You know who we are?
Donald J. Trump: No.
SLJ: We are associates of your business partner. You do remember your business partner, don’t you?
DJT: President Putin.
SLJ: Good. Looks like me and Vincent caught you boys at breakfast. Sorry about that. What you having?
DJT: 1,000 hamburgers.
SLJ: Hamburgers! The cornerstone of any nutritious breakfast. What kind of hamburger?
DJT: We have Big Macs. We have quarter pounders with cheese. We have everything that I like that you like.
SLJ: No, no, no, where’d you get them? McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Jack in the Box, where?
DJT: Burger King, all American companies: Burger King, Wendy’s, and McDonald’s.
SLJ: I hear they have some tasty burgers. I ain’t ever had one myself. How are they?
DJT: They’re the best in history.
SLJ: You mind if I try one of yours?
DJT: No, no, no.
SLJ: Mhhmm, this is a tasty burger! You know what they call a quarter pounder with cheese in France?
Mike Pence: I want the American people to know this is a real crisis at our border.
SLJ: I don’t remember asking you a goddamn thing. You Flock of Seagulls, know why we’re here?
DJT: So I had a choice. Do we have no food for you, because we have a shutdown? Or do we give you some little quick salads?
SLJ: You were saying?
DJT: And I said you guys aren’t into salads.
SLJ: That hit the spot.
Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.
JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City. And this is episode 78 of Intercepted.
DJT: I want to bring our troops back from the endless wars. We have endless wars. They’re going on for 19 years in the area.
JS: By the end of this year, the war in Afghanistan would be old enough to vote. Old enough to be deployed itself to fight in the war in Afghanistan. It is the longest continuous U.S. war in history. There are very few people in the U.S. who continue to passionately support this failed war. Even the foreign policy elites from the Council on Foreign Relations have admitted that victory is impossible if they can even define what victory would look like. But, but, but, according to their most prestigious president Richard Haas “just leaving would be a mistake.”
Mike Myers as Wayne: Wow, what a totally, amazing, excellent discovery. Not.
JS: Over the course of two terms of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and the two terms of Barack Obama, the United States got involved with more war, more covert action, more boots on the ground, more drone strikes, more support for despotic regimes. Those administrations were the so-called adults.
DJT: I think it’s very hard to impeach somebody who’s done a great job.
JS: Enter Donald J. Trump. He is a bumbling authoritarian. He has praised U.S. torture tactics. He’s also criticized the invasion of Iraq, but he added that we should have taken their oil. He is most certainly not any reasonable person’s definition of an adult. I mean just look at his total obsession with McDonald’s and Burger King and Domino’s Pizza.
DJT: Burger King, Wendy’s, and McDonald’s. We have Big Macs. We have quarter pounders with cheese. We have everything that I like that you like. And I know no matter what we did, there’s nothing you could have that’s better than that, right?
JS: Trump lies with a passion. It’s a pathology. We know all of that. But here is an uncomfortable truth: Donald Trump probably represents the best hope we have had since 9/11 to actually end some of these forever wars. All the so-called adults, including the pundits on MSNBC and their new friends, the neocons, have been poo-pooing Trump’s claim that he will pull out of Syria and his indications he wants to do the same in Afghanistan. Same thing with Trump saying he wants to end the Korean War. “It would be reckless. It’s too soon. That’s not how you end wars.” All of these sentiments are coming from people who have never offered a real plan to end U.S. wars. The imperial definition of an adult seems to be someone who in public life buys into the real lies about American exceptionalism, the people who can always find a justification for continuing war just a little bit longer. It’s always, ‘Yeah, it would be good to end wars, but not now or not like this.’
Nancy Pelosi: A decision made in a cavalier fashion in terms of our allies in the fight against terrorism, a decision that is dangerous.
Jack Keane: This is a huge strategic mistake that I hope the president is willing to reconsider. And if he does not, I believe with some degree of confidence that he’ll come to regret this decision.
Lindsey Graham: This was a high-risk strategy substantively. Everybody was offended by the fact that we wrote about it in the paper.
JS: Now, I don’t trust anything that Donald Trump says unless it is backed up by indisputable facts, but the mere reality that he is saying he wants to get the U.S. out of these wars requires those of us who oppose U.S. militarism and hegemony to analyze this moment for the opportunity that it possibly, possibly presents. And that means being open to something, anything positive coming from this absolutely insane moment in U.S. history.
Donald Trump has regularly shaken the national security establishment to its core. He seems to have somehow stood up to the unbridled militarism of former Defense Secretary General James Mattis, one of the new darlings of the interventionist coalition of some liberals and neocons. On Syria, Trump appears to have defied the wishes of Mike Pompeo and John Bolton and Benjamin Netanyahu with his surprise announcement that he would withdraw U.S. forces from the country.
Now none of this has yet happened and the forces pushing for these wars to continue are very strong and they are bipartisan. At the same time, disturbing details have been emerging about the push of neocons within the Trump administration to strike Iran with the Wall Street Journal reporting this week that John Bolton had the National Security Council draw up plans to strike Iran after an attack in Baghdad that Bolton attributed to Iranian-linked forces.
On Syria, it’s quite possible that Trump would pull out some military forces and then increase Special Operations and CIA activity — that was basically the Obama model. In Afghanistan, there is a real danger that Trump could buy into Erik Prince’s plan for a Blackwater mercenary-type takeover of that war even if official U.S. troops leave the country. In fact, Prince was literally just on FOX News suggesting mercenaries could come into Syria if Trump pulls actual U.S. troops out.
Lou Dobbs: You think that’s the analog in Syria, then? Effectively a private force there to protect the Kurds primarily?
Erik Prince: If there is not some kind of robust capability to defend from a ground invasion from the very conventional power that the Iranians and the Syrians have, our allies there will be smashed.
JS: Now again, it’s important to remember there are powerful forces pushing Trump to attack Iran. And it goes without saying that one of the most dangerous aspects of Trump’s presidency is the lying combined with the impulsive, reactionary, manic-style that he has displayed over and over again. None of this is about taking Trump at his word — quite the opposite. It’s about seizing a moment to actually end wars that eight years of Obama would not and could not.
Now I don’t have any illusions about Trump being the peace president. In fact, he’s made clear he wants more torture, that he’s okay with more killing of civilians, that he wants more people brought into the Guantanamo prison. He’s now floating the idea of declaring a national emergency over the border and he’s deployed U.S. troops who are going to be on the Mexico border until at least September. As commander in chief, Trump has already killed an enormous number of people and has radically increased U.S. drone strikes around the world. None of this is about supporting or embracing Trump. It’s about assessing if any good can come from this administration. These wars have killed tremendous numbers of innocent people and they have to come to an end.
This is not a simple black and white issue. The mere possibility of ending some of these wars is worth our time and effort even if Trump is the president.
Journalist Gareth Porter on Trump’s Syria and Afghanistan Decision, and Why Israel and the Pentagon Don’t Want the Troops to Leave
JS: So today we are going to dig into what exactly is happening with U.S. militarism, the various camps within the Trump administration and outside and what they want. Among those outside this administration who appear to be wielding tremendous authority and influence over this administration is the multi-billionaire casino magnate and top GOP donor Sheldon Adelson. We are going to try to make sense of this complicated, unpredictable mess that is this administration. Because I know what does not serve the public well and that’s reactionary politics that fail to analyze the trees because they are housed in the forest of Trump.
I’m joined now by the award-winning investigative journalist and historian Gareth Porter. He has covered U.S. wars and interventions in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen Syria since 2004. He was the 2012 winner of the Gellhorn Prize for Journalism for his coverage of Afghanistan. His most recent book, published in 2014, is “Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.”
Gareth Porter, welcome to Intercepted.
Gareth Porter: Thank you very much, Jeremy. Glad to be with you.
JS: So, let’s start with the very, very big picture. Break down as you see it the kind of foreign policy team and posture of this administration regarding all these U.S. wars that we’ve been in well for decades now.
GP: Well, I mean this is obviously a very, very unusual administration, to say the least. Trump is his own secretary of state for the most part. To some extent, his own secretary of defense. Although to a much more limited degree and somebody who, I think is clearly dependent on at least one major external source of funding in regard to picking his national security adviser. And of course, I’m referring to the team of John Bolton and Sheldon Adelson.
So, that adds a degree, I don’t want to say complexity, but a degree of difficulty to the situation that I think has to be taken into account and I think is generally underestimated in terms of its importance. Obviously, John Bolton is playing a key role to a degree that is becoming clear. This is problematic for Donald Trump and one has to wonder whether John Bolton’s days are numbered because I think that there is certainly going to be a degree of conflict and tension there between Trump’s aims and Bolton aims.
JS: Right, because you have this kind of schizophrenic nature to this administration. On the one hand, you had Trump during the campaign just lambasting the invasion and occupation of Iraq but then also saying “Oh and by the way, we should have taken their oil.”
DJT: Well, we should have kept the oil when we got out and you know, it’s very interesting. Had we taken the oil, you wouldn’t have ISIS because they fuel themselves with the oil. That’s where they got the money.
David Muir: So you believe we can go in and take the oil?
DJT: We should have taken the oil.
JS: You have Trump saying we’re going to get out of Syria. We’re going to get out of Afghanistan. He regularly praises Kim Jong-un.
DJT: He wrote me beautiful letters and they’re great letters. We fell in love.
JS: And you know in his historic meeting with Kim Jung-un, is saying that he actually wants to officially end the Korean War. And then, on the other hand, you have John Bolton who is absolutely in love with war, is agitating to take military action or to bomb Iran. I mean, how is it that you have an administration with the commander in chief saying we’re going to withdraw from all these places and its national security adviser is a risible neocon who has never met a war occupation or invasion that he hasn’t been in love with.
GP: Well, you’ve correctly stated the problem. I think the answer to that riddle is very simple that Donald Trump has been dependent on the financial support of Sheldon Adelson in his bid for the presidency. We know for sure that Adelson is a major source of influence on Trump’s policy toward Iran as well as Israel. People who are listening to this program, I’m sure many of them are aware of the fact that Adelson had called only half-kiddingly for the United States to drop an atomic bomb on Iran.
Sheldon Adelson: You pick up your cell phone and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say “Okay, let it go.” So, there’s an atomic weapon goes over, ballistic missiles in the middle of the desert that doesn’t hurt a soul. Maybe a couple of rattlesnakes and scorpions or whatever and then, and then, you say “See? The next one is in the middle of Tehran.
GP: He is one of the most extreme proponents of an attack on Iran. And of course, the relationship with Bolton is based on a common factor of Bolton being a major figure in calling for the bombing of Iran for a generation.
John Bolton: There’s a lot we can do and we should do it. Our goal should be regime change in Iran.
JS: You have The Wall Street Journal reporting earlier this week that the National Security Council had asked the Pentagon about potential military strike options against Iran and the justification for it was supposedly to retaliate for a September mortar attack in Baghdad by a group that was “aligned with Iran.” What do we know about John Bolton and this, now not secret but at the time, secret plan to drop strike options for Iran?
GP: Well, what we know is this — that Bolton is familiar with that ploy, if you will because as a member of George W. Bush’s team, which was, in reality, Dick Cheney’s team from 2001 through 2004, Bolton was very much involved in strategizing on what to do about Iran. Cheney actually in 2007, tried to carry out a strategy which almost precisely matches what you’ve just described. Cheney proposed in 2007, that the United States take advantage of any possible incident in Iraq in which American troops would be killed that could be blamed on Iran. And to go ahead then and carry out an attack on an IRGC, the revolutionary guards base inside Iran, and of course, he did not succeed in that. The Pentagon sat on it and insisted that basically they be informed as to what the sequence of events would be once the United States carried out such an attack.
And of course, it didn’t go any place. But this is exactly what Bolton was suggesting in this case, that the United States try to take advantage in this case, of a — I believe it was three mortars that landed in a vacant lot on the premises of the U.S. embassy. No one was hurt. No damage was done. And they don’t even know apparently who actually did it. So, it was perhaps a couple of steps further than what Chaney was trying to do in 2007.
JS: And you had Trump who you know, is largely governing by tweet announces, you know, we’re done in Syria. ISIS has largely been defeated and so we’re going to withdraw. Bolton seemed completely caught off guard by that. What do we know about what happened between Trump, Mattis, the generals regarding Syria?
GP: Well, I think what we know about that is simply that Mattis along with the other key people in the Pentagon, Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wanted to keep troops in Syria. And that was the cause of this clash which led to a split that finally caused Mattis to decide to resign. I think that the Pentagon is committed to a long-term strategy of having as many military permanent or semi-permanent military bases in the greater Middle East as possible. Trump wanted out. The Pentagon was unwilling to entertain that and it was a matter of a very unusual case where Mattis was ready to resign. I think that there’s no other case quite like it in history.
JS: Gareth, what do we know about Israel’s behind the scenes and also public position when Trump started talking about pulling the troops out of several countries?
GP: One of the hidden factors in the Trump policy toward Syria over the last year or so has been the effort by the Israelis and as well as the supporters of Israel within Washington — the think-tank world, both Brookings, as well as, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy — they have been trying their best to get the Trump administration committed to a policy of staying in Syria. And this campaign, I’m going to call it, was beginning at a time when Trump had first made it clear in April of 2018 that he wanted out of Syria.
DJT: I want to get out. I want to bring our troops back home. I want to start rebuilding our nation.
GP: And of course the Pentagon specifically did its best to talk him out of it, but they were not the only ones. Bolton as well as Pompeo were insisting to Trump that he must stay in Syria to support the Israelis in their war against the Iranians in Syria because the Israelis had a strategy which they were ginning up at the same time in 2018 to increase the bombing of Iranian bases and — bases or facilities — of pro-Iranian forces in Syria. And in so doing to hope that the Russians would get the idea that there was a real danger of an escalating war between the Israelis and the Iranians and thus to get the Russians to put pressure on Iran to start withdrawing from Syria.
That was the announced policy of Israel with regard to Syria and they were trying to get the Trump administration to accept that policy. They got a prominent figure in the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Ambassador James Jeffrey, appointed by Pompeo as a key person in the State Department to basically get the policy fixed on Syria for the Israelis and that process went very far and they were quite confident that they had things under control that there was going to be a policy publicly announced that would do precisely what the Israelis wanted. And then of course, in December, Trump said, no, he threw it out and said we’re getting out.
DJT: We were supposed to be out of Syria many years ago. If you remember, we went to Syria for some spot hits. And that was five years ago, and we never left. I don’t want to be in Syria.
JS: What changes have taken place within the military since Trump became the commander in chief? Specifically, I’m referring to this wider latitude that Trump has given to commanders on the ground, the easing up of rules that are supposedly in place to limit or minimize civilian deaths or civilian injuries in strikes. Talk about what has happened at the Pentagon and CIA since this administration took office.
GP: Well, you’re right, of course, that Trump has approved greater latitude in dropping bombs as well as greater latitude in keeping information about deployments in Afghanistan and Syria and elsewhere in the greater Middle East from the public. At the same time, I think it’s worth recalling that it was, in fact, the Obama administration that actually lifted the restraints in 2016. There was a huge increase in the bombing in Afghanistan and much of it, of course, was drone strikes. So, I think we need to keep that in perspective. Although it’s certainly not just regrettable but something that should be condemned that Trump has made those decisions, it is not as far beyond the norm that was set by Obama as people, I think, are generally aware.
JS: Before Obama took office, there was a grand total of one U.S. airstrike in Yemen. It was in November of 2002 and it was a strike that killed six people including an American citizen and at the time, Paul Wolfowitz and Condi Rice were talking about how this was significant because it was in the U.S. national security interest. It was the first strike outside of the declared battlefield of Afghanistan. But then starting in December of 2009, not even a year into Obama’s time in office, he began what started as a covert air war where the Yemeni government was going to claim responsibility for U.S. strikes and Yemen has been being bombed mercilessly ever since then.
Now, you can say once the Saudis took over as the main cudgel being used to murder Yemenis, that there was some transition in policy, but that started under Obama. So, you know, I do think that we should be targeting Trump for this Yemen policy. But my God, if we don’t analyze how we got there and the roots that are deeply entrenched in the history of the Obama administration, then we’re just being totally intellectually dishonest about the U.S. war machine and how these wars are ultimately started and fueled.
GP: Well, I’m sorry to say that you’re absolutely right that the entire sort of public discourse in this country for years now has been essentially distorted by the lack of real discussion of how the Obama administration really went well beyond the Bush administration in terms of both the number of places where the United States went to war and particularly, the use of drones as a substitute for conventional warfare. And this is really a development in U.S. national security policy that deserves the highest degree of scrutiny and debate and it just hasn’t happened in this country, unfortunately.
JS: What’s happening on the ground right now in Afghanistan? Because my sense Gareth is that the Taliban control as much or more territory than they did in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, U.S. soldiers continue to be killed, and the central government in Kabul is little more than a municipal government. You have 14,000 U.S. troops. Trump has seemed to indicate that he wants to get them out of there. But what is the situation right now on the ground in Afghanistan?
GP: I think everyone involved with the war in Afghanistan recognizes on both sides — both those who oppose the continued U.S. presence there as well, as those who insist on continuing this indefinitely — are aware of the fact that the United States is losing the war, that the Taliban are winning in the sense that their control of the countryside continues to grow both in terms of geographic breadth as well as, the quality, the intensity of their control.
The real debate is why are we still there? And I think as I said earlier, the hidden agenda here on the part of the Pentagon is that they want to stay in Afghanistan for reasons which have nothing to do with the Afghans at all. It has to do with holding on to those permanent bases. The Pentagon operates in a way that is completely at odds with a democratic control. It has sort of beneath the surface this aim of maximizing its control over permanent bases because it views that as building up its capability for future wars. And of course, that’s fine for the Pentagon but it’s not good for the American public. So, I think that there’s an issue there that really begs much greater attention in the future.
JS: Now, of course, the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia now that you have Trump in power, you know is very much in the spotlight, but it does seem as though Mike Pompeo, Trump, and John Bolton are in this kind of relationship with the Saudis, with the Emiratis. There’s Yemen at play there but a lot of it seems to be driven by Israel’s obsession with Iran. How do you see this configuration with the Emiratis, the Saudis, Trump, Bolton, Pompeo, Israel, what’s going on there?
GP: I think that there are two fundamental roots of the wedding between the Trump administration and the Saudis and their coalition partners and one, of course, is the Israeli alliance with the Saudis has given a new reason for the Pentagon and the Trump administration to be particularly close to and have such warm relations with the Saudi government that they essentially refused to do anything about the blatant murder, the dismemberment of Khashoggi and do their best to sort of look the other way. The Israeli government was insisting that that’s what the Trump administration should do. The Israelis believe that the Saudis are such an important partner in the fight against Iran that the U.S. government must continue to have the closest possible relationship with the Saudis and don’t create any unnecessary political problems to interfere with that.
I would also say that arms sales are a second reason for this which of course, go back well before the present administration. The Obama administration was also clearly influenced by the importance of arms sales to the Saudis in particular. And so, this was for the Pentagon during the Obama administration, a huge bow wave of income that would accrue to their allies in the private sector and which of course, would influence the prospects for jobs, for generals who would quit the Pentagon and go directly into one of the arms contractors. So, and this of course, then influence the White House in terms of its attitude towards Saudi Arabia. There was no possibility that the United States government was going to suddenly shift away from Saudi Arabia during the Obama administration when the Pentagon was totally committed to this very, very close relationship with the Saudis and the Emirates.
JS: Gareth, how do you reconcile two competing sets of truth? On the one hand, Trump wants out of these wars and on the other hand, you have this kind of liberal embrace of people like General Mattis or the FBI or the CIA. This notion that the deep state is actually protecting us from anti-democratic Trump. You know, I mean, I’ve been saying I think that the CIA is in one of its golden eras right now because Trump is so uninvolved in the day-to-day tick-tock. But that contradiction where you have perhaps the greatest chance since 9/11 to actually end some of these wars and it’s coming from this sort of frightening, incompetent, clearly with authoritarian tendencies, Donald Trump.
GP: It appears that — in a sort of long-term historical perspective — that the only way for the United States to move away from the permanent war state is to have someone like Trump, who’s a total outsider and who has all of the qualities of somebody who is unfit for being the president of the United States, to do something that is opposed by the national security state, if you will. And I think what we’re looking at here is, in fact, the problem of a permanent war state that has so ensconced itself that you have the greatest difficulty of this political system and this society finding ways of dealing with it. You know, it seems that there are no non-government organizations, no political organizations with the resources and the power to do anything about this and we’re in a situation where Trump and his supporters, who are the only source of real opposition at this point, that make a difference in terms of moving away from this system.
JS: Gareth Porter, we’re going to leave it there. Thank you very much for joining us.
GP: Thanks very much, Jeremy.
JS: Gareth Porter is an investigative journalist and historian. His latest book is “Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.”
Historian Greg Grandin on the Brutal History of the Border Patrol and the CIA Dirty Wars in Latin America
JS: The U.S. government shutdown over funding for Trump’s border wall is now the longest shutdown in American history.
DJT: I would say Mexico’s going to pay for it. Obviously, I never said this and I never meant they’re going to write out a check.
Ron Howard narration from “Arrested Development”: But that too turned out to be a lie.
DJT: I’ve said many times that the American people will not pay for the wall.
I said Mexico will pay for the wall.
JS: It was clear from the beginning that Trump’s wall — a logistically impossible grotesque monument to himself and the racism he espouses — was nothing but a fever dream for the nativist, white supremacist sectors of this country that Trump is constantly catering to. But the depravity and resentment that the Trump administration has shown through its child prisons, and family separation policy, the gassing of asylum seekers, the outright contempt for migrants seeking refuge, it didn’t begin with Trump.
In fact, nativism in the U.S. was rapidly expanding after World War I. President Coolidge signed the Immigration Act of 1924 greatly restricting the immigration of Italians, Jews, and Asians to this country and alongside this legislation, the U.S. Border Patrol was born. Today, we’re going to look at the history of the border patrol and its origins. It’s a history of unrestrained brutality and white supremacy with little to no accountability. Now, while Trump’s predecessors have all embraced a paramilitarization or militarization of border operations, and they’ve employed anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, Donald Trump has done so with an extremely disturbing and dangerous passion. He’s even floating the idea of using extraordinary powers of the office of the presidency to declare a national emergency aimed at bolstering this military build-up on the border with Mexico.
I am joined now by Greg Grandin. He is a professor of history at New York University. And he has a new book that’s coming out in March. It’s called “The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America.”
Greg Grandin, welcome to Intercepted.
Greg Grandin: Great to be here, Jeremy.
JS: Let’s start off with just the immediate situation. You have Trump claiming that the Democrats are responsible for the shutdown.
DJT: The government remains shut down for one reason, and one reason only, the Democrats will not fund border security.
JS: He lied and said he’s just been in the White House non-stop, even though he was in Iraq for a few minutes and he also was on the border standing next to special ops border guys with night vision goggles during the day.
DJT: I’m in Texas. We’re at the southern border. We have incredible people. I’m surrounded by border patrol and ICE and law enforcement and they have done an incredible job. But we all want to see a wall or a barrier.
JS: But to go into the real world here explain how you see this particular moment that we’re in with this shutdown and the so-called battle over the border.
GG: I see it as a long climax of what I call the bordification of national politics or the nationalization of border brutalism. Just the way that the violence, and xenophobia, nativism that has long been marginalized or concentrated on the border has become nationalized. Trump is the outcome of decades and decades of policy that he’s not wrong when he blames the Democrats. The Democrats have brought into a security first framework going back to at least, Bill Clinton, but you can even make the case to Jimmy Carter that has led to this current moment.
Bill Clinton: Not only in the states most heavily affected but in every place in this country are rightly disturbed by the large numbers of illegal aliens entering our country. The jobs they hold might otherwise be held by citizens or legal immigrants. The public service they use impose burdens on our taxpayers. That’s why our administration has moved aggressively to secure our borders more by hiring a record number of new border guards, by deporting twice as many criminal aliens as ever before, by cracking down on illegal hiring, by borrowing welfare benefits to illegal aliens.
JS: First of all, there are parts of the border and I’ve traveled along these regions myself where you do have steel or you do have a wall or you do have fencing. What are the roots of this nativist push for ‘We need a full wall along the southern border of the United States’?
GG: Up until World War I, the border was relatively open. There was no border. There was no physical barrier except maybe some rolls of barbed wire around ports of entry. Migrants came back and forth seasonally to work in factories, and fields, and homes.
Newscaster: Tens of thousands of these workers are brought across the border from Mexico every year, then sent to work on big farms and the Imperial Valley, the San Joaquin Valley, the Salinas Valley, the Santa Clara Valley under agreements between the U.S. and Mexican governments.
GG: In terms of the physical barrier, it doesn’t really start until around Harry Truman in 1948. The first chain link fence to go up on the border in Southern California and not ironically, tellingly, I think, that it was recycled material from Japanese internment camps that were used as the chain-link fence. And then you could jump forward to the 1990s when Bill Clinton extended the physical barriers, and he used recycled landing pads from Vietnam. So there’s ways in which the darker history of the United States, both internal incarceration and external war, has literally manifested itself on the border in these physical barriers.
The wall as a nativist rallying cry doesn’t really start until around Vietnam. You could see how the loss in Vietnam leads to a rise of nativism, white supremacy. The border is one site where this is very graphic. And one kind of irony, or way of thinking about it, is Robert McNamara tried to build a wall between North and South Vietnam. That was one of the strategies called a ‘McNamara Line.’ And so, in some ways there was a continuation after failing to stop the infiltration of the North to the South in Southeast Asia, the nativists become obsessed with building a wall to keep out Mexican migrants.
JS: What was the political context of the rise in that nativist thinking? I mean what was happening on the border? Who was coming across it? Was it some kind of a crisis? Were workers taking away jobs from white Americans?
GG: Yeah, so, the parallel story is the criminalization of migration, right? There’s the history of the wall. There’s the history of the militarization of the border, and then there’s the history of the legal status of migrants. Basically, you could think of it as if, in 1910, if you have one big stream or river of basically legal migrants what happens over the course of the 20th century is that diverts into increasingly criminalized under the 1924 nativist Immigration Act which white supremacist love. It lowered the quotas for non-white protestant countries.
Mexico was spared immigration quotas because large landowners and factory owners wanted cheap labor. In fact, all of Latin America was exempt from quotas. But the border patrol was created in 1924, not with the act, but kind of related to a lot of the politics that were going on in 1924. And that was basically a sop to nativist who lost the larger debate about Mexico, but the border patrol itself became the kind of point that decided who wasn’t entering legally and there was a series of laws which criminalize the whole stream, that whole current. By the time you get to the 1990s, most migrants from Mexico are considered illegal and undocumented.
JS: Give us an overview of the creation of border patrol.
GG: The first recruits, the first conscript, or the first agents for the border patrol tended to come from these agencies that already had a long history of brutality: the Texas Rangers, the National Guard, local police stations. And so, these were men, white men who were one or two generations removed from farm life. Their politics stood in opposition to the large landowners who wanted cheap labor, who wanted to keep migration open but the border patrol because it’s this demographic constitution and because it represents this frontline instrument of white supremacy becomes incredibly brutal.
JS: You wrote: “Since its founding in the early 20th century, the U.S. Border Patrol has operated with near complete impunity, arguably serving as the most politicized and abusive branch of federal law enforcement, even more so than the FBI during J. Edgar Hoover’s directorship.” Think of it this way: The CIA, the FBI, the IRS, these are all federal agencies that had some kind of reckoning in the 1970s and 1980s. The most famous being the Church Committee. The border patrol never faced an accounting like that. There’s been no reckoning. There’s been no restructuring. They’ve had a free hand.
Somebody who I wrote about in that Intercept piece was a New York Times reporter, John Crewdson in late 70s, 80s wrote these series of heartbreaking reports about sexual violence and torture and murder that are just wrenching and it was largely ignored. He won a Pulitzer for it, but it didn’t lead to larger calls for the reformation of the border patrol.
JS: Talk about some of the tactics that were used by the border patrol and also Operation Wetback.
GG: Operation Wetback was what might be called the modernization of deportation — deporting hundreds of thousands of undocumented migrant workers mostly from California, but also from other states in the Southwest. One of the things that it did was it was an upscaling of intelligence and [an] increase in coordination of the border patrol with other law enforcement agencies, local police agencies, and even the FBI. And they put into place mechanisms that could analyze data information tips, including data about harvests and employment, act on that information, and then turn it into more intelligence that they can act again.
One of the agents in charge of that intelligence gathering, John Longan, then moved on to work for the State Department’s Public Safety Agency, which was really a front for the CIA, where he would work with intelligence agencies in third world hotspots. Longan, in particular, worked in Thailand, Colombia, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, and Guatemala. And basically, he did in those countries what he did in California was he professionalized the intelligence agency and when I say professionalized I mean increase its capacity to gather information mostly through brutal interrogations including torture, act on that information, meaning go out and capture more people, get more information through more torture, and then act on it again. The Central Intelligence Agency, that’s exactly what it does. It centralizes the activity of many of these different branches. And so, you see a direct relationship between these very brutal tactics that were worked out at Operation Wetback and then exported abroad during the Cold War.
JS: One of the things that you point out is that in the early 70s, the U.S. was training Latin American security forces. A majority of them in countries run by military governments, and they were training them at the Border Patrol Academy in Texas and the Los Angeles Times, at the time, points out that CIA instructors trained them in the design, manufacture, and potential use of bombs and incendiary devices. So, talk about that connection between the CIA and regime change in Central and Latin America and also, the training of law enforcement military intelligence by the U.S. in some of these countries.
GG: In Latin America, after the Cuban revolution in 1959, but even after the overthrow of Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala in 1954, the U.S. through its various foreign policy agencies — the State Department, the CIA — begin to focus on upscaling the internal defense capacity of security forces of its allied countries. The idea was to avoid getting into another Korean War where the United States was committed to military containment of communism and train their local allies to be able to root out what they call the internal enemy. This was the heart of the National Security Doctrine and that entailed, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, spending [an] increasing amount of money and resources and technology on professionalizing the intelligence agencies of its allied countries.
This all culminates in what becomes known as Operation Condor after the overthrow of Allende, Salvador Allende, in Chile in 1973 where the U.S. helps preside and coordinate the work of the intelligence agencies in its allied countries. Interestingly enough, the border patrol is involved in this. Who would have thought? Most critics of the border patrol, even those who criticize its brutality, tend to think of it as this kind of sleepy backwater federal agency, but it turns out that it was sending a number of its agents to allied countries as part of this police training. And in addition to bringing up police and soldiers to learn these torture techniques and bomb-building techniques and interrogation techniques in places like the Panama Canal and the School of the Americas, they were also bringing up these police officers to the Border Patrol Academy in Fresno, California.
JS: You also write: “There have been contradictory judicial rulings, but historically, agent power has been limited by no constitutional clause. There are few places patrollers can’t search, no property belonging to migrants, they can’t seize, and there’s hardly anybody they can’t kill provided that the victims are poor Mexican or Central American migrants. Between ’85 and ’90, federal agents shot 40 migrants around San Diego alone killing 22 of them. Since 2003, border patrol agents have killed at least 97 people including six children. Few agents were prosecuted.” How powerful have these agencies become — Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Customs and Border Patrol — and what would it look like to even hold them accountable?
GG: They are incredibly powerful and they operate with near complete impunity. Those are the deaths and killings that we know of. It’s really a kind of lawless region, the borderlands. I would argue based on my reading of the sources is that the vast majority of abuse and brutality just went under the radar, that we just don’t know about it. Again, John Crewdson, that New York Times reporter would just offhandedly talk about border patrol agents telling him that they threw “illegals off the cliff” and made it look like an accident. They would seize their property. They would seize the documents — the birth certificate of citizens, U.S. citizens. But if they were poor and Latino, they would have to spend an enormous amount of resources trying to get their birth certificates re-issued. So, there was no, there’s no accountability. Their power is practically limitless.
JS: And this issue of separating migrant families, there wasn’t really an official government policy on this but isn’t it the case that these agents still were doing it just sort of freelance?
GG: Yeah, they would target children and migrant crossings as a way of using them as bargaining chips with their families — forcing them to confess, forcing them to turn themselves in. There’s cases of children who were U.S. citizens who were captured by the border patrol and then just released in Mexico with little recourse or means for how they can return. The practice that’s been reported on now of placing migrants in extremely cold holding centers that dates back at least to the 1980s. Crewdson reports on INS officials trading young Mexican women to Los Angeles Rams for season tickets. I mean, this is a level abuse and impunity and horror that’s hard to wrap one’s mind around.
JS: We know that thousands of children have been separated from their parents and held in prisons, camps, but at the same time, we’ve had several deaths that seem to have been preventable of children who were then taken into U.S. custody. What do you see that has happened there and is it different than deaths that happened under the Obama administration or previous presidencies?
GG: No, I think that what Trump has done is by politicizing the issue rather than making it about pragmatic or technocratic policy concern about border security, he’s pulled the curtains back to reveal the horror of the border. This has been going on — certainly, the deportations under Obama increased — and with the same intent to create a deterrent. So, in many ways, it’s a continuation. I think what Trump does is he turns it into spectacle and obviously, it’s related to maintaining his own political base right of 35, 38 percent.
JS: Trump loves to, you know, he says, “Oh, I just had you know, Nancy and Chuck —” referring to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer “— in the White House,” or their representatives. And you know, there’s all this fanfare on Twitter about how he told them to get lost, you know because they weren’t agreeing to his border. But we don’t really have an effective opposition coming from the leadership of the Democratic Party on this. Break down what we’re sort of, seeing the elites of the Democratic Party staking out as their position right now.
GG: They’re staking out the position that they’ve had basically since the late 1970s with Jimmy Carter, the idea that you can trade border security for some kind of limited reform whether it be a one-time amnesty. Bush tried this, George W. Bush, Barack Obama tried this. The idea that you can give the border brutalists, the nativists whatever they want in terms of security, in terms of billions and billions of dollars to turn the border into, what Chuck Schumer in 2013 called, “tough as nails” in exchange for some kind of one-off reform. Now we’re talking about DACA, the deferred, which would legalize the status of undocumented residents who came here as children. It’s a devil’s bargain and it can’t work.
What the Democrats need to do is that they need to seize on the migration issue as a moral issue — something equivalent of the Civil Rights issue. Just as you couldn’t have Bull Connor police departments and Jim Crow laws and call yourself a democracy in the 1960s and 1970s, you can’t have a country where over more than 10 million people live completely vulnerable in the shadows and call yourself a democracy. But the Democrats constantly trim on the issue and they’re constantly trying to — I mean, look when Schumer and Pelosi sat down with Trump, Trump said, “Well, we all agree on that border security is important” and Schumer said, “Yes, we agree on that,” and then Trump said “Well, we agree. Well, we agree on that.” So you’re seeing the Democratic leadership at least caught in the contradiction of policy impasse that’s three or four decades in the making.
JS: What level of responsibility would you place on the U.S. dirty wars in Central and Latin America, the policy of regime change, the support for multinational corporations extracting natural wealth from throughout the southern hemisphere. I mean, to what degree should we be talking about this history to understand what we’re seeing right now?
GG: Yeah, well, that saying: “They’re here because we were there” on every level, that’s true. But if you look at Guatemala as a microcosm, you could look at any particular event, especially the overthrow of Jacobo Árbenz in 1954. But then, when you look at the broader policies, which just create displacement and dispossession, whether it’s the support for the security forces, which presided over a genocide in the early 1980s or whether it’s support for free trade policies in the 1990s, which flooded these countries and Guatemala with cheap corn where the peasants can’t survive and they have no choice but to leave their land and move on, or whether it’s support for the drug war. So, on every level, you can look at the blowback of failed U.S. policy which creates the dispossession and the dislocation and then limits of U.S. political discourse where the only response is development aid. So, the responsibility for the immigration crisis such as it is — which is a crisis on the border of the way Trump describes it, but it’s more of a hemispheric catastrophe — is squarely on Washington.
JS: Finally, Greg, I’m really looking forward to your new book coming out in March. The title is “The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America.” Give us a preview of the book.
GG: Well, it’s the way that the U.S. moved away from the central myth of American exceptionalism, the myth of the frontier, with the frontier standing as a symbol of openness, of political equality, of moving out into the world. The way the border and the border wall has supplanted that myth, right? So the pioneer is no longer the icon of America. It’s the ICE raider and the border patroller and it’s no longer the log cabin, but the children’s detention center which become the symbols of American power in the world. How we moved from the frontier to the border wall as a symbol of American identity.
JS: Greg Grandin, thank you very much for joining us.
GG: Thanks for having me here.
JS: Greg Grandin is a professor of history at New York University. His book, “The End of the Myth: From the Frontier to the Border Wall in the Mind of America,” will be coming out in March.
Journalist Hana Baba Discusses the Situation on the Ground in Sudan
[Sudanese women leading protest chants in Omdurman.]
JS: On December 19th, protests broke out in the African nation of Sudan after the government tripled the price of bread. Soaring food prices, fuel and cash shortages also signal the country’s deepening economic crisis. A crisis that has intensified since South Sudan seceded in 2011, which also effectively meant a loss of the united country’s oil reserves.
As demonstrations began in towns and villages across the country and then ultimately, the capital, Khartoum, protesters called for a change in government and for the longtime dictator, President Omar al-Bashir, to step down. There have been reports that Sudanese security forces have fired tear gas and live ammunition at protesters. At least 24 people have been confirmed to have died in protests, but Human Rights Watch estimates the death toll at closer to 40. President al-Bashir has held his seat since the 1989 military coup, transforming the country into an Islamist one-party state.
In 1997, the United States imposed economic and trade sanctions on Sudan for a number of reasons including the country’s hosting of Osama bin Laden. In 1998, under the direction of President Bill Clinton, the U.S. bombed the al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory on the outskirts of Khartoum. The strike was allegedly in retaliation to bin Laden’s bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The Clinton administration claimed that the al-Shifa plant — the largest manufacturer of medicines in Sudan — was actually a disguised chemical weapons factory. That claim has now been proven totally false.
But in recent years, Omar al-Bashir has gotten on better terms with the U.S. through such actions as supplying Sudanese troops to fight in the genocidal war in Yemen. The Trump administration lifted some sanctions on Sudan in 2017. But these changes only helped the regime in Sudan, while ordinary people have continued to suffer.
Though this isn’t the first time that a wave of demonstrations have hit Sudan or the first time that deadly force has been used to silence protesters, analysts say that recent protests are unprecedented and currently show no sign of ending.
On Monday, in front of a crowd of supporters, Omar al-Bashir said, “Demonstrations will not change the government. There’s only one road to power and that is through the ballot box. The Sudanese people,” he said, “will decide in 2020 who will govern them.”
To discuss all of this and more, I’m joined by Sudanese American journalist Hana Baba, who just returned from visiting family in Sudan. Hana is the host of Crosscurrents, a daily newsmagazine out of KALW Public Radio in San Francisco. She’s also the host of The Stoop podcast.
Hana, welcome to Intercepted.
Hana Baba: Thanks for having me.
JS: So you were just in Sudan as the protests against the government were breaking out. Describe what happened and what you saw.
HB: So, I went for a family vacation knowing that something was brewing. Everybody in Sudan is on WhatsApp. Everybody’s on Facebook. Everybody, a lot of people are on Twitter. So, recently there have been shortages in bread, shortages in fuel. People have to wait hours and hours in bread lines and in gas lines, and more recently, there’s been a cash shortage where people will tell you, “I’ve worked and I have money in the bank and I’m not allowed to withdraw except for a certain amount every day.” And that’s something that the government has imposed now because of a huge cash shortage in Sudan.
And so, we were going in that environment knowing that people were gearing up for protests and when we got there indeed, the next day there was a big protest that started in the town of Atbara which is in the north of Sudan. So, reports started coming in about Atbara having these big protests in the street. Police cracking down.
Charlotte Bellis: A state of emergency is being enforced in the city of Atbara after the headquarters of the ruling party was set on fire. A curfews enforced and schools are closed.
HB: Slowly the protests started to spread to other cities. Next, we heard about in the East, the city of El-Gadarif, protests there. And so, people were following on social media, you know, these brave daring people because in 30 years of dictatorship, not a lot of protests have happened because of the iron grip of this regime and you know ability to use full force on protesters. People were kind of seeing it as OK, something is happening here. These are two towns so far which are not even the capital city. What’s going on? And again, brutally squashed by police.
Hiba Morgan: The government has been using live ammunition and tear gas to disperse the crowds. They say they’re trying to solve the economic crisis, but won’t tolerate protesters damaging public property.
HB: And so that’s when the internet started slowing down. I have my daughters with me, you know, American-raised daughters. Their phones are always with them. And so, they started saying “Mama, the internet. I can’t get online. I can’t get online.” And what was happening was the government was, you know, slowing down the internet. They shut down access to Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp because those are the ways people are communicating to organize. So, they shut that down. And the tech-savvy youth came out and said “Well, everybody get on VPN” which is a virtual private network. So, they were able to kind of bypass that and continue organizing.
Then the protests started coming to Khartoum. I, personally, was in my grandmother’s house in the area called Burri and with my daughters when there were protests in the streets. And the police in their big trucks and fully like armed and with their tear gas came by the main road and started actually coming into the neighborhood. So, we were literally — I have video of this — we were inside the house just like observing all of this through the windows and then the tear gas comes like right in front of my grandmother’s house.
[Kids crying, people coughing.]
HB: It seeped inside. We started, you know, choking. It got in our throats and our eyes. And for me, I used to live in Sudan and I went to University there and whenever there would be a student protest, they would call the police and there would be tear gas. This was in the mid-90s. So, I remember what tear gas smells like and the tear gas of last week of these past weeks just feels like it’s just stronger and more potent.
JS: In fact, you tweeted a photo of a tear gas canister and you wrote the following: “The damn canister — reportedly bought from Bashar Alasad of Syria — not ur mama’s teargas of Univ of Khartoum in the 90s- this ish is PO-TENT.” That’s what you’re talking about?
HB: That’s what I’m talking about exactly. My cousins ran out and got the tear gas canister brought it to us. Reportedly President al-Bashir recently visited Syria, visited Bashar al-Assad and there were reports that in addition to money, he received kind of equipment for his army and his militias that he’s armed as well. So, a lot of people are saying this tear gas is not normal tear gas. It might, you know, be something potent something might be added to it, a chemical. We don’t know.
The thing about the protests, right now, from Khartoum then, the next day they said we’re going to go to Omdurman which is the other town. That was a huge protest.
[Protest chants in Omdurman.]
HB: Hundreds of people in the street. Hundreds of police cars and it’s not just police. It’s these militias that are armed by the government and the security apparatus that is also armed by the government. So, it’s people that aren’t even in uniform. They’re plain clothed and they are armed and they have been given the green light to just go and do what they need to do which has been fire live ammo, you know, beat people, and jail people arbitrarily.
JS: And you also saw in the uprisings in Egypt and Libya and Tunisia, elsewhere, in the closing days of a regime that’s being brought down by these protesters on the verge of it, that they’ll call in, you know, the baltagiya or this sort of, unofficial militias that can more easily use the kind of extreme force than maybe a uniform security division where it would cause more of a spark because it would be on more people’s radar that uniformed security forces are doing this. But what you’re describing are essentially, it’s like a political mob organized by the regime to function as a parallel thug squad to uniformed security forces. Is that correct?
HB: That is correct. After that big Omdurman protest — that was during the day — in the evening, I was going to visit my other grandma’s house which is in Omdurman and we were driving past the Parliament building. And so that protest, their goal was to reach the Parliament building. So, we drove past that in the evening. There were dozens of these trucks filled with these plain-clothed militiamen. You couldn’t see their face. They had their scarves kind of over their face. You could only see their eyes. They were, you know, just standing there with their arms and we’re at a stoplight and I see all of a sudden like six or seven of them just start to beat this one protester. It was, it was a sight I’d never seen in my life. It was brutal.
What they’ve been trying to do is this good cop/bad cop thing, right? So, the narrative by the government is that the police and the army are here to help you. They don’t talk about these other militias that we know they have armed and a lot of people are saying these are the same Janjaweed that were in Darfur many years ago and now have come here and this is kind of their new job is to be the thugs of Bashir.
JS: Bashir, of course, has been in power for several decades and he has a pretty remarkable ability to survive. He’s endured U.S. sanctions. He has openly defied in a warrant from the, or an indictment rather, from the International Criminal Court. And the way that this particular uprising against him has been reported is that at its center was sort of the hike in the price of bread but we see this replicated over and over in a lot of these stories. That’s not really the issue here, right? There’s much deeper issues to why people are in the streets than simply the price of bread or the lack of available cash for people from their accounts. I mean, this is also about his regime.
HB: Right, and you know, I’m glad you said that because that’s a narrative that’s being pushed out by the regime itself is that “Okay, you want bread? Here. You want fuel? Here’s fuel. We’ll bring you fuel.” But at its core it’s not about that. The bread and the fuel and the cash are catalysts that kind of sparked what’s already been simmering for a long, long time. It’s about a regime that’s been in power for 30 years this coming June that has been brutal in many parts of Sudan.
Yousra Elbagir: Security forces fired tear gas into the Omdurman mosque compound and along with intelligence agents surrounded the area.
Caroline Malone: This is the reaction of the security forces against some of the people protesting in Sudan. Gunfire is heard as protesters scatter the safety in the city of Wad Madani.
HB: A lot of people have left the country because of this government, lack of jobs, the economy. There is huge inflation right now, discrimination. It’s pitted tribe against tribe. It’s pitted people against people, the human rights, you know, abysmal, women’s rights. And so, all of this has come right now and the bread and the fuel and the cash are like the current reasons, but the pain is deeper and longer than that.
JS: What’s happened with Sudanese journalists? I know that there were journalists protesting recently against the arrest of 19, I understand the number was of their colleagues, from al-Jareeda newspaper that had been detained January 14th. Are journalists being targeted and arrested or is it that they are protesting against attempts at censorship on the part of the regime?
HB: They are being sought and arrested. Not that it was any good before this, right?
HB: I mean, journalists in Sudan for a long time have been you know, arbitrarily jailed, newspapers just shut down. And you know, it used to feel like a scare tactic and now it feels that the government is truly feeling some kind of fear because they’re jailing journalists. They do not want information to leave Sudan but the journalists and the newspapers are also being creative. Some newspapers have said “Okay, we won’t do a print run,” but then you know, they do kind of a PDF, digital version and put it online or put it in the WhatsApp groups. But journalists are being targeted. Doctors are being targeted. Hospitals were targeted. The hospital of Omdurman —protesters were, you know, were injured and they were being treated there. The police forces came and and tear-gassed the ER room.
Newscaster: Firing off live ammunition and tear gas as they go, plainclothes security and uniform militia begin to storm the hospital.
HB: So, we’re at a point right now where they can do anything and people know that when they go out to the streets, but I was telling my colleagues earlier, there’s a sense of fear, but there’s a sense of excitement, you know that there’s something happening and this is the longest that protests have lasted in the history of Sudan. This isn’t the first time Sudan has had a revolution. We had a revolution in 1964 and again in 1985.
JS: Is this a revolution?
HB: I think this is a revolution and this is a revolution of young people who are fed up with the lack of opportunity in their country. Every time I go to Sudan, at least two or three cousins have left. Anybody who is able to leave has left the country to find jobs and education somewhere else in the world. I think people are sick of it and they’re fed up and they’re — to the extent that they know they might be hit with live ammunition, but they still fill the streets with protest today. And that’s brave.
JS: On Monday, you had Omar al-Bashir saying in front of a crowd of his supporters “Demonstrations will not change the government,” and then, he also said “There’s only one road to power and that’s through the ballot box.” As people now watch this situation unfolding, and hopefully it gets, well, any coverage in the U.S. other than just a mention here or there, what should they be looking for? Because 2020, there are supposed to be elections in Sudan, but what should people keep an eye on in the coming weeks and months?
HB: I think people should be watching the idea of “Who is the next leader?” has been a big question. You know, there’s a lot of energy in the streets and there’s a lot of energy online and with the people — the masses — but a lot of people are saying, you know, the idea that anything is better than this, the status quo. And if the army realizes that they too, you know, can’t feed their children. They too are in poverty. They too are in danger. Then that’s their best bet for the army to join them. That’s what people are looking at. And that’s what a lot of the protesters are hoping for.
JS: Well and as I’m sure you know from covering this and watching the events unfold in Egypt and elsewhere, there often is this sense that the army is of the people and eventually if they flip and they say, yes, we are on the side of the people that that is a good thing. And it undoubtedly is, including in a place like Egypt, but if people aren’t vigilant about watching then what the army does, you know, you could end up in a situation like in Egypt where you have el-Sisi is essentially, you know, Mubarak 2.0.
You could have Bashir replaced by some other individual who essentially is going try to wield the force of the army against the people again, and that’s that’s something all of us need to be vigilant in watching. Even if we are strategically cheering on an army to flip sides, people have to stay vigilant because you know, the military, in the end, is the military —
JS: — And a lot of soldiers are serving for who pays their, you know, their salaries at the end of the day.
HB: So, that’s why right now when you see it in social media, I’m reading on Facebook, I’m reading in the WhatsApp groups this idea that you know, who is our leader like, you know, who will be our leaders and then the answers might be the army. But other people are saying well, there’s plenty of capable, educated leaders among us, you know. People might come from abroad because a lot of the opposition is abroad. One thing a lot of people do not want is for former party leaders, which are the Umma party and the Democratic Unionist party who did kind of have their chance at governance in the small pockets of democracy that happened in the history of Sudan, people are tired of them. So, people are very clear in saying we don’t want to repeat the past again, and there is fresh leadership available. But step one is to overthrow the government and some of the chants including Tuss-goot Bass —
— Tuss-goot Bass, which means “Just let it fall, just fall,” you know, and then after that we’ll figure things out.
JS: All right, we’re going to leave it there, Hana. Thank you so much for joining us.
HB: Thank you for having me.
[Protesters chanting continues.]
JS: Hana Baba is the host of Crosscurrents, a daily newsmagazine out of KALW Public Radio in San Francisco. She’s also the host of The Stoop podcast. She’s a Sudanese American reporting on Black immigrants and her native Sudan for PRI, BBC, and NPR among others. You can follow her on Twitter at radiohana.
And that does it for this week’s show. Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. We’re distributed by Panoply. Our producer is Jack D’Isidoro. Happy birthday, Jack. And our executive producer is Leital Molad. Laura Flynn is associate producer. Elise Swain is our assistant producer and graphic designer. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Transcription is done by Nuria Marquez Martinez. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.
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