Obama's Same Old, Same Old Foreign Policy?

Obama's Same Old, Same Old Foreign Policy

In this month's Atlantic (Jan-Feb '09) magazine Benjamin Schwarz suggests that Obama's promised "change" may not extend to U.S. foreign policy.

George Bush's second inaugural address--"...the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands."

Barack Obama statement in 2006--America "has a direct national security interest" in seeing its economic and political beliefs take hold in other lands"...this country is "called to provide visionary leadership in battling immediate evils and promoting the ultimate good." And a reference to American military "operations to win hearts and minds." And the claim that "the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people."

Madeleine Albright--swaggeringly declared the U.S. as "the indispensable nation...we stand tall and hence see farther."

British diplomat-- "One reads about the world's desire for American leadership only in the United States. Everywhere else one reads about American arrogance and unilateralism."

Dean Rusk reasoned with regard to Vietnam that American "can be secure only to the extent that our total environment is secure."

George F. Kennan By extending it's military and nuclear unbrella over an unstable region historically outside its strategic orbit, America has taken on its most ambitious and far-reaching security obligatons since the late 1940s, thereby committing "a strategic blunder of epic proportions."

Pushing the U.S. led alliance into regions very much in Russia's sphere of influence has understandably antagonized a great power whose cooperation the Obama administration will need if it is to resolve a range of issues--nuclear proliferation, relations with Iran, terrorism, global warming and so forth.

National Intelligence Council report "Global Trends 2025"--

"American dominance will be much diminished...The overwhelming dominance that the United States has enjouyed in the international system...is eroding and will erode at an accelerating pace..."

Schwarz points out that a policy that says America will be safe only when the rest of the world is converted to American ideals breeds a Manichean view of world politics and creates a barrier to diplomacy as in the case of Clinton's policy of expanding NATO into the former Soviet bloc countries and Bush's plan to install missile defenses in Poland to which Russia has objected.

Obama's foreign policy declarations, according to Schwarz are "all but identical to those of every post-Cold War administration. Obama has made it clear that he will not "cede our claim of leadership in world affiars," meaning that he is unwilling to refashion America's foreign policy.

Schwarz goes on to point out that maintaining what the Clinton pentagon called "full spectrum dominance" over allies and potential enemies means that America must spend more on its military than do virtually all other countries combined.

Schwarz concludes that the U.S. would be well-advised to drop it's delusions of world leadership (i.e. dominance, hegemony, imperialism) and "accept and in fact encourage the emergence of a multipolar wywtem of truly independent great powers, which would take care of their own and their regions' security. Such arguments were barely considered. Triumphalists--Democratic and Republican--believed that international politics could in effect be transcended, and that American leadership, like the ever-rising Dow could be sustained indefinitely."

[The above text is a summary and condensation of Benjamin Schwarz's excellent article in the Atlantic magazine.]


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Comments 22 comments

countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

Recently in News some body I don't recollect who but he was saying that Obama's mantra of "Change we can believe in" is nothing but a change to the old clinton administration. But honestly I think Obama does have a good VP like Joe Biden who is well versed in foreign policy. Also Obama may mean that he wants to turn the present negative moral authority of US in international affairs to its preeminent position earlier. I don't know and also I am not knowledgeable in this field hence these are just my unsubstantiated views.

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 8 years ago Author

I suggest you read the linked Benjamin Schwarz article. There is much truth in it.

countrywomen profile image

countrywomen 8 years ago from Washington, USA

Thanks for guiding me. I read that article and it is disturbing if Obama feels the world should be a mirror image of America. But my only doubt would be when and in what context those words were said as sometimes taking certain statements out of context gives a totally different picture. Nice analytical hub.

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 8 years ago Author

I hope that's true. I have no doubt that Obama will be a big improvement over Bush. But not big enough, IMHO.

J D Murrah profile image

J D Murrah 8 years ago from Refugee from Shoreacres, Texas


Some interesting observations. To know for sure I am watching two things. 1) What he does in the first 100 days and 2) What he does in his thrid year. Given that most administrations initially carry on the foreign policies of the previous one, there will likely be little change in that arena until year 3, which is when we will begin to see the fruit of the Obama policy decisions.

Given the Obama's campaign's use of hegemony and imperial symbollism during his campaign, I suspect that we'll will see more of it (hegemony and imperialism) to come. (The "O" with stripes extending across the horizon; Posters that graphically similar to Benito Mussolini campaign posters. In terms of symbolic language,used by his campaign, the message was one of hegemony and imperialism continued.) Despite the rhetoric, the message of the symbols say a great deal.

William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

Obama's view of the world, Ralph, is far different from that of the neocons and George W. Bush. The Schwarz article makes reference to many long held views of American leadership and predominance in the world, some of which have taken us to places we don't want to be. However, the big difference is not so much the view of America's position in the world, as it is in the arrogance and pig-headedness of Dubya, Dick Cheney, McNamara and others in the Bush Administration. It is the arrogance of Dubya that is directly responsible for our country's present mortgage and financial crisis as well as our foreign policy blunders. Obama need only to lead us -- and the world -- without that arrogance to improve our standing in the world and to bring this nation together, both socially and financially. The right wing's effort to destroy the legacy of Franklin D. Roosevelt and to establish the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned against is what got us in our current pickel. Obama will take us in a far different direction, thank heaven!

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 8 years ago Author

JD & William, All we can do is hope fior the best and prepare for the worst!

However, Schwarz mentioned several rather specific policies dating back to Clinton such as extending NATO into former USSR countries which doesn't help our relations with Russia. Obama has apparently voiced support for the approach of having military alliances and relationships led or controlled by the U.S. all around the world. This is very expensive and it makes other countries like Russia nervous and hard to deal with on other issues. Obama may have just been spouting the conventional foreign policy line with his fingers crossed in order to get elected but I kind of doubt it. Maybe somebody will have him read Schwarz's article or my Hub! He's a pretty smart guy.

G-Ma Johnson profile image

G-Ma Johnson 8 years ago from NW in the land of the Free

I'm no-one to discuss politics..but over the years my observance has been that they promise so much  in their campaign's honestly believing THEY CAN DO IT...they can be the next Great President...but seems once in Office and with all the 'adviser's' they have...all the things that they have no idea about all becomes a bit over whelming...  seems certain things all take a great deal of time to change from one President to another...

I have watched so many get old and grey and wrinkled...I am sure it is a Hell of a job...and the best thing we can do is Pray and stand behind the man and give him a chance...however what choice do we have now anyway.? He got voted in so what will be will be...Ok my 2 cents has been added...gotta go get my mom...thank God I still have that right...G-Ma :o) Hugs & Peace...Thanks for the Hub Ralph I always like to read them..:O))

barranca profile image

barranca 8 years ago

The American Empire presupposes a military industrial complex and hegemony. The leopard can't change its spots easily, such as 700+ military bases around the world etc. Even Obama is not likely to try to change the basic terms of how America operates globally. Important issue to be considering. Good hub.

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ColdWarBaby 8 years ago

Excellent post Ralph, perhaps your best to date. Thanks for the email.

Once again we have been forced, as we have so many times before, to choose between two evils. One may be considered “lesser” but is evil nonetheless.

I have said in many comments on other Hubs that I have no great expectations of real change from an Obama administration. He was selected by the corporatocracy to be the oil cast upon troubled waters in hopes of temporarily restoring the complacency of the population. The excesses of the Bush cabal have pushed too many buttons before the time was ripe, which has actually managed to stir some awareness in the populace. People have been demonstrating a disturbing degree of consciousness of late and this does not bode well for the elite. It has become necessary to lull the masses back into their preferred state of somnambulism and this will be the real task of the Obama regime while still advancing the agenda of the empire re PNAC.

I have a modest amount of hope that the waking process has already gone too far and that the people will continue to press for real change to the point of civil disobedience and outright rebellion if it is not forthcoming. If our new president does not perform adequately I am hopeful that he will find himself confronted by a citizenry that has been brought to the limit of their endurance. I certainly don’t consider this a foregone conclusion however.

It is equally plausible that the failure of the new administration to produce the desired transformation in our government could push the country even farther to the right leading us into a completely fascist theocracy. I can even conceive of this being a contrived strategy.

Then, of course, it’s always possible that the snake oil may work its magic putting all those who are rousing from their slumber back to sleep. This would allow the elite to continue the indoctrination process until they have produced a population of voluntary slaves.

I don’t think it will take too long to project which scenario is the most likely to play out. Two years should be sufficient to determine which way the wind will blow.

I have said this before; my minimal hope is that there will be a brief respite from the headlong rush to self destruction which will allow those who are conscious to make and initiate their plans for survival.

My ridiculously optimistic fantasy of course is that Obama turns out to be the evil socialist that the McCain campaign tried to depict him as. Then, once he is firmly entrenched in the mansion, he will use his undeniably charismatic abilities to subtly begin the transition from burgeoning third world dictatorship to functioning social democracy.

Only time will tell.

Now that I have written as a comment what could have been another Hub I will say well done and take my leave.

SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 8 years ago from Southern California, USA

It is good for Americans to realize our strong foreign policies are not appreciated overseas. This hub will help to educate many regarding this fact. Good comparision of quotes of many leaders.

sschilke profile image

sschilke 8 years ago

Ralph Deeds,

The difference between Obama and Bush may be more of style than substance. Obama will project military power overseas, but in different areas (Afghanistan and Pakistan). His rational, as with Bush's, will be protecting US interests.

Sweetie Pie,

I don't think foreign policy decisions should be made or not made because they are appreciated over seas. Each country acts in its own self interest, which, at times leads to conflict.


Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 8 years ago Author

The U.S. has more than 700 bases overseas. I was hoping Obama would begin to close some of them. No new foreign policy paradigm. I guess that was apparent from his appointment of Clinton as Secretary of State???

SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 8 years ago from Southern California, USA

sschilke, I disagree with you completely about how the US should not take consideration of other countries thoughts and needs when making foreign policy decions. That is likened a sixth grade bully rationalizing it is okay harass other kids on the play ground because it is a given he might irritate someone, and part of the problem we are having now today is the US presidents making decisions on whims. We need to take a larger role in the UN and listen to the world community when making decisions. European countries act in consent with each other and do not make foreign policies decisions to tick each other off. Since the end of World War II Europeans have learned the lessons of conflict and moved towards forming the European Union in 1973, which is even stronger today. There is nothing wrong with taking the thoughts and concerns of your neighbors into consideration, this is just common sense and common courtesy.

sschilke profile image

sschilke 8 years ago

Sweetie Pie,

Thanks for you reply and willingness to engage in discussion.

Maybe a little more explanation is in order. I did not say that the US should not take into consideration other countries thoughts and needs when considering foreign policy decisions, but rather that "how the other country feels" should not dictate what decisions are made or not made. I believe this to be totally appropriate. Governments must act in their own self interest. You may argue that the decisions made by a government are not in their best self interest, but to argue that foreign policy decisions are made based on the self interest of another country to the detriment of their own is murky indeed. In fact, many people who oppose Iraq, argue that, it is not in our best interest to displace a thug like Saddam because the cost is to high and the outcome unsure. Those who argued for Iraq, like it or not, made arguments based on your criteria... namely that the people of Iraq wanted to get rid of Saddam (which the majority did).

The majority of opposition to Iraq was based on self interest rather than concern for the Iraqi people, or at the very least a difference of opinion on what course of action was better for the Iraqi people. France did not oppose Iraq (Which by the way was not the position of Italy or most of the Easter European countries) on humanitarian reasons. They opposed based on economic issues and the belief that containing Saddam was a better option than removing him. I do not believe that the Shiite living in Basra felt the same as French.

The US, did not move into Iraq to tick off Europe or anyone else. They moved into Iraq because they thought it to be in their self interest to do so.

As for the European Union, they differ on foreign policy quite a bit and even on Economic issues have very different thoughts on how to solve problems. They are as much as ever steeped in self interest.

America should not be condemned for doing something in their own self interest based on the argument that others are against it based on their own self interest. If you oppose a position like Iraq because your are pacifist and oppose the action based on your feelings that War under any circumstance is wrong, I understand and respect that. Also, if you argue that Iraq was not the right move because it did not further our self interest, I can accept that too, but to argue against Iraq or any other foreign policy decision based upon the fact that others don't like or feel doesn't work for me.



William F. Torpey profile image

William F. Torpey 8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

I don't believe, sschilke, that many people who opposed going into Iraq did so for the reasons you state. George W. Bush did not invade Iraq because he thought it to be in the best interests of the U.S., but rather to control the distribution of oil and create a sphere of influence among the Arab nations in the Middle East. Saddam Hussein never threatened the security of U.S., and it was never in America's best interest to remove Hussein illegally, as we did, and most Americans were not in favor of removing Saddam in the manner we did. The results of our invasion were predictable, not unknown, as you indicate. Any student of the Middle East could have predicted the turmoil which inevitably developed. Certainly, the U.S. did not go in to Iraq to remove Al Qaida, which wasn't even there. As SweetiePie said, we need to take a larger role in the United Nations. We also need to work with other nations, including the EU, not treat them with disdain as the Bush Administration has done.

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 8 years ago Author

Dick Cheney as recently as today is still claiming that there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda and it's 9-11 attack. Incredible! My impression is that there was no single reason why Bush invaded Iraq. Different people who supported the decision had their own reasons for supporting the unnecessary, costly and reckless invasion which as, William noted, produced predictably unfortunate results, for Iraq and for the United States.

Mighty Mom profile image

Mighty Mom 8 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

Excellent points, Ralph. Like most of us, I sincerely hope Obama and his foreign relations team are able to reinstate our reputation around the world. I sense already that Obama and Hillary have differences of opinion on how we should be approaching sensitive relationships. But it would be near impossible NOT to do a better job than Bush et al.

But (this is my opinion) I would like to see Obama leave foreign policy to those who understand it and have more experience than he. After all, he has his hands more than full with domestic issues which are pressing.

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 8 years ago Author

Well, I heard that Hillary Clinton performed brilliantly today in her Senate confirmation hearing. Obama will be relying heavily on her.

Ivan the Terrible profile image

Ivan the Terrible 7 years ago from Madrid

Now that some time has passed since the last post to this hub I can still say that while Obama is personally very popular in the E.U. the U.S. is still not trusted because we know that no matter who is president, he or she will take little account of her ally's opinions.  In the campaign John McCain alluded that Spain was not an ally because we pulled our troops out of Iraq.  Frankly, our troops should not have been there to begin with, and after the March 11th train bombings the nation took a deep breath and decided against involvement in what we view as an illegal interruption of Iraq by a belligerent super power.

We view the intervention by any nation in the affairs of another as objectionable, and we have a long history of doing just that which gives us a unique insight into why it is wrong.  America is just now becoming the imperial power that once Spain, France and England were, only we learned a long time ago it is a waste of national treasure, including lives of our people, lives of the people we were trying to control, and money that could have been better spent doing what we are doing today.  We are educating our young, building our nation into a viable country that can stand on its own without colonies and subject states feeding us cheap resources while suffering miserably because of our greed.

ElizaDoole profile image

ElizaDoole 4 years ago from London

Nice hub. Caused a bit of controversey a few years back? Not everyone thinks the US is arrogant by the way and I'm saying that as a Brit.

As for Imperialism, I don't think you are anywhere near Britain - we have a quarter of the world's population under Her Majesty in the Commonwealth of Nations. Joined together legally and in values. It's a good system and the RF continue to work hard to keep it united and peaceful. Perhaps the spread of US values is not such a bad thing. Many religions especially are very backward when it comes to the role of women, yet more positive when it comes to family - just a general statement there, nothing specific :) Can the US take the good with the not so pleasing and influence with diplomacy? I'm sure it can. But when it needs to fight it does, and I for one am glad that you are our allies, and we hold to democratic values for nations at the end of the day.

Ralph Deeds profile image

Ralph Deeds 4 years ago Author

Thanks, Eliza.

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