Tuesday, December 9, 2008

OBAMA foreign policy AIPAC driven

THOSE who anticipate a less confrontational US foreign policy under Barack Obama, with a greater emphasis on diplomacy and a downgrading of force, may well be disappointed.

With the nomination of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state and Gen Jim Jones as national security adviser, and with Robert Gates continuing as defence secretary, radical change is hardly on the cards, certainly not with regard to the Middle East.

Clinton is a known friend of Israel and took an extremely tough position during the primaries on the Iran question. And one can hardly anticipate a new security vision from Jones, a top-drawer military man who was special adviser to the Bush administration on the Middle East. Much the same applies to Gates, a Bush appointee and someone unlikely to radically shift policy.

The prospect of little change in foreign policy will come as no surprise to Robert Kagan, a leading American neoconservative public intellectual. Some months ago he made the case that, notwithstanding oppositional voices, US foreign policy has for more than 200 years been dominated by the expansion of power and influence. In a deeply informed analysis (Neocon Nation: Neoconservatism c. 1776), Kagan argued that Obama was unlikely to change what is a deeply embedded US world view. The war in Iraq, maintained Kagan, was in line with a long tradition; it was not foisted upon the Bush administration by neoconservative hawks.

In Kagan.s view, the US has always seen itself as a model for the world; it has always engaged with the world in terms of an ideological belief in .manifest destiny..

This was evident in Henry Clay.s desire, expressed early in the 19th century, to share the precious gift of democracy; in New York Governor William Henry Seward.s call for America .to renovate the condition of mankind., and in William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan.s view that the war against Spain at the end of the 19th century was fought .for liberty and human rights..

Similar sentiments were expressed by Woodrow Wilson during America.s great moral crusade for democracy against .selfish and autocratic powers. during the First World War. And again a moral fervour underpinned American actions during the struggle against Nazism and in the subsequent Cold War with the Soviet Union. To think Obama will behave differently, maintains Kagan, is to ignore US history and to misunderstand fundamentally American self-understanding.

Kagan is aware of a counter-tradition within US foreign policy discourse and of course knows that voices such as Noam Chomsky.s have consistently spoken out against the limitless use of US power. But US intrusiveness, suggests Kagan, always seems to win out. The first Iraq War in 1991 and Bill Clinton.s Kosovo War in 1998 are recent examples. There has always been .a willingness to accumulate and use power.. And that power has always been coupled with a .belief in the possibility of change..

In an article written at the time of the US presidential primaries, Fouad Ajami, professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins University, took a different line from Kagan. In his assessment, Obama will indeed break the mould of US foreign policy. He will move away from a policy based on principles of US .exceptionalism. and the use of hard power. .The warrior.s garb,. wrote Ajami, .sits uneasily on Barack Obama.s shoulders.. Many of his foreign policy pronouncements, contends Ajami, suggest a desire for dialogue with the world and a wish to repair the US.s standing.

Will he succeed? Will Obama break the mould? Kagan, for one, is adamant he will not. In his view, Obama follows very much in the footsteps of John F Kennedy. During Obama.s brilliant campaign, he called on the US to be the .leader of the free world. and to lead the way .in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good.. The larger purpose of America in the world, Obama maintains, .is to promote the spread of freedom..

Such language places in question the contention that change is in the offing and that Obama will deviate from what Kagan refers to as the .expansive, moralistic, militaristic tradition in American foreign policy.. With the new security and foreign policy recommendations, we will probably have much of the same, albeit in a more articulate form. Neoconservative policies, it would seem, are not an aberration.

Chomsky would agree. For decades, he has condemned the aggressive and expansionist foreign policy of the US. It is unlikely that US tactics and vision will be altered by Obama. As Kagan said in the run-up to last month.s election, the war on Iraq fitted into a 200-year-old tradition. .The tendencies associated these days with neoconservatism,. he writes, .are more deeply rooted in American traditions than the critics dare to admit, which means that they will not so easily be uprooted, even by the coming epochal presidential election..

# Prof Shain teaches in the department of historical studies and is director
of the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research at UCT.

Obama and the deep roots of US expansionism
Milton Shain

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posted by u2r2h at 3:01 PM


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