Congratulations to Barack Obama and the Democratic Party for their victories last Tuesday. Obama retained the Presidency by a substantial margin in the electoral college, while the Democrats increased their lead in the Senate. The Republicans retained control of the House, but two wins against one is a very good result. But what might it mean for the next four years?
As a non American, I have not followed the internal political battles in the USA. My interest in American politics is primarily in its foreign and economic policies. While the USA is no longer the greatest economy in the world, it is still by far the most important and as the dollar remains the world's reserve currency, changes in US economic and financial policy have enormous repercussions for the rest of us. However my main concern here is with US foreign policy, as this is the area where the USA remains supreme in the world, in large part because it is the sole remaining military superpower. So can we expect any changes in US foreign policy now that Obama has been re-elected and no longer has to worry about a third term? Foreign policy is one area where there has been little change since Obama first won the Presidency. Particularly in the Middle East US policy under Obama has remained much as it was under Bush. In that part of the world the US seems to be stuck in a sinking mire. The first rule of politics when in a hole is to stop digging. Alas, under Obama the US seems intent on sinking even further into the mire. The three most important hot spots in the region are Afghanistan, Iran and Israel/Palestine.
While the US has begun to get out of Iraq, in Afghanistan, Obama has increased the American military presence. To what end? Little of positive benefit seems to have come from this continuing military presence. Hundreds of US and allied troops have been killed or maimed, while thousands of innocent Pakistanis and Afghanis have been killed or maimed. Afghanistan is no more secure than under Bush, while Pakistan has become even more unstable, with a noticeable rise in extremism. Just what is the end game for the USA in Afghanistan? There seems to be no clear strategy beyond the current situation, which effectively amounts to Afghanistan remaining a bloody semi protectorate of the USA.
Iran is another country where Obama has simply pursued the existing policy and indeed with the imposition of punitive sanctions has been even more hardline than Bush. The US has never really accepted the existence of the Islamic Republic of Iran and has opposed it since its inceptions in 1979. The current punitive sanctions are supposedly in response to the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons programme. Now even if the Iranian regime was planning to develop nuclear weapons the simple response would be - so what! After all our close ally in the region, Israel, does have nuclear weapons and moreover has still not signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (which Iran has). And of course Israel has never suffered any sanctions. So why Iran? The various international inspectors have never found any definitive evidence that Iran is planning to build nuclear weapons, never mind an actual programme to build weapons. Every Supreme leader of the Islamic Republic has pronounced on several occasions that it is against the tenets of Islam to possess nuclear weapons. Once again, what is the end game for the US in Iran. It seems that the US is simply determined to bring down the Islamic Republic in its entirety. Again to what purpose? It cannot be democracy as the US supports non democratic regimes in the area such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan etc. The imposition of these punitive sanctions does nothing to help the internal opposition to the current Iranian regime. US policy here seems to serve no purpose other than simply to punish Iran.
Israel/Palestine is another area where Obama has made no difference to previous US policy. The USA still offers unconditional financial, military and diplomatic support to Israel. Again there seems to be no purpose to this policy. The US is ostensibly and in public still in favour of the so-called two state solution for Israel and Palestine. Yet almost every day Israel destroys the whole basis for this two state option. If anything, the pace of illegal Israeli land grabs in the occupied West Bank and in occupied East Jerusalem has increased while Obama has been in office. And the USA has done absolutely nothing to hold Israel to account. Once more we wonder just what the US envisages as the end game in Israel/Palestine? The US does nothing to advance the two state option, quite the reverse. So what is going on here?
These are for me three of the most crucial foreign policy areas where Obama could make a difference. It is not clear that Obama really supports the current US policy in these three areas. Now that he no longer has to worry about future re-election, will the real Obama stand up? Or is he too just as mired in the failed policies of the Bush era?