Blog No. 111.
George Kennan, who died aged 101 in 2005, was perhaps the wisest of the wise men, who influenced American foreign policy during the Cold War. Capable of developing his ideas in the light of experience, he was a realist preaching pragmatism and common sense. As a giant among dwarfs, he stands in marked contrast to the inanity of the ideologues and the insanity of the insatiably greedy, who now appear to be the drivers of the reckless folly, or disorganised chaos that is America’s current foreign policy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_F._Kennan
At the outset of the Cold War, Kennan moved from Realpolitik…
1948 “We must be very careful when we speak of exercising “leadership” in Asia. We are deceiving ourselves and others when we pretend to have answers to the problems, which agitate many of these Asiatic peoples. Furthermore, we have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3 of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships, which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and daydreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction…”
“Memo PPS23”, written 28 February 1948, declassified 17 June 1974
1954 “A foreign policy aimed at the achievement of total security is the one thing I can think of that is entirely capable of bringing this country to a point where it will have no security at all. And a ruthless, reckless insistence on attempting to stamp out everything that could conceivably constitute a reflection of improper foreign influence in our national life, regardless of the actual damage it is doing to the cost of eliminating it, in terms of other American values, is the one thing I can think of that should reduce us all to a point where the very independence we are seeking to defend would be meaningless, for we would be doing things to ourselves as vicious and tyrannical as any that might be brought to us from outside.”
Radcliffe Commencement Address (16 June 1954), published as “The Illusion of Total Security” in The Atlantic Monthly, # 194 (August 1954) (No wonder Kennan’s words of wisdom went unheeded. Who, among today’s American decision makers, can digest sentences of more than 100 words long?)
1960 “There is, let me assure you, nothing in nature more egocentrical than the embattled democracy. It soon becomes the victim of its own war propaganda. It then tends to attach to its own cause an absolute value which distorts everything else. Its enemy becomes the embodiment of all evil. Its own side, on the other hand, is the center of all virtue. The contest comes to be viewed as having a final, apocalyptic quality. If we lose, all is lost; life will no longer be worth living; there will be nothing to be salvaged. If we win, then everything will be possible; all our problems will become soluble; the one great source of evil–our enemy–will have been crushed; the forces of good will then sweep forward unimpeded; all worthy aspirations will be satisfied.”
From Russia and the West under Lenin by George Kennan (1960)
We are now in the final days of the Obama presidency – with good reason to dread whatever is about to follow. The most likely of the two possible outcomes of the election is the one that anyone, who appreciates what it will involve from the point of view of US foreign policy, will view as the most dangerous: President Hillary Clinton performing as a ventriloquist’s puppet with the CIA’s arm thrust deep up the leg of her trouser-suit. (Could it be this groping hand that accounts for the permanent smile?) https://consortiumnews.com/2016/10/10/hillary- clinton-candidate-of-war/
With the advantage of hindsight, one should be grateful to Obama for having provided a relatively peaceful intermission between the Bush and the impending, second Clinton presidency. Should you wish to refer to it, here is the New York magazine’s time-line of the Obama years https://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/10/8-years-in-obamas-america.html
Throughout his two terms Obama was faced with massive opposition to his policies both domestic and overseas. For much of the time, many of the obstacles came from an overwhelmingly Republican House of Representatives. Throughout both terms, opposition came from the Pentagon and associated security agencies, who were constantly scheming for more aggressive overseas policies.
On assuming office in January 2009, there were universal hopes, outside the military industrial complex, that the Obama presidency would be more peaceable that that of his predecessor, Bush Jr. One of Obama’s first announcements was of his intention to close the Guantanamo detention centre, thereby confirming his suitability for an award of the Nobel Peace Prize later in the year. Gitmo provides a good gauge of the extent of the opposition offered to Obama by the circling hawks and vultures that blacken Washington’s skies. Gitmo, albeit with a reduced population, is still going strong, with no closure in sight.
For remote outsiders, such as myself, the relationship between the office of the President and the multiple other agencies of executive government can only be viewed through a cracked, distorting mirror. Every internal memo is classified to a greater or lesser extent and the media is tightly geared to publishing ‘leaks’ of whatever whichever agency wants the public to think is the truth. The observer can only draw inferences from the occasional whistle-blower and the manifestations of executive action that occur, all too often, on other people’s territory.
My interpretation of the Obama years is that, generally speaking, Obama was a man of peace and compromise, who, lacking deep familiarity with military and foreign affairs, deferred too willingly to the advice of those who claimed to be more knowledgeable. Hillary Rodham Clinton, as his Secretary of State, throughout his first term, is a case in point. By the time he finally realised what was going on, it was too late and the defence and security establishments were prepared to bye-pass him as yesterday’s man, no longer relevant to the future they have in mind. https://khakispecs.com/?p=2712
This judgement might be too harsh. It might well have been not a weakness of will that allowed his personal policy preferences to be over-ridden: it might simply have been an instinct for self-preservation. No one who gets to the Oval Office could be so ill-informed as to take at face value the official versions of the JFK and Bobby Kennedy assassinations. There are certain forces within the US system that a presidential figurehead only contradicts at huge personal risk.
Though, for the time being, back on its economic feet, after the financial crisis inherited from Bush Jr., after his eight years in office, Obama’s legacy will be to have left America, more divided than ever. Obama can hardly be held responsible for the development of such schisms, nor for his inability to remedy them. Observers may well look on the current political divide in America and say in horror: “Après lui le deluge!” I would argue that it is not the fault of Obama, but the fault of American society and the stresses imposed on it by the current phase of the imperial life-cycle that accounts for those divisions and the impending deluge.
Overseas, the failures, not of the President, but of his advisors, are legion. With two salient and several minor exceptions, which I will save until last, America’s enemies and friends overseas cannot help but be impressed by the tally of policy objectives not achieved and the extreme wastefulness and suffering caused by all this futile maneuvering. The only good thing to be said about such comprehensive failure is that it might lead the American foreign policy establishment to realise that their assessment of the global situation, and of their rightful place in it, is fundamentally flawed.
America needs a new start – such as it won’t be getting under the next President. Sadly, come the presidential change-over, the world has no reason to expect anything other than more of the same old, same old – or even worse. It bodes ill for the future of mankind that the current powers behind the scenes, who will continue to manipulate American foreign policy, are so divorced from both morality and reality.
Vampires drawn to the smell of blood! Foreign Policy Magazine is owned by and comes out of the same right-wing, influential stable as the Washington Post. The controllers of the US media now have its editors fully mobilised and orchestrated to oppose a Trump presidency. For all the horrid things said about Trump, worse could be said of Hillary. At least to date, Trump can hold no responsibility for the USA’s foreign policy outcomes, while Hillary has been hard at work, reinforcing disaster on the foreign front for the past six presidential terms.
Given constraints of time and space, each of the items listed on the Obama presidency score card below, many of which have been covered in my previous blogs, will be dealt with in summary manner. Firstly the failures: working on the assumption that Obama is fundamentally a man of peace and deserving of the Nobel Prize that recognised him as such.
Nuclear Policy. On the global front, in the same breath that he stated his intention to close Guantanamo, Obama declared his intention to set the world on a path that would ultimately see the disappearance of nuclear weapons. As he leaves office, the nuclear disarmament intention has morphed into a policy to spend around one trillion dollars in upgrading America’s nuclear arsenal. https://fpif.org/obamas-nuclear-paradox/ This excellent article shows just how the road to hell, though paved with good intentions, is frequented by the muggers of the military industrial complex. The writer is correct in seeing the North Korean development of deliverable warheads as a failure of American policy, but incorrect in claiming Iranian failure to develop such weapons as a success. Credible evidence that Iran ever had the intention to develop nuclear weaponry is conspicuously lacking.
Furthermore, with the deployment of American anti-ballistic missile weapons in Eastern Europe and South Korea, Obama’s administration has alerted China and Russia to the dangers they face from America’s fast developing capacity to engineer a surprise first strike, after which their ability to respond in kind, would no longer be guaranteed. In so doing, Obama has allowed the destabilisation of the nuclear balance that has kept the world from nuclear war for the past seventy years. The Doomsday Clock’s hands have been moved from five, to three minute to midnight on Obama’s tour of duty and America is that much closer to its own annihilation.
The US Dollar as reserve currency. America’s post-war economic preponderance, its high level of consumption and its ability to finance armed forces greater than those of the rest of the world put together, has been based on the status of the dollar as the chosen currency for the conduct of world trade. It is clear that this status has been eroded over recent years. Some can convincingly argue that the wars against Gadhafi and Saddam and the threat of war against the Ayatollahs of Iran were all to do with the elimination of such would be breakaways. However, the strength of the Chinese economy, with its magnetic draw on neighbouring states and business lobbies across the globe, has now proved unstoppable. In September, this led to the IMF’s formalisation of the process by which the dollar will ultimately be replaced as the leading instrument of international trade. https://www.corbettreport.com/sdr-world-order/
Europe. The long term goal of US foreign policy is to ensure that Germany never has reason to make common cause with Russia. In Obama’s term, the big gambit for US foreign policy was to be the subversion and destabilisation of Ukraine and its capture out of its Russian orbit and into that of Washington, via the agency of the EU and NATO. Russia was to be firmly shown that it was in no way to challenge Washington’s role as the supreme decision-maker in global affairs. One of the prize objectives was to be the blocking of the Russian navy’s access to the ports of the Crimean peninsula and the sealing of its outlet into the Black Sea and Mediterranean.
Alas! Following the CIA’s and State Department’s successfully engineered coup, the rump of the Ukraine is now an unstable political and economic basket-case to which the majority of members of both the EU and NATO have no intention of binding themselves. The Crimea, with its naval bases formerly leased from Ukraine has been transferred into Russia’s permanent ownership and been fully integrated into its defence system. No unit of the US Navy that found itself in the Black Sea on an outbreak of hostilities, would have any hope of survival.
Furthermore, the EU membership has become disenchanted with the seemingly pointless economic burdens placed on them due to the American instigated economic sanctions and the consequent Russian riposte. Despite an enormous propaganda effort, right-tending parties, who admire Moscow more than Washington, have started to gain political traction (this process being greatly aided by the wave of Islamic refugees displaced by America’s failed Middle East policies.)
The fattest chicken associated with the Obama administration’s failed European and Middle Eastern policies to come home to roost so far, has been BREXIT. With Britons voting to leave the EU, the USA has lost its Trojan horse in Brussels. It will be that much more difficult for Washington to ensure cohesion between its NATO chain of command and the less easily-disciplined EU member states. Other EU governments’ almost contemptuous rejection of the TTIP (a Euro-centric TPP equivalent) which American big business so earnestly wanted to see inflicted on the Europeans, gives notice that there are still further chickens yet to return. Not the least of these is an increasing number of German politicians and industrialists, now openly expressing dissatisfaction with the economic costs of sanctions and interrupted trade with Russia. So too, the discontent among NATO members, such as Italy, over US demands that they should increase expenditure to deter a Russia, which they do not see as a potential invader, while they simultaneously are expected to welcome the invasion of thousands of US sponsored refugees.
The Middle East. The custard bowl:
- Iraq: Obama stopped the major ground commitment of US forces but was forced to recommit to contain ISIS. ISIS might have been the bitter fruit of the Bush administration, but it has been the Obama administration that was forced to munch on it. No end in sight.
- Syria: the planning for the Syrian civil war began under the Bush presidency with the ultimate (and now unattainable) goal of being able to substitute Russian gas supplies into western Europe through a pipeline transiting Syrian and Turkish territory and carrying Qatari gas. By deciding to listen to the foreign affairs and military ‘experts,’ who were responsible for instigating the conflict and remain intent on seeing it through, despite the adverse changes in the situation on the ground, Obama is ultimately responsible for the extent of the destruction of Syria and for the terrorist and refugee crises to hit Europe. Worse, from the neo-con camp’s point of view, (though it was entirely their faction that opened up the opportunity) Obama has allowed the Russians to establish themselves in Syria and thereby gain hugely in reputation and influence throughout the Middle East. Instead of accepting that their mission has failed and packing up, the furious American war party are suffering from a classic case of mission creep. They are now trying to use the civil war to inflict a totally different kind of pain on Russia than the economic one originally intended. Needless to say, it is chiefly the Syrian civilian population, who are at the receiving end of the pain being inflicted. No end in sight. Everyone should now interrupt their reading of this blog and follow this hyperlink – the writer is authentic and sane. https://consortiumnews.com/2016/10/14/the-warnings-of-a-new-world-war/
- Turkey: By failing to stop the CIA instigation of the failed Gulen coup, Obama has motivated Turkey to disassociate itself from NATO and the western camp and move towards alliance with Iran and Russia and China. Long term ambitions for the subversion of Russia through NATO’s southern flank are now deferred.
- Israel: Because of the strength of the Zionist lobby in America, Obama has been powerless to prevent continued Israeli expansion at Arab expense and the consequent loss of American respect in Arab eyes. Instead he has been forced to appease Israel for his mellowing of the US relationship with Iran by offering a free gift of a 20% or so increase in the USA’s annual contribution of military aid. No end in sight.
- Libya: With Hillary’s and Sarkozy’s enthusiastic support, Obama allowed Qatar and Saudi Arabia to use Islamic terrorists to destabilise the Gadhafi regime and turn Libya, the most stable and prosperous of all African states, into an eel-bucket of heavily armed feuding factions ready to destabilise Mali and other neighbouring states. No end in sight.
- Yemen: With American technical assistance and increased munition sales, ($111 billion on Obama’s watch so far) Saudi Arabia, has been enabled to bomb and blockade the unfortunate Yemen back into yet another American induced humanitarian disaster. No end in sight.
- Afghanistan: On taking office, Obama regained some of the favour with the Pentagon that he had lost by pulling troops out of Iraq, by allowing a surge of troops into the Afghani civil war. Though the surge was intended to provide a definitive end to the ‘scourge’ of the Taliban, it wasn’t long before the USA and its NATO allies were forced to declare victory and leave the hapless, puppet Afghani government to expend its own forces in the hopeless war against a Taliban (and now also an embryonic ISIS franchise) which is now more active than it has ever been for the past ten years. No end in sight.
- Egypt, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain etc. Nowhere have American policies in the Middle East been successful. As American oil dependency decreased, the Obama plan was to reduce American over-commitment in the Middle East and redeploy those resources for the far more economically significant ‘Pivot to Asia.’ In classical ‘balance of power’ theory the three blocs of Saudi Arabia (and Israel) Turkey and Iran were meant to balance each other out, thus leaving no call for American intervention. However, American and Saudi intervention in Syria brought Russia into the equation and the intention behind the Pivot to Asia aroused the interest of China. Now, both Turkey and Iran are in the process of integrating with the SCO https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanghai_Cooperation_Organisation as are the countries of the Indian sub-continent. This has been achieved, as, at what will be viewed by the American neo-cons (but not necessarily by the more sensible Obama) the ‘cost’ to America of its former solid alliances with Israel and Saudi Arabia.
In summary: though a huge success from the point of view of the American armaments industry, from the viewpoints of the longevity of American Empire and the welfare of the peoples of the Middle East, American Middle Eastern policy under Obama has been one great SNAFU.
The ‘Pivot to Asia.’ American policy has long been based on the premise that no other power centre should be allowed to develop to the point where it could challenge American global hegemony. The rising power with the potential to do just that, is China. American policy has been reoriented to counter this ‘threat’ to its vision of its national interest. In the, now to be expected, dysfunctional manner typical of American foreign policy development, American policy makers have succeeded in achieving the opposite. China was a fast-growing economic power with a relatively feeble military presence. The process whereby Chinese economic strength was to be allied with Russia’s advanced military technology has been hurried along by successive American policy initiatives. America’s hostile pivot has so alarmed China that it is rapidly re-positioning itself as a military as well as an economic power in order to counter America’s demonstrably hostile intentions.
The huge gravitational force that is the Chinese economy is drawing successive Asian countries into its orbit. American encouragement of Islamic terrorism, as a useful instrument of destabilisation, has brought China and Russia into close alliance. Thailand and the Philippines have similar problems and similar reasons to worry about American misconceived and often criminal policies enabling it to subvert their governments and/or gain a military foothold in their countries.
It is only the American refusal to grant a peace treaty to North Korea to formally end the hostilities that ceased in 1953, and the consequent development of North Korea’s nuclear capability, which is enabling the USA to maintain its military alliances with South Korea and Japan. Should China manage to remove that threat before N.Korea develops the ICBM capability to threaten the American homeland, which would almost certainly inspire America to launch a full blown war against Kim Jong-Un’s regime, this remaining lever of American power in Asia would disappear.
In the meantime, the TPP, a major American diplomatic initiative to isolate China economically, looks set to fail at the same time as China, with its Silk Road initiative and in developing its own credit-rating agencies, its own international investment bank etc., is taking ever more effective steps to insulate itself from America’s capacity to impose economic sanctions against it.
By occupying islands in the South China Sea and developing communications along the Great Silk Road including building a port in Pakistan, China is able to remove any military threat that American naval power might pose to the economic lines of communication on which the Chinese economy is increasingly dependent. https://breakingdefense.com/2016/04/chinese-scarborough-shoal-base-would-threaten-manila/In short, the USA is unable to effectively oppose the development of a central Eurasian power-centre that will compete with, and ultimately out-compete, its own. If anything, American foreign policy during Obama’s term will be shown to have accelerated this process, the ultimate outcome of which was forecast before WWI by a hero of mine, Halford Mackinder, the subject of my next blog.
Africa. A country by country review would fill a book. Suffice is to say that the US approach to control over the African continent has been almost entirely military under the recently formed Africa Command https://www.africom.mil/ Though the CIA will be heavily involved in structuring and subverting African governments, the Chinese, having no military bases in the region, are successfully competing asymmetrically. Having spent their budget on fattening the wallets of their own military industrial complex, the USA retains insufficient funds to compete with the goodwill generated by the flood of Chinese trade and investment into Africa. America has adopted the wrong strategy when it comes to the long term exercise of influence over African hearts and minds.
Latin America. Latin America is not an area where I feel I am well informed, so my review of American foreign policy in the area is most certainly incomplete. I am aware of some of the salient developments, but have detailed knowledge of very few.
The one area in Latin America where Obama can be completely content with his outcomes must be Cuba. The old guard of the CIA, who were smarting from their Bay of Pigs fiasco, have now passed on and the succeeding generations of the wealthy elites, who fled Cuba and settled in Florida on Castro’s overthrow of the Batista government in 1959, have now successfully integrated. Thus Obama has been allowed to act and start the process of reintegrating Cuba into the American economy. From the point of view of the American economy and tourists, this will be a good thing, from the point of view of the Cuban people, history will be the judge.
Middle Eastern distractions having diverted US eyes from Latin American affairs for so long, under Obama, the State Department’s and the CIA’s baleful eyes have once again turned back to America’s back-yard in which, while the cat was away, popular government and people power were starting to run amok. To my limited knowledge, these trends, where most apparent, have now successfully been reversed. The tide is again flowing in the direction of Wall Street in Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela. On the whole I would rate Latin America as a success story for America’s own and short-term view of its national interest – and a pretty dramatic failure for the vast majority of the people of Latin America.
It would be wrong to write off Obama’s term as one of total failure in regard to the relations between the USA and the rest of the world. In the face of enormous domestic resistance, Obama has scored three major victories for humanity.
Firstly, he has saved the world from the major war with Iran which previous (and if Hillary wins the election, future) US governments have been working towards.
Secondly, though unable to reverse the ridiculous war on terrorism that the USA had managed to create under previous presidencies, Obama nevertheless managed to persuade the Pentagon to accept the sop of a drone warfare counter-terrorism strategy as an alternative to boots on the ground. Thereby, Obama, at the cost of relatively few, may well have saved millions of lives.
Thirdly, the deed for which Obama will always be remembered for as long as human history might last: Obama will be remembered for having gone, like Nixon, to China. Without the agreement he came to with President Xi, the Paris Summit would have flopped and humanity would have had no chance whatsoever of escaping the climate change trap it had wandered into.
Only future history will tell us the full extent of the credit Obama will have earned. His singular failure, of putting Democratic Party considerations before humanity’s and enabling Hillary, rather than Bernie Sanders, to stand for office, (and he must have been fully aware of the risk he was taking) might well result in a nuclear outcome that negates everything he did for the climate. Furthermore, the fact that by taking no steps to counter it, he remained complicit in the media campaign conducted by agencies, theoretically under his government’s control, to demonise the Russian leadership and whet the western public’s appetite for war, or at least its reluctant acceptance of its inevitable necessity, gives him criminal status in my eyes. Verdict – a well meaning weakling, who mainly fucked up!
Looking at the above sorry record, it is hard to convince oneself that the New Zealand and Australian governments, in opting for ingratiating themselves with Washington at a cost, as yet undetermined, to other relationships, have chosen a winning hand, or are likely to land on the right side of History’s fence. Arriving at such a conviction will be harder still after the next presidential election. A friend of mine commented that no matter what the outcome, there would be good reason to rejoice in that the other had not taken office.
Next week’s blog on Halford Mackinder will be delayed by a week as I will be temporarily divorced from my computer.