Obama wins, but will he bring change?

Obama wins, but will he bring change?

Democrat Barack Obama today became the first African-American president of the United States. But in foreign policy will he deliver the change he has promised?

It is hard not to get carried away by the hysteria of Obamania.

Those wishing to keep a level head should certainly keep away from the mainstream media. Jonathan Freeland, writing about Barack Obama's July speech in Berlin for the UK's most progressive national newspaper The Guardian, breathlessly reported the Democratic US presidential nominee "almost floated into view, walking to the podium on a raised, blue-carpeted runway as if he were somehow, magically, walking on water." Although he doesn't reference the second coming, the liberal American journalist Jann Wenner's description of the Great Black Hope is no less gushing: "There is a sense of dignity, even majesty, about him, and underneath that ease lies a resolute discipline... Like Abraham Lincoln, Barack Obama challenges America to rise up, to do what so many of us long to do: to summon ‘the better angels of our nature'."

The propensity of some journalists to bow to the powerful clearly knows no bounds. But what lies behind the slogans, sound bites and rhetoric presented to us by Obama's slick PR machine and the willfully naïve media?

Contrary to the widespread myth surrounding his candidacy, from his public statements there is very little to suggest Obama will make significant changes to US foreign policy - the topic of his Berlin speech and the issue that most effects the rest of the world.

Like George Bush, Obama views the world in Manichean terms and believes the United States has a divine right to intervene anywhere in the world. "We lead the world in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good", he proclaimed in his first major foreign policy speech in April 2007. "We must lead by building a 21st century military.... I strongly support the expansion of our ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the Army and 27,000 Marines." That's right folks, liberal America's poster boy wants to increase the size of the US military, whose 2008 budget is already a staggering $711 billion - a figure greater than the budget of the next 45 highest spending countries in the world combined.

It is important to remember Obama's opposition to the foreign policy of the Bush Administration has largely been on tactics grounds - cost and failure - rather than principled moral objections. For example, Obama believes the US invasion and continuing occupation of Iraq is a "strategic error", rather than an illegal act - as described by ex-United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan - or the "supreme international crime," as the Nuremberg Tribunal determined in 1946. Indeed, for a man who prides himself on being a "citizen of the world" Obama is strangely silent about the suffering of other nations under the boot of his own. How many times has he mentioned the more than one million Iraqi people who have died because of the invasion, according to UK polling company Opinion Research Business?

His headline grabbing pledge to withdraw from Iraq, is actually nothing of the sort. If you read the small print you will find Obama has only promised to withdraw combat troops, which only comprise about a third of US forces currently in Iraq and Kuwait. Earlier this year Robert Kahl, Obama's foreign policy coordinator on Iraq, recommended keeping between 60,000 and 80,000 troops in Iraq until at least 2010 to play an "over-watch role" - supposedly to conduct ‘counter-terrorism' operations, train Iraqi government security forces and protect US facilities and citizens.

By reducing US troop levels in Iraq Obama hopes to transfer 10,000 extra troops to escalate the increasingly bloody ‘good war' in Afghanistan - where President Bush "responded properly" he noted. Indeed by signing an order in July authorising illegal US military ground incursions in to neighbouring Pakistan, the incumbent US President seemed to be paying tribute to the Senator from Illinois, who had stated his support for the exact same policy a year before. "I continue to believe that we're under-resourced in Afghanistan... the real centre for terrorist activity that we have to deal with and deal with aggressively", said Obama in the summer. Compare this militaristic posturing to this month's admission by the British military's top brass that the war can not be won militarily, and the testimony of the current British Ambassador to Afghanistan, who reportedly said the US/NATO presence is "part of the problem, not the solution" and that the American strategy was "destined to fail."

On Iran, Obama told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in June "there is no greater threat to Israel - or the peace and stability of the region - than Iran." Interviewed by Fox News's Bill O'Reilly last month about the so-called nuclear ambitions of Tehran, Obama stated he "would never take a military option off the table". US dissident Noam Chomsky perceptively points out that by constantly threatening Iran with military strikes, Obama is brazenly violating the UN Charter, and also going against the wishes of the vast majority of Americans, with 75 per cent favouring building better relations with Iran, according to a recent Program on International Policy Attitudes poll. Furthermore, by telling a Cuban American audience in 2007 that he would continue the barbaric 47-year embargo on Cuba because "it is an important inducement for change", Obama views are not only opposed by the majority of Americans (who broadly support ending the embargo), but also run counter to global public opinion, with the UN General Assembly voting 184 to 4 in favour of ending the blockade last year.

Obama's hawkish pronouncements shouldn't really be surprising when you consider most of the United States's wars in the modern era have been initiated by Democratic presidents - Kennedy and Johnson in Vietnam, Carter in Afghanistan and Clinton in Somalia, Kosovo and Iraq in 1998.
As the only realistic alternative was the Republican John McCain, progressives in the United States and around the world were undoubtedly hoping for a Obama victory on November 4. However, we should not be under any illusions about what that really means. Those opposed to aggressive western military interventions abroad and corporate-led globalisation, fearful of climate change and interested in promoting fair trade and human rights will have to continue to fight for these causes regardless.

Text written by Ian Sinclair for Peace News. Slightly edited by libcom for context.

Posted By

Nov 5 2008 18:52


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Nov 5 2008 23:13

Most of this is a good response to the current hysteria, showing that Obama being president won't stop the US from being the strongest imperialist power on the planet (all the more dangerous because its world hegemony is declining). But a pity about the stuff at the end about fair trade and human rights....a sign of the deep influence of democratic ideology, which has been given a huge boost by Obama's victory.

Nov 6 2008 03:11

Admin - abusive language deleted. That sort of language gets pages blocked, please do not use abusive language in article comments.

Nov 6 2008 06:18

I don't get why this is here. This is just slightly to the left of Obama -- nothing really here that the Green party wouldn't agree with. Just seems odd for a communist/anarchist website...

"Those opposed to aggressive western military interventions abroad and corporate-led globalisation, fearful of climate change and interested in promoting fair trade and human rights will have to continue to fight for these causes regardless."


Nov 6 2008 11:27

"progressives in the United States and around the world were undoubtedly hoping for a Obama victory on November 4. However, we should not be under any illusions about what that really means. Those opposed to aggressive western military interventions abroad and corporate-led globalisation, fearful of climate change and interested in promoting fair trade and human rights will have to continue to fight for these causes regardless"

These "progressives" don't sound up to much. They seem to want to protest about stuff, and then "without illusions", er, hope that someone interested in military intervention, protectionism, repression, nationalism etc actually gets in.

What's more interesting is the wave of enthusiasm for Obama. It's like the release of Mandela all over again. It's not just the media. Any criticism of Obama and you're seen as some sort of spoil-sport party-pooper. Although once you get beyond the sarcastic ("Oh it's really great and such a surprise to find a lawyer in the White House") it doesn't take long to undermine the superficial wow-factor. If you point out that Obama's advisers have already been in talks on the best way to attack Iran, or what he's advocated against Pakistan, then the wow begins to wilt.

It's easy to forget that back in 1997 there was some euphoria lite for Tony Blair. Material reality sooner or later lifts the mists of illusion ...

Nov 6 2008 13:03

The election of Obama is genuinely historic. Within the liberal democratic paradigm it's huge that a black man whose middle name is Hussein can become Caesar of an empire whose heritage is racist white colonialism.

To acknowledge this isn't in any way to endorse what he believes, what he's going to do, or the regime within which he will now govern, so we should allow ourselves a little joy.

In fact the speed with which the dream of ethnic liberation has been fulfilled to the extent it has should give succour to anyone wanting to see more, bigger, deeper liberation.

Nov 6 2008 13:54

Historic indeed. Hope, comes with this change.

But does change come with the hope?

There will obviously be a grace period. Perhaps a period where the anarchist left will be drowned out by the mantra of change by a very skillful (to date) and articulate Mr. Obama. He will govern as a centerist. Surely he will make some changes that will be socially helpful. As did FDR in the1930s.

During the last month or so of the campaign, the right were calling Obama a "socialist" and for "wealth redistributiom" and for "socialism." Perhaps as the economic crisis pounds away, we on the anarchist left, our fledging orgaizations and groups across the US (and Canada) can embark on the road of educating folks as to what we mean by "socialism" (from below) and "wealth redistribution" (self-management).

Perhaps the aim will not be so much at the soon to be new resident of the White House, but at the foundations of the house --- the system which has perpetuated constant hardships for the mass of people.

PS: Here's a thing one of our WSA comrades wrote this AM: http://emceelynx.com/2008/11/grats-to-ya-boy/

Nov 6 2008 15:12

"The election of Obama is genuinely historic. Within the liberal democratic paradigm it's huge that a black man whose middle name is Hussein can become Caesar of an empire whose heritage is racist white colonialism.

To acknowledge this isn't in any way to endorse what he believes, what he's going to do, or the regime within which he will now govern, so we should allow ourselves a little joy."

i second this. it is amazing in its way. i'm certainly glad that pasty mccain and bozo palin aren't going to be on my tv screen every fucking night for the next four years. in the long term it means little. when i went to the last ICC lecture it was offered that his election would be better for the renovation of capitalism, and i thought that was right. besides he's been quite open about his militarism.

Nov 6 2008 16:02

Chomsky's stress on the unrelenting constriction of the political dialogue in the United States is quite commendable -- the "choice" was between two affluent men with past careers in occupations that solidify the status quo, neither of which had any ideology beyond "what exists is good." In the past, it was, of course, the case that politics in general was the pursuit of the extremely rich -- the landed and the rising bourgeois class. Today, the quibbles between either's respective marketing or cash-written speech snippets is so minor that you could replace one with the other and have no idea about the duplicity without foreknowledge. It's difficult to believe that elections still remain the sham distraction they always have been, but given that this one lasted somewhere in the region of two years and cost over a billion (!) dollars, it's equally difficult not to see how grand and terrifying the amount of effort the bourgeoisie has sunk into maximising the distraction factor and minimising the risk really is.

As someone said before, Democratic presidents have often acted the most aggressively and Obama's unabashed American triumphalism (seriously, read "The Audacity of Hope" or whatever it's called, there's a critical breakdown somewhere online but the entire book is almost shocking in its sheer volume of dirge) bodes extremely unwell for current times. His lavish praise for capitalism borders on the obscene, but consider that his proposed policies shift this tax bracket by five percent, this one by six and so forth. He has absolutely no bones with any of this whole sordid election business -- he's at home with it. I think he actually calls capitalism by name in that book, something he'd absolutely never do (perhaps the phrase "regulated capitalism" might appear unceremoniously in some speech to a pliant audience) in any public venue; like most Democrats and left-appropriating scum, he falls back on safe euphemisms like "enterprise," "creating jobs," "entrepreneurship" and so on, occasionally "free markets" if he's feeling at his most cerebral.

All of this is quite irrelevant, to be honest. I don't pay attention to elections because they have nothing to do with the left; there is no leftist current, no glimmer of hope, no small corner of conceded territory. Of course, liberal democracy is at permanent odds with the left, and elections along with it. My only true disappointment is with otherwise progressively-minded people who are giving the election all the wasted attention the bourgeoisie intends them to. The old canard about having greater respect for the apolitical volunteering at a soup kitchen than the Democratic campaign worker is appropriate here, I think.

Nov 6 2008 17:34

Obama isn't another Caesar. He's one of the ruling capitalist class with particular responsibilities. The fact that Reagan, Ford and the Bushes were all able to be President shows that the personality, abilities, views of the President are just one element - to be seen in the context of the activity of a whole exploiting class.

Yes, all the papers say it's historic, but should we accept what they say? Obama says he stands for change, and millions believed him. That's the clever thing about democratic regimes, they make you believe you're participating in something historic when all along it's just another spectacle. The real decisions are not made at election time but far away from the public gaze.

But elections are not completely irrelevant. Look what they've done. Last week the President was really unpoplar, but now the President-elect has a whole ton of goodwill. He'll probably get more than the usual honeymoon ... But it's still worth saying right now that there won't be any change that will benefit the working class, and that the only real change will come when people struggle for themselves and don't put their faith in the silver-tongued orators that stand in elections (whatever colour they are).

Nov 6 2008 18:04

In terms of this article being a bit liberal, yes that is true. But I couldn't find a better one, and we needed to have something to be topical!

Other users are always encouraged to post articles to our site, so if you find any better ones please submit them by clicking create content - news

Red Marriott
Nov 6 2008 19:15

But Steven, you regularly make small changes to other articles, as discussed here - surprising then, that you didn't spend a little time cutting out the crap liberalism or rewriting this, it being a 'hot' topic.

Nov 7 2008 00:11

I thought that that would be too significant a change, which wasn't minor editorial detail for style or formatting, which would then mean something different from what the author intended.

Nov 7 2008 01:57

I don't think being topical is a good reason to direct people to read something that is something they could read in any other stupid lefty website or magazine -- christ I'd rather read what the ICC has to say that this stuff... (sorry guys).

Joseph Kay
Nov 7 2008 09:44

it is a pretty liberal piece, and it's reassuring that it's garned so many critical comments. however as Steven. says the motive was to have something topical and critical of the obama hype, and without time to write something original this was the best thing found to re-post. if anyone does want to write a communist take on the elections (or anything else topical) for news, or post a decent one you've found somewhere else, please go to create content - news and submit one! (tone/content/format guides are here).

we will try and keep the liberal re-posts to a minimum though wink

Nov 7 2008 12:09
Joseph Kay
Nov 7 2008 12:51

cheer's dev, i've added a picture, changed the title (more idiomatic) and lightly edited (moved the original title into the last line, changed the phrasing to be more idiomatic) & changed one erroneus instance of "working class" to "ruling class."

Nov 7 2008 13:34

Thanks, I changed the picture to the one from our paper.
The article concentrates on the international situation, but that is how we see it from here.

Nov 10 2008 07:17

Barack Obama is a bourgeois politician representing bourgeois interests which are diametrically opposed to proletarian interests. The Obama movement is a predominantly proletarian movement, with a predominantly bourgeois false-consciousness. Nevertheless, this following belies restlessness within the working class; concealed as it is by the obfuscations of Obama's bourgeois, populist propaganda. While Obama and his team are obviously bourgeois, it must be acknowledged that he represents what happens to be at the present time (and could easily cease to be tomorrow, of course) the 'progressive' branch of our national bourgeoisie. What this means is that it just so happens at the present time that the proletariat does stand to gain - but a trifle - from Obama's presidency. The key gain, however, is not actually material but ideological: as Obama fails over and over to deliver change except in the most base material advances for small sections of the population, the proletariat will go one way or the other ideologically. Either they'll become disenchanted with the bourgeois electoral process and doubtful of the possibility for change - that's if they are unorganized and uneducated; or they'll become radicalized, as their historical experiences coincide with their new exposure to anarchist and communist ideas.

Essentially, then: he will not deliver change in the sense that any revolutionary or even any social-democrat understands it. He will betray that promise in the lap of the bourgeoisie. He will continue the war in Iraq and intensify the war in Afghanistan, and the secret wars in Somalia and elsewhere will go on. The changes he will deliver or help deliver will be trifling and insignificant, yet still meaningful on some basic level. (For example, the lifting of travel restrictions to Cuba is thrilling to many; but it's clear the general embargo will continue.)

Either way, we're faced with his presidency and the question is begged by history: what are we going to do about it? We've got to seize on the energy and the new interest in politics that his campaign has everywhere developed. We've got to throw ourselves into properly organizing these people who are newly-organized by the Obama campaign. In order to make the best use of this, though, we must first understand what exactly it is that we're dealing with. Which sections of which classes backed Obama? Why? What will Obama do and what will he not do - and how can we take advantage of the totality of both those situations to drive more people to correct ideas and analyses? How can this latest circus be made to be one of the last?

I encourage everyone to read the article below, because it deals with exactly these questions. The analysis is incomplete and needs further development and needs to be further furnished with actual facts. The most useful thing, though, would be to read, analyze, and criticize the analysis itself.


Yours in struggle,

Nov 14 2008 02:49

Geez Bill, why does having to fight against "aggressive western military interventions abroad and corporate-led globalisation [and] climate change [for] fair trade and human rights" make you wanna barf? sounds too reformist eh...?

It's true, he won't change a thing, and in fact now people will probably feel relieved and like they don't have to do any more fighting now that they've been given such a nice safety-valve...