CHICAGO - The esteemed American poet Carl Sandburg perfectly captured the spirit and power of Chicago:
`Hog Butcher for the World, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat…Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders.’
I’ve always really liked Chicago, the nation’s third largest city after New York and Los Angeles. Unlike those two, it’s the quintessentially American city. Now, it’s also Obamaland.
Native son Sen. Barack Obama will shortly become America’s new president and the world’s most important man. Walking down Michigan Ave, you can feel the fizz of excitement, pride and elation.
However, not all Democrats share Chicago’s euphoria. Obama’s recent cabinet appointments have the party’s liberal wing feeling betrayed, and fearful the new president may not bring the real change to US policies he promised.
The most important: ending the Bush era’s swaggering imperialism – I call it Mussolini Modern - that led the US into two foreign wars, unnecessary confrontations with Russia, and North Korea, and the faux `war on terror’ against the Muslim world, a thinly disguised campaign to grab the oil and gas resources of Iraq and the Caspian Basin.
Barack Obama seems to have adopted the mindset and vocabulary of the Bush/Cheney administration in branding all forces opposing American domination of the Muslim World, and those opposing Israel, as `terrorists,’ including Hamas and Hezbullah.
Obama misdescribes the war in Afghanistan, a struggle by its Pashtun tribes against Western occupation, as a fight against `terrorism.’ Like Bush, Obama persistently exaggerates the threat of al-Qaida, and insists on the need to combat this handful of extremists with military forces.
So much for hopes that the new President Obama would end the Bush administration’s childish, comic book description of complex issues in the Mideast and South Asia as `terrorism.’ A man of Obama’s intelligence owes America better than such cheap propaganda.
Senator Obama’s newly named foreign policy team has deepened concerns that the change he promised may not come in foreign policy.
Secretary of State designate Hillary Clinton is a brilliant, talented politician, but she has little foreign policy experience. Her forte is domestic affairs. The foreign policy positions she made known during the primary campaign were disturbingly close to those of the neocons who wrecked the Bush administration and gravely damaged America’s interests abroad.
Clinton’s ardent support for the Iraq war, her threats to destroy Iran with nuclear weapons, and strong support for Israel’s right wing parties opposing peace with Palestinians were totally out of sync with Obama’s stated policies.
Bill Clinton’s disgraceful pardon of felon Mark Rich further tarnished the Clinton name. Eric Holder, the senior Justice Dept official who signed off on this sordid deal, will be the new Attorney General.
The best candidate for Secretary of State was Gov. Bill Richardson. A highly skilled diplomat with broad international experience, Richardson was just the man to begin rebuilding America’s trashed reputation around the globe. Unfortunately, he was shunted off to Commerce, deeply disappointing Hispanic-Americans.
Obama’s decision to keep on Defense Secretary Robert Gates seems to send the message that the Pentagon will continue a major role in foreign policy. Obama has promised to deploy 20,000 new US troops into the stalemated war in Afghanistan at a time when next-door Pakistan is a smoking volcano. These troops will be drawn from the US garrison in Iraq. The writer Kevin Phillips rightly terms US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, `pipeline protection troops.’
Now, Obama is backing away from his promise to withdraw all US troops from Iraq. In his most recent statement, on the TV program `Meet the Press,’ Sen. Obama suggested that US troops would remain `in the region’ to protect US embassies and installations (read: airbases) and the Iraqi government. This looks and sounds almost identical to the old British imperial rule of Iraq: native troops handling daily security chores, backed up by a British garrison, all supported by the Royal Air Force based in Iraq.
Those who thought that President Obama would end America’s imperial adventure in oil-rich Iraq may be severely disappointed.
The retention of Defense Secretary Gates sends a message of continuity with Bush/Cheney policies. Last October, at a speech before the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, of all places, Gates expanded the Bush administration’s doctrine of pre-emptive war. He asserted the US has the right to launch pre-emptive strikes against nations deemed a threat to US security, including the first use of nuclear weapons. Gates was also the senior CIA official who got just about everything wrong about the Soviet Union/Russia.
The US accounts for 50% of world military spending. A new defense chief dedicated to cutting the Pentagon’s monstrously bloated budget would have been welcome. Instead, we may get a continuation of Bush’s failed policies in which military power takes precedence over diplomacy and other forms of soft power. The industrial-military-petroleum complex has been cheering Gates’ retention.
Obama’s new national security chief, retired Marine Gen. James Jones, is a good choice: tough, worldly, and educated - the opposite of the many dummies and yes-men who ran Bush’s military and diplomatic policies. But Jones is also very close to the mighty military-industrial-petroleum complex.
Susan Rice, appointed UN ambassador, is a very smart lady with a strong grasp of world affairs. She would have been better used in a White House advisory position rather than making speeches. We would like to see the US stop using the UN as a tool of American foreign policy and allow it to become a genuine world institution.
Obama’s yet to be announced choice for CIA chief will be crucial. CIA should be purged of all officials tainted by torture, assassinations and other illegal acts. Obama’s first steps should be to shut down America’s disgrace, the Guantanamo prison camp and CIA’s network of secret prisons. How effective can CIA be in its primary mission of information-gathering when it is increasingly seen as an organization whose main function is assassination and torture?
Barack Obama inherits the worst domestic and foreign policy mess of any US president in memory. Hopefully, Obama, who insists he will take all key decisions, will make good on promises to move America’s policy from the hard right back to the center. Hopefully, his conservative cabinet is designed to shield him from charges by the rabid right that he is `soft on terrorism’ and `betraying the nation,’ allowing him to take the difficult decisions that must be made.
But there are also growing fears the new, youthful president with big shoulders from Chicago is already prisoner of Washington’s powers that be.