President Obama’s January 21 inaugural speech had mainstream political observers describe it as one of his best speeches as it delineated a bold and an ambitious program for the coming four years. But should we expect substantive changes in American domestic and foreign policies? On the domestic front Obama stated that economic recovery had begun and promised prosperity for the «middle class” and assistance for the poor. He defended Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and emphasized innovation and individual initiative as engines of economic growth. He expressed support for gay rights and immigrant rights and stressed that the US stood for tolerance, opportunity, dignity and justice.
On the foreign policy front Obama declared that a decade of war was ending and the US was the anchor of global alliances. He stressed US support for democracy and that differences among states should be resolved peacefully and global peace must be guided by the values that the US stood for.
The absence of any reference in his address to Syria, Iran and the Arab «Spring” does not necessarily mean, as some observers would like to think, that the US threat of war has subsided or vanished.
First, this was a short address (roughly 19 minutes) in which Obama outlined his strategy. Second, effecting foreign policy through war does not necessarily require hundreds of thousands of troops when there are substitutes such as drone warfare, secret wars of sabotage and wars by proxy. The war in Syria provides an excellent example of some of those methods.
Regardless of how bold or ambitious Obama’s goals were, a critical question arises: Can Obama achieve his goals?
On the domestic front the steep economic crisis that the US, indeed, the West is still reeling under would make that difficult if not impossible to have prosperity in the way Obama outlined on January 21, 2013. Furthermore, the Republican-dominated Congress would exert a huge amount of pressure on Obama to compromise significantly on such matters as government support for the poor. It is important to note that Obama’s initiative on immigration, introduced in his first term in office was watered down so as to meet Republican objections and yet, the Republicans want to see more compromises on immigration.
More importantly, in the age of the accelerating merger between the corporations and the US State (witness the federal government’s bail out of the corporations in the recent financial and economic crisis), which makes the Eisenhower reference to the «Military-Industrial Complex” look like child’s play, the danger of a neo-fascist state arising is quite real.
Laws already exist in the US limiting individual freedoms. The PATRIOT Act of 2001 constitutes a glaring example. The developing national-security state would negate the bulk of Obama’s pronouncements.
Internationally, the ongoing economic crisis might propel the US, given its «national interests,” towards military adventures without necessarily committing huge numbers of troops. Instead, it might continue to use drone warfare, private contractors or proxies. The US has sought alliances with groups and regimes to fight for global domination and access to critical natural resources and markets.
Developments in the Middle East region such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shall remain a source of instability in the face of Israeli intransigence. The exploration of oil and gas in the Mediterranean is about to add more fuel to the fire, given the array of states involved. The increasingly active Islamist elements across the Middle East have exacerbated the situation. It is clear that the US has been cooperating with Islamist political groups controlling states. The latest examples are Tunisia, Libya and Egypt.
Given this turmoil it is highly unlikely that Obama or anyone else would be able to implement a tall order as the one presented in his January address. In the midst of all of this chaos what are the peoples of the region to do?
Answer: Establish popular progressive secular coalitions across regional states. A program to resist Western domination would be essential. Obviously that would not come easily or quickly. Such a huge task would require much debate and planning, but a first step must be taken along this path and very soon.
Ibrahim G. Aoude, Ph.D.,
University of Hawaii-Manoa
Ethnic Studies Department