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
of war and peace.
American foreign policy had become so relentlessly aggressive, and with such
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
– 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
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
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
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
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
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. It’s 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