Obama administration’s foreign policy: the fist of friendship
American imperialism is increasingly beset with problems all over the globe, from foe and so-called friends alike. Following the ‘go it alone' policies of the Bush administration, the election of Barack Obama 18 months ago was supposed to buy it time in order to establish firmer ground for its manoeuvres on the international arena. Obama's image as a ‘peacemaker' and his administration's approach of ‘co-operation', ‘conciliation' and diplomacy was an attempt to associate all the other major but secondary powers to its military enterprises and supposedly ‘hold out a hand' to its foes. As the international situation resolution in International Review 138, Autumn 2009 says, despite the election of Obama, the USA's "objective is still the reconquest of US global leadership through its military superiority. Thus Obama's overtures towards increased diplomacy are to a significant degree designed to buy time and thereby space out the need for inevitable future interventions by its military which is currently stretched too thinly and is too exhausted to sustain yet another theatre of war simultaneously with Iraq and Afghanistan".
It now appears that the policies of engagement, cooperation and diplomacy trumpeted by Obama have, if they ever existed, given way to policies more like those of the Bush team, but further extended and refined to meet the increasingly dangerous demands of the world situation. They thus, in the longer term, contribute to the global instability they are trying to control. If an event could demonstrate this development it was probably the US invasion of Haiti after the earthquake at the beginning of the year, where the US stamped itself on all the attempts by other governments and their agencies to interfere in America's backyard. It was a clear and brutal message to all the other powers.
Apart from the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq being put on hold, and the "surge" of 30,000 extra US troops into Afghanistan just beginning, there are many other elements that point to the necessity for the increased assertiveness of US imperialism. The new strategy, presented as a clean break with the Bush doctrine of unilateralism, was set out in a 52-page report recently posted on the White House web site entitled ‘A Blueprint for Pursuing the World that We Seek', which is covered with Obamaspeak. Thus: "Our long-term security will not come from our ability to instil fear in other peoples but through our capacity to address their hopes". The thrust of the policy is to engage with China, India and Russia, but the report also puts the dangers of cyber-terrorism high up the list, and this is a weapon mainly used by China. The US recently slapped down India hard for its own imperialist ambitions in Afghanistan and in relation to its tensions with Pakistan, forcing the Indian bourgeoisie to issue a strong riposte and go running to the Russians for solace. And tensions with Russia are ongoing in the Caucasus; they flared up during the unrest that led to the fall of the government in Kyrgyzstan, where both the Russians and the US have an air base.
Showing the basic continuity with the Bush regime, the report still reserves the right for the US to act unilaterally and does not rule out pre-emptive and exemplary retaliatory strikes. It will maintain military superiority everywhere and promote ‘democracy and human rights', which is directed against China, Iran and North Korea. This is not the ‘same old, same old' in respect to Bush's policies, but the refinement of these policies in order to make them more effective for US imperialism in more volatile circumstances. Underlying this, late last year, General Petraeus, head of US Central Command, signed an order sending troops on undercover operations on a wider and more persistent scale. Details are obviously sketchy but The Guardian (25/5/10) reports US military teams active in Iran, Yemen, Syria, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. Iran has repeatedly accused the US and Britain of sending in Special Forces to foment unrest among ethnic regional groups while undertaking their own operations. The Washington Post, 5/6/10, reports that US Special Forces are now deployed in 75 countries compared with 60 at the beginning of last year - when Obama took office. The paper goes on to say that Special Operations budgets have been raised under Obama and that SO commanders are much more present at the White House than they were during the Bush administration. One unnamed officer said that now "they are talking less and acting more". Also to this end, work has just started on an extended US base housing the USA's 5th Fleet, massively increasing its military capacities in the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea and parts of the Indian Ocean.
Diplomacy as war
The transformation of covert operations, a la Rumsfeld, to ‘overtly covert' sanctioned operations, plainly stated by the administration, is part of the USA's declaration of war on its enemies and a warning to its ‘friends'. This is also the way that the Obama administration is using diplomacy - diplomacy as an aspect of war, as an aspect of imperialism. Thus when Japan's new leader, who won a landslide election for his Democratic Party last August, proposed a more independent role for Japan loosening the US yoke, and suggested (probably not seriously) the closing of US bases in Japan, this provoked a furious diplomatic response from the US administration, particularly over talk of closer Japanese links with China. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was publicly humiliated on his visit to Washington, and Obama informed him, according to US press accounts, that "he was running out of time". Hatoyama seems to have cracked up under US diplomatic bullying, name-calling and exaggerated warnings about the consequences for Japan and the wider Asia-Pacific region and apologetically came back into line. So much for democracy and international cooperation!
Similarly, Brazil and Turkey were both slapped down by the US recently over the deal they brokered with Iran to ship the country's uranium to Turkey, despite the deal being similar to a UN-drafted plan that the US and its ‘allies' urged Tehran to accept last year. So much for the extended hand of friendship! Both countries also voted against the new UN package of sanctions against Iran, which the US has been working on for five months. The package includes "financial curbs, an expanded arms embargo and warnings to UN member states to be vigilant about a range of Iranian activities. Iran's national shipping company is targeted, as are entities controlled by the Revolutionary Guard, the backbone of the Islamic regime and keeper of its nuclear programme" (Guardian, 10/6/10). Diplomatic channels have also been used by Secretary of State Gates (a Bush appointee in the previous administration) to berate the European powers for not contributing more of their money and military forces to assisting the US, and for not acting more in concert in supporting the US. Not a lot of chance of that while they are all at each others' throats.
Trouble, trouble, trouble
Aside from the wars in Afghansistan, Pakistan and Iraq, there are also growing problems presented by Iran, Turkey and Israel in this strategically key region. Emphasising the increasing impact of smaller powers since the collapse of the Russian bloc in 1989, the fall-out with Israel is perhaps the most serious. After its outright defiance over the building of large new settlements, relations have further deteriorated over the recent killings on the so-called ‘aid to Gaza' ship, Mavi Mamara. US diplomacy has gone out of its way to show that it warned Israel "to show restraint when dealing with the six-ship convoy" (The Observer, 7/6/10). "We communicated with Israel many times regarding the flotilla. We emphasised caution and restraint", said the US State Department. A former US ambassador to Israel argued in the Washington Post, June 5, that for the US, Israel was an ally heading in a very different direction. Similarly Turkey appears to be consolidating a move away from the US in the general and increasingly more dangerous free-for-all in the region. From its refusal to allow the transportation of US troops across its territory n the war with Iraq, Turkey has been expressing a more independent line in relation to Iran and Syria. Following the killing of a number of Turkish citizens in the attack on the Mavi Mamara, the American brokered Turkish-Israeli alliance now appears dead in the water, as Turkey seems to be taking on the role of a rising power in the pro-Palestinian world.
There is also the so-called ‘arc of crisis' in the Horn of Africa and its surrounds which has the potential to become one of the world's ‘hot-spots'. US and British involvement in promoting Ethiopian militarism has backfired and the whole region is unstable, a growing base for Al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. Local rivalries involving Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia and Sudan are interlinked and exploited by larger imperialisms. Across the Gulf is Yemen, an increasingly running sore for US imperialism made potentially worse by the increasing interest shown in the country by the US and Britain. From here there's a potential vector of terrorist and fundamentalist groupings, some of them linking up, going around the Horn of Africa, Northern Kenya, the Gulf and involving Saudi Arabia; a whole lawless region for the US sheriff to attempt to control.
Away from this region, a further problem for the US was shown in the sinking of a South Korean warship in March by a North Korean torpedo. What this shows, along with the examples above, is that the lesser gangsters will feel tempted to push the American Godfather to its limits and the USA's ‘allies' will become even less reliable as they follow their own interests. Incidents and accidents in this irrational mix of imperialist rivalries can get out of control, putting even more pressure on the USA. One thing is sure: the US will not respond with ‘peace and reconciliation', to use the ‘humanitarian' vocabulary that Obama is so keen to deploy. It will respond with the brute force of militarism and war, thereby making very situation more dangerous, and liable to multiply imperialist conflicts across the face of the world.