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Roger Waters Talks Arab Spring, Obama and the Future of 'The Wall' Tour

'Obama's foreign policy goes against everything that I believe'

December 16, 2011 11:55 AM ET
roger waters
Roger Waters attends the premiere of 'The Iron Lady' at the Ziegfried Theater in New York.
Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

Roger Waters has spent the last year traveling the world on his Wall tour, all the while marveling at the massive protest movements popping up all over the planet. With 2011 winding down, we checked in with the former Pink Floyd to hear his hopes and fears about the future of the Middle East and America, his disappointment in Obama and his plans for the stadium leg of The Wall tour hitting American baseball stadiums this summer.

You've traveled the world this year on your Wall tour. Have you seen things that have made you optimistic about the future?
I tend to see it more sitting at my Mac at home. I check out bbc.co.uk and I see what's news and who's doing what. What makes me optimistic, to the extent that I am, is it seems that people are getting more of a voice and it's harder to isolate and crush protest than it used to be. In consequence, it's much harder for the 1 percent here to make the Occupy Wall Street movement go away. I think they will find it harder to crush that genuine outpouring of dissatisfaction with the system in this country, just as it's harder to crush protest in Tunisia or Egypt or Iran or Syria, or anywhere else in the world where the people believe that their government is not giving them a fair crack at the whip.

Are you disappointed in the Obama presidency?
I'm very, very disappointed by his foreign policy. It obviously goes against everything that I believe. Having said that, it seems that the alternative to re-electing Obama would be such a heinous disaster for this country if you look at the candidates on the other side. I find it hard to find any value in any of them. They are lackeys for the grossest machine . . . to a man and to a woman.

So, I support Obama's attempt to become re-elected. But I hope he will develop bigger cojones and start governing in the way that I, and many of the people who supported him in the last election, would want him to. Just this morning I was looking at some clips on YouTube of the FDR speech in 1936 at Madison Square Garden. It was one of the most engaging and illuminating and stirring pieces of oratory that any of us have ever heard. He stood up and said that he is the most hated man in the world by the military industrial complex.

Is that the one where he said "I welcome their anger, I embrace their anger!"
He said "I welcome their hatred." He made that wonderful speech about having rolled up his sleeves and actually doing some work. Please, Barack Obama, roll your sleeves up and do something and stop trying to pander to everybody. I think this idea of ruling by consensus and keeping Republicans happy was an enormous mistake.

In these first three years, I think that the surge in Afghanistan was an enormous mistake. I am hopeful that in the next 50 years, successive administrations, particularly if you don't elect the Republicans, may discover that there are new ways for America, declining as it is as an imperial power, to relate to all the other people in the world in a way that will lessen the impact of the "us and them" mentality that has been so obvious in the last century and in the beginning of this century. 

I think of your writings about greed 35 years ago [on Animals]. Things feel so much worse now.
Yeah, so it is. But I think that the bullies who pose and fiddle on the Hill are increasingly becoming exposed. So long as we defend to our last drop of blood the right to protest . . . Well, I say "we," but I'm not an American citizen. But as long as you defend to the last drop of blood your rights under the First Amendment, things could be good.

Also, we mustn't forget about Bradley Manning rotting in prison somewhere for standing up and doing the right thing. We hope that the guy who blew the whistle on Abu Ghraib survives, because the death threats were many and he had to change his identity and go live somewhere else. This man is a hero in my book. We have to understand that we're all flawed and the United States needs to be capable of looking at itself in a more realistic way that is has done in the last hundred years.

The Obama administration has been really focusing some of their efforts on these drone plane attacks, seemingly much more so than Bush ever was.
In 1992 I made an album called Amused To Death that actually talks about that in a prescient way, except that I was using it as a symbol. I sing, "Uncle Sam feeds 10 trillion in change/Into the total entertainment video game." These kids, who are sitting in Idaho or wherever, direct these drone attacks. It's like a video game gone crazy. And the fact that they killed 20 Pakistani troops a few days ago and nobody seems very finally concerned is weirdly callous and can do nothing but enormous harm to your country.

The calculation is that putting them on trial causes all sorts of political problems, so it's easier just to kill them.
The United States has held out against taking part in any of the world consensus that there should be a court of human rights, or that there should be an international court of criminal justice. I think it may be the only country left that does not recognize the idea of an international court of justice, so no American can ever be held accountable for a war crime should he commit one.

But these things are becoming more more transparent. What's going on in Gaza and the West Bank and the Israeli foreign policy, which is propped up by successive U.S. administrations, is beginning to come under scrutiny as well. The fact of that matter is that a large majority of American citizens do not support the United States vis-a-vis Israel, but nobody is allowed to say so, because if they do, the whole weight of the Anti-Defamation League and the Alan Dershowitzes of this world come down on you and people are scared to speak out, I think.

Twenty years in the future, when people look back at 2011, what will stand out?
What pops into my head is the Arab Spring. Also, it's the fact that information is becoming more available to us. I think that the negative influences who would keep information from us are weakening, and the forces that are trying to get information out are strengthening. So, you might take issue with personality issues with someone like Julian Assange, but we have to thank all of the whistle blowers everywhere who take the rest to bring us the information we should have. So that's one of the things that has changed this year. Wikileaks is a fundamentally important thing, and we should not allow it to go away.

Moving onto music, is the stadium leg of the Wall tour going to be very different than the indoor legs?
I desperately wanted to bring this tour to South America, but they don't play basketball or ice hockey down there, and consequentially they don't have arenas. So you can play in a club or a soccer stadium. I'm playing in soccer stadiums, and I've decided that the arena show that I produced of The Wall is not inclusive enough to play in a soccer stadium. We'd made the wall a lot wider, so I've been working on the content. I've worked on ways that the audience can see that tiny bloke a long way way without it being the standard, "Let's put up a couple of IMAX screens and they can watch us singing and playing the guitar out of sync." 

I'm really excited about the shows next year. In fact, when I finish this interview, I shall dash off to the editing suite where I go everyday to work on this stuff. In North America, I think we're doing nine baseball stadiums and 30 arena shows in markets that we weren't able to cover the last time we came through, so we're doing 40 shows. I'm really looking forward to it. The audiences were so amazing when I was here last year.

This has been a really long tour. Do you think it's going to be your last big tour?
I don't know. They wanted me to go back to Europe after I finish this August and I've said, "No, I'm not going to do that." But The Wall is an extraordinarily satisfying piece to perform, so it may well be that I go back to Europe in 2013.  I have no idea whether it's the last big tour. I just don't know. 

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