Barack Obama's Kettle of Hawks

Barack Obama has assembled a team of rivals to implement his foreign policy. But while pundits and journalists speculate endlessly on the potential for drama with Hillary Clinton at the state department
and Bill Clinton's network of shady funders, the real rivalry that will
play out goes virtually unmentioned. The main battles will not be
between Obama's staff, but rather against those who actually want a
change in US foreign policy, not just a staff change in the war room.

When announcing his foreign policy team
on Monday, Obama said: "I didn't go around checking their voter
registration." That is a bit hard to believe, given the 63-question
application to work in his White House. But Obama clearly did check
their credentials, and the disturbing truth is that he liked what he

The assembly of Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, Susan Rice
and Joe Biden is a kettle of hawks with a proven track record of
support for the Iraq war, militaristic interventionism, neoliberal
economic policies and a worldview consistent with the foreign policy
arch that stretches from George HW Bush's time in office to the present.

has dismissed suggestions that the public records of his appointees
bear much relevance to future policy. "Understand where the vision for
change comes from, first and foremost," Obama said. "It comes from me.
That's my job, to provide a vision in terms of where we are going and
to make sure, then, that my team is implementing." It is a line the
president-elect's defenders echo often. The reality, though, is that
their records do matter.

We were told repeatedly during the
campaign that Obama was right on the premiere foreign policy issue of
our day - the Iraq war. "Six years ago, I stood up and opposed this war
at a time when it was politically risky to do so," Obama said in his
September debate against John McCain. "Senator McCain and President
Bush had a very different judgment." What does it say that, with 130
members of the House and 23 in the Senate who voted against the war,
Obama chooses to hire Democrats who made the same judgement as Bush and

On Iraq, the issue that the Obama campaign described as
"the most critical foreign policy judgment of our generation", Biden
and Clinton not only supported the invasion, but pushed the Bush
administration's propaganda and lies about Iraqi WMDs and fictitious
connections to al-Qaida. Clinton and Obama's hawkish, pro-Israel chief
of staff, Rahm Emanuel, still refuse to renounce their votes in favour
of the war. Rice, who claims she opposed the Iraq war,
didn't hold elected office and was not confronted with voting for or
against it. But she did publicly promote the myth of Iraq's possession
of WMDs, saying in the lead up to the war that the "major threat" must
"be dealt with forcefully". Rice has also been hawkish on Darfur, calling for "strik[ing] Sudanese airfields, aircraft and other military assets".

is also deeply telling that, of his own free will, Obama selected
President Bush's choice for defence secretary, a man with a very
disturbing and lengthy history at the CIA during the cold war, as his
own. While General James Jones, Obama's nominee for national security
adviser, reportedly opposed the Iraq invasion and is said to have stood
up to the neocons in Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon, he did not do so
publicly when it would have carried weight. Time magazine described him
as "the man who led the Marines during the run-up to the war - and
failed to publicly criticise the operation's flawed planning".
Moreover, Jones, who is a friend of McCain's, has said a timetable for
Iraq withdrawal, "would be against our national interest".

the problem with Obama's appointments is hardly just a matter of bad
vision on Iraq. What ultimately ties Obama's team together is their
unified support for the classic US foreign policy recipe: the hidden
hand of the free market, backed up by the iron fist of US militarism to
defend the America First doctrine.

Obama's starry-eyed defenders
have tried to downplay the importance of his cabinet selections, saying
Obama will call the shots, but the ruling elite in this country see it
for what it is. Karl Rove, "Bush's Brain", called Obama's cabinet
selections, "reassuring", which itself is disconcerting, but
neoconservative leader and former McCain campaign staffer Max Boot
summed it up best. "I am gobsmacked by these appointments, most of
which could just as easily have come from a President McCain," Boot
wrote. The appointment of General Jones and the retention of Gates at
defence "all but puts an end to the 16-month timetable for withdrawal
from Iraq, the unconditional summits with dictators and other
foolishness that once emanated from the Obama campaign."

added that Hillary Clinton will be a "powerful" voice "for
'neoliberalism' which is not so different in many respects from
'neoconservativism.'" Boot's buddy, Michael Goldfarb, wrote in The
Weekly Standard, the official organ of the neoconservative movement,
that he sees "certainly nothing that represents a drastic change in how
Washington does business. The expectation is that Obama is set to
continue the course set by Bush in his second term."

There is
not a single, solid anti-war voice in the upper echelons of the Obama
foreign policy apparatus. And this is the point: Obama is not going to
fundamentally change US foreign policy. He is a status quo Democrat.
And that is why the mono-partisan Washington insiders are gushing over
Obama's new team. At the same time, it is also disingenuous to act as
though Obama is engaging in some epic betrayal. Of course these
appointments contradict his campaign rhetoric of change. But move past
the speeches and Obama's selections are very much in sync with his
record and the foreign policy vision he articulated on the campaign
trail, from his pledge to escalate the war in Afghanistan to his
"residual force" plan in Iraq to his vow to use unilateral force in
Pakistan to defend US interests to his posturing on Iran. "I will
always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our
security and our ally Israel," Obama said in his famed speech at the
American Israel Public Affairs Committee last summer. "Sometimes, there
are no alternatives to confrontation."

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