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Militarism or diplomacy? The president’s foreign policy perils and pitfalls examined

By Brian E. Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Jan 7, 2014 - 4:50:15 PM

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( - For President Obama 2013 was wrought with political woes at home and turmoil abroad. Though touted as a liberal Democrat, in contrast, observers say Obama’s foreign policies are as imperialistic as the Bush administration’s and in some ways more hawkish.


With the expansion of drone wars, Guantanamo Bay still open and revelations of a global spying apparatus that has targeted leaders of friendly governments, some believe the U.S. is an empire in decline and are interested in how he will handle looming foreign policy challenges in the year ahead.

“I would have to characterize U.S. foreign policy in 2013 as a continuation of the policies that were laid out and agreed to under the Bush administration,” said Ajamu Baraka, veteran human rights activist and associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

Mr. Baraka said this will continue. Other analysts say that U.S. foreign policy has become more militarized under President Obama.

“The U.S. Empire is still out there, but it’s significantly weaker in certain ways. One of the dangers is that as U.S. influence, economically, politically, diplomatically, culturally—as those fade…what’s left is the military and that’s very dangerous,” Phyllis Bennis, Director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington DC, told the Final Call. “It’s the old hammer and nail theory—if you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” she added.

Syria and Iran

After experiencing over a decade of conflict, a critical mass of war weary Americans pressured President Obama to stand down on Syria and cut a deal with Iran concerning nuclear nonproliferation. The agreement struck by Iran and the U.S., England, China, Russia and France—the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany offset heated rhetoric between the White House on one side and the U.S. congress and Israel on the other side. It also rocked historical bonds with Israel and Saudi Arabia, which had strategic and ideological interests in a war with Iran.

Despite pressure from Israel-firsters through the Zionist lobby, it looks as though Pres. Obama has so far successfully avoided being drawn into a war but could face a difficulty factor in opposition led members of Congress who desire to stand in lockstep with those lobbyists in preventing any deals, concessions and compromises. The lingering Israel/Palestine conflict also remains. Critics say their influence is inordinate.

“The American government is under the control of the Zionists,” said the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, National Representative of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Nation of Islam during a recent appearance in Indianapolis, Indiana. Ample evidence supports his view, and with an increasingly isolated Israel, Minister Farrakhan warned of counter-forces working to subvert Pres. Obama’s efforts for peace and lessened hostilities with Iran.

“That dialogue that started with a phone call in September has led to the beginning of a rapprochement between America and the Islamic Republic of Iran,” said Min. Farrakhan.

“This is part of an overall U.S. strategy of drawing down in Iraq, Afghanistan, in what (is) referred to as the greater Middle East which includes Iran,” explained Dr. Gerald Horne, author and History Professor at the University of Houston.

Experts say the current events in the Middle East can be understood as an effort by America to refocus geopolitically. Diplomatic relations with Iran were nonexistent since 1979; the overture to cool hostilities can also be a priority shift against the rising influence of Asia. In agreement, Dr. Horne attributes the move to Obama clearing the deck for a “pivot toward China” in a competition for global influence and supremacy.


In November 2013 Washington found itself splitting hairs with Beijing regarding U.S. military planes hovering over disputed airspace in the region that caused a flood of accusations between the two powers. The Chinese say it was U.S. meddling in regional territorial disputes with Japan in the East China Sea. This however, further exposed trouble with Obama’s foreign policy at home, said analysts.

Dr. Horne added Obama’s problem is “the U.S. ruling elite is not united on that strategy and it’s very difficult to execute strategy when the elite are not united.”

Among those dissatisfied are American ultra-radical White Christian militias who desire the destruction of President Obama even at the price of anarchy, and hawkish conservatives who profit from war and America’s huge military industrial business.

Internationally people those alienated by the foreign policies of previous U.S. administrations had  hoped Obama would reverse the damage inflicted on their nations. Instead, many believe he chose the path of interventionism becoming another “war president” who continued the arrogance of the imperialism. Critics cited Obama’s authorizing targeted assassinations of political opponents worldwide and increased deployment of drones, which resulted in the deaths of innocent men, women and children in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. Online anti-war activists have even referred to him as the “Drone master.”


President Obama is also still harshly criticized for his handling of the bloody aftermath of aiding and abetting the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) destruction of Libya and brutal execution of its leader Col. Muammar Gadhafi in 2011. The move has placed Libya in a state of near anarchy and set the stage for chaos across Africa with a frail and dependent African Union on the continent.

“Africa is under attack,” said Maurice Carney, Executive Director with Friends of the Congo, an Africa advocacy group. “We see that there’s a scramble for the resources of the continent—which is a long time scramble, but it seem to have accelerated of late.”

America has special operation troops in 35 countries; France intervened in Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Central African Republic. In northern Africa a military coup, social and political crises defined Egypt and an implosion of oil and agriculturally rich South Sudan—an American concoction and newest government in Africa.

President Obama has amplified U.S. militarization in Africa through AFRICOM—the U.S. Africa Command and Ms. Bennis predicts the militarization of U.S. foreign policy through militarization will generally continue in 2014. Although America faces a troubled domestic economy the Obama administration 2014 budget for the Pentagon is “dramatically higher” than for the State Department where diplomacy is supposed to be the priority for global affairs. However, “there may be a shift away from that, which would be wonderful,” Ms. Bennis said. 

Signs of diplomacy over war were partially shown in the Iran deal and the prevention of American intervention in Syria. The latter ultimately led to new negotiations between the U.S. and Russia.

“Those are all indications that maybe diplomacy is coming to the fore once again,” said Ms. Bennis. “That doesn’t mean we are out of danger,” she cautioned.

Latin America

Pres. Obama’s policies in Latin America, specifically Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia appears aimed at countering the rise of center-left governments who don’t want to be controlled by U.S. interests, said Mr. Baraka.

America’s refusal to recognize the recent legitimate presidential elections in Venezuela are one example of attempted destabilization. Venezuela because of the strategic and historical role it has played ushering in progressive governments in Latin America is a target, especially after the death of visionary leader Hugo Chavez in March 2013.

Using Honduras as another example Mr. Baraka described Pres. Obama’s policy as an “abandonment of any pretext to principle and commitment to democracy in its support of the ouster of the president in Honduras and the tainted elections that just took place in Honduras.”