U.S. policy is not about one individual, and no matter how much faith people place in President-elect Barack Obama, the policies he enacts will be fruit of a tree with many roots. Among them: his personal politics and views, the disastrous realities his administration will inherit, and, of course, unpredictable future crises. But the best immediate indicator of what an Obama administration might look like can be found in the people he surrounds himself with and who he appoints to his Cabinet. And, frankly, when it comes to foreign policy, it is not looking good.
Obama has a momentous opportunity to do what he repeatedly promised over the course of his campaign: bring actual change. But the more we learn about who Obama is considering for top positions in his administration, the more his inner circle resembles a staff reunion of President Bill Clinton’s White House. Although Obama brought some progressives on board early in his campaign, his foreign policy team is now dominated by the hawkish, old-guard Democrats of the 1990s. This has been particularly true since Hillary Clinton conceded defeat in the Democratic primary, freeing many of her top advisors to join Obama’s team.
"What happened to all this talk about change?" a member of the Clinton foreign policy team recently asked the Washington Post. "This isn’t lightly flavored with Clintons. This is all Clintons, all the time."
Amid the euphoria over Obama’s election and the end of the Bush era, it is critical to recall what 1990s U.S. foreign policy actually looked like. Bill Clinton’s boiled down to a one-two punch from the hidden hand of the free market, backed up by the iron fist of U.S. militarism. Clinton took office and almost immediately bombed Iraq (ostensibly in retaliation for an alleged plot by Saddam Hussein to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush). He presided over a ruthless regime of economic sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and under the guise of the so-called No-Fly Zones in northern and southern Iraq, authorized the longest sustained U.S. bombing campaign since Vietnam.
Under Clinton, Yugoslavia was bombed and dismantled as part of what Noam Chomsky described as the "New Military Humanism." Sudan and Afghanistan were attacked, Haiti was destabilized and "free trade" deals like the North America Free Trade Agreement and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade radically escalated the spread of corporate-dominated globalization that hurt U.S. workers and devastated developing countries. Clinton accelerated the militarization of the so-called War on Drugs in Central and Latin America and supported privatization of U.S. military operations, giving lucrative contracts to Halliburton and other war contractors. Meanwhile, U.S. weapons sales to countries like Turkey and Indonesia aided genocidal campaigns against the Kurds and the East Timorese.
The prospect of Obama’s foreign policy being, at least in part, an extension of the Clinton Doctrine is real. Even more disturbing, several of the individuals at the center of Obama’s transition and emerging foreign policy teams were top players in creating and implementing foreign policies that would pave the way for projects eventually carried out under the Bush/Cheney administration. With their assistance, Obama has already charted out several hawkish stances. Among them:
– His plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan;
– An Iraq plan that could turn into a downsized and rebranded occupation that keeps U.S. forces in Iraq for the foreseeable future;
– His labeling of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a "terrorist organization;"
– His pledge to use unilateral force inside of Pakistan to defend U.S. interests;
– His position, presented before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), that Jerusalem "must remain undivided" — a remark that infuriated Palestinian officials and which he later attempted to reframe;
– His plan to continue the War on Drugs, a backdoor U.S. counterinsurgency campaign in Central and Latin America;