Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Great Continuity

President-elect Barack Obama ran his campaign on a platform of hope and change, capitalizing on a surge of antipathy for a president who had immersed the US in two wars, overseen the greatest decline of the domestic economy since the Great Depression, and sullied the good name of the country through expansions of executive power, accusations of torture, and aggressive unilateralist foreign policies.

So why is it looking more and more like President Obama will, indeed, continue many of soon-to-be-ex-President Bush's policies?

Take a close look at the confirmation hearing for Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Senator John Kerry asks her:
Is it the policy of the incoming administration, as a bottom line of our security interests and our policy, that it is unacceptable that Iran has a weapon under any circumstances and that we will take any steps necessary to prevent that? Or is it simply not desirable?
Clinton responds:

The president-elect has said repeatedly it is unacceptable. It is going to be United States policy to pursue diplomacy with all of its multitudinous tools to do everything we can to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapons state. As I also said, no option is off the table. [Emphases added]
"No option is off the table" is diplo-speak for "we reserve the right to use military force." So, in essence, Clinton claims that the Obama administration will use diplomacy, sanctions, and the not-so-veiled threat of force to try to get Iran to back away from the development of nuclear weapons. That would be little different than Bush's approach, especially in his second administration.

Of course, the proof will be in the pudding. But so far few signs are pointing to any radical shifts in foreign policy as of Tuesday, Jan. 20. US forces will begin withdrawing from Iraq according to the strategic logic of the Status of Forces Agreement and in consultation with the military officials, not according to the absurd time frame established by Obama during the campaign. There may be some more movement on the issue of Darfur (according to Clinton she has "spoken about other options, no fly zones, other sanctions and sanctuaries, looking to deploy the U.N. A.U. force to try to protect the refugees, but also to repel the militias"), but I'm not betting on much there. Global warming and climate change may be a bigger priority, but that will run into the same giant collective actions that undermine the Kyoto Protocol. Guantanamo Bay may be closed, but Obama will still have to create some mechanism by which to hold and try those being held there. All in all, I expect to see a lot of continuity between the foreign policies of Bush and Obama.

1 comment:

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