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Team Obama: Channelling Clinton, extending Bush

By Patrick Bond

December 4, 2008 -- Barack Obama was elected on a platform of change. Yet, his actions are pointing to more and more of the same. The question of whether Obama can possibly replace Bush as a danger to world peace is worth considering.

The president-elect’s turn to the Zionist, militarist wing of the US ruling class in recent weeks negates the interest and support he showed for the Palestinian cause while a Chicago community organiser during the 1990s and to the anti-war movement when Bush attacked Iraq five and a half years ago.

To counteract ongoing their economic and cultural decline, it appears that US imperialist managers have adopted two strategies: political revitalisation via Obama’s carefully crafted image as a non-imperialist politician with roots in African-American, Kenyan and even Indonesian traditions; and the activism anticipated through his secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, a firm supporter of the US war against Iraq.

In reaction to election campaign allegations that he is a peacenik, Obama himself uttered that the ``surge'' of US troops in Iraq ``succeeded beyond our wildest dreams''.

Responded Ray McGovern (formerly a CIA agent, now an anti-imperialist), ``Succeeded? You betcha -- the surge was a great success in terms of the administration's overriding objective. The aim was to stave off definitive defeat in Iraq until President George W. Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney could swagger from the West Wing into the western sunset on January 20, 2009.''

In spite of having last week renewed the contract of the Bush regime’s current military leader, defence secretary Robert Gates, Obama may not run as extreme a militarist regime as Bush/Cheney or as McCain/Palin would have.

Yet as US reporter Jeremy Scahill points out, there is an awful precedent from Washington’s imperialist habits during Bill Clinton’s administration: ``The prospect of Obama's foreign policy being, at least in part, an extension of the Clinton Doctrine is real.'' That doctrine ``paved the way for projects eventually carried out under the Bush/Cheney administration''. Obama turned to ``top players'' from the Clinton administration for advice and then, according to Cahill, generated the following militarist positions:

  • His plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan;
  • An Iraq plan that could turn into a downsized and rebranded occupation that keeps US forces in Iraq for the foreseeable future;
  • His labelling of Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a ``terrorist organisation'’;
  • His pledge to use unilateral force inside of Pakistan to defend US interests;
  • His position, presented before the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee that Jerusalem ``must remain undivided'' -- a remark that infuriated Palestinian officials and which he later attempted to reframe;
  • His plan to continue the ``war on drugs'', a backdoor US counterinsurgency campaign in Central and South America;
  • His refusal to ``rule out'' using Blackwater and other armed private forces in US war zones, despite previously introducing legislation to regulate these companies and bring them under US law.

In addition to Hillary Clinton, Scahill warns of the following imperialist influences: vic- president Joe Biden, chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, former secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher, former defence secretary William Perry, former UN ambassador Richard Holbrooke, and a host of other key Clinton-era figures (Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk, Anthony Lake, Lee Hamilton, Susan Rice, John Brennan, Jami Miscik, John Kerry, Bill Richardson, Ivo H. Daalder, Sarah Sewall, Michele Flournoy, Wendy Sherman, Tom Donilon, Denis McDonough and Mark Lippert).

As Scahill concludes, ``Barack Obama campaigned on a pledge to bring change to Washington. `I don't want to just end the war', he said early this year. `I want to end the mindset that got us into war.' That is going to be very difficult if Obama employs a foreign policy team that was central to creating that mindset, before and during the presidency of George W. Bush.''

Danger zone Africa

One danger zone is Africa, where the Bush/Cheney/Gates geopolitical and military machinery ground to a halt in the form of the Africa Command (Africom). No state aside from Liberia would entertain the idea of hosting the headquarters (which remained in Stuttgart), notwithstanding an endorsement of Africom from even Obama’s main Africa advisor, Witney Schneidman.

More importantly, even if Obama restores a degree of US credibility at the level of international politics, US military decline will continue to be hastened by failed Pentagon strategies against urban Islamist guerilla movements in Baghdad, rural Islamist fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the belligerent nuclear-toting state of North Korea.

None of these forces represent social progress, of course, but they probably are responsible for such despondency in Washington that other targets of US imperial hostility, such as the governments of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, remain safe from blatant overthrow in the near term.

Still, it is also worth noting that Obama’s lies about ``change'' extend to economic mismanagement, and that too will cause immense suffering by countries – like South Africa – increasingly tied into the world economy by decades of pro-corporate policies adopted by Bush, Clinton, Bush senior and Ronald Reagan, since 1981.

Although he announced a stimulus package aimed at creating 2.5 million jobs through public works by January 2011, Obama’s team of economic policy managers is decidedly neoliberal.

A central figure in the current crisis is the deregulatory yet pro-bailout financial manager, Tim Geithner, chosen as Obama’s treasury secretary. Head of the Council of Economic Advisors is neoliberal University of Chicago professor Austan Goolsbee, a strong advocate of financial deregulation even as the subprime crisis broke the US economy’s back.

Similarly, Lawrence Summers was not only the main force in Washington responsible for the most disastrous recent financial deregulation, in 2000 as Bill Clinton’s treasury secretary, he was also the central figure in the prior world financial crisis, in 1997-99, when he pushed Asia to open its doors to foreign banks in exchange for bailout loans.

And the prior economic crisis featured Paul Volcker, Obama’s most senior and persuasive advisor. By tripling the world interest rate in 1979-80 as US Federal Reserve chair, Volcker caused the Third World debt crisis and countless associated deaths, so as to restore US economic power and refuel financial globalisation.

Judging by their record and ideology, these men will do yet more intense damage to the rest of the world, and they will do so with far greater power – thanks to undeserved credibility associated with Obama’s election -- than did Bush’s financial managers.

Fighting US imperialism and neoliberalism is hence more important than ever, by a broad front of progressive forces. How long will it take such people to drop illusions about Obama and generate countervailing power?

[Patrick Bond is director of the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society. This originally appeared as a column for Muslim Views and Pambazuka.]

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