Obama shows what unifies U.S. foreign policy since Truman: be a military power first and foremost

During the 2008 elections, when many people, including myself, heard Obama’s view on foreign policy, we focused on his vow to end the war in Iraq and dismantle the Guantanamo prisoner camp, a symbol of our inhumanity to other humans. We did not hear him speak of going to war in Afghanistan, or if we heard it, we thought it would be a quick surgical strike against a few terrorists.

We remembered his courageous stand against the Iraqi war in 2003 and that memory was reinforced when he won the Nobel Prize, a move that I’m guessing the prize committee is now regretting. I’m sure regretting that I supported that decision, though I did point out at the time that he won the award for not being George Bush the Younger.

So now when I contemplate my disappointment with President Obama for his latest militarism, I have to remind myself that he never said he was against war. I just assumed it.

I’m of course referring to the announcement that the United States is basing 2,500 Marines in Australia. Every news story about yesterday’s announcement mentioned that it was a message to China.

Barack Obama follows the same foreign policy that emerged among the American elite after World War II: to dominate the world by being the biggest and baddest bully on the block with the newest and most expensive toys. Even during the relatively peaceful Clinton years when we reduced military spending and enjoyed the prosperity that ensued, we projected military force from time to time.

In the context of this tradition of war as the primary tool of foreign policy, Obama is doing a great job, especially recently. Besides pursuing the Afghanistan war, here are some of the violent acts our president has ordered these past few months, some of which are against international and U.S. law:

  • The legal capture of the country’s most important enemy, but then he marred this victory through allowing, condoning or ordering the illegal assassination of the fiend.
  • The use of drone fighter planes to kill people in eight countries with whose government we have no official dispute without the permission of the official permission of the governments of those countries.
  • The illegal assassination of a U.S. citizen instead of capturing and bringing him back home for a trial.
  • Military support to the winning side of the Libyan overthrow of Qaddafi, an act that even a pacifist such as I am has trouble criticizing.

These acts of violence are all small flourishes, so in this sense, Obama continues in the less virulent Clintonian strain of militarism. There just seem to be so many of them.

It would take a less clever set of leaders than the current crew running China to be taken in by such a meager move as posting 2,500 marines in a country whose capital is 5,604 miles from theirs. I think they realize that this kind of small move characterizes a bluffer more than a bully, but neither matters: bluffers fold and bullies back down.

The Chinese are playing the economic game and the alternative energy game and kicking our asses in both. One of the reasons that the Chinese have money to spend developing solar energy and cornering the market on rare metals is that they have a small military budget. With more than triple our population, they spend a fifth of what we do on defense. We project our power by killing people or threatening to do so. The Chinese are projecting their power by making, buying and selling things better.

At the end of the day, I believe that the Chinese strategy has the advantage over ours in a global economy run by sophisticated technology and threatened by both resource overuse and resource shortages.

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