Foreign Policy In Focus asked our senior analysts to identify the foreign policy priorities of the new Obama administration. Here’s what they said:
E. Ethelbert Miller
We now face the challenge of moving ahead of history.
1. We need to help end the conflicts in the Middle East. This means taking a leadership role in ending the wars, and finding more arm and leg room for diplomacy.
2. We need a new foreign policy that will help neighbors like Haiti and Cuba.
3. Can we now make Africa a priority? Yes we can! Yes we should.
In terms of momentous changes that the Obama administration might undertake in its first 100 days, I am more optimistic for the potential of a sweeping shift on the domestic front than in foreign affairs. Moving forward with labor law reform, a serious national healthcare program, a response to the financial crisis that goes beyond Wall Street to create living-wage jobs, and an investment in public infrastructure are each politically plausible. And are all far-reaching in their impact.
Changes in foreign policy are often less about grand declarations than they are about alterations in tone, outlook, and priorities. This is a cumulative process. However, in the immediate term there are several swift, decisive acts that Obama could take, each of which would signal a broader change. Three of my top picks would be:
1. Close Guantánamo and commence a withdrawal from Iraq.
2. Declare a moratorium on new “free-trade” deals.
3. Show renewed commitment to progressive multilateralism by adopting a treaty that the United States has previously stonewalled — on climate change, arms control, international law, or all of the above.
Under the rubric of the Global War on Terror, the Bush administration has implemented the greatest realignment of U.S. forces since the end of the Cold War. One needs only look at a map showing Big Oil’s overseas operations, the world’s remaining oil reserves, and the oil transport routes to track the realignment. The president-elect should take the enormous goodwill he has throughout the world and lead the world by example, by making diplomacy, cooperation, negotiation, and international law — not war — the center of our international energy plan.
1. President-Elect Obama should renounce and undo the use of the U.S. military as an oil-protective force, beginning with immediately, unequivocally, and fully ending the Iraq War. This includes renouncing the Bush administration’s pursuit of a new national oil law in Iraq that would “win” the war for U.S. oil interests by transforming Iraq’s oil industry from a nationalized to a privatized model. The president-elect should also renounce the disastrously failed notion that there is a military solution to all of our problems. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have only served to intensify American insecurity. The solution, therefore, is clearly not more of the same. President-Elect Obama should end both military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan and pursue a diplomatic, negotiated, and international law-based approach to both nations.
2. The president-elect should also reverse the Bush administration’s creation and implementation of a new centralized military authority for Africa — the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), the primary focus of which is securing U.S. oil operations on that continent through military means.
3. Big Oil has guided public policy down a disastrous road, standing as an obstacle to the fulfillment of critical global social movements against war, a failing economy, and global warming. President-Elect Obama should therefore use every tool available to rein in this industry and enable us to kick the oil habit once and for all. He should reintroduce regulation, enforcement, and taxation of this industry a vital heart of his administration. This includes fully and finally closing the “Enron loophole” and considering whether it is appropriate to trade a good as fundamental as crude on futures exchanges. Rather than “cap-and-trade” pollution, Obama should ban it through regulation. His administration needs to eliminate industry subsidies, collect royalties, implement a windfall-profits tax, increase gasoline taxes, and increase corporate taxation broadly to help Americans reduce consumption of all oil products. This money could be used to fund a massive public works program (à la the Works Project Administration) in clean sustainable local public transportation and to fund local sustainable green energy alternatives.
1. Reinvigorate a “talk first” policy when dealing with adversaries, reversing the previous administration’s precedent of preemption first. This new policy must be visible with Iran, North Korea, Russia, Venezuela, etc.
2. Reprioritize economic development in dealing with adversaries. Obama bought into the counter-terrorism rhetoric early so it may be hard to reverse this, but economic development must have a more sizeable seat at the table when shaping policies vis-à-vis Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.
3. Reaffirm the status and strength of global institutions and treaties. Bush essentially disemboweled the UN, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the International Criminal Court, and others — Obama can and should restore U.S. support for them.
1. Complete and immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq. We need to get beyond the mythology that the violent attacks are against Sunnis or Shiites — they are predominantly and overwhelmingly against U.S. occupying forces and collaborating Iraqi military police. And while leaving is of utmost importance, one way to ameliorate the over 100,000 civilians killed, Iraqi infrastructure destroyed, and historic treasures pillaged is to set up a reparations and peace-building fund. Half of this would be derived from the U.S. Treasury, the other half from corporations whose agenda was to go into Iraq and who have profited handsomely from the occupation.
2. Sign a peace treaty with North Korea. Removing the DPRK from the terrorist list is one small step, but economic sanctions and hostility drive relations between North Korea and the United States. Not only has North Korea signaled for decades its desire to have normalized peaceful relations with the United States, peaceful negotiations have been taking place between North and South Korea, a peninsula that was divided by the United States 60 years ago. Ongoing hostility with North Korea not only stands in the way of North Korea’s economic development and human rights, it fuels growing militarism on the Korean peninsula, which is closing civil society space in the north and south, emboldening hawks on both sides, and sparking a new arms race in Northeast Asia.
3. Redefine global trade treaties away from the neoliberal model of deregulation, privatization, and exploitation of people and natural resources towards a people’s centered approach to development that prioritizes equity over growth, ecological sustainability and biodiversity. Global warming and the rapidly declining natural resources we all depend on for our survival require a new global trade system that values local production and economies, minimizes the massive transport of food that now travels over 1,500 miles from farm to plate, and forces the migration of millions of displaced people from rural areas to crowded urban centers. This was the model of the 20th century, and the financial and food crises are clear signs that we need a different 21st-century approach.
Obama’s first priority should be to keep the United States and the world from tumbling into catastrophic recession. This is not just an economic issue. The experience of the 1930s demonstrates that financial instability has political and military repercussions as well.
1. The first direct foreign policy priority has to be addressing the recent dire perception of the United States worldwide with not only a change of tone and approach but a willingness to abide by the rules it preaches to others. Almost all the other priorities flow from this principle, which is also the base for effective resolution of the multitude of specific geopolitical problems on his agenda. One gesture that would emphasize this priority would be the immediate closure of the internment camp in Guantánamo and judicial review of its prisoners.
Armed with a new congressional majority, the new administration should then begin a new relationship with the UN. It could ensure that the UN dues are paid and lock in the payment on a long-term basis. As part of the same process it should move to ratify some of the backlog of international conventions held up by conservative opposition, such as the International Law of the Sea, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the International Criminal Court, and conventions on landmines and child soldiers. His commitment to combating the causes and effects of climate change may help there. With these renewed bona fides it would make it much easier to build an international consensus, for example in Africa on Darfur, where Republican Party incompetence converted African states to willing bystanders to mass murder, or in Latin America, where Bush belligerence toward elected governments built a tacit anti-U.S. alliance.
2. The second priority, which he has already committed to, is active diplomatic engagement with other states. That shouldn’t entail pandering to dictatorships but does commit to realistic and hardnosed negotiations, predominantly with the Middle East. AIPAC and the Likudniks overwhelmingly supported McCain, while 77% of American Jews voted for Obama. He owes nothing to the settlers and Netanyahu, and he could assist Israelis who want peace by setting firm conditions for progress. U.S. guarantees of agreed frontiers, based on UN Resolution 242, and reduction of money spent on settlement activity would be a start.
3. Thirdly is the question of military involvement and disarmament. It does not involve total disarmament or adoption of a neo-Gandhian stance. Nevertheless, a commitment to make war the last, rather than first, resort, combined with genuine mutual disarmament initiatives would go a long way. Halting the Star Wars program, a serious case of orbiting pork barrels, would be a good start on rebuilding relations with Russia. This would free up billions of dollars for domestic priorities, as would, of course, accelerated withdrawal from Iraq.
1. Declare “the war on terror” over and convene an international conference on enhancing international law enforcement activities against and prosecution of terrorists. Concurrently, prepare to pull foreign forces from Iraq.
2. Appoint a special envoy to the greater Middle East, and sub-regional envoys for Afghanistan-Pakistan, Syria-Lebanon-Palestine, and the Gulf States (including Iran) to coordinate a region-wide U.S. approach to development that is responsive to reducing sustainable development shortfalls.
3. Reaffirm U.S. commitment to international laws, treaties, the United Nations, and multilateral responses to violations of international peace. When in negotiations with actual or potential adversaries, make it clear that “all options are on the table” in outlining possible outcomes.
1. Set a new tone in foreign policy based on soft power rather than use of military power, with an emphasis on promoting economic, technological, and educational progress. This policy should be combined with using the UN. The use of power should remain an option, but only to be used in imminent danger with UN support.
2. Carry out an orderly withdrawal from Iraq, forge a plan for its reconstruction, and create new reconstruction-based plans for Pakistan and Afghanistan.
3. Hold negotiations with Iran regarding nuclear technology that work toward improving relations.
1. Work for a comprehensive nonproliferation policy that includes extending the world’s Nuclear Weapons Free Zones to the Middle East and South Asia, and fulfills the obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of the United States and other existing nuclear weapons states.
2. Get serious about establishing multilateral agreements restricting the global arms trade and, in the meantime, conditioning all U.S. arms transfers to strict criteria regarding the recipient country’s record of adherence to international humanitarian law.
3. Put priority on the Israeli-Palestinian process, pushing for a sustainable peace agreement along the lines of the 2003 Geneva Initiative. The United States must demonstrate a willingness to place necessary pressure on both parties to make it happen.
Since many others have stated the obvious (e.g., end the war, reaffirm support for multilateralism) let me throw out a few others:
1. Shut down the financial casino: Work with other leaders to develop a new international regulatory architecture under the United Nations, aimed at preventing future financial crises and protecting the interests of workers, small farmers, consumers, and the environment. Some first steps should be to regulate derivatives, shut down tax havens, and apply a speculation tax on international transactions.
2. No more FTAs: I second Mark Engler’s call for a moratorium on new free-trade agreements. And the financial deregulation rules in current trade agreements should now be so embarrassing that they could be used as a lever to open these deals up for significant renegotiation, as Obama promised on the campaign trail.
3. Alternatives to a wall: Make a speech in front of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, that ugly symbol of the divisions between the United States and Latin America, laying out a long-term vision for getting rid of it by reducing the economic inequalities that drive migration.
About the authors:
—Christine Ahn is a policy analyst with the Korea Policy Institute.
—Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington and is the co-author of Field Guide to the Global Economy (New Press, 2005).
—Mark Engler is the author of How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (Nation Books, 2008).
—Antonia Juhasz is the author of The Tyranny of Oil: the World’s Most Powerful Industry, and What We Must Do To Stop It (William Morrow 2008).
—E. Ethelbert Miller is an award-winning poet, the director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University, and the board chairperson of the Institute for Policy Studies.
—Adil E. Shamoo is an Iraqi American and a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
—Michael Shank is the communications director for the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University.
—Colonel. Daniel Smith, U.S. Army (Ret.) is a retired U.S. Army colonel, and a senior fellow on military affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.
—Ian Williams’s work is available on www.deadlinepundit.blogspot.com.
—Stephen Zunes is a a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco.
They are all senior analysts at Foreign Policy In Focus.