Obama: The First Ten Days

EDITORIAL, 29 Jan 2009

#48 | Johan Galtung

Few politicians have been met with so high expectations as the 44th president of the USA, Barack Obama. So many people love the USA, and love to love the USA, making a distinction between the USA and its foreign policy. Love makes blind, the saying goes, and much blindness was needed to love the USA under the 43rd president; may his name be buried by the wayside of history.

Obama held his card close to his breast during the campaign, displaying only two, Change! and Yes We Can! Understandable. He was in it to win, by his charisma, charm and intelligence. Each card revealed might have scared voters away. But, having won 4 November he could show his cards, maybe less the policies than those he had chosen to carry them out. Old, tired kings and a queen or two, worn-out cards, some corrupt, no joker among them, but makers of policies they are now supposed to change.

Change? He never said how, so most interpreted change as “progressive” after 8 years backward. Maybe he was misunderstood, wanting to be super-active and multi-issue rather than docile and single-issue like his predecessor? With Iraq, War on Terror only, trying the Middle East very low key, and only at the end?

Obama is not progressive but pragmatic, meaning doing what can be done given the US political alchemy. But he is also super-active and multi-issue, and the number of cards played out during the 10 days between inauguration 20 January and the time of writing, 30 January, is hard to beat. The wisdom of playing out so many cards that early is another matter; maybe the rest of the four or eight years will be spent tossing those cards around.

Let us have a look. Some of the domestic cards have a ring of the obvious, like lobbying rules, immunity periods for retired politicians, and general transparency. But there is more.

Moises Naim, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy, comments of the first days in “Bushifying Obama” (El País, 26 January 2009):

[1]  US armed forces bombed a group of presumed Taliban fighters in the northeast of Pakistan, killing or wounding 14 people. The Pakistani protest mentioned the lack of change in policy.

[2]  Timothy Geithner, the new Treasury Secretary, accused China of trying to destabilize the dollar on the world currency markets.

[3]  The war in Afghanistan to be stepped up, 70,000 more troops.

[4]  He will not permit Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

[5]  He supports Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas; the difference being that there are now more Jews in the Cabinet.

No change; as a matter of fact, Pakistan-Gaza-Afghanistan policies may all be to the right of his predecessor; only more active, and with more simultaneity. What could he have done?

[1]  Talking with Pakistan before bombing. What is it all about?

[2]  Talking with the Chinese, asking them how they managed to bring 400 million people from poverty into lower middle class living in, say, 14 years – a world record. And how on top of that they plan a universal health care system. Would make them shine.

[3]  If Iraq was a quagmire, try this one. Could it be Zbigniew Brzezinski at work–behind that old war-horse Holbrooke of Yugoslavia fame–playing the grand chess game, wanting Afghanistan to run the world from Central Asia? MacKinder geo-politics from 1904? Too late, too irrelevant. Obama searching for a tomb? Naively believing his generals?  Afghanistan is waiting.

[4]  Talking with Iran before threatening. Acknowledge 1953.

[5]  Mitchell was not that important in Ireland, Adams and his people were (but no Nobel Prize, they were on the wrong side). The change would have been for Mitchell to talk with Hamas directly.

Old, tired policies. USA, oh, why don’t you ever learn?

Answer: because deep structure and deep culture of an imperial state has a long time ago also penetrated Obama’s mind, at Punahou elite school in Honolulu? Maybe more than he knows?

“The speech that failed to fly” was the comment of The Times in London the day after. There was much of god before, during and after. And there was history and predecessors, praising as expected Gettysburg, and the Normandy invasion, ok. But, settling the West, for us? And Khe Sanh, the enormous Marine base in Viét Nam for attacking by all means the “Ho Chi Minh trail”?

What does this mean for the US Empire? Its continuation, for the time being with charisma and charm. They may both wear thin.

There was nothing about equitable trade. No strong hand on the finance economy, and as to health, more about costs than about human rights. Nothing about reducing military deployment. There was something about conflict resolution in the shape of Mitchell, but with Rahm Emanuel as White House Chief of Staff, and the dissenting Jimmy Carter silenced, not even invited to address the Democratic Convention. Much too much concern about leading, too little on negotiations among equals. And, just imagine, inviting Muslim countries, weathering the economic crisis best, to exchange experiences. Or to Cuba, to learn how to be superior on health measures like life expectancy (now declining for women in the USA) and infant mortality? But such is not the voice of Empire.

 What does this mean for The Fall of the US Empire by 2020?  The prediction stands. The liberation from Empire comes from the Periphery, not the Center, as History shows very clearly:

“To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you will unclench your fist”.

President Obama, read the handwriting on the wall, follow your own advice, unclench your fist, and be on the right side of History.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 29 Jan 2009.

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