Will Obama “Change” U.S. Foreign Policy?

November 8, 2008

The national sham, better known as the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election, is behind us.  24 months and more than $2 billion later, Barack Obama is our new leader.  He ran on a platform of “change”.  To be precise his campaign theme was “Change We Can Believe In”.  Clearly, after eight years of the Bush Administration this mantra appealed to many Americans and with good reason.  But before we get too excited, like many Americans have, about the “change” he will bring to America, let’s look at his first two presidential appointments.  They should certainly put a damper on the idea that things will be different in terms of foreign policy from the new administration.

In his first presidential act, over the summer, Obama chose Senator Joe Biden to be his vice-presidential running mate.  This is the same Joe Biden who had to withdraw from the 1988 presidential race after it was revealed he plagiarized a speech from British Labor party leader Neil Kinnock.  That was a long time ago and everyone is entitled to redemption for past sins.  However, Biden’s most recent positions on foreign policy issues are what is really concerning and perhaps an indication that Obama did not mean change in terms of current U.S. foreign policy.

A quick review of Biden’s foreign policy record in the last ten years reveals that he is as hawkish as some well known Republicans.  In 1999, he joined forces with one such Republican, John McCain (funny how politics does make for strange bedfellows), in the Senate to sponsor the resolution authorizing NATO aggression against Yugoslavia.  This aggression included an 11 week bombardment against Serbia and Montenegro.

Then in 2003, Biden not only voted to give the president authorization to invade Iraq, but he vigorously supported the president’s false claims about WMDs and Saddam’s ties to Osama bin Laden.  As Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, he suppressed antiwar testimony to the committee leading up to the attack.

Last year, Biden was a cosponsor (with Senators McCain and Lieberman) of a Senate resolution that called for U.S. support for the independence of the autonomous Serbian region of Kosovo.  He showed his hypocrisy a short time later by lambasting Russia for its liberation of South Ossetia after Georgian troops invaded the autonomous region of Georgia and attacked Russian peacekeepers.  His sharp rebuke of Russia was reminiscent of Cold War days.  In terms of foreign policy, it is ironic that Biden found himself on Obama’s ticket and not McCain’s.  Or perhaps it is a sign that Obama will continue with the failed foreign policy of the Bush Administration.

Obama’s second presidential appointment came just a day after his election victory, with his appointment of Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff.  Rahmbo, as he is known, is also a hawk when it comes to war issues.  Out of nine Democratic members of Congress from Illinois, he was the only one to vote to give the president authorization to invade Iraq.  He has voted for unconditional funding of the war and voted against efforts to set a timetable for U.S. withdraw from Iraq.  His record on the Iraq War is comparable to John McCain’s.

Beyond Iraq, Rahmbo would also like to see action taken against Iran.  He has voted against measures to prevent Bush from attacking that country and even joined the administration in launching inflammatory remarks about Iran’s nuclear threat.

His strong positions toward attacking Arab countries clearly come from his love of Israel.  After all, his father, Benjamin, was a member of the terrorist/freedom fighter (depending on your perspective) group Irgun which launched attacks against Palestinian and British civilians in Palestine in the 1940s.  Rahm himself has been critical of the Bush Administration for criticizing Israel’s assassination policies and human rights abuses.  He was a leading proponent of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 2006 and questioned Amnesty International’s motives in reporting Israeli violations of international humanitarian law.

Now, many will say that these appointments by President-elect Obama are political and do not necessarily indicate a direction that his administration will take in foreign affairs.  But, the old axiom is true, “you judge a man by the company he keeps”.  Modern vice presidents do play a large role as confidants and advisors to the president.  As Dick Cheney has proven, they are very influential partners to presidents who lack the foreign policy experience they possess.  And let’s not forget that vice presidents are one heartbeat away from the top job.

As the chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel will be President Obama’s gatekeeper.  He will in large part determine who has the president’s ear.  He will also have more influence on the president than others in the administration by virtue of his position and close friendship with Obama. 

There is no question that president-elect Obama’s first two appointments call into question his commitment to change as far as U.S. foreign policy is concerned.  By choosing two Democratic neo-cons as vice president and chief of staff, he not only validated the belief that there was not a quarter’s (adjusted for inflation) worth of difference between him and McCain, he has alarmed many of his progressive supporters on the left.  At some point in the near future, perhaps with his selection of defense secretary, it will be clearer whether Obama will change U.S. foreign policy or continue the failed policies of the Bush Administration.  My hunch is that those Americans, who are paying attention, will have their excitement zapped from them as they realize that they have replaced one belligerent administration with another.

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