The Obama Foreign Policy: Maintaining the Status Quo
American foreign policy since World War I, and more so following the conclusion of World War II, has maintained one critical element above all else – to secure and preserve American power. The definition of American power takes numerous forms. A short list includes exploiting foreign resources for the benefit of American private industry, eliminating any perceived threats to American global supremacy, and usurping the popular will of foreign populations through puppet governments. The history of American foreign policy is littered with examples, as to the propagation of US power, and doesn’t need to be elucidated here.
There is little indication that the new administration of Barack Obama will pursue a different course. It was put succinctly by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a speech she gave on her first day in the State Department.
And we will make clear, as we go forward, that diplomacy and development are essential tools in achieving the long-term objectives of the United States.
Diplomacy and development are soft propaganda in comparison to the previous administration of George W. Bush. Despite the rhetoric, do not mistake the essential words “long-term objective of the United States.” Attaining these ultimate ends are not vulnerable to compromise, only the means to that end.
The extreme and overt tactics employed by Bush II needs to be softened for obvious political reasons. United States power has waned in recent years as the obvious intentions of unilateral domination surfaced, and became counter-intuitive towards the end goal. As a general pragmatic approach, Obama and his adviser’s fully realize an image change is in order. Secretary Clinton alluded to this very point when she spoke about the road ahead:
…do not grow weary, as we attempt to do good on behalf of our country and the world.
This is akin to the story of Little Red Riding Hood where the big, bad wolf disguises himself as Riding Hood’s grandmother, in order to lure her into his reach. America is going to put a smile on for the world to see, all the while deftly reaching behind unnoticed to slip the wallets out of the back pockets of other countries.
The underlying problem with pursuing unilateral objectives is the principle of universality, where in foreign policy should be viewed from the perspective of what is an acceptable action on the part of one country towards another is also acceptable for the same action to be reversed.
American policy is strewn with examples that defy the basic moral and ethical principle of universality. A prominent example that has been in the public eye recently is that of water boarding. Following the defeat of Japan in World War II, the United States established the International Military Tribunal(more commonly known as the Tokyo War Crimes Trials), where numerous Japanese military officials were convicted of torture for their use of water boarding against captured American military personnel.
Water boarding on Americans is viewed as a serious crime by the United States. However, water boarding is a perfectly acceptable means of information extraction when it’s Americans or American clients torturing non-Americans.
Water boarding has been a common practice as an interrogation tactic for United States agencies. The Army used it during the Vietnam War until it was publicly exposed, and most notably, its use on suspected Al Qaeda members. It has been revealed that the Bush II administration issued two memorandums explicitly endorsing the use of water boarding as an interrogation technique. Former Vice President Dick Cheney publicly admitted to it’s use in January of 2009. To date, no American has ever been convicted or prosecuted for water boarding a non-American.
There are numerous other illustrations of the United States violating the principle of universality. This basic tenant of international normality has decreasingly become of lesser importance to successive administrations. With no apparent motivation to adhere to international norms, the only force that has shifted United States policy in the direction of universality has been overwhelming public opinion, as evident in the case of water boarding. It was not until large scale domestic public opinion against water boarding surfaced that the technique even came into question after decades of it’s common use.
While the Obama administration’s tenor is still in it’s infancy, there has been no indication, past or present, to believe it will pursue a principle of universality in it’s foreign policy application. Barack Obama’s previous comments on his support for Israel, whilst ignoring the ongoing isolation, repression, and violence against the Palestine people elicits nary a word. And with the concise words of Secretary of State Clinton that the United States will seek to fulfill it’s own objectives, there is little reason to believe the goals and objectives of other states will enter into the equation.