As a new administration takes power in Washington and the promise of "change" is in the air, we have to ask ourselves: when-oh-when is it coming? When will the dam break on the sclerotic foreign policy thinking of the past eight heck, the past 50 years?
The first place to begin is, of course, the Middle East, scene of our latest and worst transgressions, starting with but hardly limited to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. What is the likelihood of change in this area?
The ongoing occupation of Iraq is a costly operation, in more ways than just financially. It imposes on us the responsibility for maintaining order in a country that is always, seemingly, on the brink of civil war, as well as laying on our buckling shoulders the burden of supporting a government we are increasingly at cross-purposes with. The Bush administration’s attempt to implant a colonial-style Iraqi protectorate is just not sustainable, and Barack Obama came into office largely on the strength of his promise to end this misconceived adventure in "liberation." The problem is that he has no intention of keeping his campaign promise, as the New York Times reported shortly after the election:
"On the campaign trail, Senator Barack Obama offered a pledge that electrified and motivated his liberal base, vowing to ‘end the war’ in Iraq. But as he moves closer to the White House, President-elect Obama is making clearer than ever that tens of thousands of American troops will be left behind in Iraq, even if he can make good on his campaign promise to pull all combat forces out within 16 months."
David Axelrod to the contrary, the idea that Obama is going to get us out of Iraq at all, never mind in 16 months, is going to die a hard death, but die it will unless, of course, the antiwar movement, so-called, gets up off its fat ass and starts making demands of the candidate so many of them supported.
Aside from his rather ominous meetings with John McCain, during which they reportedly discussed Iraq policy, our new president’s vaunted "regional" approach is bound to mean continued intervention in a country that is sick to death of us and wants us out.
As our developing conflict with Iran takes center stage in the endless foreign policy drama of constant "crises" and it will continue to develop, just as it did under Bush I we will hear a medley of voices ("liberal" voices) telling us that we can’t just "abandon" the Iraqis to their fate, we have a moral responsibility to stay and try to clean up the mess George W. Bush made, we have to rebuild what we destroyed, re-weave the social and political fabric of a nation.
Don’t forget the "residual" force slated to stay on for an indefinite period the size of which is sure to be rather substantial. I’d be surprised if it went below 80,000 "support" troops. We didn’t build the biggest embassy in diplomatic history just to leave it to become a Museum of American Atrocities.
In short, we won’t be leaving Iraq any time soon. The "national security" Democrats are going to be in charge, not the lefties, at least when it comes to foreign policy, and we know what that means: more Peter Beinart than Noam Chomsky.
This "regional" approach championed by Obama is a technocratic euphemism for yet more and bigger U.S. military interventions throughout the Middle East. The preparations for an Afghan "surge" have been long in the making, and in this arena Obama will take up where Bush left off, and then some.
Some kind of military operation into Pakistan is a virtual certainty, the only question being one of scale: will it be a "surgical" strike, or a large-scale Iraq-style invasion? In any case, the former is a plausible prelude to the latter.
With India waiting in the wings to pick up the pieces, the U.S. will be engaged in a two-front war in the most volatile and ungovernable part of the world, bar none. The bones of at least three empires are buried in the mountains of Afghanistan. They’ll call it "nation-building," and it will be draped in the mantle of "humanitarianism," if not "liberation," but it’ll be an occupation nonetheless.
As for Pakistan: do we really want to contribute to the breakup of a nuclear-armed Muslim nation, whose arsenal could easily fall into al-Qaeda’s hands? The blowback could be horrific. I shudder to think about it. In a sane world, the risk factor alone would rule out U.S. action in this arena, but, unfortunately well, you know the rest.
Whereas the Bushies were obsessed with the Middle East, and pretty much confined their wars to a single region while exercising "soft" power and covert actions on a global scale, the Obama-ites have broader concerns. Which means a wider range of opportunities for foreign meddling.
The Bush administration was initially friendly to the Russians, but when Putin started criticizing U.S. foreign policy he was increasingly treated like the reincarnation of Stalin. Neocon "dark prince" Richard Perle hurled anathemas at the Russkies, demanding their expulsion from the G-8. This was an act liberals could and did horn in on, notably George Soros. What they’re calling the new Cold War really started during the Clinton administration, with the U.S.-Russian face-off over the former Yugoslavia. The Bush administration has upped the ante considerably with its deal to install anti-missile "defense" systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, prompting the Russians to respond in kind. The resulting military buildup is ominous in the extreme, as the specter of a new arms race rises in the East.
During the Democratic debates, I noted, with alarm, that the one time Obama really bared his fangs on the foreign policy front was when the discussion got around to what to do about Russia. A key test will be whether he goes ahead with the anti-missile deployments.
Yet the lure of Obama, in his peacemaker mode, can be seductive. The portions of Obama’s inaugural address that dealt with foreign policy at times seemed to approach my earlier and far more favorable conception of his stance:
"Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint."
Bravo. We sure could use some restraint in the conduct of American foreign policy. Now that would be real change. Yet restraint is anything but in the cards when we look at Obama’s announced positions on specific policy areas, from Afghanistan to Central Europe. The soaring rhetoric doesn’t match the fine print.
Speaking of reading the fine print, that’s our job here at Antiwar.com: to keep you apprised of what’s really going on behind the façade of official pronouncements and the conventional wisdom. The very same "watchful eye" Obama wants peering over our shoulders in the economic realm needs to be turned on the operations of government itself, especially when it comes to the realm of foreign policy.
You’d better believe we’re watching them, as we have since 1995 and by the grace of your continuing support and generosity we’ll continue to keep very close tabs on this administration. Remember, George W. Bush pledged to pursue a "more humble" foreign policy. I hope and pray Obama’s promise of "restraint" doesn’t reverse itself quite so dramatically.