We were promised change, and when it comes to U.S. domestic policy we will likely get it. The Obama administration is readying a huge economic stimulus package. The president-elect recently announced that his nominee for secretary of labor is Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA), who is great on both labor and environmental issues. And maybe, just maybe we’ll see universal health care.
When it comes to foreign policy, however, Barack Obama seems so very 20th century. There’s conservative warhorse Bob Gates staying on at the Pentagon. The more interesting, but still quite conventional Gen. James Jones will be national security advisor.
And then there’s Hillary.
Bill Clinton took office in 1992 with a lot of high-powered circle of supporters that called themselves Friends of Bill (FOB). Hillary Clinton, by contrast, awaits confirmation as secretary of State in the Obama administration with a wide circle of detractors, particularly on the left. These detractors of Hillary (DOH) point out that she supported the Iraq invasion (d’oh!), wants to up the military ante in Afghanistan (d’oh!), consistently supported increased military spending (d’oh!), backed missile defense (d’oh!), has aligned herself with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (d’oh!), supported the embargo of Cuba (d’oh!), and derided Obama for being willing to sit down with the leaders of adversarial countries (the biggest d’oh! of them all).
As David Harsanyi wrote in The Denver Post, “the prospective appointment clashes with virtually every pronouncement Obama made regarding foreign policy in the past.”
Alas, there isn’t that much daylight between the president-elect and his proposed secretary of State. Obama, too, wants to boost U.S. firepower in Afghanistan and increase the overall size of the U.S. Army. And on the positive side, both support dramatic reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, a significant shift in the U.S. position on climate change, a more environment- and labor-friendly trade policy, and the end of the Bush administration’s pro-torture approach. Given this rather substantial overlap in positions, I don’t anticipate a clash of titans in the next administration, though of course there will be some turf issues between the State Department and the president’s office.
The more intriguing possibility is that Obama gave Hillary the top foreign policy job to sideline her. Say what? How could secretary of State be a backwater position?
Here I’m forced to agree with Charles Krauthammer (for once in my life): “Obama has no intention of being a foreign policy president. Unlike, say, Nixon or Reagan, he does not have aspirations abroad. He simply wants quiet on his eastern and western fronts so that he can proceed with what he really cares about – his domestic agenda.”
In other words, Obama has placated his critics on the right by putting together a thoroughly conventional national security team that will maintain the status quo (with a few Green touches). The real action will be in the domestic sphere.
As Foreign Policy In Focus columnist Conn Hallinan points out, however, this strategy is likely to fail. “If the United States chooses to keep the military on its current footing – including adding more troops and focusing on the use of “direct military force” – then future wars and occupations will almost certainly torpedo Obama’s plans to deliver a more equal and humane society,” he writes in Guns, Butter, and Obama.
Hillary Clinton could play a role in reconciling the conflict between guns and butter. As the chief supporter of health care in the 1990s, she knows more than anyone in the national security establishment about the importance of domestic spending. But that was the Hillary Clinton of the 1990s, before she started pumping iron on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
To transform America in a green, progressive direction, Obama had better resolve this guns and butter tension in favor of the latter. But if Secretary of State Clinton does nothing except push costly military solutions, then her cabinet appointment may turn out to be Obama’s biggest “d’oh!” so far.
If the above analysis is accurate – and U.S. foreign policy will be largely a status quo enterprise over the next four years – then Foreign Policy In Focus will be more needed than ever before. Your contribution will help us keep the heat on Hillary and push the Obama administration to reduce the military, withdraw not only from Iraq but Afghanistan as well, and pursue serious negotiations with Iran, Russia, Cuba, and others.
This is our last World Beat of 2008, so please give generously and have a happy holiday season. We’ll see you again on January 6.
Solve Two Crises Simultaneously
We’ve been hit with a global economic crisis at the same time that we’re struggling with a climate crisis. The challenge is to pull ourselves out of recession without burdening the environment with hyper-consumption. FPIF contributors Jeremy Brecher, Tim Costello, and Brendan Smith have a great idea for a green stimulus package. Under their plan, countries could draw additional green funds from a new global climate protection trust fund financed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and administered by the United Nations Environment Program.
“The funds could be allocated based on countries’ need for help in paying for their own climate protection costs and the importance of their efforts for meeting global climate protection targets,” they write in Green Paper Gold. “They could also be allocated, as (Joseph) Stiglitz has suggested, by ‘competition among countries’ for the most worthwhile projects. They would help pay for energy conservation, mass transit, research, development, and investment for sustainable energy, technology transfer to low-income countries, and climate-change adaptation.”
Even as we investigate new sources of financing for the coming Green economy, we need to resolve what’s often called “odious” debt. This is the money borrowed by dictators that the IMF requires democrats to repay. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has deliberately defaulted on his country’s loans, which were largely wasted on military spending in the 1970s.
“Over the years, the country has made debt payments that exceed the value of the principal it borrowed, plus significant interest and penalties,” write FPIF contributors Neil Watkins and Sarah Anderson in Ecuador’s Debt Default. “The human costs are staggering. Every dollar sent to international creditors means one dollar less is available for fighting poverty. And in 2007, the Ecuadorian government paid $1.75 billion in debt service, more than it spent on health care, social services, the environment, and housing and urban development combined.”
G. J. Cassidy, Joschka Fischer, and Luz Mañebog
Vietnam War vets complained of coming home to a country of indifference. Iraq War and Afghanistan vets have often met with the same. Take the case of G.J. Cassidy, who appears in FPIF contributor Aaron Glantz’s new book The War Comes Home. Cassidy came back to the United States in April 2007, suffering the after-effects of concussion and post-traumatic stress syndrome. He was sent to a treatment facility in Fort Knox.
“Most of the time,” Glantz writes, Cassidy “was left alone in his third-floor room, where he sat unattended playing games on his X-Box and laptop computer. One time, he passed out in his room by himself and woke up three or four hours later, lying in a pool of blood that he said had come from his mouth or nose.” Five months after being sent to the Fort Knox “Wounded Warrior Transition Unit” he was found dead in his room, a victim of neglect.
In the Philippines, Luz Mañebog waits for her husband’s remittance check: $479 a month sent from Qatar, where he works as a camera technician. The global economic crisis spells bad news for all the overseas foreign workers (OFW) that are keeping their families and the Philippine economy afloat. “Already some bad news is trickling in, such as a hiring freeze for Filipino workers in Korea in 2009 and the recent layoff of about 300 OFWs in Taiwan,” writes FPIF contributor Carmela Cruz in Financial Crisis Hits Overseas Workers. “The firing of 900 call-center workers in Manila shows the vulnerability of the business process outsourcing sector that President Arroyo bragged would create 400,000 jobs in recent years, an estimate that has since come up short.”
Finally, there’s the intriguing case of Joschka Fischer, the Green Party activist and former German foreign minister. In the new book by Paul Hockenos, Fischer stands in for all the tremendous change that has overtaken Germany. “Thanks to the Greens, Germany has a much more inclusive immigration policy,” I say in this week’s FPIF Pick. “And the country’s renewable energy program is a model for the world. ‘Between 2000 and 2004, Germany’s production of electricity by regenerative sources climbed from 6.7 to 9.3 percent,’ Hockenos writes. Belatedly, America is now ready for its own eco-social renewal, in part courtesy of Joschka Fischer and the German Greens.”
FPIF, December 24, 2008