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Sunday, 8 April 2012

American Power Safe in Obama's Hands

President Barack Obama is making American national security an election issue with his most likley Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, because he has out-Bushed Bush and the GOP in general on the matter. Despite loud claims to be the "change" candidate in November 2008, and being swept to victory, President Obama has in all essentials continued the policies of his predecessor, the reviled George W. Bush.

More pananche than the Texan, perhaps, but essentially the same policies and concepts. He can now do what no other Democratic incumbent or candidate has been able to do for some time - go on the offensive against Republicans who normally claim Democrats are 'weak' on national security (despite the fact that Democrats 'did' all the big wars in the 20th century, and overwhelmingly backed the war on Iraq in 2003).

The US foreign policy establishment, which backed the war on Iraq, merely found what old time hardliner, Zbigniew Brzezinski, called the "new face of American power". Obama has successfuly ridden the waves of global revulsion - and the growth of considerable domestic 'isolationism' (which in truth was closer to a rejection at home of American global 'hegemony' - see the University of Maryand opinion surveys of 2006, featured on USBlog sometime ago).

Why does Obama feel he can go on the offensive against Romney? Because he has followed a hardline miliarist programme that any Republican chief executive would be proud of.

'He' killed Osama bin Laden; he launched more drone attacks, i.e. targetted assasinations, than Bush; he's retained rendition, i.e, kidnapping, as a practice; prevented the US Supreme Court from extending constitutional protections to Bagram inmates; retained the Guantanamo Bay torture facility; extended anti-terror surveillance on a massive scale to the 'homeland'; ordered and maintained the military surge in Afghanistan; continued to defend and finance and arm Israel's aggressions against Palestinians; ramped up the rhetoric of inevitable military strikes against Iran; ordered coercive regime change in Libya; maintained US support for corrupt and bankrupt regimes in the Arab world; and so on.

A criticism of President George W. Bush was that he ignored China and the rise of Asia. Obama has not. He's stationing thousands of US troops in Australia, making military treaties with China's border states, securing cooperation - cultural, military and other between India, Japan and Australia: from Beijing, this could look a bit like encirclement.

I am hesitant to say that Obama has not followed a 'proper' or 'authentic' Democratic foreign and national security policy - because he has: who launched the military offensive in Korea in 1950? Who escalated warfare in Vietnam in 1965? Never mind who was in office in 1917 and 1941. Democrats 'do' wars, just as Tony Blair 'did' wars and paid the 'blood price'. Democrats do wars; Obama is in a long line of Democratic war-makers.

Who said this? "Our country today faces a bewildering array of threats and opportunities. As president, ...I will safeguard America and secure our country’s interests and most cherished ideals. The unifying thread of his national security strategy is American strength. When America is strong, the world is safer. It is only American power—conceived in the broadest terms—that can provide the foundation for an international system that ensures the security and prosperity of the United States and our friends and allies.

"A XXXX foreign policy will proceed with clarity and resolve. Our friends and allies will not have doubts about where we stand and what we will do to safeguard our interests and theirs. Neither will our rivals, competitors, and adversaries. The best ally world peace has ever known is a strong America. The “last best hope of earth” was what Abraham Lincoln called our country. XXXX believes in fulfilling the promise of Lincoln’s words and will defend America abroad in word and in deed."

Tweak it just a bit by adding something about the universalism of American ideals and you could hear Obama's dulcet tones uttering those very words. But the quote is from Mitt Romney's website.

In the end, the differences between Democrats and Republicans are minimal in practice: they are parties of the Establishment that are completely united in their fundamental faith in American power.

When asked what changes he would introduce should he gain the White House, Obama responded in 2007-8: "I am the change". And he was absolutely true to his word: the face, the veneer, of US power is all that really changed.

There are those, disappointed supporters and 'neutrals', who say that Obama inherited a veritable mess that no one could have done much about. And they have a point.

But I would ask is this: if Obama could do little about his inheritance, what did he do about those things that were in his control, issues that arose within his own tenure - like the uprisings in Egypt, the intervention in Libya, Bagram, and the Wikileaks revelations - remember them, and Bradley Manning's incarceration in military prison? Amnesty and the UN investigated Manning's treatment as examples of the use of torture, lest we forget.

President Barack Obama has presided over a national security strategy that differs so little from that pursued by his predecessor that he feels he has stolen his opponent's garb.

That's why he can make national security an election issue. This may play well at the hustings; it augurs ill for the rest of the world.

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