As I write this, we are 24 hours away from the
end of this seemingly endless presidential campaign, and all the
signs point to a victory – some would say an overwhelming victory – by Barack
Obama. I won't make any predictions here, what with the Bradley
Effect and other unknowns
– including the possibility of a "hanging
chad"-like situation – but, given the polls, it's incumbent on me to
give my readers an indication of what to expect from an Obama administration
in the foreign policy department, and this is undoubtedly reflected in the personnel
he'll assemble on his foreign policy team.
So who's up for major appointments? A number of names have been floated, some
of them Republicans, for key positions like secretary of defense and secretary
of state, notably the idea of keeping
Robert Gates, the current defense chief, and bringing
in Richard Lugar for secretary of state. Both possibilities underscore the
continuity of our misguided and increasingly dangerous foreign policy of
global intervention. Bill Richardson is also being mentioned
for state, along with John
Was For It Before I Was Against It" Kerry.
This particular appointment, however, doesn't tell us much about the foreign
policy favored by Obama. Recent secretaries of state have had minimal influence
on actual policymaking and have often been at odds with the White House; look
Powell. This is due to the ever-increasing
power of the president
over the conduct of U.S. foreign policy, a realm surrendered
to the executive by Congress, in principle, long
ago. Under President
Bush, the process accelerated
and the foreign policymaking bureaucracy took on a
distinctly monarchical flavor. The president's national security adviser,
the one with direct access to the king, became the key player. Condi Rice, with
friendship with Bush II, was perfect for this role, and the next national
security adviser is liable to play a similarly important part in shaping Obama's
The most troubling possibility here is Dennis
Ross, a career foreign policy bureaucrat who was instrumental in shaping
America's Israel-centric policy in the Middle East under George H.W. Bush and
Bill Clinton. He is a longtime associate of the Washington
Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the scholarly adjunct
of AIPAC, Israel's powerful lobbying organization in the U.S., which he
The beginning of Ross' career as a civil servant is a good indicator of what
we might expect from him, and from the Obama administration when it comes to
setting Middle Eastern policy. When Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, he brought
Wolfowitz to run the policy planning at the State Department, and Wolfie
brought in his neocon buddies: I.
Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Francis
Roche, Stephen Sestanovich,
Keyes!), and Ross. In short, Ross has always been a reliable
member in good standing of the neocon
foreign policy cabal, the very same group
us into war with Iraq – and is now intent
the same with Iran. Although the neocons who came to Washington were mostly
ex-Democrats, Ross stayed with his old party, although partisan allegiances
seem not to mean much to him. He has served under three
secretaries of state: James Baker, Warren Christopher, and Madeleine Albright.
As special Middle East coordinator under President Bill Clinton, Ross was
responsible for managing the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, a process described
by former negotiating team member Aaron David Miller as
"With the best of motives and intentions, we listened to and followed
Israel's lead without critically examining what that would mean for our own
interests, for those on the Arab side and for the overall success of the negotiations.
The 'no surprises' policy, under which we had to run everything by Israel first,
stripped our policy of the independence and flexibility required for serious
peacemaking. If we couldn't put proposals on the table without checking with
the Israelis first, and refused to push back when they said no, how effective
could our mediation be? Far too often, particularly when it came to Israeli-Palestinian
diplomacy, our departure point was not what was needed to reach an agreement
acceptable to both sides but what would pass with only one – Israel."
"Without critically examining what that would mean for our own interests"
– that's the key phrase here, one that fully describes the effect (and also,
perhaps, the intention) of our
Middle Eastern policy, one that puts Israel, not America, first.
Ross recently signed on to a
plan, being pushed by something called the Bipartisan Policy Center, that
is nothing but a roadmap to war with Tehran. The report, written in the form
of recommendations to an incoming president, says he must begin a military
buildup directed at Iran from "the first day [he] enters office."
The plan is to begin "pre-positioning additional U.S. and allied forces,
deploying additional aircraft carrier battle groups and minesweepers, placing
other war material in the region, including additional missile defense batteries,
upgrading both regional facilities and allied militaries, and expanding strategic
partnerships with countries such as Azerbaijan and Georgia in order to maintain
operational pressure from all directions."
Yes, Georgia, America's Israel
of the Caucasus, is to be used as a forward base of operations against Iran.
Then there's the oil-rich tyranny of Azerbaijan,
which is locked in a vicious ethnic
war of attrition with Armenia (and its own Armenian population). The U.S.
footprint, instead of shrinking under Obama, promises to grow even larger.
So you wondered why, during the debates, Obama was so
belligerent on the Georgian question. Obama and McCain both hew to the War
view, which grotesquely inverts the truth, decrying "Russian aggression"
was the Georgians who started that war. One would normally expect this of
McCain, whose chief foreign policy adviser was, until very recently, a
paid lobbyist for the Georgians, but Obama, too, refuses to acknowledge
Tbilisi's aggression against a "breakaway province." Ossetia has been
de facto independent for more
than a decade, and the supposedly smart Obama is no doubt aware of this
– never mind the hundreds killed in the siege of Tskhinvali, the Ossetian capital
assaulted by Georgian troops.
It gets worse, however. Underscoring the point we have long made
at Antiwar.com – that it is impossible to separate these various "theaters"
of U.S. aggression, and that the Iraq and Afghan wars are bound to spread –
the report goes on to note:
"The presence of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan offers distinct
advantages in any possible confrontation with Iran. The United States can
bring in troops and material to the region under the cover of the Iraq and
Afghanistan conflicts, thus maintaining a degree of strategic and tactical
surprise." [Emphasis added.]
Obama has long stressed he would immediately
begin escalating the Afghan campaign, and perhaps
open up a new front in Pakistan. Certainly the Bush administration has laid
for this eastward shift of U.S. military resources – and so the stage is set.
When Rachel Maddow asked
Obama the other day why our intervention in Afghanistan wouldn't end up like
the Iraq war, or more so, he emphatically rejected the comparison, yet he never
addressed her underlying concern. She just smiled, rather wanly, and went on
to the next question. I have another question, however, and it is this: what
if the Afghan "surge" is a feint, directed not at some vague Taliban-affiliated
tribes in the godforsaken wilds of Waziristan, but at the mullahs of Tehran?
Under the pretext
of going after Osama bin Laden, they can sneak enough troops into the region
through the back door, then easily launch an attack from the east, and also
from the north, where the Azeris
and the Georgians
are talking about entering NATO. (Obama, by the way, fully
endorses Georgia's NATO membership application, although he hasn't said
anything, as far as I know, about the Azeris' ambition to join the club.)
Whether or not Ross gets the national security post, the fact remains that
the War Party, far from being banished from Washington, will have an inside
track in the new administration. What's different about Obama, however, is that
the other side also has a seat at the table – or, at the very least, isn't completely
locked out of the deliberations. I was astonished to learn that none other than
Gen. Anthony Zinni, retired Marine commander and trenchant critic of the neocon
influence on the making of American foreign policy, is up
for the job. A 2003 Washington Post profile
of Zinni reports:
"The more he listened to [Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz
and other administration officials talk about Iraq, the more Zinni became convinced
that interventionist 'neoconservative' ideologues were plunging the nation
into a war in a part of the world they didn't understand. 'The more I saw,
the more I thought that this was the product of the neocons who didn't understand
the region and were going to create havoc there. These were dilettantes from
Washington think tanks who never had an idea that worked on the ground.' …
"The goal of transforming the Middle East by imposing democracy by force
reminds him of the 'domino theory' in the 1960s that the United States had
to win in Vietnam to prevent the rest of Southeast Asia from falling into communist
hands. And that brings him back to Wolfowitz and his neoconservative allies
as the root of the problem. 'I don't know where the neocons came from – that
wasn't the platform they ran on,' he says. 'Somehow, the neocons captured the
president. They captured the vice president.'"
I wouldn't bet the farm on Zinni getting it, but the fact that he's in the
running at all is astonishing. If that's the amount of change you want in American
foreign policy, then you'll be happy with the Obama administration – even as
they escalate the conflict in Afghanistan, spread it to Pakistan, and prepare
for war with Iran.