1) Which element plays a more critical role in US presidential elections--the pursuit of the people's vote or of special interest money?

The simple answer is: both, but with a strong advantage to special interests. The electoral process costs billions of dollars, with candidates (except the socialist Democrat Bernie Saunders) relying on Political Action Committees, which receive unlimited donations from corporations. It is TV ads and TV coverage that dominate the electoral system. Democracy is 'democracy of dollars'. So while it is ultimately the people's votes that count, there is little room for a genuine people's candidate to win. If there is a tie, as happened in 2000, the Supreme Court decides. Saunders is the first genuine populist candidate for president since Roosevelt in the 1930s, and his chances are slim.

2) What do you think about this statement: "It is the ruling elite that elects the president rather than the people"?

That is true, but this time the field is weak. There are no outstanding charismatic hopefuls, with the possible exception of the Republican Donald Trump. The sorry state of the US economy, and the failed wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria, have discredited the ruling elite's efforts to construct a 'New World Order'. For the first time in over 50 years, socialism as a viable alternative to capitalism is being talked about by disillusioned Democrats. Despite winning the New Hampshire primary, the socialist candidate, Bernie Saunders, has little chance of winning (Clinton was given 429 'soft delegates' to Saunders' 14 by the party elite before the primaries started), his strong criticisms of US warmongering are widely heard and respected. Despite being Jewish and a supporter of Israel, he supports Obama on better relations with Iran, and is not supported by the Israel Lobby, showing that the Zionist elite is bankrupt in ideas, leaving room for realism on the Middle East, and a growing consensus against more wars.

3) US policy on Israel does not change by changing the president, whether Republican or Democrat. Israel has always been a close ally to US. What is the reason in your point of view?

Israel was created by the imperialists, the plan begun a century ago by the British and carried to fulfilment by the US in 1948. Israel was intended to be the imperial outpost to govern the Islamic world through the localized proxy of European and American Jews, as handmaidens of empire. The discovery of oil in the Middle East in the 1930s merely underlined the importance of this western outpost to the imperialists. Israel has been a frustrating handmaiden to empire, having its own colonial agenda, but the US is stuck with it. The Zionist lobby in the US is by far the most powerful special interest group, with the ability to make or destroy individual candidates, including presidential candidates, as Bush senior learned in 1992, after freezing loan guarantees for Israel's illegal settlements.

4) If the Republicans win the election, are they likely to suspend the Iranian nuclear agreement and extend sanctions against Iran again?

For all the criticisms that can be made of Obama for his inability to seriously address the problem of banker and Wall Street control of the nation's economy, he was able finally to stare down the Israel Lobby on Iran. Under US direction, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran's nuclear program was reached in Vienna in July 2015 between Iran, the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council--China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States--plus Germany), and the European Union. The agreement provides that in return for verification to ensure abiding by its commitments, Iran will receive relief from US, European Union, and UN Nations Security Council nuclear-related sanctions.

Hours before the official announcement of the activation of JCPOA on 16 January 2016, Iran released four Americans sailors captured in Iranian coastal waters, in exchange for the release of seven Iranian-Americans charged or imprisoned for sanctions violations, and the dismissal of charges against 14 other Iranians.

The Zionists in the US and Israel are not happy with any normal relations with Iran because of Iran's fearless support of the Palestinians in their struggle for justice. But the American people are not interested in the Zionists' obsessions, nor is Obama, so despite their stranglehold on mass media and the political 'machines', he was able to move ahead on deescalating the pointless stand-off with Iran.

But there is no easy path to normality. After the adoption of the JCPOA, the US imposed several new non-nuclear sanctions against Iran on companies from Hong Kong and the UAE involved in Iran’s ballistic missile tests. Iranians are suspicious that the US could tear up the agreement, or otherwise provoke Iran, to maintain hostilities.

This is the fear from a Republican victory, where all the candidates are against normal relations with Iran, though at least Republican hopeful Donald Trump is not tied to the Israel Lobby. He was booed at a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition in December for refusing to endorse Jerusalem as the Israel's undivided capital (which all the others call for but in the full knowledge that this radical change in the US policy on Israel will never be carried out). He suggested to the influential group that they simply wanted to install a puppet in the White House.

"You're not going to support me even though you know I'm the best thing that could happen to Israel," Trump said. "I know why you're not going to support me--because I don't want your money. You want to control your own politician." Trump questioned the Palestinians and Israelis' commitment to peace: "I don't know that Israel has the commitment to make it, and I don't know the other side has the commitment to make it."

Trump is a fast learner, and the hostility of the Israel Lobby, despite his friendship with Netanyahu and professed love of Israel, will surely wise him up to the reality in the Middle East. Despite his hostility to Iran ('gospel' to US politicians during election campaigns), if he can establish a working relationship with Russia's Vladimir Putin, he could well be educated about Iran, overcoming his media-induced Iranophobia. This could undermine the Israeli Lobby's plans. The other Republican candidates are already Zionist clones, so the Lobby is right to target Trump.

In any case, the other Republican hopefuls are all weak, without a clear idea of international affairs, and it is unlikely they will dare to undo the JCPOA. The Democratic hopefuls are all in line with Obama's policies, so the situation is not bleak for Iran.

5) Why is the participation of Americans so low in elections?

Only 55% of Americans voted in the 2008 presidential election. The turnout in elections has varied over the years from a low of 49% in 1996 to a high of 63% in 1952. Most countries--86 around the world--have a higher turnout rate; for example, Iran is 75%, Canada is 68%. Some countries, such as Uruguay and Australia, have compulsory voting, though there is no evidence that this radically alters the outcome of an election. What is important is that there is a real choice.

The lower turnout in the US shows that there is voter apathy, that there is little real choice. The plan for a 'New World Order' following the collapse of communism in 1991 has failed and the apathy in the US is reflected in Europe as well. The neoliberal model has failed--income disparities are up, there is a moral/ ethical decline throughout the West, the environment seems to be beyond the point of no-return, with no public will to deal with any of these serious matters.

Persian translation at Kayhan

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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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Eric's latest book The Canada Israel Nexus is available here http://www.claritypress.com/WalbergIV.html