The American people are sick and tired of the Bush era, and they are counting the days until Barack Obama is inaugurated. The reasons for this are manifold, of course, but the one that concerns us especially here at Antiwar.com is the vital question of war and peace. American foreign policy had become so relentlessly aggressive, and with such disastrous results, that John McCain’s alleged national security credentials were moot. Even if the economy hadn’t tanked so spectacularly at a crucial point in the election season, I contend that Obama would’ve won in a landslide anyway. And it surely didn’t help when the author of our disastrous foreign policy, Vice President Dick Cheney, was wheeled out to issue his kiss-of-death endorsement: talk about the stab in the back!
In any case, what I really mean to say is that our crazed foreign policy was a major reason why Americans gave Obama such a stunning victory. There’s just one problem: our foreign policy is going to remain pretty much the same.
That’s right: you heard me. No change in that department. Why is that, you ask? The reason is because the War Party has a strategy perfectly suited to solving their major problem, which is that they lack any kind of popular support, as the McCain campaign discovered to its horror. So instead of playing the game, they decided to rig it and greet the incoming Obama administration with a fait accompli. The Bush administration is now engaged in the last throes of its torturous negotiations with the Iraqis, who have finally agreed to the terms of a status of forces agreement with the U.S. What this means, in short, is that U.S. troops will be authorized to stay in the country until 2011 way beyond what Obama promised. Of course, this doesn’t mean that they will stay in that long, necessarily, only that the new president has cover now to break his campaign promise, without much of a fuss being made by the Iraqis. As for the Americans, Congress won’t mind, and if it comes to a vote the pro-war faction of the Democrats can always line up with the GOP, as they did in the Bush era.
In order to understand how the sellout happened, however, let’s rewind the tape. As luck would have it, the economy’s collapse occurred just at the high point of the general election campaign. This was a big break for the War Party: it meant, first of all, that the focus was taken off two losing wars their gift to the new president. It also meant that the incoming president would have his hands full with domestic issues. People are losing their jobs, their homes, and their minds; this is no time to worry about the fate of South Ossetia. Indeed, the problems of the U.S. economy and the global market are so overwhelming, that certainly President Obama will have to make them his first and virtually sole concern from the moment he’s sworn in.
The necessity of a disciplined division of labor sets the stage, in this scenario, for the Great Concession, as it may deserve to be called. Obama may have won the Democratic nomination, but his victory at the convention and at the polls in November surely did not weld together a united Democratic Party. Indeed, taking the White House just accelerated the ongoing intra-party strife between the Clinton faction and the “new politics” wing led by Obama, because it meant a new struggle over the spoils and much bitterness on the part of the losers.
Obama, however, being the consummate politician that he is, had a solution: hand foreign policy over to the Clintons. Cede Hillary the international arena his area of greatest weakness and use her connections to his own advantage. This would free him to roll up his sleeves and tackle the great problem of how to kick-start America’s economic engine.
Obama, of course, is still the president, with the final word on all matters foreign and domestic. Yet by conceding de facto direction of our overseas operations two wars, and a few more in the making he could solve his three biggest political problems: (1) The Clintons, who, by their very existence, pose a threat; (2) His own inexperience in the field of foreign affairs, and his lack of personal connections in this rarefied realm; and (3) The very high expectations that demand total concentration on solving the single most important problem facing the country.
Obama’s interests, from what I can tell, are primarily domestic: he was a community organizer working with those who fell through the cracks in our economy, and his very real empathy for ordinary people drives him toward his goal of reforming the structure of American society, which he believes promotes inequality and continuing insecurity.
Be that as it may, my longtime readers know I have major problems with Obama’s domestic agenda, being a libertarian and all. What they may not catch is that this agenda will have unfortunate global consequences, most immediately in the area of international trade. The protectionist impulses of the Democratic Party and its labor union base are not only bad for America economically, they also promote war hysteria: as a great libertarian economist put it, if goods don’t cross borders, then armies soon will.
Aside from that, however, the decision to concede the foreign policy realm to the Clintons yes, both of them, as I discussed the other day will have horrific consequences as far as the peace movement is concerned.
Just to give you some idea, Monday night, Peter Beinart was on Hardball, and Chris Matthews was wrinkling his brow with worry that there was something more to this Hillary appointment than met the eye. You could tell he didn’t like it, and he had booked Christopher Hitchens to play the devil’s advocate. The devil, however, wasn’t very forthcoming. Hitchens hates the Clintons, but he seemed too stoned to give any good reasons as to why Obama was doing this, or why it was a bad idea.
Beinart, on the other hand, was ecstatic and said she would be great. Not a very surprising endorsement: a Clintonian foreign policy, the very policy that prepared the way for the invasion of Iraq and ravaged the former Yugoslavia, perfectly reflects the historical stance of the magazine he used to edit.
There is not a single war in modern American history that The New Republic, since its founding in 1914, hasn’t enthused over. The magazine made a name for itself immediately by hailing World War I as a grand crusade to make the world safe for democracy. World War II was its heyday, as it screamed abuse at antiwar dissenters and demanded their jailing. Vietnam was, for TNR, another test of American resolve: the editors backed the Hubert Humphrey-Scoop Jackson wing of the Democratic Party, while antiwar protesters were beaten in the streets. Iraq War I, Iraq War II, and the much-anticipated attack on Iran that’s even now waiting in the wings the Peter Beinarts of this world live to praise such folly. Beinart’s endorsement is the equivalent of the Good War-making Seal of Approval.
It gets worse, however. The culture of corruption that was the leitmotif of the Clinton administration will now be given international scope. If the president and absolute ruler of Kazakhstan wants increased military aid or wants us to overlook the monstrous abuses that take place on his prisons, he has only to make a contribution to the Clinton Global Initiative, and it’s done. That’s the face of American foreign policy for the next four years, at least.
It’s disgusting to contemplate, and a great disappointment to those very sincere voters who saw and still see the hope of real change in our foreign policy. Many will resist drawing the appropriate conclusions. Their fallback argument is that Obama is, after all, ultimately at the helm of the ship of state and can be trusted to guide us safely through troubled international waters without starting another major war.
The first part of this argument that Obama’s in charge is not strictly true, as I discussed above, and to make things clearer: what’s happening is very similar to what happened to Rome as it crossed the Rubicon that separates republic from empire. The first and second triumvirates, and, later, the division of the empire into West and East, were responses to the problem of enormous scale. Faced with a crisis where a quicker response was required than the empire was capable of, the Romans were forced to delegate power.
The American empire is responding to a systemic crisis in a similar fashion. By delegating authority over one aspect of the presidency to the Clintons, Obama lifts a great burden from his shoulders, which, added to the weight of the domestic crisis, might have brought him to his knees in the first few months. As it is, he is now free to confront the demons of the economy and good luck to him with that.
I’ll just point out, as Ron Paul has on many occasions, that if we ended our foreign policy of global interventionism, we’d have plenty of money to solve our economic problems, or at least put us on the road to economic solvency. Empires are a costly luxury, in this the age of hard economic realities, and we can hardly afford to maintain this one for much longer. Our economy will pull out of the doldrums once we stop diverting wealth to uneconomic purposes like wars, for example, or “foreign aid” that winds up in the hands of corrupt government officials. Unfortunately, with the Clintons as Obama’s partners in what amounts to a team effort, or a de facto triumvirate, that possibility is just as distant as it ever was.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
Looking backward and also ahead: I have an article in the December issue of Chronicles magazine, looking back on the Bush years. Its not online, so you have to actually go out and buy a copy.
I also have a new piece at TakiMag, which is indeed online: “The Resurrection of the Socialist Idea.” Go check it out.