Revolution #86, April 29, 2007
BARACK OBAMA & THE BUSH DOCTRINE: SHARED ASSUMPTIONS, TACTICAL DIFFERENCES & COMMON GOALS
Over the last year or so, Illinois Senator Barack Obama has skyrocketed from being a relatively unknown, first term senator to being a leading contender to win the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. He’s attracting support from broad segments of society as well as the top movers and shakers of the Democratic Party and the imperialist establishment generally. And he has raised more money than any candidate other than Hillary Clinton. His new book--The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream-- has become a best-seller.
Obama has tapped into a deep reservoir of anger, confusion, and discontent. Millions with widely divergent views want a new kind of leadership--very different than Bush’s. And they want something very different than what they see as “spineless” Democrats who do not really oppose Bush time and again. In particular, millions (perhaps the majority in the U.S.) feel the Iraq war is a disaster and want it ended, and many want a government that isn’t waging wars of aggression around the world. Many think Obama embodies that kind of leadership, and when he speaks, thousands have been turning out. For example in Oakland, California, 10,000-15,000 recently turned out to hear him speak.
CAN OBAMA REVERSE THE BUSH AGENDA? DOES HE WANT TO?
The question is, what does Obama actually stand for? What’s his vision of U.S. foreign policy, in the Middle East in particular? Does he want to--and is he capable of--ending the war in Iraq and preventing war with Iran? Is he for repudiating the Bush global agenda and reversing the direction the Bush administration has been taking this country and the world? More fundamentally, whose interests does he represent?
A close look at Obama’s platform and writings--and decoding the buzzwords and phrases of his mainstream politics--shows that he actually agrees with many of the key tenets of Bush’s worldview, global strategy, and overall objectives--even while having certain differences over how to advance those objectives.
WHAT DOES STRENGTHENING “AMERICA'S POSITION IN THE WORLD” MEAN?
Obama’s foreign policy rests on three premises: First, in his words, that “globalization makes our economy, our health, and our security all captive to events on the other side of the world,” and “any return to isolationism…will not work.” (The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, pages 305, 303). Second, that the U.S. is a force for good in this globalized world: “no other nation on earth has a greater capacity to shape that global system,” to “expand the zones of freedom, personal safety, and economic well-being” and that a “global system built in America’s image can alleviate misery in poorer countries.” U.S. capitalism, he argues, can move “the international system in the direction of greater equity, justice and prosperity” and this will “serve both our interests and the interests of a struggling world.”
Third, Obama argues his foreign policy would start from the goal of fighting “to strengthen America's position in the world.” (Obama's website).
What does all this mean? First, that Obama consciously argues for and defends the capitalist system, U.S. capitalism in particular, and would adopt policies to ensure its functioning and operation--including by attempting to deal with the very deep contradictions and obstacles it faces today.
These are the same concerns confronting the Bush administration and shaping its actions. So it’s not surprising that Obama’s agenda sounds eerily similar to core elements of the Bush doctrine as articulated in the Bush National Security Strategy (2002) which declares that American-defined “values of freedom are right and true for every person, in every society,” and that an overarching goal of U.S. policy is creating “a balance of power that favors freedom,” and spreading “free markets, and free trade to every corner of the world.” Combined with the NSS’s insistence on U.S. military superiority and its right to wage preemptive war, the document’s economic principles can best be understood as capitalist globalization on U.S. terms, carried out at gunpoint. This is precisely what the U.S. has been trying to carry out in Iraq through privatizing Iraq's economy and opening its vast oil resources up to U.S. capital.
Obama rejects the charge that such U.S.-led capitalist globalization is “American imperialism, designed to exploit the cheap labor and natural resources of other countries,” and claims that critics are wrong “to think that the world’s poor will benefit by rejecting the ideals of free markets and liberal democracy” (Audacity, p. 315). But the world’s profound and growing injustices give lie to this attempt to prettify and cover up the actual workings of global capitalism.
Today half the planet — nearly three billion people — lives on less than two dollars a day. Now, after the operation of capitalism for hundreds of years, the 20 percent living in the developed nations consume 86% of the world’s goods. Today the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the poorest 48 nations is less than the combined wealth of the world’s three richest individuals. This is the obscene, nightmarish reality of “free markets” and a “global system built in America’s image.” All this has been deepened in recent decades--not alleviated--by the expansion and acceleration of capitalist globalization. (See Raymond Lotta, “A Jagged, Unjust, and Obsolete World: A Critique of Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat ” (http://www.rwor.org/a/060/flatworld-en.html) for a deeper discussion of the dynamics and impact of global capitalism today.)
And what does it mean and where does it lead to “strengthen America's position in the world,” as Obama puts it?
First, it means strengthening America’s military superiority over other countries, especially powers which could challenge U.S. hegemony, and against states or movements which threaten U.S. political-military control of key areas of the world. This too is a core goal of the Bush doctrine. It means strengthening the economic position of the U.S. in relation to its global rivals. It means, throughout the world and especially in poor, third world countries, having greater control of global resources, better access to markets and labor, and ensuring that trade and financial agreements favor the U.S., not others. All in order to strengthen the ability of U.S. imperialism to dominate and exploit hundreds of millions of people throughout the world.
Obama characterizes the U.S. record around the world as “mixed,” and briefly mentions the slaughter of 500,000 Indonesian communists at the behest of the CIA in the 1960s (Obama lived in Indonesia in his youth). However, he ascribes such crimes (which he treats as isolated “mistakes”) not to the deepest dynamics of global imperialism, but to short-sighted, “misguided” policies, “based on false assumptions that ignore the legitimate aspirations of other peoples.” (p. 280) This ignores the actual workings of imperialism as demonstrated by over 100 years of history. The U.S. doesn’t have a “mixed” record in the world, it has a long and consistent track record of murderous interventions and wars: since World War 2, the U.S. has used direct military force against other countries more than 70 times, and there are now over 700 U.S. military bases in 130 foreign countries. So Indonesia--and Iraq today where over 600,000 Iraqis have been killed--are hardly minor aberrations or exceptions to the rule.
Strengthening America’s position in the world means strengthening its status as the world’s only imperialist superpower, as well as the dominant position of a handful of industrialized countries over the billions living in the Third World. How is this just? Why should a country with 4.7 percent of the world’s population control 32.6 percent of the world’s wealth and consume 25 percent of its energy? (And within the U.S., the richest 1 percent held 32 percent of the wealth in 2001.) ( New York Times, 12/6/06). How is the further strengthening of all this any good for the people?
WHERE DOES IT LEAD?
Upholding global capitalism and strengthening the U.S. “position” in the world has led Obama to many of the same policy conclusions as the Bush regime.
First, on global military dominance and reach, he says: “We need to maintain a strategic force posture that allows us to manage threats posed by rogue nations like North Korea and Iran, and to meet the challenges presented by potential rivals like China.” Obama argues the U.S. now needs even more military spending than the record levels spent by the Bush administration so far: “Indeed, given the depletion of our forces after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we will probably need a somewhat higher budget in the immediate future just to restore readiness and replace equipment.” (p. 307)
Obama sees many of the same challenges to U.S. power in the key strategic region of the Middle East/Central Asia (home to 80 percent of the world’s energy reserves) that the Bush regime does. He says: "The growing threat, then, comes primarily from those parts of the world on the margins of the global economy where the international ‘rules of the road’ have not taken hold…" (p. 305) He shares the Bush Regime concern that "violent Islamic extremists" are a vastly different kind of adversary than the Soviet Union in the Cold War and must be dealt with differently, possibly through preemptive war. Obama says: "I think there are certain elements within the Islamic world right now that don't make those same calculations… I think there are elements within Pakistan right now--if Musharraf is overthrown and they took over, I think we would have to consider going in and taking those bombs out, because I don't think we can make the same assumptions about how they calculate risks." ("Obama would consider missile strikes on Iran," Chicago Tribune, September 25, 2004)
These concerns also lead Obama to join the Bush regime (and the whole U.S. establishment) in targeting Iran as a center of Islamic fundamentalism and a rising force in the Middle East/Central Asia. Obama calls Iran “one of the greatest threats to the United States, Israel and world peace.” He argues, “The world must work to stop Iran's uranium enrichment program and prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is far too dangerous to have nuclear weapons in the hands of a radical theocracy,” and “we should take no option, including military action, off the table.” (speech to the pro-Israel America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)).
While Obama may favor placing more emphasis on sanctions and diplomatic pressure at the moment (and the Bush regime itself is currently employing these weapons as well), his logic will drive him to support preemptive strikes, and he says, "[U]s launching some missile strikes into Iran is not the optimal position for us to be in." But he then says: "On the other hand, having a radical Muslim theocracy in possession of nuclear weapons is worse. So I guess my instinct would be to err on not having those weapons in the possession of the ruling clerics of Iran… realistically, as I watch how this thing has evolved, I'd be surprised if Iran blinked at this point." How much different is this than Sen. John McCain recently singing “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran.” to the tune of the Beach Boys Barbara Ann? (“Obama would consider missile strikes on Iran,” Chicago Tribune, September 25, 2004).
Obama also foresees having to send U.S. troops into these areas and argues for a larger military: “Most likely this challenge will involve putting boots on the ground in the ungovernable or hostile regions where terrorists thrive. That requires a smarter balance between what we spend on fancy hardware and what we spend on our men and women in uniform. That should mean growing the size of our armed forces…” (p. 307)
Obama has some differences with the Bush regime over how to advance U.S. imperial interests and maintain hegemony. For example, while he supports the U.S.’s “right” to take unilateral action “to eliminate an imminent threat to our security,” he limits it to when “as an imminent threat is understood to be a nation, group or individual that is actively preparing to strike U.S. targets (or allies with which the United States has mutual defense arrangements), and has or will have the means to do so in the immediate future.” (pp. 308-309) But, he argues, “once we get beyond matters of self-defense…. it will almost always be in our strategic interest to act multilaterally rather than unilaterally when we use force around the world.” This is consistent with a major part of the Democratic Party critique of the Bush doctrine which agrees that the U.S. needs hegemony, but argues that the U.S. needs to work with at least some other world powers to achieve it.
IRAQ--A MISTAKE, NOT A CRIME, AND NO HASTY WITHDRAWAL
Obama’s position on the Iraq war flows from the overall principles outlined above (of upholding the need for strengthening U.S. imperialism around the world) -- which are those of the Democratic Party. Obama says: “The decision to go to war was a mistake,” and “The consequences of this war have been dire, and the sacrifices have been immeasurable.” (website, statement on 4th anniversary of the war) Let's look at some of the assumptions in this position and what it actually means:
* First, this summation covers up the actual nature of, and reasons for, the war. Bush launched this war of aggression, based on lies, to turn Iraq into a pro-U.S. neocolony and solidify U.S. domination of the Middle East, as part of an overall agenda of forging an unchallenged and unchallengeable empire (much of which, as mentioned, Obama agrees with). This makes the war not a “mistake” despite “the best of intentions” as Obama puts it (p. 297-98), but an immoral, unjust, and illegal war of imperialist aggression. Obama’s “America first” chauvinism--the assumption that American life is worth far more than the lives of others--jumps out here. In describing the “dire” consequences of the war, he mentions only the toll on U.S. soldiers and says nothing of the 650,000 Iraqis killed and over 3 million forced to flee the ongoing carnage.
* Obama feels the war was a “mistake” not because its aims are fundamentally unjust or it has led to unimaginable suffering for Iraqis. For Obama the war is a mistake because it threatens to turn into a strategic debacle that threatens to weaken U.S. power and dominance. So his view is that U.S. strategy must now shift and American forces should gradually be redeployed in order to try and protect U.S. interests. He says: “It is time to bring this conflict to a responsible end so we can bring our troops home and refocus on the wider struggle yet to be won.” In March of this year, he told AIPAC: “we will redeploy our troops to other locations in the region, reassuring our allies that we will stay engaged in the Middle East… [A] consequence of the Administration's failed strategy in Iraq has been to strengthen Iran's strategic position; reduce U.S. credibility and influence in the region; and place Israel and other nations friendly to the United States in greater peril.”
The shared goal of maintaining U.S. dominance in the Middle East has led Obama to embrace essentially the same immediate goals as the Bush regime in Iraq: “achieving some semblance of stability in Iraq, ensuring that those in Iraq are not hostile to the United States, and preventing Iraq from becoming a base for terrorist activity.” (p. 302). It has also led him to oppose an immediate withdrawal or a firm timetable for withdrawal. (And all the Republican and Democratic Party plans for “withdrawal” include leaving a sizable U.S. military force in and around Iraq indefinitely.) And speaking before the Council on Foreign Relations in November 2005, he repeatedly emphasized the need to “defeat the insurgency.” He argues “that all Americans--regardless of their views on the original decision to invade--have an interest” in the achievement of such imperialist objectives, which he calls “a decent outcome in Iraq.” (p. 301)
OBAMA: IMPERIALISM AND WAR WITH A NEW FACE
Given that Obama’s worldview and politics starts from the needs and interests of U.S. capitalism and global power, and given the contradictions now facing that system globally, Obama has articulated a foreign policy vision rooted in the same imperialist concerns as the Bush administration’s. Obama opposes ending the Iraq war and occupation now and is committed to having “all options” available to use against any who challenge U.S. power, in that region and beyond.
How is this in the interests of the people? How does it serve humanity? And why should anyone who wants real change and a better world get behind this?
Next: Obama’s domestic agenda: seeking common ground with fascists and religious fundamentalists
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