14 Apr 2009

Obama Looking Very Short On Change

By Michael Brull
Where is this revolution in US foreign policy we're told is happening under Obama? So far his actions — and all the talk — boil down to business as usual, writes Michael Brull

During Obama's election campaign, it was common to hear progressives, liberals and leftists breathless with excitement as they looked forward to an Obama administration.

Obama promised "change" in every speech. In all likelihood, Bush had become the most unpopular president in American history, both domestically and internationally. Friends and media commentators alike proclaimed that a new era of American policy would begin.

On March 27, Obama announced his "comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan". Not so long before that, the Australian reported what it called Obama's "radical reversal" in American policy in the Middle East.

While I would welcome a radical reversal in US foreign policy in these areas, a closer look at the emerging contours of American foreign policy reveals more continuity than change.

Consider first the case of Afghanistan. Obama — more intelligent and candid than Bush — has admitted the occupation of Afghanistan is going badly. What has he learnt from this? To respect Afghanistan's sovereignty and the wishes of its people? No. Obama has inherited Bush's imperial arrogance, which is considered so natural that it goes unnoticed, even when openly reported. British paper the Independent, for example, reported that Obama has decided he doesn't like Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, and wants to find a new one.

It seems not so long ago we were reading in the press about how Afghanistan had been liberated and finally had democratic elections. Of course, inside Afghanistan, the "mayor of Kabul", whose writ largely was confined to the capital of Afghanistan, was considered an American puppet, and has largely been supportive of American wishes.

However, lately even Karzai has been speaking out against American arrogance towards Afghanistan. The Economist notes that he has been publicly condemning the US airstrikes that have been killing Afghan civillians. It even called him "strident", as it is considered inappropriate and audacious for poor countries to dare lecture the rulers of the world about who they should or shouldn't be killing. Karzai responded to questioning about whether the US wanted to install a new government by saying, "The Afghans determine who leads Afghanistan ... We are not a colony."

The evidence of Obama's dislike for Karzai is increasing. His plan, backed by European governments, to override Karzai's government by installing a new prime minister or chief executive has been reported in the Guardian. As a European official explained, they need someone who will be "reliable for us". It's reported that imposing a government to do US and European bidding may be regarded as colonialist. Whether or not colonialism is legitimate is something not discussed — it is simply assumed we have the right to install puppet governments if currently existing ones are disobedient.

Karzai must now be acutely aware that Obama, like Bush, reserves for the US the right to determine which governments — elected or not — should be allowed to govern their countries. This is why Obama, immediately on assuming the presidency, called his allies in Egypt and Jordan. These hideous tyrannies — and presumably many more in the region — were reassured of their close relationship with the US. But then, any Middle Eastern country, no matter how tyrannous, which is willing to obey Washington (and perhaps tacitly support Israeli crimes against the Palestinians) is ipso facto considered "moderate".

Obama's "change" platform did, however, include one substantive issue. He virtually pledged that he would bomb Pakistan, and that is what he has been doing.

The LA Times reported on the public revelation that US missile strikes have been carried out within Pakistan. Reporter Greg Miller notes casually that the "attacks are extremely unpopular in Pakistan, in part because of the high number of civilian casualties inflicted in dozens of strikes." The revelation of the cooperation of the Pakistani Government is considered embarrassing, because it has been trying to pretend to the people of Pakistan that it opposes the air strikes. However, the actual desire of the Pakistani people to not be bombed is considered trivial.

Plainly, Obama's "radical reversal" doesn't include worrying about the nagging of people in foreign countries. They fail to understand that they should not determine what happens in their own land.

The depressing continuities extend to US policy on Israel. Obama appointed Dennis Ross to his administration, making as plain as possible that he is going to continue America's support for the Israeli occupation.

Mild ado was made in the press about Hillary Clinton criticising Israel's demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. But, as plenty of others have pointed out, merely saying that these crimes are "unhelpful" does not signify any substantive change, while America continues to give billions of dollars in aid to Israel.

Seth Freedman accurately noted that this is the "standard American formula of expressing mild annoyance at the Israeli government in public, while privately soothing Israeli politicians, patting them on the head and sending them out to play with another year's pocket money to spend on arms, roadblocks and concrete slabs of separation wall." Obama is also continuing the boycott of Hamas.

This is all happening at a time when Israel has just sworn in a prime minister who opposes on principle the creation of a Palestinian state, and whose foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, is a quasi-fascist. US administrations tend to prefer Labour in power, because they provide the appropriate fig leaf of conducting an imaginary "peace process" as a cover for continued work against real moves toward peace. Netanyahu was shrewd enough to see this and offer a spot to Labour in his coalition, and Barak was venal enough to accept it.

So, the "peace talks" will continue, while Israel colonises Palestinian land to prevent the possibility of a viable Palestinian state.

Indeed, within hours of being sworn in, Avigdor Lieberman announced his rejection of the basically hollow Annapolis Peace Process. The US, which boycotts Hamas on the grounds of its extremism, responded to this declaration by explaining its "full confidence" in the Israeli Government, which the US would "continue to support". To show Israel's commitment to peace, a US official noted "Prime Minister Netanyahu's comments, that he will work for peace with the Palestinians and peace in the region". Netanyahu, as it happens, did not mention a two-state solution, which he refuses to endorse, and thus Obama has become fully supportive of outright, brazen Israeli rejection of a two-state solution, in word and deed.

And finally, to Iraq, and what the Australian's Geoff Elliot interpreted as Obama's "radical reversal". In his article from last month, Elliot tells us that Obama will withdraw 12,000 American troops by September. However, this news doesn't constitute any substantial change.

Removing some troops from Iraq after the "surge" — which was supposed to be temporary anyway — is hardly a major divergence from Bush's policy. If this actually marked an end to the military occupation of Iraq, or at least pointed to it, it would be a major reversal of the direction under Bush. But leading analysts of the occupation argue that this isn't what's happening.

In an interview with Amy Goodman, Jeremy Scahill noted that when Obama was questioned on the campaign trail about ending the occupation, Obama declared he would not support a withdrawal that included the new "embassy" that the US has just unveiled in Baghdad. As Scahill says, it is the "largest of any nation anywhere in the history of the planet", and defending it will require a "sizeable armed presence in Baghdad".

So much for all the rhetoric about leaving. But since they're staying, will it be under significantly different terms to those under Bush? Article 27 of the Status of Forces Agreement between Iraq and the US grants the US the right to undertake military action "or any other measure" inside Iraq "in the event of any external or internal threat or aggression against Iraq." An "internal threat or aggression" can provide practically any pretext for the US to prolong its stay in Iraq.

If one thinks that Bush's policy in Iraq was one of suppressing independent and nationalist forces and imposing a pliant government, then Obama's gradual withdrawal of only some soldiers is broadly consistent with Bush's policy. Indeed, the US policy of resisting what is called "internal aggression" in a foreign country has a long list of precedents, in Vietnam and elsewhere.

Consider also the opinion of regional expert Juan Cole. Cole has consistently opposed the war on Iraq, and is convinced that Obama is ending the occupation. Yet he also notes that Obama's plan includes leaving up to 50,000 troops in Iraq by the end of 2011. Cole recognises also that Maliki remains dependent on US military support, so the "caveat about Obama's pledge to remove troops by the end of 2011 is that he cannot possibly be including the US Air Force, which is almost certainly in for a longer mission".

Cole ends by saying that we should take seriously Obama's announcement that he "intend[s] to remove all US troops from Iraq by the end of 2011". But he points out that "troops" doesn't include the US Air Force or Navy. What he doesn't mention is the ambiguity of the word "intend", which means that Obama could pretend to try to withdraw all the soldiers, but then fail. This could occur if, for example, the Iraqis elect a nationalistic, or perhaps pro-Iranian government, unwilling to obey the dictates of Washington. Then Obama might choose to undertake military actions to "defend" that country against "internal aggression" that acts against American imperial will.

Furthermore, evidence is emerging that Obama is seeking to camouflage continued American occupation of Iraq, by simply relabelling US combat soldiers "advisory and assistance brigades".

This, in a nutshell, is Obama's "radical reversal" on foreign policy: some mild tactical differences in US machinations in the Middle East.

Obama was elected promising change. But in all the US's recent actions — in everything from a new series of embarrassing gaffes right down to a new Guantanamo — the changes are noticeable to anyone but the victims of US foreign policy.

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This user is a New Matilda supporter. dazza
Posted Wednesday, April 15, 2009 - 11:05

When Obama surrounded himself with Clinton neo-cons, an economic team plucked straight out of Bushland, Economic ir-Rationalists all, and kept on Gates as Defence Secretary, all thought of him making any substantial changes disappeared.
When he declared his unending grovel to israel and Zionism at a AIPAC meeting in the run up to the election, it was pretty obvious then that he was not going to change Middle East policy. When Charles Freeman was forced out by the Zionist lobby, and Obama again groveled to the Zionist lobby, he cemented that point.

With Afghanistan, Karzai has only started to complain about Yankee arrogant racist death-dealing leading up to the coming elections, as also his grovel to the Taliban (which include a lot of his own Government, or at least fundamentalist warlords) by making laws AGAINST Shiite women, sending them back to the burka and to feudalistic male control. I agree with Obama here that Karzai and his Government has to be controlled, otherwise the whole of the allied effort to get rid of the Taliban and Osama's mob will be totally neutralized, the Fundamentalists will win anyway. Already the Afghanistan Police are known as totally untrustworthy, are arms of the Religious Fundamentalists in the Government (or the Mayorality, as indeed even Kabul is not safe, and is not under real Karzai Government control.)

I still see Afghanistan as an American failure, and a damned big one! While the Yanks, and their toadies like Australia, remain in OCCUPATION of Afghanistan, really stirring up even 'moderate' Afghans with their contemptuous treatment of the natives, the natives, of whatever ilk, will fight to get them off Afghan land.
Seems no one in Yankeeland, or anywhere else, can see that occupation of someone else's land is a NO NO, and the natives will fight to the last breath, even if they are out-gunned so badly, as they are in Afghanistan, Iraq and in Palestine. The upcoming sham 'democratic' elections will probably be won by Karzai, much to Yankee distress, as he has been found to be utterly hopeless as a Puppet, or for that matter, as even a decent ruler! So of course they want and need someone else in there for them to forward their plans.

The Yanks keep on making terrible decisions on to whom they pick as their puppets, where-ever, makes one wonder about their 'Intelligence'.

Pakistan has already slipped out of Pakistan Govt. /Yankee control. It is every day slipping further under Taliban control, and this has been assisted by the Pakistan Government ceding control at every opportunity. With the Pakistan Military being buddies with the Taliban, and pretty much out of Government control, what else can we expect! Those 50 or so nukes under Pakistan military control are what is making Obama and the rest of the Western world shake in their shoes. Radical fundamentalist Islam is so bloody close now to having their Islamic bomb! I really cannot see how the US is going to stop this, unless they sabotage somehow the nukes in their bunkers. Maybe they can send in the Mossad! Israel is just itching to start WW3, and the USA, as always will back them with munitions and cover.

In Iraq, not much is ever heard of them these days, and you have to wonder why, but one of the major reasons for the US invading and occupying Iraq was to find an alternative to Saudi Arabia as a forward base for American troops and Aircraft. Saudi Arabia, a fundamentalist Islamic nation, behind all the fundamentalist schools in Pakistan training the Taliban (and in a lot of places all over the world) is becoming a place (or already is) where the Yankees are most definitely NOT welcome, and the Yanks saw Iraq as the perfect place to relocate them to, after they put in their puppet Government. I do not know how many there are, but in the deserts around Baghdad the Yanks built these massive Air Bases, then put in a skeleton crew to do maintenance. Iraq is intended to be the new Middle East US forward base, another reason for the massive 'Embassy' in the Green Zone in Baghdad.

No way are the Yanks going to withdraw all troops from iraq! As soon as they can, they will move thousands of troops, support and Aircraft to these bases from Saudi, and they will pretty much disappear from our ken. Sure, a few thousand troops will go home from Iraq from the present Occupation, but they are due for rotation anyway, and this withdrawal will provide good cover for the new influx. The only thing that may put a loose nut in these plans could be Iran, if they get too much affinity with the Iraqi 'Government'. I am sure that the Yanks are well aware of this, and are trying hard to counter it.

No, Obama is NOT an Agent of Change. First and foremost he is a Yankee, with all the prejudices and blinkered vision that that entails. Surrounded as he is by people who will in any case fight change to the death, his is just another Right Wing, neo-con, Zionist supporting, American administration. Bush, who I am sure got assurances from Obama in exchange for going quietly, will be quite happy in his retirement, his evil legacy is quite safe, as indeed Bush will remain from anyone trying to bring him and his Administration's Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes to book.

Dazza.

danlew
Posted Sunday, April 19, 2009 - 15:50

It must be terribly disappointing that Obama doesn't want to hug terrorists, and have coffee with suicide bombers and their supporters...

How frustrating for the Left, that Obama also wants to see these murderers killed or imprisoned, rather than turned into icons whose image can be used on t-shirts.