The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 78/No. 29      August 11, 2014

Capitalist rulers weary of
Obama ‘soft’ foreign policy
“Obama contends with arc of instability unseen since ’70s,” said a Wall Street Journal headline July 13. “Convergence of security crises poses serious challenge to Barack Obama’s foreign policy,” added the subhead.

The article, and others like it, reflects growing dissatisfaction among the ruling families of America with the “soft” foreign policy of the Obama administration and the weakness it projects to their enemies around the world.

For more than half a century, Washington’s unmatched military capacity has been the cornerstone of advancing the U.S. rulers’ foreign policy goals, as well as those of world imperialism. The use and credible threat to use a U.S. boots-on-the-ground force has diminished. But the challenges to imperialist interests in a capitalist world marked by economic rivalry, political instability and social crisis — from the Middle East to East Asia — have grown.

“Mr. Obama campaigned for the presidency in 2008 as the alternative to George W. Bush, as a leader who would wind down the U.S.’s Mideast wars and reach out diplomatically to historic adversaries such as Iran, Syria and Russia,” the Journal wrote. “He promised to de-emphasize the role of U.S. military force and intensify the country’s diplomatic and moral persuasion.”

“The world sometimes seems as if it is flying apart, with Mr. Obama unable to fix it,” the New York Times editorial board wrote in May. “It does not feel as if he is exercising sufficient American leadership and power.”

Criticisms are coming from bourgeois liberal and conservative voices alike, pointing to examples of what they see as mounting failures for U.S. imperialism, including: “Leading from behind” in the Libyan civil war of 2011 and the Sept. 11, 2012, assault on the U.S. “Diplomatic Mission” in Benghazi; the 2009-2011 U.S. troop pullout in Iraq that left parts of the country to Iranian influence and Islamist rebellion; the rapid drawdown in Afghanistan, giving the war-torn country in large measure back to the Taliban; last year’s deal with Moscow that breathed new life into the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad; and recent negotiations that relieve pressure on the Iranian government and its pursuit of nuclear technology.

The administration has little more than diminishing influence and greater resentment to show for its increased “dialogue,” sensitive speeches and diplomatic “resets,” and its greater reliance on hunter-killer operations by special forces and aerial drone strikes in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.

Under the current administration, the Pentagon has also reduced U.S. army troop levels to the lowest size since before World War II.

“America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire,” Obama said in a June 2009 speech at Cairo University.

The world outlook behind the Obama administration’s foreign policy is not directly representative of any wing of the U.S. capitalist rulers. Instead, it is an extension of the cosmopolitan and naïve views that distinguish a bourgeois-minded meritocratic social layer of highly paid — and, they believe, highly intelligent — supervisory personnel, attorneys, staffers, professors in academia, media, NGOs, foundations, think tanks, etc. This social layer, which has grown substantially in recent decades, has neither the confidence nor experience of the ruling propertied families to which they are ultimately beholden. Consistent with this social outlook and base of support, the administration’s bent has been to resist engaging in world conflicts and challenges to U.S. government interests, believing they can be discussed away — but with a dangerous tendency to lash out militarily when things inevitably don’t go as planned.

Impatience with Washington’s foreign policy is shared by many of the U.S. rulers’ imperialist allies.

Clemens Wergin, foreign editor of the German media conglomerate Die Welt, pointed to the dangers for ruling imperialist classes worldwide in “Is Obama’s Foreign Policy Too European?” an opinion piece in the New York Times July 8.

“I have long been a critic of the German foreign policy debate — of its freeloading on the American security umbrella,” Wergin wrote, “coupled with moral grandstanding whenever the Americans did things their way.”

Germany, France and other European imperialist powers have steadily demobilized their military forces over past decades, content to depend more and more on the U.S. rulers to wield military might to defend the imperialist world order.

But as the Syrian civil war expanded, “I suddenly understood the problem with this American president and his foreign policy,” Wergin said. “He sounded just like a German politician: all moral outrage, but little else.”

When Obama was elected, Wergin said, he was hailed in Europe “as a president with almost European sensitivities and worldviews.” Obama’s likeminded European boosters delivered the Nobel peace prize to him just months after he took office.

“It turns out that soft power cannot replace hard power,” Wergin said. It was fine for European rulers to talk soft and do less, so long as Washington brought its troops, bombs and gunboats to bear whenever and wherever imperialist interests were threatened.

More and more the propertied rulers, here and abroad, are impatiently awaiting a new administration in Washington.  
Front page (for this issue) | Home | Text-version home