Apr 20th 2009

Cheney is Dead Wrong: Obama's Fundamental Reset of American Foreign Policy Will Make America Safer and More Prosperous

by Robert Creamer

Robert Creamer is a political organizer, strategist and author

President Obama's recent trips to the G-20 in Europe and the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad have underscored his fundamental realignment of American foreign policy - a shift that will make America both militarily and economically more secure.

Five critical changes are especially important:

1). America has finally abandoned its decades-long attempts to force "market fundamentalism" on the world.

For the last half-century U.S. policy has been wedded to the fallacy that "free" markets always find equilibrium, and are always the superior means for allocating economic resources. Last fall's collapse of the financial markets finally put a stake through the heart of the "Washington Consensus" that allowed the IMF and other international financial institutions to force these policies on other countries - particularly in the developing world. Of course the "Washington Consensus" was not simply a product of faulty economic "science." It reflected the short-term interests of the largest multi-national corporations as well.

Much of the world had rejected this view long ago. In Latin America and the Caribbean, most countries are now governed by center-left parties that have explicitly rejected "market fundamentalism" because it had failed so miserably to increase the standard of living for most of their people.

The Obama administration's views are much more consistent with a new international consensus that real long-term economic growth requires reliance on a mix of market mechanisms, strong regulatory structures and a robust public sector that is the most effective method for efficiently delivering services like health insurance, infrastructure, education, social insurance and public services.

These new economic policies reflect a bottom-up approach to economic policy that is fundamentally at odds with the failed economic policies of the past. They are not only critical for renewed economic growth at home - but also to developing economies around the world. That is enormously important to everyday Americans - both because we can never be secure as an island of relative prosperity in a sea of poverty, and because we will all be more prosperous if everyone on earth has the ability to contribute to our common store of wealth and knowledge.

2). A new commitment to multi-lateral policymaking - and "respect" for other countries.

In his press conference concluding the Summit of the Americas, President Obama explicitly restated his view that there are no "senior or junior" partners in charting the future for our hemisphere. He argued that no problem can be solved by one nation alone. He committed America to listen to other countries and not to simply dictate policy - the hallmark of the Bush-NeoCon approach to the world.

Fundamentally, foreign policy is no different from any other kind of politics. And in politics the one message that will never be forgiven is "disrespect." The reason is that once you have addressed the fundamental biological needs like those for food and shelter, there is very little more important to human beings than their own sense of meaning in life. Respect says: "you are important... you have meaning." Disrespect says just the opposite.

If there is anything that the last eight years should have taught us, it's that feelings of being disrespected - and the need for meaning - can drive people to do otherwise entirely irrational things: like strapping bombs onto their bodies or crashing airplanes into buildings.

Obama's release of the "torture memos" has been criticized by some former top Bush officials as "endangering our security" by exposing the methods we use to extract information. In fact, their release punctuated Obama's rejection of torture as a means of "extracting information." There is no doubt that their publication will never advantage a subject of interrogation facing torture, since America never intends to torture anyone else again.

Instead the documents' release - and Obama's forceful rejection of torture - will prevent these methods from being used in the future as powerful recruiting posters for Al Qaeda and its allies, or as an emblem of hypocrisy and disrespect that likely did more to build hatred for the United States than any other single policy in the last half-century in American foreign policy.

3). A commitment to once again use our non-military assets to support America's interests.

In his Sunday remarks, President Obama pointed to the goodwill that Cuba has earned in the hemisphere by sending doctors to countries throughout the region as an example of the power of non-military policies.

He pointed out that if the only contact that those in other nations have with the United States is with "drug interdiction" or our military, we fail to use some of our most powerful assets.

Of course, since the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis over 40 years ago, the countries of Latin America have never really posed a threat to the United States. That didn't stop past American administrations from using military force - or the CIA - to interfere in their affairs. The list is long: from the overthrow of the democratically-elected government of Chile in the 1970's, to the Contra war against the democratically-elected government of Nicaragua and war in El Salvador in the 1980's, to the backing Bush gave to the abortive military coup against the democratically-elected government of Venezuela just a few years ago.

President Obama clearly intends to turn away from this brand of military intervention, that ultimately earned America enmity throughout Latin America and made a mockery of our support for democratic institutions.

The medicines that cure malaria cost only $.55 per dose. The nets to shield children from malaria-carrying mosquitoes are only a dollar each, and the annual cost of indoor insecticide spraying is $10. Yet 800,000 African children die of malaria each year.

One of the great tragedies of the Bush years is not simply the damage done by his policies, but the missed opportunities. Money invested in public health, HIV treatment, healthcare clinics, fresh water, education for women, etc. would yield such massive results. Think of what could have been done with the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the Iraq war alone.

4). The recognition that what the people of the rest of the world thinks of the United States really matters to us.

The Obama administration understands that world opinion actually matters. Of course, it should be obvious that if the United States is trying to create a democratic world order, then the opinions of the voters across the globe will significantly affect the policies of their governments. After all, that's the idea of democracy.

For eight years, the Bush era NeoCons reasserted the failed Vietnam-era view that "if you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow." That didn't work any better this time than it did in the 1960s.

This is not a "kumbaya" let's-make-everyone-like-us-and-everything-will-be-alright approach to foreign policy. As the president made clear Sunday, countries are bound to have different interests - and will vigorously advocate those interests. But even in countries without democratic institutions, a favorable view of the United States among their populations makes it much more likely that agreements can be struck, and compromises achieved.

And the enmity of a county's population makes it ever so much more likely that opposing American interests becomes "good politics" for that nation's leaders.

5). Willingness to put aside the rigid ideological divisions of the past.

The Obama administration seems intent on escaping the ideological divisions that emerged from the cold war and from America's rigid adherence to the "Washington Consensus" of market fundamentalism. That presents us with enormous opportunities for constructive engagement with other countries - particularly in Latin America.

Cuba is probably the best example. America's policy of isolating Cuba politically and economically was put in place before Barack Obama was born. It has utterly failed to change the policies of the Cuban government. It has also successfully isolated us from the rest of the world. The U.S. is now the only country that maintains an embargo and an outrageous ban on travel by Americans to the island nation just 90 miles from our shores.

We fought a shooting war with Vietnam in which we lost 49,000 troops, yet today Vietnam is a major tourist destination for Americans and a trading partner of major importance.

We still have major differences with China, yet that country is one of our major trading partners and creditors.

No one argues that Cuba is a threat to the United States. The best way to affect the development of Cuba is to engage with that country - allow our people to travel there - develop trade - and exchange ideas. And remember, there are things we could learn from Cuba as well as the other way around. That country's commitment to health care for everyone and universal literacy are models.

Ironically, the one thing that likely prevented Cuba from becoming a more open, social-democratic country in the last half-century has been the economic embargo and isolation imposed by the United States.

The Obama administration's elimination of restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba by relatives was universally heralded by every other country at the Latin American summit. Hopefully, it will be just the first step towards allowing Americans to travel there, and eliminating the economic embargo that punishes our own businesses more than the Cubans.

In summary, when it comes to the new Obama foreign policy, I believe that one thing is certain: Future generations - and history - will mark the changes we are witnessing in America's relations with the rest of the world as a critical turning point that fundamentally enhanced the long-term security and economic well-being of the United States.

Robert Creamer is a long-time political organizer and strategist, and author of the recent book: Stand Up Straight: How Progressives Can Win, available on Amazon.com

Should you wish to publish your own article on the Facts & Arts website, please contact us at info@factsandarts.com.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Nov 24th 2022
EXTRACT: "....young voters did reach the polls they voted overwhelmingly for Democrat candidates across the country. According to reports, 63% of 18- to 29- year olds voted Democrat and 35% voted Republican in the House of Representatives elections. Voters between 30 and 44 split their vote between the two parties, while older voters tended to vote Republican."
Nov 24th 2022
Nouriel Roubini: "Central banks are in both a stagflation trap and a debt trap. Amid negative aggregate supply shocks that reduce growth and increase inflation, they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they increase interest rates enough to bring inflation down to 2%, they will cause a severe economic hard landing. And if they don’t – attempting instead to protect growth and jobs – they will be left increasingly far behind the curve, leading to a de-anchoring of inflation expectations and a wage-price spiral. Very high debt ratios (both private and public) complicate the dilemma further. Raising interest rates enough to crush inflation causes not only an economic crash, but also a financial crash, with highly leveraged private and public debtors facing severe distress. The resulting financial turmoil that intensifies the recession, creating a vicious cycle of deepening recession and escalating financial pain and debt distress. In these circumstances, central banks will blink. They will wimp out in the fight against inflation, in an effort to avoid an economic and financial crash. But that will lead to a higher permanent inflation rate, while only postponing the arrival of stagflation and debt crises. In other words, central banks in the United States, Europe, and other advanced economies have only bad options."
Nov 13th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Today’s autocrats wear staid business suits and pretend to be democrats, and that has been sufficient to grant them access to high-level meetings in Davos or at the G20, where they actively recruit former Western politicians, lawyers, public-relations consultants, and think tanks to make their case in the West." ---- "....whatever the weaknesses of Western democracies, they still command a degree of soft power that their autocratic competitors could only dream of. Democracy remains popular around the world – among citizens of both democratic and nondemocratic countries. That is why modern dictators pretend to be democrats." ---- "....there is no shortage of criticism about how the US and Europe function. But that itself is a product of the press freedom and political opposition that one can find only in democracies. But actions speak louder than words: Immigrants from around the world are eager to come to Europe or America, whereas few are trying to get into Russia or China."
Nov 9th 2022
EXTRACT: "In conventional macroeconomics, an economy’s longer-term growth potential is determined by the sum of labor-force and productivity growth. If one of those factors slows, the other must accelerate. Otherwise, long-term growth suffers.  China is in serious trouble on both fronts. An unsustainable one-child family-planning policy –subsequently changed to a two- and now three-child policy – means that the working-age population is declining, and Xi’s speech at the 20th Party Congress suggested that already-strong productivity headwinds are likely to intensify. "
Nov 1st 2022
EXTRACTS: "First and most obvious – it has happened before. And in an historical sense, it has happened relatively recently, with the collapse of the USSR in 1991 rightly considered a seismic event in world politics. The rub is that nobody predicted the end of the USSR either. In fact, it was confidently assumed in the West that Mikhail Gorbachev would go on ruling the Soviet Union, until the hard-line coup that failed to topple him (but left him mortally wounded in a political sense) made that view obviously redundant." ---- "So is it speculative to talk about a future Russian collapse? Yes. Is there evidence it is imminent? No. But in many ways that’s the problem: when authoritarian regimes implode, they tend to do so very quickly, and with little warning."
Oct 25th 2022
EXTRACT: " But in celebrating the CPC centennial, he [XI left little doubt of what those challenges might portend: “Having the courage to fight and the fortitude to win is what has made our party invincible.” A modernized and expanded military puts teeth into that threat and underscores the risks posed by Xi’s conflict-prone China."
Oct 8th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Recent inflation news from the eurozone’s largest member, Germany, is particularly alarming. In August, producer prices – which measure what is happening at the preliminary stages of industrial production – were a whopping 46% higher than in the same month last year. Given the long-term correlation between the growth rate of producer and consumer prices, this suggests that the latter could soar to 14% in November. Price stability – which is supposed to be the ECB’s uncompromising goal, per the Maastricht Treaty – is no longer perceptible" ----- "Since the 2008 global economic crisis, the ECB has allowed the central-bank money supply to increase twice as fast, relative to economic output, as the US Federal Reserve has. Of that growth, 83% was the result of the ECB’s purchases of government bonds from eurozone countries. With those purchases – which totaled an estimated €4.4 trillion – the ECB pushed interest rates on government bonds to around zero. This spurred countries to disregard European debt rules and accumulate debt at a breakneck pace."
Oct 7th 2022
EXTRACTS: "While some Russians have opposed the attack on Ukraine from the outset and publicly protested against the mobilisation that has just been declared, others, on the far right, feel that Russia is holding back too much and are increasingly calling for total mobilisation, the carpet-bombing of Ukrainian cities, and even the use of nuclear weapons." ----- "Will the Kremlin be able to channel the growing warmongering zeal? In view of the intensity of the rhetoric of the various wings of the Russian far right, backed recently by several Putin allies including the Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, it is doubtful: whatever the outcome of the war in Ukraine, nationalist pressure is likely to become a serious and lasting threat to Russia’s internal stability."
Oct 3rd 2022
EXTRACT: "But US and global equities have not yet fully priced in even a mild and short hard landing. Equities will fall by about 30% in a mild recession, and by 40% or more in the severe stagflationary debt crisis that I have predicted for the global economy. Signs of strain in debt markets are mounting: sovereign spreads and long-term bond rates are rising, and high-yield spreads are increasing sharply; leveraged-loan and collateralized-loan-obligation markets are shutting down; highly indebted firms, shadow banks, households, governments, and countries are entering debt distress. The crisis is here."
Sep 29th 2022
EXTRACTS "Ever since she became a prominent political figure 12 years ago, Truss has been a shapeshifter. She started as a Liberal Democrat before becoming a Conservative, and she voted to remain in the European Union before championing Brexit. As a minister, it is hard to think of anything she accomplished. She signed a few EU trade deals as Secretary of State for International Trade, but most of those were rollovers." --- "But if until recently it seemed that Truss was driven solely by political ambition, her government’s 'mini-budget' proposal sheds light on her deeper ideological affinities."
Sep 20th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russia’s focus on Ukraine and Putin’s choice to frame this as a civilisational struggle with the west has created opportunities for China to enhance its influence elsewhere – at Russia’s expense."
Sep 20th 2022
EXTRACTS: ”The Ukrainian army is making spectacular advances,” --- “…the European Union has fully mobilized to confront the energy crisis.” ---- “we are helping our partners in the Global South to handle the fallout from Russia’s brutal aggression and cynical weaponization of energy and food.” ---- “In short: the overall strategy is working. We must continue to support Ukraine, pressure Russia with sanctions, and help our global partners in a spirit of solidarity.”
Sep 8th 2022
EXTRACT: "In 1950, a team of sociologists, including the philosopher Theodor Adorno, conducted an empirical study, later published as The Authoritarian Personality, which ....... “If a potentially fascistic individual exists, what, precisely, is he like? What goes to make up antidemocratic thought? What are the organizing forces within the person?... what have been the determinants and what is the course of his development?”
Aug 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "Russian aggression certainly poses a threat; but it is a familiar one that we know how to deal with. Rising temperatures, dry riverbeds, parched landscapes, falling crop yields, acute energy shortages, and disruptions to industrial production are something else."
Aug 25th 2022
EXTRACTS: "As the revolutionary founder of a new Chinese state, Mao emphasized ideology over development. For Deng and his successors, it was the opposite: De-emphasis of ideology was viewed as necessary to boost economic growth through market-based 'reform and opening up.' Then came Xi. Initially, there was hope that his so-called 'Third Plenum Reforms' of 2013 would usher in a new era of strong economic performance. But the new ideological campaigns carried out under the general rubric of Xi Jinping Thought, including a regulatory clampdown on once-dynamic Internet platform companies and associated restrictions on online gaming, music, and private tutoring, as well as a zero-COVID policy that has led to never-ending lockdowns, have all but dashed those hopes." ----- "With the upcoming 20th Party Congress likely to usher in an unprecedented third five-year term for Xi, there is good reason to believe that China’s growth sacrifice has only just begun."
Aug 23rd 2022
EXTRACTS: "Less widely noted, however, is that the prices of many commodities fell this summer. The price of oil decreased by about 30% between early June and mid-August. The politically sensitive price of gasoline in the United States fell by 20% over the same period, from $5 per gallon to $4 per gallon. The overall index fell 12%." ---- "There are two macroeconomic reasons to think that commodity prices in general will fall further. The level of economic activity is a self-evidently important determinant of demand for commodities and therefore of their prices. Less obviously, the real interest rate is another key factor. And the current outlook for both global growth and real interest rates suggests a downward path for commodity prices."
Aug 22nd 2022
EXTRACT: "How Trump planned to use the classified documents remains a question that investigators presumably have made a high priority. Depending on the answer and the resulting charges, if any, one thing is certain: Trump will play hardball, including by amplifying his claims of victimhood at the hands of the fictional Deep State, and denying any wrongdoing in purloining the documents. His lies and hyperbole, however, don’t preclude seeking a plea deal. In his previous tangles with the law, such as his Trump University scam, he agreed to compensate the victims (in that case $25 million) after his prevarications were exhausted."
Aug 21st 2022
"On one side, there is the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, for whom all but the most partisan Tory would struggle to count many successes during her lengthy cabinet career." ---- "Rishi Sunak, whose proposed policies appear more attuned to the imperative of tackling inflation and the hardship it is causing. But on the big issues of the past few years, Sunak has been wrong. He backed Brexit from the beginning, denies the damage it is doing, and enthusiastically supported Johnson’s bid for the premiership." ---- " Which of these two can offer honesty to the British people, who deserve to be treated like grown-ups? To paraphrase the US Democratic politician Adlai Stevenson, the average man and woman are better than average."
Aug 10th 2022
EXTRACT: "Central banks are thus locked in a “debt trap”: any attempt to normalize monetary policy will cause debt-servicing burdens to spike, leading to massive insolvencies, cascading financial crises, and fallout in the real economy. ---- With governments unable to reduce high debts and deficits by spending less or raising revenues, those that can borrow in their own currency will increasingly resort to the “inflation tax”: relying on unexpected price growth to wipe out long-term nominal liabilities at fixed rates."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACT: ".... the likelihood is that Biden, who spent his life as a senator, played a central behind-the-scenes role in turning Manchin around and keeping the Democratic Party Senators together on this pared-down version of Build Back Better. Biden’s legislative accomplishments, not to mention his administrative ones, will likely end up being very impressive for the first two years of his presidency. ------ In matters of climate, every ton of CO2 you don’t put into the atmosphere is a decrease in how hard life will be for our grandchildren. They will have reason to be grateful to President Biden and the Democratic Party if this bill becomes law."