Barack Obama: the post-GWOT president?

Iranian-born, neocon-friendly pundit and “journalist” Amir Taheri has been implicated in fabricated news reports—so take his sneering analysis of Barack Obama’s recently released foreign policy positions as a propagandistic exercise. What he is aghast at we can perhaps take heart at. Will Barack Obama be the post-GWOT president? From the United Arab Emirates’ Gulf News, emphasis added:

Obama’s foreign policy deal
What kind of foreign policy would a putative Barack Obama administration pursue, especially towards the Middle East?

The answer comes in a 94-page document, presented under the title Renewing America’s Promise, approved at the Democratic Party’s convention in Denver last week.

The section on foreign policy starts rather abruptly without introducing the reader to the candidate’s view of the world as it is now and as it could be tomorrow.

Is there a new global balance of power? What are the dangers and opportunities that have emerged in the post-9/11 era? Have we already entered the “post-American” world, as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and some American intellectuals claim? Does the message of democracy still resonate with those segments of humanity that remain un-free?

While this lack of vision is surprising, the way the party presents its foreign policy is confusing. It is as if the authors of the document wished to tick the issues away as fast as possible.

For example, Iraq, the central plank of the section, is treated in just 146 words. The document states the aim in Iraq to be “ending the war”, not winning it.

Committing the party to victory would have been a slap in the face of its Congressional leaders, Senator Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who solemnly declared the war lost more than a year and a half ago.

The party’s document, and with it candidate Obama, do not tell us whether they think the US has already lost the war in Iraq and, if yes, to whom has it lost it. What they are interested in is to prove that they were right in their real or imagined opposition to ending Saddam Hussain’s tyranny.

The document describes the Iraq war as “unnecessary”. This is because the adjective “illegal”, favoured by the party’s anti-war militants, would be inapt. The war was sanctioned by the US Congress, and backed by 18 unanimous resolutions of the United Nations’ Security Council.

The war in Afghanistan, on the other hand, is described as “necessary”, with a hint that it could spread to Pakistan. In other words, we are ready to fight anywhere as long as it is not Iraq, because we have to prove that we were right in opposing the end of Saddam.

One might have expected Obama to offer something serious on Afghanistan, his supposed pet war. Far from it. All we get is a promise to give $1 billion more in annual aid to Afghanistan, despite the fact that the Afghan economy has not been able to absorb the $20 billion aid pledges already made since 2002.

Obama will also send two more combat brigades, precisely the number that other Nato allies were supposed to supply by next January. This will relieve pressure on Nato’s European members but will not add to the overall force available to secure Afghanistan. In any case, as the “surge” in Iraq has shown, success is achieved by holding territory and offering security, not a task for combat units alone.

The document asserts that “the central front in the war on terror is not Iraq, and never was”, although Osama Bin Laden and his cohorts keep asserting the opposite.

The document is careful not to use the phrase “Global War on Terror” (GWOT), coined by US President George W. Bush. Thus, the threat the US faces does not come from terrorists but from “extremists” and their “programme of hate”.

Obama declares seven objectives. The first, not surprisingly, is “end the war in Iraq”. The second is “combating violent extremism”. This means that non-violent extremism is OK, although it may serve as ante-chamber for terror. Here again, political correctness dictated the use of the word “extremism” rather than terrorism.

The five other objectives are platitudes of the motherhood and apple-pie kind. For example, we are promised “protecting our planet” and “combating global warming”, clichés designed to make Al Gore happy.

There are several references to “restoring American leadership”. However, when it comes to tough issues, we are told that “the world must do” this or that.

Here is one example: “The world must prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” And what if that abstract entity, “the world”, of which Obama once claimed to be a citizen, fails to do so? Obama’s answer is “tougher sanctions and aggressive, principled and direct high level diplomacy without preconditions”.

The two phrases “high level” and “without preconditions” were inserted to show a difference with Bush. The Bush administration has already sent its third highest-ranking diplomat on a diplomatic mission regarding Iran. So, Obama promises to go higher and, perhaps as he once promised and then backtracked, talk to Ahmadinejad himself.

The phrase “without preconditions” would please Ahmadinejad who has been demanding exactly that for more than three years. “Without preconditions” means scrapping three unanimous UN Security Council resolutions and subverting the united front that the Bush administration has created with the European Union plus Russia and China.

In the section on the Middle East, Obama promises to “stand with allies and pursue diplomacy”. But, apart from Israel that is mentioned by name, we are never told who those “allies” are. While Bush had fixed the creation of two states, a Palestinian one besides Israel, as the aim of his strategy, Obama takes a step back by claiming that the US should “lead the efforts to build the road to a secure and lasting peace”.

He also abandons Bush’s message of democratisation in the Middle East as the long-term weapon against terrorism, and strengthens the fiction that the Palestinian issue is the main, if not the sole, problem in the region. In fact, despotism may be the more important issue.

Obama uses the hackneyed phrase “democracy cannot be imposed by force” as if he had discovered the ultimate truth. Yes, it is, perhaps, true that democracy cannot be imposed by force. But force can, and has been, used to remove impediments to democracy as was the case in Germany under Hitler, Japan under the military Shogunate, and Iraq under Saddam Hussain.

The Obama document is remarkable for other reasons. It is almost silent on such key issues as the return of Russia as a challenger, as witnessed in the Caucasus right now; the threat of nuclear proliferation; and the long overdue reform of international institutions. The rise of China as global power is dealt with in no more than 100 words, all of them cliches.

The Pollyannaish tone of the document, and its readiness to always give the enemies of the US the benefit of a doubt, reminds the reader of the Democratic Party’s platform when Jimmy Carter was nominated for president.

This is no surprise. Most of Obama’s closest foreign policy advisers are holdovers from the Carter days. Among them Zbigniew Brzezinsky, Anthony Lake and, of course, vice-presidential nominee, Senator Joseph Biden.

See our last posts on Barack Obama and the politics of the GWOT.