United States: Obama and change

Issue 

Under conditions of deepening recession, millions of working people went to the polls in the US on November 4 with the intention of voting for a change to the pro-corporate and pro-war policies of the Bush administration.

Democrat candidate Barack Obama was elected on a platform of bringing about the "change we need" and his progressive-minded base certainly believed that he was the anti-war candidate — in part accounting for his popularity over Hilary Clinton who has never recanted her vote for the Iraq war.

However, a closer look at Obama, his cabinet and advisers reveals a pro-war and expansionist administration that intends to continue the essential policies of the Bush administration with minor modifications.

Much has been made of Obama's vote against the 2003 invasion of Iraq in the Senate. However, since Obama entered the Senate in 2005, he has voted for all the war funding bills presented.

Anti-war?

A review of some of his positions indicate how serious his anti-war and progressive credentials are:
hHe has recently ordered the despatch of 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan;

• he subscribes to the "war on terror" and is committed to its escalation; he gave a ringing endorsement of the 1991 Gulf War as "extremely successful";

• he voted for the renewal of Bush's infamous Patriot Act;

• he is in favour of building the border wall along the Mexican border;

• he is in favour of immunity for corporations that conducted electronic eavesdropping on US citizens;

• he is not opposed to the death penalty;

• he supports continued sanctions against Cuba;

• he supported Israel's 2006 war on Lebanon and failed to oppose its recent carnage in Gaza;

• he has opposed an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq;

• he wants a larger military budget, plus 65,000 new troops in the army and 27,000 new marines;

• he wants to increase the 730 US military installations in 100 countries around the world;

Not one of the appointees to his cabinet or staff voted against the Iraq war or opposed it in any meaningful way.

Obama's cabinet choices underline the continuity in US foreign policy between administrations, despite tactical differences. Obama is committed to using military force to defend the economic interests of the US ruling elite.

Looking at Obama's cabinet, all of them are committed to continuing the fundamental course set by the previous administration, which has brought the US to its current economic and foreign policy crisis.

His first official appointee was Rahm Emmanuel as chief of staff. Emmanuel is a Wall Street multi-millionaire and an ardent Zionist who was among the most pro-war of all the Democrats in the House of Representatives.

He was a director of the federal home loan corporation, Freddie Mac, at a time when Freddy Mac was plagued with scandals involving campaign contributions and accounting irregularities.

Next is Hillary Clinton, the new secretary of state. To salvage her presidential primary campaign in 2008 and eke out a win over Obama, Reuters reported on April 22 last year that Clinton stated: "I want the Iranians to know, that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran. In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them."

Clinton is a strong supporter of the war on Afghanistan, the Patriot Act, retention of military bases in Iraq and has voted for all the funding bills that have enabled the war to continue.

In fact, with her Iraq War Resolution vote in 2002, Clinton went so far as to vote against an amendment by Senator Carl Levin that would have required Bush to conduct vigorous diplomacy at the United Nations and would have required a separate congressional authorisation to unilaterally invade Iraq.

Pro-war figures

The re-appointment of Robert Gates, a Republican and defence secretary in the Bush administration, is a stark rebuff to the anti-war movement and the tens of millions who voted for Obama's alleged anti-war platform.

Gates was the main architect of the Iraq "surge" in 2007, sending an additional 30,000 troops, a measure the Democrats did not oppose.

Obama appointed Gates in order to allow continuity with the Bush administration under his doctrine of "bi-partisanship" with the Republican party, whose policies have been so discredited.

Gates has a long history of escalating tensions with the Soviet Union during the Cold War and was involved in the Iran/Contra scandal in the 1980s, which involved proceeds from the sale of arms to Iran being diverted to fund the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua responsible for murdering 70,000 people.

In 1984, as deputy director of the CIA, he advocated a massive bombing campaign against Nicaragua.

Obama has promoted long serving, senior military personnel to his cabinet, including retired Admiral Dennis Blair as director of national intelligence and General James Jones as national security advisor.

Jones adamantly opposes withdrawal from Iraq, while Blair could be prosecuted for war crimes because of his advance knowledge of the 1999 East Timor massacres via a meeting with Indonesian military chief General Wiranto.

At the meeting Blair offered Indonesia US military aid. This offer is considered to have encouraged Wiranto to escalate the brutal massacres in Indonesian occupied East Timor.

Obama's policies include continuing key aspects of the "war on terror". While he passed an executive order banning torture, it does not address the infamous CIA practice of "extraordinary rendition" of suspects to countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia for interrogation.

In fact, the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that the Obama administration invoked the Bush-initiated "states secrets" privilege to oppose a lawsuit alleging that a Boeing unit flew detainees to countries where they were tortured under the CIA rendition program.

Just weeks into his presidency, US war crimes continue, with US military air strikes on suspected Al Qaeda bases in Pakistan, which have killed dozens of civilians.

Economic policy

Obama's appointees for the top economic posts underline his commitment to serve the same interests as previous administrations — aimed at protecting the interests of the Wall Street financial elite.

Timothy Geithner, who has previously held top positions with the US treasury and the International Monetary Fund, is the new treasury secretary. Former head of the World Bank, Lawrence Summers, will head the White House National Economic Council.

During the Senate confirmation hearings, it was revealed that Geithner had not paid self-employment taxes over a seven-year period. Geithner pleaded ignorance of tax law and was not fined, although millions of ordinary citizens are subject to heavy fines for mistakes and non-compliance.

Ironically, as treasury secretary, Geithner will oversee the Internal Revenue Service that is responsible for tax collection.

Summers was treasury secretary under Bill Clinton. In 1991, while World Bank chief economist he stated that "the economic logic behind dumping toxic waste in the lowest wage countries is impeccable, and we have to face up to that ... I've always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly under polluted."

He was forced to resign as Harvard University presidency over remarks about why there were more men than women in the sciences, which he attributed to mens' alleged superior abilities.

Geithner and Summers are protegees of Robert Rubin, a key Obama advisor and former Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton. Rubin has been named by Marketwatch.com, a financial news and commentary organisation, as "one of the ten most unethical people in business".

This economic team have all supported financial de-regulation, which is one of the contributing factor to the current economic crisis. Rubin and Summers, as secretary and deputy secretary of the treasury, were instrumental in having the Glass-Steagall Act repealed in 1999.

The Glass-Steagall Act was enacted in 1933 to prevent commercial banks from risking depositors' money by participating in investment banking activities.

Analysing the Obama administration's appointees, the intention of the new government on economic and foreign policy is clear. The aim of the administration is to defend the interests of the US corporate elite.

This stands in contrast to the desires of large numbers of those who not only voted for Obama but mobilised on a scale not seen in election campaigns for decades to ensure he won the presidential race.

It is clear Obama will not simply grant the wishes of those who put him in the White House. Those who elected him, hoping to see progressive change, will have to fight to force the new administration to grant their wishes and fulfil the expectations many have for genuine, pro-people change.

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