Saturday, April 25, 2009

The appalling "Sacred Trinity" of American foreign policy

“Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.” The more things change, the more they stay the same, so goes the venerable French proverb.

These days that sobering principle seems best to characterize American foreign policy in the age of Obama. Below I quote the key paragraphs from an incisive piece, “Obama’s Sins of Omission, by Andrew Bacevich in today’s Boston Globe. Together with Glenn Greenwald, Bacevich belongs to a rare breed of political commentators who consistently expose the herd-like bleetings of the Washington-based MSM. Bacevich, a professor at Boston University, is the author of "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.” Here is Andrew Bacevich:

“The history of American liberalism is one of promoting substantively modest if superficially radical reforms in order to refurbish and sustain the status quo. From Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal to Bill Clinton's New Covenant, liberals have specialized in jettisoning the redundant to preserve what they see as essential. In this sense, modern liberalism's great achievement has been to deflect or neutralize calls for more fundamental change - a judgment that applies to President Obama, especially on national security.

“... [H]owever much Obama may differ from Bush on particulars, he appears intent on sustaining the essentials on which the Bush policies were grounded. Put simply, Obama's pragmatism poses no threat to the reigning national security consensus. Consistent with the tradition of American liberalism, he appears intent on salvaging that consensus.

“For decades now, that consensus has centered on what we might call the Sacred Trinity of global power projection, global military presence, and global activism - the concrete expression of what politicians commonly refer to as "American global leadership." The United States configures its armed forces not for defense but for overseas "contingencies." To facilitate the deployment of these forces it maintains a vast network of foreign bases, complemented by various access and overflight agreements. Capabilities and bases mesh with and foster a penchant for meddling in the affairs of others, sometimes revealed to the public, but often concealed.

"Bush did not invent the Sacred Trinity. He merely inherited it and then abused it, thereby reviving the conviction entertained by critics of American globalism, progressives and conservatives alike, that the principles underlying this trinity are pernicious and should be scrapped. Most of these progressives and at least some conservatives voted for Obama with expectations that, if elected, he would do just that. Based on what he has said and done over the past three months, however, the president appears intent instead on shielding the Sacred Trinity from serious scrutiny. . . .

“Obama's revised approach to the so-called Long War, formerly known as the Global War on Terror, should hearten neoconservative and neoliberal exponents of American globalism: Now in its eighth year, this war continues with no end in sight. Those who actually expected Obama to "change the way Washington works" just might feel disappointed. Far than abrogating the Sacred Trinity, the president appears intent on investing it with new life.”

One critic claims that Bacevich offers no alternative. That is not true, for elsewhere he has argued for a policy of “containment” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In my view, even that goes too far. We must withdraw from Islamic countries, and all others which we are mistakenly trying to restructure according to our own image.

Doubtless, we will not cease meddling in the Middle East. We won’t stop because Israel doesn’t want us to. That of course is another story, but it is one whose outlines are getting clearer with each passing day.



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