President Obama’s pending reshuffle of his national security team is an occasion to ask hard questions about American foreign policy. Most immediately, as Hillary told Al Jazeera’s Inside Story last week, click on video above or to link here, Obama’s nomination of his next Secretary of State—whether that is Susan Rice or someone else—provides an opening to ask pressing questions about the Obama administration’s increasing proclivity for proxy warfare against problematic Middle Eastern governments. Above all, “Did the United States arm, fund, train, and support—either directly or through our so-called ‘allies’—the very people who killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and the other Americans who did with him?” But Obama’s most outspoken GOP critics on the issue—e.g., Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham—can’t ask those questions, “because [they’re] complicit in this policy.” (To see Hillary’s segment, go 7:38 into the video above.)
Of course, it remains to be seen whether McCain, Graham, and their Republican colleagues stick to their guns regarding Rice’s acceptability as a nominee for Secretary of State. But the significance of Obama’s apparent interest in nominating her goes beyond the “who’s up/who’s down” of Washington politics or Obama’s proclivity to declare consequential policy positions without having thought through how to implement them. It raises more fundamental questions about the direction of American foreign policy and grand strategy in Obama’s second term. As Hillary explains,
“Whether you are a conservative or a neoliberal interventionist—I would put Susan Rice in that category—each of these camps supports armed, military intervention by the United States in the internal affairs of other countries. They do it for slightly different reasons, but the main strategic purpose is for the United States to pursue dominance.
This was the major grand strategy that the United States adopted in the wake of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union. Susan Rice has been part of this from the beginning, when she was in the Clinton administration in the early 1990s. She has been part of this from the get-go. So has one of the other names mentioned for the Secretary of State or Secretary of Defense position, John Kerry. He’s also been part of it. So has Tom Donilon [the current national security advisor]. They’ve all been part of, participated in, agreed to, pushed this idea of the American pursuit of dominance after the collapse of the Soviet Union, rather than balancing—rather than taking states as they are, as they are rising, dealing with them that way, and balancing them together.”
As to the proposition that Obama actually seeks to pull back somewhat from overseas adventurism and has a more “realist” view of the world, Hillary notes that “there’s just no evidence of it, if you look at the record.” Upon re-election,
“the first thing [Obama] does—and his plan beforehand—is to go to Asia, to go to countries that China cares very deeply about…and to goad China into taking the United States on. We are putting more troops into Asia, we are pushing the Chinese in ways that make no strategic sense—on issues and in areas that have no real strategic value for the United States. The only real reason we’re doing this is to make the Chinese understand that, under President Obama, we will not tolerate them being the power in control to dominate Asia—because we still are the global superpower, with global dominance. That’s a critical message that Obama is pushing right from the beginning of his new administration.”
It seems unlikely that Obama’s next Secretary of State will be someone inclined toward a fundamental reconsideration of these counter-productive but well-established trends on American strategy.
Likewise, the unexpected departure of General David Petraeus as director of the Central Intelligence Agency gives Obama an opportunity to rethink his approach to the “war on terror”—including the dramatically stepped up resort to drone strikes, with significant “collateral damage” to innocent civilians. In this regard, Hillary points out that
“General Petraeus has been…what Obama wants and what the liberal interventionists want, which is to make the CIA a corollary of the Defense Department, and to use secret funding—open-ended, unending, unchecked, unaccountable funding—to pursue military objectives: to use drones, covert war, cyber warfare against other countries without anybody knowing or asking any questions. The President was very comfortable with that. Now, with the sudden disappearance of Petraeus, he has the chance to appoint someone who could actually counsel him how to see the world, how to understand profound changes that are going on in the world…
I think the chances of that are nil; no one is talking about that seriously. The big [choice seems to come down to] John Brennan, Obama’s current counterterrorism adviser within the White House, [a strong] champion of drone warfare [and an architect] of our current counterterrorism strategy, which includes killing American citizens with no due process of law. The big choice is between him and Jane Harman, who was a member of the House of Representatives, on the intelligence committee, and who may be a slightly nicer face to what is essentially the same type of unabashed, unequivocal, and unaccountable use of cyber warfare, drones, and other kinds of secret warfare as a corollary to the Defense Department.”
In other words, it looks like the selection could boil down to a choice between an architect of drone warfare and the extrajudicial killing of American citizens (Brennan) and someone (Harman) who is so close to AIPAC that she was implicated in the FBI’s investigation, during the mid 2000s, see here, here, and here, of Israel’s alleged use of two former AIPAC employees to collect classified information from the U.S. government.
As to what to expect from Obama on foreign policy in his second term, Hillary says that “the evidence, so far, is for more of the same.” Certainly there is no reason to anticipate much change in Washington’s approach to the Middle East:
“President Obama’s big foreign policy test or challenge came almost immediately [after his re-election] with the Israeli military attack in Gaza. And immediately, President Obama, through his own words and his surrogates, said that Israel has an absolute right to defend itself. [This was] something that most of the world (not many Americans here in Washington, but most of the world) looked at as bizarre, from another planet—that Israel had ‘the right to defend itself,’ while it’s lobbing thousands of [munitions] into Gaza and killing, so disproportionately, people there. But this was his immediate reaction. And he needs to do that, because the United States continues to see Israel strategically as an asset, not because it makes our relations with the Arab world easier—actually because it makes them harder. It keeps Arabs down, keeps Muslims down, and allows the United States to continue to pursue dominance, particularly in the Middle East.”
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett