Thursday, November 20, 2008

Same as the old boss, part 1: Foreign policy


My initial intention following the election was to give president-elect Barack Obama the traditional "honeymoon" period -- waiting at least until his inauguration, and possibly even until the usual "first 100 days" agenda had floated or foundered, before starting to slice and dice his approach to the presidency. As it turns out, the transition period is chock full of clues as to what Obama's presidency will look like, especially with respect to foreign policy, so there's no reason not to get started.

Summary: Obama's foreign policy approach will likely come to nothing more or less than a matter of sticking blue helmets and the word "humanitarian" on his immediate predecessor's way of doing things. Or, to put it a different way, his foreign policy will likely feature the Clinton administration's trappings and the Bush administration's ... vigor.

This was fairly predictable from the start. Remember, Obama campaigned for US Senate in 2004 on an anti-war platform, then turned on a dime and voted in the Senate to continue the war every time he was given an opportunity to do so. His presidential campaign once again launched on an anti-war note, but he didn't even make it through the Democratic primaries before discarding that position again.

Even when nominally condemning the war on Iraq, he's never taken a non-interventionist line in any case. He's just promised to to be a better manager of America's bayonet-point outreach programs, while suggesting that he'll try to save the failed occupation of Afghanistan, extend that occupation into Pakistan, and maintain or increase the US belligerence quotient versus Iran and Russia.

If you're surprised to see Obama tap Israel-Firster Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, float Madeline Al ... er, Henry Kissi ... er, Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State, or leak the possibility of keeping Robert Gates on at the Pentagon, you haven't been paying attention for the last year or so.

As for Iraq, the Busheviks are already in the process of tying Obama's hands and striking the first major blow of Election 2012 by pushing to conclude their "Status of Forces Agreement" with Baghdad before his inauguration. If they succeed in getting that agreement through Iraq's parliament, he's in a no-win situation: The Republicans take credit for anything good that comes of it, Obama takes the blame for anything bad that happens. Personally I think he'll screw it up SOFA or no SOFA, but I have to give the Republicans credit for a good game of "pin the blame on the Democrat."

The only possible clean path out of the Iraq quagmire for Obama is bold action -- announce an immediate US withdrawal on January 20th, carry out that withdrawal, and hope the civil war in Iraq (inevitable no matter when the US withdraws, but likely worse the longer it stays) plays itself out before his first term ends. It doesn't look like that's going to happen. His cabinet picks indicate that he's already preparing to fold his "change" hand on foreign policy, and his campaign statements on Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Russia indicate that that hand was a garbage bluff in the first place.

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