It’s become conventional wisdom among observers in the United States and other countries that a Democratic Party victory this November will mean a shift in US government policies at home and abroad. It doesn’t matter who the Democratic candidate for president will be. Although they have different styles, the thinking went, both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would undo the damage eight years of the George W. Bush presidency have inflicted on both the United States and the world.
Barack Obama’s emergence as the Democratic Party candidate for President this November is at least partly due to the results of the surveys, most of which show that despite his race, Obama could defeat Republican John McCain. Despite her support across a broad spectrum of white workers, the middle-class and women, Hillary Clinton’s being a woman, and an aggressive one at that, has been widely held against her. It suggests that sexism’s an even more difficult hurdle in US politics than racism.
Obama’s victory in the primaries is thus not necessarily the result of the waning of racism, but of perceptions that a person of color rather than a woman is more likely to be accepted as President by the US electorate.
There are other factors, among them Obama’s eloquence, and his support among people of color specially blacks. But above all else is the fact that Bush administration policies have savaged the middle and working classes economically, with unemployment at record highs, inflation rising, and gas going for more than four dollars a gallon (it was $4.50 in California this week). The US electorate will probably punish the Republicans by electing a Democrat, though with some reluctance because of his race, this November.
Concern over the economy has diminished concerns over Iraq, which have only occasionally arisen in the developing public debate between Obama and McCain. And yet, both for the US and the rest of the world, US foreign policy, especially on Iraq, is crucial not only in the making of the current economic crisis. It is also pivotal in putting the future of the planet in doubt and in assuring the perpetuation of the current, awful state of the globe.
Although it was among the most brazen in recent history, the US attack on Iraq was not the only instance of US violence in enforcing its will on other countries. Since the end of WWII the US has forcibly intervened in dozens of countries in behalf of regime change, as well as to punish others that dared resist its impositions (for example, Chile, where a US-sponsored coup overthrew a democratically-elected president in 1973).
William Blum (Rogue State, 2000), formerly of the US State Department, thus asserts that “From 1945 to the end of the [20th] century, the United States attempted to overthrow more than 40 foreign governments and to crush more than 30 populist-nationalist movements struggling against intolerable regimes. In the process, the U.S. caused the [deaths] of several million people, and condemned many millions more to a life of agony and despair.”
Among the countries where the US intervened, from fighting the Huks even while the latter were fighting the Japanese during World War II, to fighting “terrorist” groups in Mindanao to date, is the Philippines, where US troops operate today from semi-permanent bases despite a Constitutional ban on foreign military bases and troops.
Although he was far more subtle, when he was President William (Bill) Clinton was no less in the same tradition as his predecessors. His foreign policy was supposed to “promote democracy abroad” (for which Bush was also later praised). But Clinton wasn’t averse to bombing the former Yugoslavia back to third world status (1999), and to destroying the capacity of the Sudan (1998) to produce basic drugs like aspirin as part of his “war on terror.”
What do these interventions mean — what is their goal? As seemingly different as they are from each other, the Republicans and the Democrats do share a basic ideological assumption. It is that the United States has the right to impose its will on other countries, whether through muscle diplomacy or the outright use of force.
The validity of this assumption no candidate for the US presidency has ever questioned. But it is at the root of the dominant world view in the United States, sanctified not only by the right wing advocates of “full spectrum dominance” (in sea, air, land and space) exemplified by Bush and his vice president, Richard Cheney, but also by academics, “liberals” like New York Times commentators, and, oh yes, by the Clintons (Bill and Hillary) as well as Barack Obama.
In none of the latter’s statements has any question been raised as to the morality and devastating consequences of this alleged US prerogative to change regimes and install governments that are to its liking whether through threats, subversion, or outright invasion. The case in point is Iraq — where, thanks to the US invasion and occupation, 1.3 million people have died so far in the continuing violence, according to the British polling agency Oxford Research Bureau.
It is the ideological assumption that “the best country in the world” has the right to impose its will in every region and on every nation that has kept the world unstable and in constant warfare since the middle of the 20th century.
The war historian Gabriel Kolko (Another Century of War? 2002) thus regards the possibility that like the 20th , the 21st century will be another century of conflict as dependent on the US capacity to wage war. In an analysis published in the Sydney Morning Herald (“Elections, Alliances and the American Empire,” 2004) Kolko saw in Bush administration unilateralism the weakening of that capacity. Prospects for peace across the planet could brighten as a result. An end to war, said Kolko, has become a grave imperative, given the total nuclear annihilation US preemptive and first (nuclear) strike policies have made even more likely.
Are these and other issues rooted in US global policy being debated in the US Presidential campaign? No. What is being debated about Iraq, if at all, is when and how US troops can be sent home without giving the world an impression of US weakness, and how, without changing its basic policies of defending its corporate interests across the globe and keeping countries like Iran in line, the US can at the same time assure the survival of its way of life, which depends so heavily on the availability of cheap gas and the willingness of other countries to open their natural resources to US multinational exploitation.
This is not “change we can believe in,” but more of the same.