GEORGE NEGUS: Reverend, this is a pretty unusual interview because I didn’t think that I’d be talking to a man like you about the Australian Prime Minister involving himself in American domestic politics.
I mean, what did you make of John Howard’s attack on Barack Obama?
REV JESSE JACKSON, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Because he believes in the American invasion and occupation of Iraq. I’m not sure what drove him to that point, except he was meddling in the internal affairs.
GEORGE NEGUS: You see it as meddling?
REV JESSE JACKSON: As meddling in the internal affairs of American politics. But in a strange kind of way it really helped Obama because it gave him even more international stature – the fact that his candidacy would evoke from the leader of another nation a response.
GEORGE NEGUS: It certainly means that Barack Obama is now well known in Australia, whereas probably a couple of weeks ago not very many Australians knew him.
REV JESSE JACKSON: It does that. But, you know, sometimes arrogance makes us overreach. George Bush often tries to suggest the leaders of other countries, and it is just not good diplomacy.
GEORGE NEGUS: I’ll tell you what he actually said. His exact words were – because I’d like your reaction to them – “If I were running al-Qa’ida in Iraq, I would put a circle around March 2008 and be praying as many times as possible for a victory, not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats.” That’s a heck of a political call.
REV JESSE JACKSON: It is a very direct political call because al-Qa’ida hit us on George Bush’s watch, 9/11 took place on George Bush’s watch. We have pursued Taliban and Osama bin Laden and didn’t catch them on Bush’s watch. We made this inexplicable turn into Iraq, where we’ve lost lives, money, honour and the coalition on Bush’s watch. Surely he’s not suggesting that if the Democrats win, things can get worse. I mean, all we can do now is to look at our field policy and change the course. We need more diplomatic outreach toward Iran, Syria and Middle Eastern allies, and less bluster and less threats, and fewer troops.
GEORGE NEGUS: His line is that a withdrawal, a hasty exit from Iraq equals defeat for America, and as he sees it, defeat for America is a massive victory for the terrorists. Now, you’ve been implacably opposed to the war
REV JESSE JACKSON: It is already a defeat for America. You know, when we were hit on 9/11 it took us a few weeks to get the coalition together because Bush had come in with a kind of narrow ideology, looking at the world, I’d say, through a keyhole and not through a door. So these are bad choices and then we got deeper in it, we began to lose lives and lose the coalition and it became virtually an American war.
GEORGE NEGUS: Let me get you right – you believe that it’s a defeat already for America. As distinct from John Howard saying that to pull out would be a defeat, it already is.
REV JESSE JACKSON: It’s already a defeat. The US involvement there – we’ve become embroiled in the mud and we’re stuck. And we are organising our enemies into a formidable force, we are The US public has turned against the war, the Republicans and Democrats have turned against the war. And so when the American public turns against the war and the Congress turns against the war, it suggests that Americans feel we cannot win that war in those conditions. So the Iraqi Commission says, “Well, we can’t win this war militarily, we need to reassess potential allies.” There’s Syria, there’s Iran and”¦
GEORGE NEGUS: Do you expect, by the way, an invasion of Iran? That might seem like a blunt question, but do you anticipate America ever seriously contemplating an invasion of Iran?
REV JESSE JACKSON: Iran? Well, this administration might very well do that. It would be a compounded mistake.
GEORGE NEGUS: Reverend, do you agree with Barack Obama when he says American troops should be pulled out, or at least the start of pulling American troops out should occur in March of 2008? Do you think his exit policy is appropriate?
REV JESSE JACKSON: Well, it is. But it’s not just Barack’s policy – there’s a shared view that when you are in a hole you look for a rope and not for a shovel. We are in a hole now looking for more shovels to dig deeper, we should be looking for ropes. But I think that we owe to the Iraqi people whose country we tore up, some exit plan that empowers them at the same time. I’m convinced that this administration does not have the moral authority to do that.
GEORGE NEGUS: So what would you say to John Howard because he is still supporting his friend George Bush, without any doubt whatsoever that what George Bush is doing is correct, and believes that a pullout beginning in March next year would be a disaster – a victory for the terrorists as he put it?
REV JESSE JACKSON: Well, the invasion only made matters worse. The occupation will not work, Iraq is unoccupiable, that will not work. The question becomes what kind of coalition can we build that will make a transition and empower the people of Iraq? Right now the American soldiers’ presence there is an act of provocation. There’s a big red ball on the back of every American soldier in that country, so our being there contributes to the crisis, it does not resolve the crisis. So this may be the time for a real UN re-entry.
GEORGE NEGUS: Reverend, can we talk about Barack Obama, because he is not as well known to us as he is to you, certainly. You say he’s got, and I think – if you were quoted rightly – “He’s got the right stuff. He’s got my vote.” What’s this right stuff?
REV JESSE JACKSON: Well, in part he has my vote because he’s from my state, he certainly has the intelligence, he has the appeal. He’ll face, however, stiff competition.
GEORGE NEGUS: I must admit, it must have been a tough decision for you to say he’s got your vote because you have been very close to the Clintons over the years.
REV JESSE JACKSON: Well, I remain close to the Clintons. It does not make me an enemy to Hillary Clinton. I have the highest regard for her. And she stands…she has the inside track to winning the nomination.
GEORGE NEGUS: Could I put to you some of the things that Barack Obama’s critics say. He is not really one of you, one of the children of the civil rights movement, he is not really an Afro-American. He’s got this almost rock star status, where people say that he’s got more style than substance. He’s not guaranteed of the black vote, a lot of people say. And not only that, he’s got a Muslim aspect to his background.
REV JESSE JACKSON: Well, let’s unravel some of that. First of all, we should, he is relatively new to the scene, so a lot more people know him through TV than know him on the ground, and that itself is a weakness because you can be admired because you are impressionable, but not followed because you have relationships. So right now there is a gap between those who admire him and those who follow him, and so that gap must be closed. As for his being an Afro-American, I think no-one can determine who their parents are. His is a white mother and a black father. So I think that we should not wallow in that. I don’t think that’s healthy, I don’t think it’s right.
GEORGE NEGUS: What about the style versus substance argument?
REV JESSE JACKSON: Well, he does have a good style and, of course, some substance will come in time. I say judge him by votes of substance and not get sidetracked by issues about who his parents were. I mean, he is a year older than John Kennedy was in terms of age, and one says he doesn’t have a lot of Washington experience. There’s a lot of experience in Washington that’s bad experience.
GEORGE NEGUS: What do you think the issue which will turn the election might be? Will it be Iraq or will things have swung back to American domestic policy by then?
REV JESSE JACKSON: No, Iraq will drive American agenda for a long time because Iraq policy has so damaged America in the Middle East region, left us isolated. We are there now by brute strength, we are not there because we are desired. Coming into World War II, we were seen as a conquering hero for beleaguered people, we are now seen as invader, an occupier. And what that is saying is we have more might than right, so we kind of have a kind of moral deficit disorder. And that’s why a leader must lift us back to the higher ground, because at the end of the day what makes you strong is that you are believable, that as significant as might is, ultimately right is even stronger than might. Today, if you and I got on an airplane, you’re going to L.A., Los Angeles, and I’m going to Senegal, we get there about the same time. The world is just that small. So a world that is so tightly bound by science and technology and now Internet and the web page, that world is too small for bullies. It has no room in that world for arrogance. We in fact must be driven by a sense of character and worth. We must be seen as contributors to net growth and not the net division and/or conquest.
GEORGE NEGUS: Reverend, thanks very much for talking to us. I know you are very, very busy.
REV JESSE JACKSON: Thank you, sir. Thank you.
Producer / Researcher