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.