[Marxism] Who Makes Obama's Foreign Policy?

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Sun Jul 27 15:56:38 MDT 2008

July 1, 2008

Hawks Behind the Dove: Who Makes Obama's Foreign Policy?
By Tim Shorrock, July 2008 Issue

Cuba's dramatic announcement last February that Fidel Castro was
stepping down as head of the Cuban government presented Barack Obama
with an unprecedented opportunity to establish his foreign policy
credentials and set himself apart from Hillary Clinton, as well as
the Bush Administration and its heir-apparent, John McCain.

It should have been an easy shot: President Bush said U.S. policy
toward Cuba, particularly the longstanding U.S. embargo, would not
change one iota until "free and fair elections" were held in Cuba and
the country had embraced his vision of democracy. McCain quickly
echoed Bush's Cold War declaration, which basically amounts to a call
for regime change in Havana.

Clinton, asked during a debate if she would be willing to sit down
with Raul Castro, Fidel's successor, replied in similar language. 
Not "without some evidence that [Cuba] will demonstrate the kind of
progress that is in our interest," she said, pointing out later
through a spokesperson that she "supports the embargo and our current
policy toward Cuba."

Obama, true to his pledge to change the U.S. approach to the world,
said he would meet with Cuban leaders "without preconditions" because
it's important for the United States "not just to talk to its friends
but also to talk to its enemies." Despite calls from some of his
advisers for America to trade with Cuba just as it does with China
and Vietnam, however, Obama has been silent on lifting the embargo,
though he has called for getting rid of restrictions on remittances
and family travel to that country.

More recently, Obama has completely abandoned the skepticism about
the embargo he expressed during his 2004 run for the Senate. In a May
23 speech to the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami, he
flatly declared that, as President, he will "maintain the embargo. 
It provides us with the leverage to present the regime with a clear
choice: If you take significant steps toward democracy, beginning
with the freeing of all political prisoners, we will take steps to
begin normalizing relations." The declaration drew cheers from the
virulently anti-Castro crowd. With Cuba, therefore, we have the basic
outline of the foreign policy debate of 2008: more of the same from
the Republicans, a generally hawkish approach from Clinton, and a
nuanced stance from Obama that underscores his differences with both
Clinton and McCain while demonstrating his fealty towards U.S.
national security interests and the Democratic foreign policy
mainstream. These differences show up also on Iran.

When Clinton vowed to "totally obliterate" Iran if it attacked Israel
with nuclear weapons, Obama sharply criticized her comment, saying
that's "not the language we need right now, and I think it's language
reflective of George Bush."

While Clinton's team talked recklessly of brandishing nuclear
weapons, Obama endorsed proposals to eliminate nukes, and flatly
ruled out the use of tactical nuclear weapons against terrorist
groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan (eliciting a warning from Clinton
that Presidents should refrain from publicly discussing "the use and
nonuse of nuclear weapons").

Now that Obama is the presumptive Democratic nominee, predicting what
his actual policies will look like requires a careful look at the
people he relies on for advice on foreign policy.

Obama's most important foreign policy adviser is Zbigniew Brzezinski,
who was the national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter from
1977 to 1981. In that role, he backed Carter's aid to the brutal
Indonesian government in East Timor, and he infamously pushed for
funding the jihadist rebels in Afghanistan against the Soviets. But
his hawkish views have mellowed over time. Last August, Brzezinski
endorsed Obama and blasted Clinton's foreign policy approach as "very
conventional." In contrast to Clinton's advisers, who speak wistfully
about Iraq as a policy gone wrong, Brzezinski denounces the war in
unequivocal terms. Writing in The Washington Post in March 2008, he
called the war a "national tragedy, an economic catastrophe, a
regional disaster and a global boomerang for the United States," and
argued that it was "started deliberately, justified demagogically,
and waged badly."

Obama also relies for advice on Tony Lake, who was Bill Clinton's
national security adviser, and Susan Rice, a former assistant
secretary of state for African affairs (she's been busy lately
moderating Obama's stance on Cuba). Obama also listens to Richard
Clarke, the former White House counterterrorism czar, and Ivo
Daalder, a former official in Bill Clinton's NSC, who heads up
Obama's nonproliferation policies.

Leading Obama's military advisers is retired Air Force General Tony
McPeak, who backed George Bush in 2000 but began working with Obama
after meeting him last year. McPeak says he was attracted by Obama's
strong opposition to the war in Iraq and his emphasis on diplomacy.
Speaking last January during a West Coast campaign swing, McPeak said
Obama would seek to negotiate with Iran, pointing out that, after the
September 11 attacks, Tehran cooperated with Washington in tracking
Al Qaeda suspects and donated more than $300 million to post-Taliban
Afghanistan. The Bush Administration, he said, should have used that
"constructive back-channel" to open discussions on other
issues-implying that Obama would seize on such opportunities. 

Obama, he believes, will usher in a new era of foreign policy after 
the disasters of the Bush-Cheney era. "Our country's international
standing has been frittered away by people who don't have the
foggiest understanding of how the hell the world works," McPeak told
Rolling Stone last March. But McPeak has a hard edge. According to
the journalist Allan Nairn, he oversaw the delivery of advanced
fighter jets to Suharto in 1991, just after Suharto's forces had
carried out a deliberate massacre of anti-Jakarta demonstrators in
Dili, East Timor.

One of the key planks of Obama's foreign policies is his commitment
to "soft power," such as foreign economic aid, to expand American
influence. Last year, he pledged to double U.S. foreign aid by 2012
and increase "both the numbers and capabilities of our diplomats,
development experts, and other civilians who can work alongside our
military." Advising him on these issues is John Brennan, a
thirty-year veteran of the CIA who once ran the National
Counterterrorism Center. 

Brennan, like many of his former colleagues in the CIA, 
believes that military power must be augmented by intelligence, 
diplomacy, and foreign aid, and in a recent interview
with a Washington newsletter argued that "there needs to be much more
attention paid to those upstream factors and conditions that spawn
terrorists" (Brennan is now the CEO of the Analysis Corporation, the
same company that, ironically, employed the contract employee who
illegally accessed Obama's passport data at the State Department
earlier this year).

In some areas, Obama's national security policies might be closer to
McCain's. He has said he would act unilaterally to take out
"high-value terrorist targets" in Pakistan if Pervez Musharraf failed
to take action himself. Like McCain, he has also criticized Jimmy
Carter for meeting with Hamas.

And on trade and economic policy, Obama has two sides as well. He has
approached Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist who has
critiqued corporate globalization and has estimated the cost of the
Iraq War at $3 trillion, as a possible White House adviser. (Stiglitz
returned the favor by declaring his support for Obama and calling the
candidate's economic ideas "brilliant.")

On the other hand, he is also advised by Austan Goolsbee, a
University of Chicago economist who reportedly told Canadian
officials that Obama's critique of NAFTA was "political positioning"
and would not become official policy in an Obama White House.

Although Goolsbee denied the reports, in an April interview with U.S.
News & World Report, he downplayed Obama's opposition to free trade
agreements, saying that "as long as I have known Senator Obama, he
has believed that you can't build a moat around the country, and that
trade overall has been good for the economy-but that there have been
a lot of people left out." That's certainly not the denunciation of
free trade deals that many trade unionists are looking for.

One person to watch is Richard Holbrooke. Bill Clinton's U.N.
ambassador, Holbrooke saddled up with Hillary. But ever since he left
the Carter Administration, he has been widely viewed within the
Democratic Party as a Secretary of State in-waiting, and he himself
has strenuously campaigned for the job. If he is elected in November,
President Obama would come under enormous pressure from both the
Clinton camp and his Democratic supporters-including John Kerry, who
relied on Holbrooke during the 2004 campaign-to make him Secretary of

Holbrooke, however, carries a lot of baggage-some of it pretty
unsightly. He was a State Department official in Vietnam during the
1960s, and under President Carter served as assistant secretary of
state for East Asian and Pacific affairs. During those years, he
helped provide key assistance to U.S.-backed dictators in South
Korea, the Philippines, and Indonesia. His constant refrain was the
preservation of U.S. national security interests in the region. 

After Park Chung Hee, the South Korean dictator, was shot to death 
in 1979 after eighteen years of increasingly brutal rule, for example,
Holbrooke exploded in anger when Christian dissidents protested the
continuation of martial law. Their actions, he complained in
declassified documents I obtained in 1996, were making it difficult
for the United States to avoid "another Iran" in that country. 

And like Brzezinski, Holbrooke lent enormous assistance to Suharto's
military to put down the Timorese resistance. Among the weapons
systems sold to Suharto with U.S. support were A-10 Broncos that were
used to strafe Timorese villages. "If you look at the statistics,
from 1976 to 1978 we massively increased our assistance that made the
occupation and quelling of the [East Timor] rebellion possible,"
Edmund McWilliams, a longtime U.S. diplomat who served in Indonesia
during the Clinton Administration, told me. "To my mind, that was
when the great bloodletting took place, and it was all done during
the watch of Richard Holbrooke and Jimmy Carter, the human rights

Holbrooke also was hawkish on Iraq and has had harsh words for Iran,
comparing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Hitler.

Many liberals, including those in the Obama camp, seem to believe
that Holbrooke has changed his spots and would make an excellent
choice as America's top diplomat. Last February, Samantha Power, a
professor at Harvard's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and a
former Obama adviser, spoke at a foreign policy forum in Reno,
Nevada. I was in the audience, and asked her if Holbrooke would have
a place in an Obama Administration.

Power, who won a Pulitzer for her book on genocide, was still working
as Obama's top foreign policy adviser at that point. She replied
that, in her opinion, Holbrooke "had evolved" from the 1970s, and
regretted some of his actions during that period, particularly in the
Philippines, where he backed Ferdinand Marcos (she didn't mention
Korea or Indonesia). Despite his position as a senior adviser to
Clinton, Power added, Holbrooke would be welcome in an Obama cabinet.
"We won't exclude people working for Hillary Clinton," she said.
"Ours will be a broad tent."

While Obama would be the first community organizer in American
history to become President and promises to bring a dramatic new face
to the global scene, we may end up with a lot of old faces.

Tim Shorrock has been covering U.S. foreign policy for more than
twenty-five years. His book on the outsourcing of U.S. intelligence
operations, "Spies for Hire," was published in May by Simon &

     Los Angeles, California
     Editor-in-Chief, CubaNews
     "Cuba - Un Paraíso bajo el bloqueo"

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