Changing faces: is Barack Obama really so different from Bush?

Despite the massive enthusiasm for his campaign and some of his rhetoric, Barack Obama’s actual policies are disturbingly similar to those of the Bush administration

THE AMERICAN magazine Newsweek published a poll late last month revealing Democrat presidential hopeful Barack Obama had gained a 15-point lead over his Republican rival, John McCain, in the race for the White House.

The poll indicated a widespread dissatisfaction with what Newsweek described as “the direction of the country” and found only 14 per cent of respondents were satisfied with their current situation. We may be seeing a growing popular sentiment that the Senator from Illinois is the man to bring to the American people what he repeatedly pledged from his campaign platform: change.

“Change you can believe in” was the catch-cry of the Obama primary campaign. He has forcefully distanced himself from George Bush and denounced the current administration as “incompetent” with a track record of “failed policies”. In contrast he claims not just that he can do Bush¹s job better, but that he offers something quite unique.

Despite presenting a consistent theme, the content of his message is vague. On domestic issues such as healthcare and poverty Obama has talked often of the need for reform but his actual policies demonstrate an unwillingness to do anything more than tinker a little with what is a fundamentally flawed social system.

On healthcare he has suggested nothing beyond expanding the existing private health insurance system and dismissed as “socialised medicine” a proposal to adopt a nationalised healthcare system similar to Britain’s.

While he pledges to raise the minimum wage (US$5.85) he doesn’t specify by how much nor does he deal with the broader question of challenging the social ills caused by a low wage economy.

For many of his supporters, however, Obama’s opposition to the war in Iraq has been the clearest indication that his agenda is to alter the course of American politics and US foreign policy in particular. Few would disagree that the Iraq War has been, in many respects, a disaster for the Bush administration.

As the war drags into its fifth year troop casualties increase while popular support for the occupation has nosedived. The astronomical cost of the conflict has driven the world’s largest economy close to recession, while the US military has failed to deliver the ground-level security that the US leadership requires to pursue its wider interests in the region.

Voices inside Washington including former national security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, are now describing the war as unwinnable. It is in this context that the nature of Barack Obama’s denouncement of the war becomes clearer.

Since his famous anti-war speech in Chicago in 2002 Obama has attacked the Bush administration over its failure to engage in diplomatic dialogue with states that it deems threatening, such as the former Iraqi regime. By 2007 however, Obama, now a recognised presidential hopeful, voted in support of massive increases in funding for the war effort. Cries of hypocrisy were met with the defence that he was voting in favour of the funding to support the troops and added that his earlier “anti-war” position had been such that “once we’re in we’re going to have some responsibility to make it work as best we can”.

A Change in Foreign Policy?

In criticising Bush over Iraq, Obama is not breaking with current US strategy. It does not represent a disagreement with the concept of the US using its military power to secure economic and strategic interests wherever it sees the need. He has not joined the grassroots condemnation of US imperialism coming from the anti-war movement. He has not said that Iraqi sovereignty was violated through the invasion. Nor has he said that the Iraqi death toll (possibly as high as one million) cannot be justified in the name of fighting terrorism. His position is that America¹s involvement in Iraq has been badly managed by those currently occupying the White House.

Barack Obama is not, in any principled sense at least, against aggressive military intervention. His policy on Afghanistan testifies to this. In defeating what he calls “threats to our vital interests” and fighting the so-called war on terror, Obama has openly and persistently advocated for a troop increase in Afghanistan as well as a general expansion of the US military.

Clearly Obama has anticipated a tactical shift in the direction of US military strategy in the Middle East and has positioned himself as the leading candidate to engage in the “critical fight against terrorism” and manage the future security of the US in the region. Obama’s electoral team are aware that to win the presidency he must be able to position himself as being strong on terrorism and national security. Moreover, the support of those who control big business and have their own interests in an aggressive foreign policy is vital for his success. Maintaining US imperialism is central to this.

Regardless of the reality that much of the world condemns Israel for its persecution of the Palestinians and its frequent unilateral military strikes against its neighbours, the US, led by Obama, will back the Zionist state to the hilt. In a 2007 address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Obama reassured AIPAC, perhaps America’s strongest pro-Zionist lobby group, that should he take over at the White House, the US would remain fully committed to supporting Israel. He added that part of this support would involve an ongoing military presence in the Middle East.

Obama fully understands that Israel has been a vital and longstanding ally in both gaining compliance from regional powers and fending off threats to US interests.

In the same address to AIPAC Obama added that redeployment from Iraq would aid the US in “recapturing lost influence in the Middle East and winning the war in Afghanistan”. Such a move could serve to increase the likelihood of open military engagement with another of George Bush’s so-called “Axis of Evil”, as Obama himself suggests: “And we can, then, more effectively deal with what I consider to be one of the greatest threats to the United States, to Israel, and world peace, and that is Iran”. He went on to allude that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had some historical link to Adolf Hitler.

Obama has given several indications that he will be no less restrained when it comes to the possibility of open conflict with whomever the US ruling class views as an obstacle to their economic and strategic interests.

In his typically stirring speeches Obama has talked endlessly of change. But the genuine distinction between the policies and political direction of the current president and the man many expect to replace him appear slim. The only change we are likely to see come November will be in the face behind the desk in the Oval Office.

This will certainly disappoint many of his supporters who rejected Hillary Clinton’s campaign because she was seen as part of the White House establishment. They want change with a capital “C”.

However, this experience may provide lessons for activists politicised over the war in Iraq and Afghanistan that real change cannot come via a Democrat presidency, but on the streets where they have been campaigning for five years. It is important that the anti-war movement continue their fight before, during and after the election in November 2008.

In his 2007 address to AIPAC Barrack Obama made an observation with reference to Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that may equally serve as a prelude to his own presidency: “Unfortunately, history has a terrible way of repeating itself”.

By Carl Taylor


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