12/1 Lee Siu Hin: What We Should Expect from President Barak Obama? PDF Print E-mail
What We Should Expect from President Barak Obama?
Lee Siu Hin
December 1, 2008
What should we expect from President Barack Obama?  We've lived through 1976-1980, when many argued we should support “liberal” President Jimmy Carter because he was the “lesser of two evils,” do we now overlook his failed policies?  We've lived through the 1992-2000 Bill Clinton period, when we 'celebrated' the end of the Reagan-Bush neocon era, but ended up entering the not so-left, but rather hawkish-neoliberal, Clinton era.  These lessons from modern U.S. political history teach us that the more the politicians claim to “change”, the more remains the same -- regardless whether we elect “left” or "right" candidates.
There's a problem with the current Obamania-hype -- our progressive "left" is putting too much hope out there that “change” will be coming -- the idea that at least with some political push and protest, etc., our wishes will come true under Obama.  However, many of the "left" seem to have very short memories -- just two years ago, the anti-war vote on 2006 mid-term election helped to install a Democratic majority in Congress, only to watch it became a pro-war Congress.  The "anti-war" Senator Obama, along with Hillary Clinton and others Democratic party Congressional members, repeatedly voted record-breaking war funding to the Bush regime over the past two years, helping him to continue his illegal wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
As of December 1st, 2008, Obama's first several crucial cabinet appointments are full of recycled Hawks, Clintonites and Neocons from the past administrations.  These, along with his lists of political programs from his official Presidential transitional web page Change.gov, effectively spell out his hawkish agenda, presenting the 'crash of hope' -- a denial of the wishes of his supporters, who voted for him in hopes of a clear break from the corrupted Bush’s pro-war Neocon past:
Rahm Emanuel: Obama’s first appointment, Emanuel as White House Chief of Staff will be very problematic, since he has been known for his notorious war-mongering, pro-Israeli Zionist, anti-immigrant, pro-corporate and NAFTA-pushing agenda.
Robert Gates: Obama chooses Bush's Gates to stay on as Defense Secretary.  What this means is simple enough -- a continued war and occupation in Iraq, with a military "surge" in Afghanistan -- 20,000 more troops to boost the Afghan war, possibly a new conflict with Iran, and covert “anti-terrorism” operations continuing in Pakistan -- Obama’s choice of Gates is a clear slap-in-the-face to antiwar voters.
Hillary Rodham Clinton: Obama’s pick for Secretary of State, Clinton has a notorious record of support for her husband Bill Clinton’s economic sanction & low-intensity warfare against Iraq during the 1990’s, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children, along with the USA/NATO bombing of Yugoslavia following the Kosovo crisis at 1999.  After she was elected to the U.S. Senate at 2000, she became one of the hard-core supporters of the illegal Bush-led invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, includes voting for the Iraq War Resolution of 2002 which authorized the U.S. to invade Iraq, and for every single war funding since then.  During her Presidential campaign, Clinton says she won't rule out the use of force to stop “pro-terrorist” Iran.
James Jones: The former Marine general, Obama’s pick for National Security Advisor, is a combination of all the wrong choices -- Corporate-military ties.  While his military achievement was moderate, he had been more active in the business world since his retirement in February, 2007.  He was the president of the Institute for 21st Century Energy, an affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Jones also joined the Board of Directors of the Boeing Company on June 21, 2007, and was elected to the Board of Directors of the Chevron Corporation on May 28, 2008.  In addition, he is the chairman of the Atlantic Council of the United States, a Washington think-tank that has very close military ties.
Timothy Geithner: Obama’s choice for Treasury Secretary signals his favor of Wall Street over Main Street.  Geithner is head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; he was the main government official to regulate Wall Street financial institutions, a task that he obviously failed and result in trillion-dollar government bailouts for Wall Street.
Larry Summers: Obama’s pick for Director of the White House's National Economic Council was a guru of neoliberal economic policies during the Clinton era and chief economist at the World Bank between 1991-1993, his policies had economically devastated billions of people across the World. Summers also has a bad record during his tenure as President of Harvard University, where he spoke out against academic criticisms of Israeli policies and helped to suppress academic freedom.
The problematic nature of Obama’s Geithner and Summers appointments are their troubled connections with Wall Street, including associations with the current financial meltdown, plus trillion-dollar government bailouts that will haunt us financially for generations. Geithner and Summers are the protégés of Robert Rubin, the Citicorp executive -- they worked together when Rubin was Secretary of the Treasury during the Clinton era, and their appointment was announced along with a $300 billion federal bailout of Citigroup by the taxpayers' money.
Janet Napolitano: Obama's choice for Secretary of Homeland Security, known for her racist anti-immigrant policy as Arizona governor.  She is a supporter of militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border and other anti-immigrant policies, including the declaration of a state of emergency in Arizona to direct more funds to block immigrants at the border, and supports the toughest “employer sanctions” law in the country to punish businesses for hiring undocumented workers.
Peter Orszag: Obama’s choice for Office of Management and Budget Director is another protégé of Robert Rubin.  For the past few years, he has been advocating his idea to save the Social Security by reducing Social Security benefits and raising Social Security (FICA) taxes.
Eric Holder: Obama’s choice for Attorney General, a Clinton-era official infamous for pardoning Marc Rich.  As a corporate lawyer, he’d defended the worst U.S. corporations, such as Chiquita International Brands.  Chiquita was indicted in U.S. court over their security payments to a right-wing Colombian paramilitary group the U.S. government had designated as a terrorist organization; Holder argued that there is no evidence linking killings in Colombia to Chiquita.
Susan Rice: Another Obama's inner circle of foreign policy advisors, to be named as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.  She was appointed by President Clinton to the National Security Council.  As a protégé of Madeleine Albright -- Secretary of State during the Clinton era -- she then became the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.  After the Clinton presidency, she joined the neo-liberal Brookings Institution think-tank as a senior fellow.  She is a strong advocate for a U.S. military attack against the Sudan over the Darfur crisis; “Sudan will only respond to the threat of an attack; and if an attack is necessary,” and suggest bombing Sudanese strategic targets like airfields and blockading Sudanese ports, during a 2006 NPR interview.
From these resumes of Obama’s future cabinet members, we could expect that Team Obama will aim to sell us sugar-coated conservative, neocon/neoliberal, pro-corporate, pro-bailout, anti-immigrant, pro-war hawkish policies as 'progressive politics'.  From Change.Gov, the official Obama-Biden President transition information web site, he lists two dozen main issues he'll focus on as President (created just one day after he won the election, the most important part of the Change.Gov is his "agenda" section; however, in a strange twist, within just less then 2 days after they put the information on-line, they took down the entire "agenda" section without explaining why, but put it back two weeks later with some modifications).
Economy: Some of his economic agenda seems good and progressive on paper but not practical in reality, or merely just a campaign rhetoric: "Provide a $1,000 Emergency Energy Rebate to American Families", " "Provide a Making Work Pay tax credit of up to $500 per person, or $1,000 per working family for America's Working Families" (sound more like a Republican tax cut ideology); "Invest $150 billion over 10 years in the Manufacturing Sector and Create 5 Million New Green Jobs", "Create a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank" and propose a new American Jobs Tax Credit for “businesses to receive a $3,000 refundable tax credit for each additional full-time employee hired in the U.S.” (But does not provide any suggestion where the funding will come from).
Trade: While he voted against NAFTA, his agenda didn't intend to end of it, rather just try to amend it.
Iraq: Obama proposes a 16-months withdrawal timetable, but "a residual force will remain in Iraq and in the region to conduct targeted counter-terrorism missions against al Qaeda in Iraq and to protect American diplomatic and civilian personnel.  They will not build permanent bases in Iraq, but will continue efforts to train and support the Iraqi security forces as long as Iraqi leaders move toward political reconciliation and away from sectarianism."  (Sounds like the same old U.S. military "advisors" role at the past in Vietnam and Central America, but his agenda also didn't explain withdraw from Iraq will be also total withdrawing the U.S. forces from the middle east and Persian Gulf region).
Immigration: Obama’s "Immigration" agenda is horrible!  He proposes "additional personnel, infrastructure and technology on the border and at our ports of entry." (A.K.A. militarization of the border) "Allows undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens." (The same old horrible fake immigration "reform" bill proposed by members of Congress over the past few years)
Iran: His agenda on Iran is full of Hawkish-Bush’s legacy, includes: "If Iran continues its troubling behavior (refuse to abandon its nuclear program and support for terrorism), we will step up our economic pressure and political isolation."
Homeland Security/Anti-Terrorism: While critiquing Hawkish-Bush legacy, Obama's homeland security agenda is more to suggest changing, looks more like the same old covert operations.  His main focus: “Find, Disrupt, and Destroy Al Qaeda” includes "New Capabilities to Aggressively Defeat Terrorists," "Prepare the Military to Meet 21st Century Threats" "Win the Battle of Ideas" "Restore American Influence and Restore Our Values" includes $2 billion price tag on Global Education Funds to build pro-U.S. ideology schools, and another $5 billion to create Shared Security Partnership Program to “improve cooperation between U.S. and foreign intelligence and law enforcement agencies.” (Sounds just like creating another School of Americas for global “anti-terrorism”)
Israel: Obama’s agenda on Israel clearly shows he is absolutely no different then Bush, Clinton, or any other past U.S. Presidents on foreign policy.  He'll “ensure a Strong U.S.-Israel Partnership” where he believes “first and incontrovertible commitment in the Middle East must be to the security of Israel” which includes “stood up strongly for Israel's right to defend itself,” and support U.S. foreign assistance to Israel that will ensure billions of dollars our tax money will go to “annual foreign aid package that involves both military and economic assistance to Israel and have advocated increased foreign aid budgets to ensure that these funding priorities are met,” plus “U.S. cooperation with Israel in the development of missile defense systems.”
Defense: Obama calls for preserve U.S. global military reach in the air “we must preserve our unparalleled air power capabilities to deter and defeat any conventional competitors, swiftly respond to crises across the globe,” that includes “need greater investment in advanced technology ranging from the revolutionary, like Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and electronic warfare capabilities, to essential systems like the C-17 cargo and KC-X air refueling aircraft,” and supports building the Reagan-era National Missile Defense program, but demands that other countries “ban ... weapons that interfere with military and commercial satellites.”  Need I say more?
Workers’ Rights: The only major proposal from Obama’s “agenda” that seems to be good and can be accomplishable: “ensure freedom to unionize”, “protect striking workers,” and “raise the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2011,” “fighting for pay equity,” “expanding paid sick days,” and helping low-income workers by invest “$1 billion over five years in transitional jobs and career pathway programs.”  Whether these pro-worker/union proposals will happen under Obama’s administration remains to be seen.
There are many progressive, pro-worker, pro-women, pro-civil rights and good educational proposals at his agendas on Change.gov -- proposals that purport they will benefit the working class.  However, most of these are just long-due reformist proposals, and there’s no much-hyped FDR-type major national economic transformational project in his agenda, rather, there’s an overwhelmingly hawkish imperialist, pro-business and anti-immigrant agenda.  He's already guaranteed billions, even trillion dollars bailout funds for the failed Wall Street financial institutions, and another hundreds of billions of dollars for military spending -- making all the rest of his proposed low-billions dollars social spending programs just merely tips -- pocket money for the working poor.
What will happen over the next four years?  We only can speculate, but certainly Obama is not the liberal, inspirational, progressive working-class savior that many well-wished progressive American voters and peace-loving people from around the world hope to see.  His pro-war, pro-corporate agendas didn't arrive from nowhere; it’s a carefully crafted agenda by his team, most of whom were once protégés of corporate America, past pro-war/pro-corporate administration officials, and/or members of neocon/neoliberal think tanks.
If history can teach us something, the election of Obama and Clinton has many similarities: after the initial excitement, we might experience the same disappointment and disillusion -- like the Clintonera -- and even the possibility that Republicans can capitalize upon the public disappointment to regain control of Congress in immediate future elections.
We should not keep any illusion of "change" -- it won't drop from the sky.  Like someone once said, "change" will only happen when we rise up to make it happen from below.
[Thanks for John Wilmerding for the editing]
Lee Siu Hin is a long time peace, labor, immigrant rights and human rights activists. A long time Pacifica Radio KPFK Los Angeles, CA and WBAI New York, NY producer. Founder and national coordinator of National Immigrant Solidarity Network (http://www.ImmigrantSolidarity.org), ActionLA Coalition (http://www.ActionLA.org) and Peace NO War Network (http://www.PeaceNOWar.net)
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