In addressing the foreign policy of America’s 44th commander-in-chief, there is, perhaps, no better place to begin than with the words of Barack Obama himself.
Senator Obama, that is.
In a 2007 interview with The Boston Globe, the former constitutional law professor succinctly encapsulated the scope of executive war powers when he stated, “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”
The comment came as the Bush administration openly entertained the possibility of attacking Iran citing allegations that the Middle Eastern nation was pursuing the development of nuclear weapons. The notion struck many in Congress as overreaching and patently illegal in light of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution of the United States, which strictly delegates war declaration power to Congress. Then-Senator Joe Biden even went so far as to threaten Bush with impeachment should he attempt to execute the plan.
Fast-forward two inaugurations and in stark contrast to his ostensibly liberal inclinations as a senator, President Obama has engaged in a series of martial interventions ranging from the invasion of Libya, which resulted in the torture and summary execution of Muammar Gaddafi, increased factionalization in Libya and destabilization of the region; to authorizing the use of terror drones resulting in thousands of civilian casualties in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan; to conspiring with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey to support rebel forces against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; all in violation of international law.
A dubious Nobel Peace Prize notwithstanding, the man who once inspired unprecedented support behind a mantra of “hope and change” has proven every bit the “war president” that George W. Bush fancied himself to be.
Unto the war drums beating for Syria, presently, the Obama administration has demonstrated unwavering fealty to the insatiable appetite of the military-industrial machine, much to the disappointment of the freethinking world. It is ironic that the man who once criticized his predecessor for sullying the national image, by way of violence, has only enhanced the scope and depth of the American murder apparatus.
In hindsight, it appears that Obama’s repudiation of Bush stemmed more from the latter’s willingness to openly flout the law in wanton bloodlust. Ever the sophisticate, Obama circumvented similar condemnation, with Hitlerian savvy, by declaring his intention to restructure American law, thus codifying his abuses, rendering them technically legal, though no less reprehensible. Beyond that, such pesky inconveniences as the Charter of the United Nations and The Nuremburg Principles do not appear to factor into contemporary American foreign policy whatsoever.
In this respect, it is with Obama as it was with Bush:
The gulag that is Guantanamo Bay remains operational, amidst repeated promises of closing, despite that more than half of the expressly Middle Eastern detainees have been cleared to return home. George Bush waterboarded them. Barack Obama force-feeds them.
American troops are currently slated to remain in Afghanistan until 2024. The revelation appeared to contradict formal assurances that “combat troops” would be withdrawn, by the end of 2014, until it was determined that thousands of “support troops” would remain well beyond the stated deadline. The distinction is purely semantical.
Although a recent impasse between Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai has forced the United States to consider the possibility of a full withdrawal, Washington’s characterization of a complete military exit as the worst-case scenario highlights a gaping disconnect from the consensus of the American people. That the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, publicly touted by Obama as a success story, occurred under similar circumstances, namely, against the will of the administration, is also revealing.
Distinguished professor and author Anatol Lieven once suggested that foreign policy in Afghanistan was increasing potential terrorist threats to the West. With regard to Yemeni drone strikes, Robert Grenier, former director of the CIA counter-terrorism center, offered strikingly similar commentary.
In an article for Al Jazeera, Grenier wrote, “One wonders how many Yemenis may be moved in future to violent extremism in reaction to carelessly targeted missile strikes, and how many Yemeni militants with strictly local agendas will become dedicated enemies of the West in response to US military actions against them."
This theme is replete throughout the Middle East.
Returning briefly to Iran, as chief executive, Obama resorted to the imposition of economic sanctions, which severely devalued the Iranian currency, resulting in massive inflation, astronomical food prices and an effectively malnourished civilian population. Even after the measures were deemed ineffectual at accomplishing the purported goal of discouraging nuclear weapons development —an aspiration Iran denies— the inhumane practices continued. That the United Nations Security Council rejected the latest round of sanctions against Iran or that many regard them as an act of war was deemed irrelevant by the current administration.
Simply, when Bush would bomb Iranians, Obama starves them.
As further indication that such measures are deliberate manifestations of insidious calculation, and not unfortunate, unthinkable blunders by otherwise diplomatic representatives, Congressman Brad Sherman once defended Iranian sanctions thusly, “Critics also argued that these measures will hurt the Iranian people. Quite frankly, we need to do just that.”
Such a statement leaves little room for misinterpretation.
Incidentally, the Iran case is unnervingly reminiscent of sanctions placed against Iraq, after the Persian Gulf War, which resulted in millions of deaths, including more than 500,000 infants. It was a circumstance so abhorrent that Dennis Halliday, a former UN coordinator in Iraq, retired in protest, characterizing the sanctions as “genocidal.”
In the annals of crime, the extermination of masses is undisputed king.
And so the astute observer is left with an unmistakable continuity in policy —between such presumably opposed regimes as those of and — while faithful believers still cling to expectations of a divergence in ideology, though there is none to be found.
As an aside, the perceived paradox raises the question of whether such an uncanny “coincidence” is indicative of more pervasive, if less visible, forces at play in directing the foreign policy of the world’s premiere military juggernaut. Dwight Eisenhower’s ominous farewell speech suddenly comes reeling to the fore.
Either way, the truth inevitably remains for the diligent to uncover, even when obscured beneath apathy, cognitive dissonance and an ocean of propaganda. And though the question of Barack Obama’s similarity to his antecedents and successors, his dealings with the nations and peoples of the Earth in his tenure as the “Leader of the Free World,” will likely be subject to debate for generations to come, facts speak for themselves; for reality is a rotten compromiser.
And then yet again, there may be no better place to end this inquiry into the foreign policy of America’s 44th commander-in-chief, than with the words of Barack Obama himself.
In the run-up to an historic election, Barack Obama wooed a multitude with an optimistic message of reform that spoke to a deep-rooted ideal of a better tomorrow. He spoke of a world in which the prospect of armed conflict had been relegated to a final, somber resort. He passionately criticized the warmongering tendencies of the recent past and the unjustifiable expenditures of the Iraq War citing the loss of standing amongst the community of nations, the increased threat to America’s national security and, most importantly, the needless loss of human life. He understood, or so many inferred, that diplomacy cannot be achieved at the barrel of gun and that equality and respect are universal human values, not privileges to be reserved for a select few.
If his sentiments were sincere and such are the values to be demanded of one worthy of the office of President of the United States, then let it be said that by his own admission, Barack Hussein Obama does not fit the bill.