[Marxism] In response to Max Elbaum

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Dec 2 07:25:54 MST 2008

Max has a piece on MRZine 
(http://www.monthlyreview.org/mrzine/elbaum021208.html) that I commented on:

Max wrote:

Obama projects a different mix of military force and diplomacy, of 
unilateralism and cooperation with allies, than his predecessor.  The 
incoming President's bottom-line goal -- maintaining "U.S. world 
leadership" -- remains the same.  But it is apparent that Obama knows 
there are limits to U.S. power and that various accommodations to other 
countries' interests are necessary (if unpleasant) requirements in 
today's multipolar world.


But in reality the Bush political/military doctrine of the 2001 to 2006 
period roughly has been replaced by a more centrist one symbolized by 
the rise of the State Department and Gates's role in the CIA. In effect, 
you have a foreign policy that is more in line with George Bush '41. 
Since Obama is a big fan of '41, it is no surprise that he retained 
Gates and that Condoleezza Rice has gushed over Hillary Clinton becoming 
Secretary of State. If you can stomach his unctuous prose, just read 
David Brooks in today's NY Times op-ed:

NY Times, December 2, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
Continuity We Can Believe In

The 2008 election results did not fundamentally change American foreign 
policy. The real change began a few years ago in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It began with colonels and captains fighting terror on the ground. They 
found that they could clear a town of the bad guys, but they had little 
capacity to establish rule of law or quality of life for the people they 
were trying to help. They quickly realized that the big challenge in 
this new era is not killing the enemy, it’s repairing the zones of chaos 
where enemies grow and breed. They realized, too, that Washington wasn’t 
providing them with the tools they needed to accomplish their missions.

Their observations and arguments filtered through military channels and 
back home, producing serious rethinking at the highest levels. On Jan. 
18, 2006, Condoleezza Rice delivered a policy address at Georgetown 
University in which she argued that the fundamental threats now come 
from weak and failed states, not enemy powers.

In this new world, she continued, it is impossible to draw neat lines 
between security, democratization and development efforts. She called 
for a transformational diplomacy, in which State Department employees 
would do less negotiating and communiqué-writing. Instead, they’d be out 
in towns and villages doing broad campaign planning with military 
colleagues, strengthening local governments and implementing development 

Over the past year, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has delivered a 
series of remarkable speeches echoing and advancing Rice’s themes. “In 
recent years, the lines separating war, peace, diplomacy and development 
have become more blurred and no longer fit the neat organizational 
charts of the 20th century,” he said in Washington in July.

Gates does not talk about spreading democracy, at least in the short 
run. He talks about using integrated federal agencies to help locals 
improve the quality and responsiveness of governments in trouble spots 
around the world.

He has developed a way of talking about security and foreign policy that 
is now the lingua franca in government and think-tank circles. It owes a 
lot to the lessons of counterinsurgency and uses phrases like “full 
spectrum operations” to describe multidisciplinary security and 
development campaigns.

Gates has told West Point cadets that more regime change is unlikely but 
that they may spend parts of their careers training soldiers in allied 
nations. He has called for more spending on the State Department, 
foreign aid and a revitalized U.S. Information Agency. He’s spawned a 
flow of think-tank reports on how to marry hard and soft pre-emption.

The Bush administration began to implement these ideas, but in small and 
symbolic ways. President Bush called for a civilian corps to do 
nation-building. National Security Presidential Directive 44 laid out a 
framework so different agencies could coordinate foreign reconstruction 
and stabilization. The Millennium Challenge Account program created a 
method for measuring effective governance.

Actual progress was slow, but the ideas developed during the second Bush 
term have taken hold.

Some theoreticians may still talk about Platonic concepts like realism 
and neoconservatism, but the actual foreign policy doctrine of the 
future will be hammered out in a bottom-up process as the U.S. and its 
allies use their varied tools to build government capacity in 
Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, the Philippines and beyond. Grand 
strategists may imagine a new global architecture built at high-level 
summits, but the real global architecture of the future will emerge 
organically from these day-to-day nation-building operations.

During the campaign, Barack Obama embraced Gates’s language. During his 
press conference on Monday, he used all the right code words, speaking 
of integrating and rebalancing the nation’s foreign policy capacities. 
He nominated Hillary Clinton and James Jones, who have been champions of 
this approach, and retained Gates. Their cooperation on an integrated 
strategy might prevent some of the perennial feuding between the 
Pentagon, Foggy Bottom and the National Security Council.

As Stephen Flanagan of the Center for Strategic and International 
Studies notes, Obama’s challenge will be to actually implement the 
change. That would include increasing the size of the State Department, 
building a civilian corps that can do development in dangerous parts of 
the world, creating interagency nation-building institutions, helping 
local reformers build governing capacity in fragile places like Pakistan 
and the Palestinian territories and exporting American universities 
while importing more foreign students.

Given the events of the past years, the U.S. is not about to begin 
another explicit crusade to spread democracy. But decent, effective and 
responsive government would be a start.

Obama and his team didn’t invent this approach. But if they can put it 
into action, that would be continuity we can believe in.

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