The American President would do George Bush proud, judging by his national security offensive.
President Barack Obama is making American national security an election issue with his most likely Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, because he has out-Bushed George W. Bush and the GOP in general on the matter. Despite claims to be the “change” candidate in November 2008, and being swept to victory largely on the basis that he was the “un-Bush,” President Obama has, in all essentials, continued the policies of his predecessor, the architect of the global war on terror.
Mr. Obama certainly has more panache than the Texan, perhaps, but follows essentially the same policies and concepts. He can now do what no other Democratic incumbent or candidate has been able to do for some time, if ever: go on the offensive against the Republicans who normally claim that the Democrats are “weak” on national security.
In Mr. Obama, the U.S. foreign policy establishment merely found what the old-time hardliner, Zbigniew Brzezinski, called the “new face of American power.”
Mr. Obama has successfully ridden the waves of global revulsion and the growth of considerable domestic “isolationism” — which, in truth, was closer to a rejection at home of American global “hegemony.”
Why does President Obama feel he can go on the offensive against Mr. Romney? Because he has followed a hard-line militarist programme that any Republican chief executive would be proud of.
“He” killed Osama bin Laden; he launched more drone attacks, i.e. targeted assassinations, than Mr. Bush; he's retained rendition, i.e., kidnapping, as a practice; prevented the U.S. Supreme Court from extending constitutional protections to Bagram inmates; retained the Guantánamo Bay facility; extended “anti-terror” surveillance on a massive scale to the “homeland”; ordered and maintained the military “surge” in Afghanistan; continued to defend, finance and arm Israel despite its expansionist settlements' policy; ramped up the rhetoric of inevitable illegal military strikes against Iran; ordered coercive regime change in Libya; maintained U.S. support for corrupt and bankrupt regimes in the Arab world; and so on.
A criticism of President Bush was that he ignored China and the rise of Asia. Mr. Obama has not. He's stationing thousands of U.S. troops in Australia, making military treaties with China's border states and securing cooperation — cultural, military and other — between India, Japan and Australia. From Beijing, this could look a bit like encirclement.
I am hesitant to say that Mr. Obama has not followed a “proper” or “authentic” Democratic foreign and national security policy because he has: Democrats “do” wars — World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam; and they overwhelmingly backed the invasion of Iraq in 2003. President Obama is the latest in a long line of Democratic war makers.
Who said this? “Our country today faces a bewildering array of threats and opportunities…. I will safeguard America and secure our country's interests and most cherished ideals. The unifying thread of ... [my] national security strategy is American strength. When America is strong, the world is safer. It is only American power — conceived in the broadest terms — that can provide the foundation for an international system that ensures the security and prosperity of the United States and our friends and allies. … [We] will defend America abroad in word and in deed.”
Tweak it just a bit by adding something about the universalism of American ideals and you could hear Mr. Obama's dulcet tones uttering those very words. But the quote is from Mitt Romney's website.
In the end, the differences between the Democrats and the Republicans are minimal in practice: they are parties of the Establishment that are completely united in their fundamental faith in American power.
The face of power
When asked what changes he would introduce should he gain the White House, Mr. Obama responded in 2007-8: “I am the change.” And he was absolutely true to his word: the face of U.S. power is all that really changed.
There are those, disappointed supporters and “neutrals,” who say that President Obama inherited a veritable mess that no one could have done much about. And they have a point. But I would ask: if he could do little about his inheritance, what did he do about those things that were in his control, issues that arose within his own tenure? Like the uprisings in Egypt, the intervention in Libya, Bagram, and the Wikileaks revelations and Bradley Manning's incarceration in a military prison? Lest we forget, the U.N. investigated Mr. Manning's treatment as examples of the use of torture.
President Obama has presided over a national security strategy that differs so little from that pursued by his predecessor that he feels he has stolen his opponent's garb — and can wear it better than them. That's why he can make national security an election issue. This may play well at the hustings; but it augurs ill for the rest of the world which has no vote.
(Inderjeet Parmar is Professor of Government at the University of Manchester. His latest book, Foundations of the American Century: The Ford, Carnegie & Rockefeller Foundations in the Rise of American Power, has just been published by Columbia University Press.)