Over the past eight years, we’ve seen some of the most openly aggressive and brutal policies of U.S. imperialism carried out under the Bush Administration, the most notorious being the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. It is no surprise so many people, both in the U.S. and internationally, have put their hopes in the new Democratic president, Barack Obama.
At the same time, much of the hope in Obama is mixed with serious doubts as the candidate of change rapidly put together an administration stacked with Clinton-era advisors and some members of the Bush administration. These doubts, it turns out, are entirely justified.
His foreign policy team is made up of those who, under Clinton, attacked Afghanistan and Sudan, bombed Yugoslavia and Iraq, and carried out brutal sanctions against Iraq, which paved the way for Bush’s invasion.
Totally consistent with his foreign policy team is what Obama has said he will actually do. During the campaign, he pledged to continue U.S. support for the Israeli government, including $30 billion in aid. The recent massacre of hundreds of Palestinians in Gaza by Israeli bombings and invasion, the worst attack in nearly a decade, is a tragic reminder of how the Israeli government intends to utilize U.S. aid.
He also wants to add 92,000 troops to the military and increase the U.S. military budget to about $857 billion/year, even though it is already bigger than the military budgets of all other countries in the world combined! This isn’t exactly consistent with an antiwar candidate.
Obama’s promise to end the war in Iraq is in reality a scaling back of the occupation. The plan is a phased withdrawal of combat troops, leaving an estimated 60-80,000 troops, many of whom will simply be reassigned as advisors or trainers. But the situation in Iraq is far from stable, with violence recently on the rise. Many troops, in the face of violent conflict, will be forced to advise with their rifles.
The failures in Iraq have put the U.S. ruling elite in a tough position – simultaneously looking to secure the interests of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East and also looking for a way out of the mess. Bush was already forced to move in the direction of pulling back.
The bottom line is that a lower-scale occupation will still mean billions of dollars spent, U.S. and Iraqi lives lost, on-going conflict, and the potential for further destabilization in the region as a whole. In fact, a withdrawal of some troops could trigger an increase in violent clashes and a further degeneration of the situation in Iraq, which would greatly complicate Obamas attempts to even carry out his limited plan to remove all combat troops.
Perhaps most telling about Obama’s foreign policy are his plans to escalate the occupation in Afghanistan. The seven-year NATO occupation has been an absolute disaster.
A country sometimes referred to as the fourth world, too impoverished to be compared to the so-called third world, Afghanistan has only seen a rise in poverty and unemployment since the initial invasion and recently a resurgence of the reactionary Taliban.
An additional 20,000 to 30,000 troops are to be sent to Afghanistan, bringing the total U.S. and NATO forces to nearly 100,000. But even the recently departed top British commander in Afghanistan admitted that military victory over the Taliban was neither feasible nor supportable. Like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, Obama’s plan to shift focus from Iraq to Afghanistan is a recipe for further disaster.
Many, turning a blind eye to all this, hope that an Obama administration will represent a clear departure from Bush’s bullying, unilateral policies. Undoubtedly, under Obama there will be a shift towards more use of diplomacy and attempts to rebuild the image of the U.S., or the use of so-called soft power.
But soft power is ultimately backed by U.S. military might. Clinton’s secretive bombing campaign and UN sanctions on Iraq may not have been as nakedly brutal as the all-out invasion and occupation, but the effects are fundamentally the same.
Obama will likely make good on his promise to close Guantanamo Bay, which of course would be welcomed. But the U.S. has plenty of other detention centers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world. Closing Guantanamo Bay, seen internationally as a symbol of the Bush regime’s blatant brutality, would be more of a gesture in an effort to rebuild U.S. legitimacy and support around the world. But U.S.-sponsored torture and disregard for civil liberties will continue.
During his campaign, Obama appealed to antiwar sentiment, convincing many he would bring an end to the war. The ruling elite have also put tremendous hopes in Obama to restore U.S. imperialism from its weakened state. An honest look at his foreign policy team, his stated policies, and his corporate backing, and it becomes very clear which side has the stronger pull.
The only real way to challenge these policies of U.S. imperialism is to build an independent movement that demands an immediate end to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. With billions of dollars continually pumped into these occupations alongside the increasingly painful effects of the economic downtown, patience in Obama will be tested.
Initially, Obamas plan may have support from many workers and youth, due to a feeling that the U.S. is finally starting to withdraw from Iraq and confusion that the Afghanistan War is the good war. But heightened tensions in Iraq and increased U.S. troop deaths in Afghanistan can quickly cut across these illusions.
Combined with a deepening recession, any signs of degeneration in the Middle East have the potential to fuel deeper anger and opposition to the war. Socialists and antiwar activists must rapidly prepare for this new tumultuous period of economic crisis, political instability, and social unrest.