Can a U.S. President Implement Progressive Policies While Also Representing the Corporate Empire?

The idea that neoconservatives were waiting in the wings to come to power when Republicans took the White House and succeeded to implement their aggressive foreign policy when Bush was elected in 2000 may have some truth to it, but it gives the false impression that Democrats and Republicans have different foreign policies. In reality, if you analyze the policies of US presidents in the last hundred years or so and especially since WWII, you’ll see that they’ve been remarkably consistent, without much variation, discontinuity or interruption from one president to the next. One administration takes off precisely where the previous leaves off. Perhaps the most clear example of this was the transition from Bush to Obama, whether it was his wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the drone attacks in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, his support and aid for Israel even in the face of their massacres of Palestinians and settlement building, his “Pivot to Asia”, his aggression in Africa, etc. 

Now, I know what some might say: that Bush and Cheney or other Republicans would never have entered into talks with Cuba and established diplomatic relations with them. That may be true, but what they don’t realize is that there is never 100% consensus among the ruling class on all issues, at all times. Such differences of opinion can even happen within the same party and during the same presidency. Sometimes, a Republican adopts a policy that’s considered dovish and characteristic of Democrats, such as Nixon traveling to China for talks or Reagan negotiating with the Soviets on arms control. Other times, Democrats resort to hawkish policies typically associated with Republicans, such as Clinton’s massive bombardment of Yugoslavia or Obama’s war on Libya and intervention in Ukraine, among others. It has more to do with what the ruling class thinks is in its best interests, than which of the two parties is in the White House. Sometimes, it’s not so much a policy difference between the two parties, but rather a matter of timing and political, military and geopolitical considerations that might lead the ruling class to adopt one policy over another. For example, if Obama pulled back from a full-fledged bombardment of Syria a few years ago and opted to wait and see where the civil war leads to, to see if the regime falls by the Islamist “rebels”, it was based on factors such as timing and diplomatic and political considerations, rather than a real policy difference with Republicans. He did decide to intervene militarily after all, when the stalemate continued. A Republican might have taken the same approach. Another case that in my opinion is a matter of timing rather than real policy difference is Iran. While Republicans who are screaming that the nuclear deal with Iran is a bad one and should be annulled, a Republican president in Obama’s shoes might have taken the same approach, after all the different factors and constraints affecting that decision were taken into consideration.

Having said that, contrary to the belief of some among the left, there are differences between the two parties. But, those are mainly differences of opinion as to the best way to reach their objectives – both short and long term – that are the same and for the same ruling class, which both parties represent, rather than differences of objectives and goals.

Some on the left also posit that elections are all fake and for show and distraction and of no consequence as to the policies that are implemented. Although, objectives are the same, tactics can and do vary. Through time, those who prefer more aggressive tactics gravitate towards the party that best represents their point of view and those who think the longevity of the system is best protected through a softer, less confrontational and less openly belligerent approach may find the other party most representative of their views. But, since the power structure doesn’t change with either party taking the office and the ruling class remains in power and their interests are protected either way, the class gets to choose which approach and which party is best for them at any given time and under any given circumstances. So, elections are inconsequential for the people, who are kept out of the loop, but do serve a purpose for the class in power. They give the class the chance to evaluate their options and pick the one they think best suits the current conditions.

The trap many progressives fall into is with domestic policies. This is where many draw the conclusion that Democrats are better than Republicans. However, there are two things that these liberals forget. First, domestic policies aren’t separate from foreign policies. You can’t have a corporate military industrial empire with military spending that dwarfs every other type of spending, with some 1400 military bases around the world and engaged in endless and several wars simultaneously and have progressive policies at home. You can’t have an imperialist government that imposes its corporate policies on other nations in the name of “trade agreements” and not have the rights of the domestic workers taken away, their wages depressed and people’s liberties curtailed. These things are all interrelated. 

While praising Obama as a “geopolitical grandmaster” and a “genius” politician who cured and remedied many of the mistakes of his neocon predecessor’s “disastrous” policies and while crediting him with his Transpacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) treaties as major accomplishments, the Nation magazine was nevertheless compelled to admit in an article yesterday his “indifference to any resulting collateral damage at home or abroad”. “These two treaties, so central to Obama’s geopolitical strategy”, adds the article “will bring in their wake both diplomatic gains and high social costs. Think of it in blunt terms as the choice between maintaining the empire abroad and sustaining democracy at home”. I couldn’t have said it better myself. 

The article goes on to say what any Obama supporter has to admit, namely, that these treaties are “likely to degrade labor and environmental laws in the United States”. So much so, in fact that, “in June 2015, he needed Republican votes to win Senate approval for ‘fast track’ authority to complete the final round of negotiations in coming months. By transferring control over consumer safety, the environment, and labor from democratic states to closed, pro-business arbitration tribunals, argues a coalition of 170 European civil society groups, the TTIP, like its Pacific counterpart, will exact a high social cost from participating countries”. So much for liberalism of our Democrat President in domestic sphere! It’s no coincidence that the only voice of opposition to these trade agreements on national cable TV, namely that of Ed Schultz, who regularly exposed it’s terrible consequences for workers and the environment though he still supported other foreign and domestic policies of Obama) was silenced by canceling his show on MSNBC, which now is the only network cautiously supportive of Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential run.

In addition to criticizing Bush and Cheney who “wasted $2 Trillion on the war in Afghanistan and Iraq”, The Nation has harsh criticism also for Nixon’s Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, whom Obama’s former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admits to have consulted with regularly; “Henry Kissinger”, says the Nation article, “was as inept as he was ruthless, extending the Vietnam War by seven bloody years to mask his diplomatic failure, turning East Timor over to Indonesia for decades of slaughter until its inevitable independence, cratering US credibility in Latin America by installing a murderous military dictatorship in Chile and mismanaging Moscow in ways that extended the Cold War by another 15 years”. 

But, how different are those imperial and “ruthless” policies from the “grandmaster” Obama’s, who carpet bombed Libya and turned a stable state into a chaotic and ungovernable one run by ruthless warlords and a breeding ground for Islamist terrorists? And how about Obama’s drone program that has killed thousands of innocent people, including hundreds of children? Doesn’t that “crater US credibility”? Is he also not “mismanaging Moscow” by his aggressive and belligerent policy of intervention in Ukraine, which has the longest border with Russia, resulting in heightened tensions and confrontation? And what about his support for Syria’s “opposition” and attempt at another regime change, while they have to admit “there are no moderates among the opposition”? The funny thing is that they call Obama’s “maneuvers” in “defending” the U.S. “superpower status” “subtle”! I don’t know what’s subtle about any of that.

Nation compares Obama with two other politicians whom it credits with expanding the power of the U.S. worldwide. One of them is Elihu Root, whom it praises as the “architect” of US imperialism, who as Secretary of War (1899–1904) and Secretary of State (1907–09), modernized the U.S. military, initiated an “activist foreign policy” and helped turn the U.S. into a global power and “became an increasingly agile force for overseas expansion—in China, the Philippines, the Caribbean, Latin America, and, ultimately, Europe itself”. But, says the Nation, “With his eye firmly fixed on America’s ascent, Root also covered up atrocities that accompanied the army’s extraordinarily brutal pacification of the Philippines”. Root also believed that “the Constitution’s protection of individual liberties” had created an inherently weak federal bureaucracy, ill suited for the concerted projection of American imperial power beyond its borders”, showing further that projecting imperial power ultimately goes against individual liberties. That’s why with “endless wars”, civil liberties had to be curtailed, domestic espionage expanded, government whistle blowers punished and police force militarized. 

The other politician Nation holds in high regard in addition to Obama and Root is former National Security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, whom it credits with destroying the Soviet “empire”. He “would prove particularly adept at applying Sir Halford’s famous dictum: ‘Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island; Who rules the World-Island commands the world’.”  

With a budget of $100 million, Brzezinski “drove radical Islam from Afghanistan into the ’heartland’ of Soviet Central Asia, drawing Moscow into a debilitating decade-long Afghan war that weakened Russia sufficiently for Eastern Europe to finally break free from the Soviet empire. With a calculus that couldn’t have been more coldblooded, he understood and rationalized the untold misery and unimaginable human suffering his strategy inflicted through ravaged landscapes, the millions his policy uprooted from ancestral villages and turned into refugees, and the countless Afghan dead and wounded. Dismissing the long-term damage as ’some stirred-up Moslems,’ as he saw it, none of it added up to a hill of beans compared to the importance of striking directly into the Eurasian heartland to free Eastern Europe, half a continent away, and shatter the Soviet empire. And these results did indeed mark Brzezinski as a grandmaster of geopolitics in all its ruthless realpolitik. (Mind you, the future suffering from those ’stirred-up Moslems’ now includes the rise of Al Qaeda, 9/11, and America’s second Afghan War, as well as the unsettling of the Greater Middle East thanks to the growth of the Islamic extremism he first nurtured.)” 

The article credits him for “freeing Eastern Europe from the Soviet Empire”, as if that was a good thing for either the people of the Soviet Union or Eastern Union or the working people anywhere in the world, even though they admit it had some undesired consequences, some of which it mentions. What it doesn’t mention is the disastrous wars that the U.S. waged after it succeeded in breaking the Soviet Union, wars which in most likelihood would not have taken place were the Soviet Union to still exist and continue to present a counterweight to US global power and its penchant for military interventions. And, what were the Eastern Europeans being freed from and for whose interest and advantage? Will the workers of Ukraine, for example, thrive now under the rule of U.S. and E.U. international banks, IMF imposed loans and neoliberal policies?

The question one must ask is: how different have the policies of Obama whom the Nation calls “the defender of US global hegemony” been in comparison to others before him, Republican or Democrat, who became the leader of the corporate empire to advance the global interests of US imperialism? And, will another liberal such as Sanders or any other Democrat, who supposedly won’t make the Republicans’ mistakes, be any different or any better for workers here and abroad, for democracy, for the environment and for peace and justice, when they not only do nothing to curtail the power and reach of the empire, but do everything to bolster it? Won’t “later historians” say similar things about Obama, as well as Sanders, if he wins the job of leading the empire, who, like Obama, has voted to fund every war that the U.S. has initiated, as they will about Kissinger? Won’t another Democrat like Sanders have to continue the empire’s policies without a change in the power structure at the top?

And, that is the second point many progressives forget: that the ruling class remains in power regardless of which of the two parties wins the elections and will therefore push for and enact policies that protect its interests, as opposed to the working poor. This is what makes US policies consistent and uninterrupted during transitions from one corporate party to the other. You can’t have the 1% in power and calling the shots and even affecting elections, as they have all along, and expect a liberal like Bernie Sanders change the direction and priorities of the nation in any meaningful way. All that that does is keep people in a holding position as corporations continue to grow bigger and stronger and grab more political power and get richer at the expense of everyone else and we gradually become a police state and move closer to fascism.

So, those who say “I disagree with Bernie’s foreign policy and support for Israel, but you can’t have everything”, expecting meaningful changes are not connecting the dots.


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