COUNTER PUNCH 
Thursday, December 4, 2008
This week the New York Times ran an an article by David E. Sanger about Obama’s new foreign-affairs team and priorities. The headline declared boldly that there will be “a sweeping shift in foreign policy”.
In a piece that was clearly ‘assisted’, i.e. spun, by Obama’s people, Sanger described the gist of the change: “The shift would create a greatly expanded corps of diplomats and aid workers that, in the vision of the incoming Obama administration, would be engaged in projects around the world aimed at preventing conflicts and rebuilding failed states.” It will be, said an anonymous Obam-ite, “the great foreign policy experiment of the Obama presidency.”
Just in case that stirring ‘vision’–of an expanded and enhanced State-Department-run ‘corps’ looking after the world’s needs–sounded just a little bit familiar, the paper conceded that George W Bush had been talking about just such plans “starting in a series of speeches in late 2005”–i.e. well into what is now being widely re-cast as the relatively benign second Bush term. The implication of the article was that this was just a bit of soft-talk from a slightly chastened post-Iraq Dubya, and he has done nothing to make it a reality.
No, according to the New York Times, making it real will require 20-20 Obama-Vision. “If Mr. Obama and his team can bring about that kind of shift, it could mark one of the most significant changes in national security strategy in decades and greatly enhance the powers of Mrs. Clinton as secretary of state.” Moreover, the nasty right-wingers are sure to oppose it: “Mr. Obama’s advisers said they were already bracing themselves for the charge from the right that he is investing in social work.”
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The funny thing is, this allegedly significant change in national security strategy, toward ‘social work’, actually comes straight out of Bush’s “National Security Strategy” – not some vague lame-duck version either, but the full-blown and now-notorious document published by the White House in September 2002, The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (known as the NSS). Actually, this is funny only in the sense of “let’s all laugh at the New York Times”, because for America and the world the implications are deadly serious.
That 2002 NSS is most famous, or infamous, for codifying the ‘Bush Doctrine’ of military pre-emption and for its bald declaration that no military rival to the US will be permitted to arise. It’s already safe to say Obama will not renounce those positions. But because in autumn 2002 the document – just a few thousand words long – was being read largely as an argument for invading Iraq, the civilian side of its imperial vision was largely overlooked. That part of the vision looks remarkably similar to the one now being sketched by the Obama-Clinton team.
The Bush NSS, clearly guided by Colin Powell, enunciates perfectly well his well-known “you break it, you own it” principle. If the US is going to involve itself militarily in other countries, it has to be prepared to provide some semblance of good governance too. (Or, to put it another way, it gets to decide what exactly constitutes good governance, and what constitutes a ‘failed state’.) According to the NSS, Powell’s State Department was on stand-by, no less than Hillary Clinton’s will be, to go beyond “managing our bilateral relationships with other governments.”
“In this new era,” it declared, the State Department’s “people and institutions must be able to interact equally adroitly with non-governmental organizations and international institutions. Officials trained mainly in international politics must also extend their reach to understand complex issues of domestic governance around the world, including public health, education, law enforcement, the judiciary and public diplomacy.… we must also be able to help build police forces, court systems, and legal codes, local and provincial government institutions, and electoral systems.”
It’s quite a list – shades of “what have the Romans ever done for us?” It offers a positively vice-regal image of State department diplomats transformed into global bureaucrats, bypassing local officials where necessary (they might be the ‘failed state’) and working directly with NGOs and the like. Its ‘vision’ is, of course, baldly imperialistic. It is at the heart of projects such as the embassy-city built by the occupying Americans in Baghdad (and now scheduled under the recently signed security agreement to be returned to Iraqi control next June). It’s hardly ‘social work’.
Whether its world-straddling ambition will ever become reality is another question. For the time being, it offers a political lesson to those willing to learn: the striking degree to which these ideas are now echoed in the line being peddled to the media about the priorities of the new administration underlines the utter continuity between Bush foreign policy, in the depths of its depravity, and what is now on offer from Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Their Continuity All-Stars.