US Foreign Policy Won't Be Transformed

5 November 2008

US Foreign Policy Won't Be Transformed

Across Europe, the enthusiasm for Barack Obama's victory is great. This enthusiasm is based primarily on the assumption that President Obama will will bring about a complete change of direction in American foreign policy. This is, however, extremely doubtful.

by Harry van Bommel, Foreign Affairs spokesman for the SP parliamentary group.

With his message of change Obama became the favoured candidate not only within the United States, but beyond. Everything we have heard from all associated with him has made it clear that Obama's policies will be completely different from those of his rival McCain, let alone those of President Bush. After the trail of destruction that Bush has left in his wake, the world certainly wants to see this promised change, especially when it comes to US foreign policy.

But is it really the case that Obama will effect such far-reaching changes? A glance at his election manifesto and his public utterances makes one suspect otherwise. Obama gained fame with his call for withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. In this he was expressing what is also the opinion of the majority of Americans. Little by little, however, this position has been modified. The US must indeed withdraw from Iraq, he wrote recently in the New York Times, but not until 2010, and leaving behind a combat force to continue the hunt for Al Qaida and the training of the Iraqi army. This will, moreover, be no small group: Democrat Richard Danzig, a probable Defence Secretary, spoke this summer of a force of between 30.000 and 55.000.

It is, by the way, not the intention that these troops be brought home. They are destined to be deployed in Afghanistan, where Obama wants to see a rapid growth in the number of combat troops in order to gain the upper hand over the insurgents. This will, however, not be sufficient. The US field army, seriously damaged by war, will, under President Obama, be increased in size by 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 marines. These additional troops will be sorely needed if the front against Pakistan, opened by Bush, is to be extended further. In August 2007 Obama announced, it should be remembered, that he was fully prepared to invade that country should the situation demand it.

The new Democratic President will certainly make overtures to his country's allies, but there will be a price for this: Obama and his vice-president Joe Biden will insist that NATO member states deliver more troops for 'collective security operations'. Pressure on the Netherlands to preserve its troop strength in Afghanistan is therefore unavoidable.

These soldiers will also perhaps be needed if Obama holds to his promise to Georgia to support its candidate membership of NATO, which would mean that in any further round of fighting with Russia, the whole of the alliance would be involved in the conflict.


Obama's support for Israel demonstrated remarkable agreement with that of his rival McCain. Obama's view is that Israel's security must be the first priority of US policy in the Middle East. This standpoint is identical to that of McCain, who stated that the US and Israel must always act together. These are, moreover, also the views of the outgoing President. .

It is perhaps not so strange that both Obama and McCain argued for a robust foreign policy in their campaigns. Amongst the American electorate, a large majority, more than 80%, is concerned to see the US gain an improved image in the eyes of world opinion. At the same time, however, 57% want to see American military superiority maintained. The manifestos of both candidates reflected these two leading aspects of public opinion.

It is for that matter to be feared that under Obama wars of intervention will be possible. The rabid neocon ideologue Robert Kagan wrote in 2007 that he regarded Obama as a fellow interventionist. Let's hope that President Obama does not in any case plan to use intervention as a substitute for diplomacy.

The huge change that the Obama Presidency will bring will be principally a matter of domestic policy, affecting matters such as health care and income distribution. It is to say nothing against Americans if we note that these issues weigh much more heavily upon them than do matters of foreign policy. The same goes for European voters. At the same time it does demonstrate a weakness in the American two-party system. Happily enough, we always have more than two parties to choose from.

This article was published in regional newspapers of the GPD group on 5th November 2008.

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