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After a campaign which witnessed his rhetoric and promises of "hope" and "change," Barack Obama is now confronted with the reality of his position and the Capitalist system he inherits and works to advance. A week before Election Day Obama's team was already laying down plans to reduce expectations once elected.
In the actual run up to the elections both McCain and Obama broadly agreed on many policy positions such as a preference for multilateralism, closing Guantanamo bay, and a tougher line with Russia and China. Their biggest differences were the Middle East and specifically Iran and Iraq. Whilst McCain advocated commitment that could last generations, Obama initially spoke about getting out of Iraq and then redeployment.
Obama and his 300 policy advisors divided up into groups by region and issues will now develop detailed policy positions in time for January 20th 2009 when he actually takes office. However, his victory requires him to work with many facts on the ground and many established policies which have evolved over Bush's term of office. Obama's polices will be determined by the facts on the ground and in summary will most likely be as follows:
Middle East peace process
Bush's legacy on the two state solution has been a complete failure. What complicated maters was the emergence of HAMAS and the weakness of the US ally Mahmud Abbas. The two state solution reached a stalemate because Ehud Olmert's government was deeply unpopular and engulfed in numerous scandals. Such instability led to Ehud Olmert stepping down in disgrace and replaced by Tzipi Livni who has been unable to keep together the fragile coalition. She has now been forced to call an election which she will very likely lose to the right wing Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. All of this has delayed, and will continue to delay, the implementation of the US road map and any final status resolutions.
During the past two years Obama has largely taken positions in support of the hard-line Israeli government, making statements virtually indistinguishable from that of the Bush administration. His primary criticism of Bush's policy towards the conflict has been that the administration has not been engaged enough in the peace process, not that it has backed the right-wing Israeli government on virtually every outstanding issue. Obama maintains he is firmly committed to maintaining strong US-Israel ties, including military and economic aid. He would continue US support for a two-state solution, and has stated that Jerusalem should be the capital of Israel.
Barack Obama opposed the war in Iraq from the outset as well as the "surge" strategy and is on record to have said that there is "no military solution". Obama backs the phased withdrawal of US forces - with all troops out of combat operations within 16 months of taking office. Obama opposes the withdrawal of US troops in Iraq in favour of redeployment, i.e. the relocation of US troops from combat zones to training and logistical positions, contingent on the military capability of the Iraqi Army to defeat the resistance. Obama opposes a clearly defined deadline to withdraw US forces from Iraq because US troops in Iraq are essential to pursuing his overall policies in the Middle East, which include military confrontations with Iran, Syria and Southern Lebanon. Obama has increasingly emphasized that most US troops that remain in the area should be "over the horizon," such as in Kuwait, rather than in Iraq itself.
However, Obama has clearly stated that the real war is in Afghanistan and not Iraq. This is why he favours troop withdrawals in Iraq as they will be redeployed to Afghanistan and Pakistan for which the USA currently has an undeclared war.
America has carefully managed the disintegration of Iraq into three distinct entities and will need to maintain almost 70,000 troops. These troops will be stationed in bases scattered throughout Iraq and their function will be to supplement future challenges by China and Russia.
Hence the reality of Obama's stated position is that he is building upon what Bush started.
Obama's big foreign policy position has been that Bush's Iraq adventure obscured the real threat from Afghanistan and Pakistan, which should be the priority. Obama publicly and repeatedly promised to escalate the US military intervention in Afghanistan, increasing the number of US troops, expanding their operations and engaging in systematic cross-border attacks.
Afghanistan after nearly seven years of war has large swaths of the country still in chaos. This includes the entire area surrounding Kandahar on the Pakistan border in the south, as well as areas on the Pakistan-Tajikistan border in the northeast and other areas on the Turkmenistan border to the northwest.
The US is going to be in Afghanistan for many years to come. The only thing that's going to change in Afghanistan is the objectives. All the indications currently are that the US military and foreign policy establishment have already abandoned the neo-conservative objective of crushing the Taliban and remaking Afghanistan into a functioning democracy. America's Afghanistan policy is falling into the hands of the realists, whose priority is maintaining a tractable and viable client in Kabul, keeping Afghanistan securely inside the US sphere of interest, holding on to a key asset in Central Asia's "great game" of energy resources and pipeline infrastructure.
Already US policy makers have been preparing the grounds for a new Taliban organisation separate from Taliban leader Mullah Omar but loyal to the cause of the Afghan resistance. With a broad international consensus on Afghanistan, the US will now seek to impose a firm hand on the emerging policy process and prepare public opinion that is still mired in the obsolete destruction of the Taliban and al-Qaeda mindset pursued over the past six years at the cost of thousands of lives and tens of billions of dollars. This policy will be replaced with a new policy of a brave new world in which the Taliban enter the government and Afghan democracy goes out the window. All the signs in Afghanistan point towards a settlement with the Taliban and a grand bargain.
The facts on the ground show that Pakistan is America's key theatre of war. Asif Ali Zardari, widower of Benazir Bhutto, co-chairman of the PPP and president of Pakistan, has staked his political fortunes on splitting with the other parties and replacing Pervez Musharraf as America's client in Pakistan. However, hamstrung by unpopular policies, confronted by a ruthless and militant insurgency Zardari appears incapable of delivering the counter-terrorism results in the border areas that America is looking for.
Bush will leave office and handover an expanding global war on terror which now includes Pakistan.
Pakistan is fast becoming an area of operations for the US. The Bush administration has concluded that Pakistan poses the primary obstacle to success in Afghanistan. As long as jihadists can freely infiltrate across the border shared by those two countries, victory in the Afghan war will remain elusive. "We can hunt down and kill extremists as they cross over the border from Pakistan," Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently remarked, "But until we ... eliminate the safe havens from which they operate, the enemy will only keep coming."
Members of parliament are particularly angered by recent signals from Washington that it is prepared to talk to the Afghan Taliban, while telling Pakistan that it must fight its Taliban menace.
Obama publicly has declared that his regime will extend the ‘war against terrorism' by systematic, large-scale ground and air attacks on Pakistan, thus escalating the war to include villages, towns and cities deemed sympathetic to the Afghan resistance. All the signs point towards Pakistan becoming the new theatre for US imperial expansion and this is deemed necessary by Obama to win the regional war.
Barack Obama has made clear his policy for Iran, and during the election campaign was publicly derided by McCain for pandering to the enemy. Obama is for multilateralism and engagement with Iran as he favours "aggressive personal diplomacy" and has said he would meet Iranian leaders without preconditions. He says they would change their behaviour if given incentives to do so. However, this is in reality a continuation of the policies the Bush administration adopted after the Neocon's failed to make a compelling case against Iran.
The US has been engaging with the reformists in the Iranian government who continue to promote US interests in Iran, and neighbouring Afghanistan and Iraq. In Iraq, Tehran continues to extend support to the leader of SCIRI, Ayatollah Hakim and the Badr Brigade who have become the lynchpin of US plans for Southern Iraq. In Afghanistan, Iran runs extensive reconstruction and training programs in Kabul, Herat and Kandahar. This engagement for the US was necessary as without it the US would be in a much worse position than it's already in.
The realists in the Bush administration managed to gain the upper hand and their preferred method of dealing with Iran's nuclear programme was through multilateralism and diplomacy, as opposed to unilateralism and military intervention. Obama has stated he will continue with such a policy, however like the realists he is prepared to use overwhelming force against Iran to occupy its oil and gas fields if needed. The Hawkish comments from Washington to a large extent have been from the Neocons. Obama has promised to attack Iran if it continues to process uranium for its nuclear programs. Joseph Biden spelled out a series of ‘points of conflict' with Iran emphasizing that Obama ‘would respond forcefully'. Obama's senior Middle East advisers include leading Zionists like Dennis Ross, closely linked to the ‘Bipartisan Policy Center', which published a report serving as a blueprint for war with Iran.
With Elections to take place in Iran in 2009, it is widely expected Ahmednijad will lose to a number of reformists due to his poor economic record. With the reformists gaining new ground it is expected Iran and US engagement will grow. However, the hawkish comments will continue to come from Washington.
Obama will inherit a worldwide map of problems that demand more time, military commitment and money than America can possibly deploy. Obama will also be greeted with the US economy in recession although Obama has been adamant that the recession would not have a serious effect on his plans.
Obama will inherit an economy which is fast becoming the new ‘sick man,' the US national debt stands at $10 trillion, whilst consumer debt stands at $11.4 trillion. The debts of US companies amounts to $18.4 trillion. This makes the US indebted to the tune of $40 trillion. The US imports much more than it exports and as a result it has a trade deficit fast approaching $1 trillion. The financial crisis has exposed the US as more reliant then ever on the likes of China and Japan to continue buying its Bonds and funding its debt.
Obama's policies whether domestic or foreign to a large extent will be determined by the financial crisis. Future federal budgets have already been committed to the financial crisis which Obama cannot change. Bush also committed future budgets to the Iran and Afghan conflict which Obama will not be able to reverse. The US has well and truly spent well beyond its means.
With the US economy going into recession US consumption and spending will all fall which will create a quagmire for Obama. Without increases in consumer spending, the government will have to spend trillions of dollars to restart the economy.
Despite building his campaign around the theme of "change you can believe in," there are serious questions regarding how much real change there would be under Obama.
The core aspect of Obama's vision in essence turns the Bush doctrine on its head. It argues the main problems and threats facing America in the 21st century require a multilateral approach as on its own the US has failed. Hence the US will take a more multilateral approach and work to ensure its interests are maintained through cooperation with other nations rather then going alone.
With a faltering US this represents an opportunity for the Muslim world to free itself from US colonialism. Obama has stated he is prepared to begin conflict with Pakistan but he doesn't explain this, because without full Pakistani cooperation in the Afghan conflict the 70% of military hardware and 40% fuel for the Afghan conflict maybe in jeopardy as they are based in Pakistan. Whilst the US begs the Middle East for money to bail out its ailing banks this would be the right time for Saudi Arabia and the sovereign wealth funds in the Gulf to dump the dollar. It definitely is time for change but time for the Ummah across the Muslim world to take their destiny in their own hands and remove their rulers who will find the US is a little preoccupied with problems at home to be able to provide them protection.