Saturday, December 6

Will Barack Obama bring about real change in US foreign policy?

Paul J. Balles contrasts Barack Obama’s original stance against the Iraq war with his recent appointment of hawks for vice-president, secretary of state and secretary of defence, and wonders which persona Obama will assume upon becoming president.

Either President-elect Barack Obama is going to be found guilty of a clever bait and switch manoeuvre or many people around him are going to have to eat crow.

Here's the bait: starting in an October 2002 rally in Chicago's Federal Plaza, Obama declared his opposition to what he called a "dumb war”. In the US Senate, he voted against it. Throughout his campaign, he reminded his audiences that he opposed the war in Iraq.

Next, the possible switch: If Obama fails to bring the troops home, he will engender something close to a riot among the progressives and the left-of-centre Democrats opposed to the war.

If, as the new "decider-in-chief", he turns "bait" into action, Obama will have most of his chosen appointees humbled, eating their own words and reversing their earlier positions.

As Jonathan Martin has noted:

Vice-President-elect Joe Biden initially backed the war in Iraq and has supported other military interventions in his long Senate career. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton also supported the Iraq war resolution, a vote that Obama framed as a critical failure of judgement during the primary. She's also taken a harder line on Iran than the president-elect-and is in line to be his secretary of state.

Martin, political writer for Politico and the National Review, added:

Jim Jones, a retired Marine general who advised Clinton, Obama and John McCain during the campaign and has refused to disclose his partisan leanings, is slated for National Security Adviser. And running the Pentagon? For at least the first year of his administration, it's virtually certain that the new president will retain Robert Gates – the secretary of defence appointed by President Bush.

Surely, with 133 members of the House of Representatives and 23 senators who voted against the war, Obama could have chosen experienced lawmakers who made the right foreign policy decision in 2002.

In his speech before Congress opposing the Iraq war Obama said:

I don't oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

Fully aware of the politics involved in the Bush administration's push for war, Obama added:

What I am opposed to is the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income, to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression.

The foresight reflected in that part of Obama's speech in 2002,seems nothing less than prophetic of what he would focus on in 2007 and 2008 to win the election to the US presidency.

Conflict resolutions aren’t simple; however, and they’re never easy. In some ways, it seems as if Obama is purposely creating conflicts through his attempts to create auras of non-partisan politics. He should look back to the sessions before the vote on the Iraq war resolution passed. Despite his well-reasoned speech in the Senate, he only managed to recruit one Republican senator.

We can only hope that he will stand firm, maintain the sensibility he had in 2002 as well as in his election campaign and force his experienced appointees to eat their words, admit the errors of their ways and work to repair some of the enormous damage done.


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