Rebounding With Obama
After suffering through an abusive relationship, many people will fall in love
"on the rebound." They finally escape the clutches of an ogre only to jump,
often without looking, into the embrace of another person, any other person.
This leap of love is sometimes a lucky one, sometimes not.
The last seven years of the Bush administration were indeed abusive. And the
rebound effect has been so strong that even a good number of alpha-male
conservatives - Colin Powell, Francis Fukuyama, Christopher Buckley - fell into
the Obama embrace. The incoming president has seemed like such a good match.
He's a good listener. He's patient. He shows grace under pressure. He's good
with little kids. What a catch!
Beyond these attributes of a sensitive executive, Obama promises to repair some
of the damage done by our last bad choice. He is already getting ready to
tackle global warming. He will likely roll back the dangerous subversion of the
U.S. constitution known as the "unitary executive," which the previous
president used to bypass congressional checks and balances. He has indicated a
healthy regard for nuclear abolition. On the economy, the president-elect leans
in the direction of FDR at a time when the current crisis "has put just about
everyone in touch with his inner New Dealer," as Steve Coll writes in The New
Yorker. So, what's not to like?
Alas, our deep state of infatuation with Barack Obama tempts us to look the
other way when he does or say things that are, frankly, unlovely. For instance,
when he talks about change and brings in a bunch of Clinton-era Old Dealers,
including the unrepentant Lawrence Summers, we wax rhapsodic about a smooth
transition and the return of experienced hands. When he talks about the need to
redirect our attention from Iraq to Afghanistan - even when the latter conflict
is going just as poorly as the former - we thrill that he will fight the Good
War. When he talks about maintaining our military capacity - even as we spend a
budget-popping $700 billion on senseless wars, obsolete weapons systems, and
unpopular military bases - we talk about the need for Democrats to stand tall
and protect their flanks from patriotism-impugning conservatives.
This isn't love. Nor is this, strictly speaking, a honeymoon period. Instead,
we are in limerence. Limerence, a term coined some years ago, defines a state
often mistaken for love. Those overtaken by limerence experience obsessive
longing for another person. They subject the other person to often irrationally
positive evaluations. They develop a degree of emotional dependency on the
object of their obsession. And they interpret even the slightest sign of
affection in the other as a declaration of reciprocal love. But the love is
imaginary. Obama promised to bring a puppy dog to the White House. We are that
How else can we explain such an outpouring of affection for such a cool
customer as Barack Obama? He's a policy wonk who deflected most questions
during the campaign with vague pronouncements of change (a wise strategy but
not exactly love-connection material). The ugly emotions of the minority of
Obama-haters, stoked by that malign cheerleader Sarah Palin, can be easily
explained by racism and various strains of fundamentalism. But the love for
Obama, so visible on the Internet and in the faces of celebrants on Election
Day, cannot be explained by his rhetorical brilliance alone. As Freud might
say, something else is going on here.
And it's not just Americans. After all, the Bush administration had an abusive
relationship with just about everyone in the world. (Well, perhaps the
relationship with Tony Blair was a little bit kinkier.) The international
community - and the U.S. elections created, for a brief time, a truly
international community - is on the rebound as well. We're all, from sea to
shining sea and from the axis of evil to the community of democracies, in a
state of limerence.
I'm sure Obama is a nice guy. But he's a politician. And politicians respond
not to puppy love but to pressure. We began Foreign Policy In Focus during the
dog days of the Clinton administration, when idealistic multilateralism had
descended into naked unilateralism. Then, too, we were on the rebound. Then,
too, we had felt abused by the previous lords of misrule. Then, too, Monica
aside, we fell out of love. This time around, we will applaud Obama for every
wise foreign policy decision he makes, not because we love him but because he
has done the right thing. And if does the wrong thing, as inevitably he will,
we will not let limerence stir our hearts and cloud our vision. Such is the
respect that our president-elect demands and deserves. As a democrat, rather
than the leader of a personality cult, Obama would have it no other way.
What Would Obama Do?
The list of crises facing the new U.S. president is so daunting that only a
madman or a former editor of the Harvard Law Review would run screaming in the
other direction. There are two wars, a world financial and economic crisis, and
a melting planet. It's enough to make something like North Korea's nuclear
program, daunting enough to be the plot line of a Hollywood thriller, into a
second-tier priority. So, where should Obama begin?
We asked FPIF's crack team of senior analysts for their top three suggestions.
It makes for bracing reading: close Guantánamo, end the new Africa Command
(AFRICOM), begin the withdrawal from Iraq, sign a peace treaty with North
Korea, terminate Star Wars, bring the war on terror to a close, declare a
moratorium on free-trade agreements. Our 10 analysts also provide sage
commentary. "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," writes Mark Engler. "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," argues Antonia Juhasz. "Can we
now make Africa a priority?" asks E. Ethelbert Miller. "Yes we can! Yes we
FPIF contributor Julie Mertus focuses on what Obama should do in the realm of
human rights. "President Bush's scorn of international treaties went so far as
to lead him to take the unprecedented move of 'unsigning' the treaty
establishing an International Criminal Court and the Vienna Convention on
Treaties," she writes in Letter to President Obama on Human Rights. "You might
begin by resigning these, as well as signing on to the Convention on the Rights
of the Child, a convention signed by every country in the world except for the
United States and Somalia, and the Convention on the Rights of People with
Disabilities, a convention modeled largely on American disability law."
Then there's Afghanistan. "Ending Bush's imperial misadventures in Iraq will
certainly be a top priority for the incoming administration, but Obama will
also be tested in Afghanistan," writes Sameer Dossani in The Case for U.S.
Withdrawal from Afghanistan. "His words so far - calling Afghanistan the
'central front' in the 'War on Terror' and demanding more military action
against insurgents allied with the Taliban - don't inspire confidence that he
would chose the [Martin Luther] King doctrine over the Bush doctrine."
With most pundits talking about Obama following through on his campaign
pledges, FPIF columnist Walden Bello hopes that Obama will reverse himself.
Just as he changed his mind on the public financing of campaigns, he should
alter his promise to beef up U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. Pulling out
of both Iraq and Afghanistan "will clear the way for focusing on the truly
gigantic task ahead, which is to transform the American economy and the global
economy," Bello writes in How to Spend the Honeymoon. "But he has to act fast,
taking advantage of the heady days of his romance with American people and the
disarray of the Right. Will he do it? Probably not. But then again, one of the
man's greatest assets has been his ability to reverse course, to surprise."
The Long Shadow
Iraq will cast a long shadow over the United States. The costs of the war are
immense, approaching $3 trillion if you factor in everything that Joseph
Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes include in their recent book. "The connection between
the war and the economy is increasingly clear and starting to affect everyone,
from those worrying about retirement to John McCain's Joe the Plumber," writes
FPIF's Kyi May Kaung in her review of The Three Trillion Dollar War.
The costs aren't simply measurable in monetary terms. The price is exacted in
the bodies and memories of Iraqis and U.S. soldiers. Consider the testimony of
former U.S. army sergeant Domingo Rosas. "One night I was told to bring a
message down to the detainee site," Rosas recalls in an excerpt from the new
book Winter Soldier, by Iraq Veterans Against the War and FPIF contributor
Aaron Glantz. "I knocked on the door, and when they opened it, I witnessed one
detainee being kicked around on the ground in the mud, rolled over again and
again. The agent was just kicking him with his foot, rolling him over in the
mud, pouring water on his face, the whole waterboarding thing. Another detainee
was standing there with a bag over his head and was forced to carry a huge rock
until he just physically couldn't do it anymore and just collapsed. That image
seared itself into my mind's eye, and I can't forget it."
How can we dispel the long shadow that Iraq casts over us? FPIF senior analyst
Adil Shamoo offers a proposal that would carry with it great symbolic weight.
"Issue an order to convert the controversial U.S. embassy in Baghdad into a
university for the Iraqi people," he writes in A Bold Step for U.S. Good Will
in Iraq, an op-ed published in The Christian Science Monitor. "This powerful
message from our new leader would convey to the Iraqi people in particular a
new direction for U.S. policy."
After the Meltdown
We're continuing to investigate the impact of the financial crisis around the
world. In Latin America, as FPIF contributor Joshua Frens-String reports in
Postcard from.Montevideo, "The initial reaction of many Latin American leaders
to the unfolding U.S. financial meltdown has been an almost gleeful celebration
of arrogance's defeat. As the situation's gravity multiplies, responses have
become more tempered, but disdain for the years in which the region acted as a
primary laboratory for the economic experiments of the United States, the
International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank remain.
Finally, FPIF senior analyst Stephen Zunes writes about fallacy of guilt by
association, both in the elections and on the left. "During the McCarthy era of
the 1950s, in what became known as 'guilt by association,' simply being friends
with someone suspected of being a Communist could ruin your career," he writes
in The Cooties Effect. "Today that's been extended to guilt by spatial
proximity, which could appropriately be called the 'cooties effect.' If you sit
on the same board, have appeared on the same panel, or otherwise have been in
close physical proximity to someone deemed undesirable, you therefore must have
been infected by their politics or, at minimum, have no problems with things
they may have done in their past."
"Obama's Victory," from the Institute for Policy Studies Mandate for Change
post-election analysis panel, November 8, 2008;
John Vidal, "Obama Victory Signals Rebirth of U.S. Environmental Policy," The
Guardian, November 5, 2008;
Steve Coll, "The Test," The New Yorker, November 10, 2008;
Tim Shipman, "Sarah Palin blamed by the US Secret Service over death threats
against Barack Obama," The Daily Telegraph, November 10, 2008;
FPIF Senior Analysts, "Obama's Top Three Foreign Policy Priorities," Foreign
Policy In Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5655); Foreign Policy In Focus
asked our senior analysts to identify the foreign policy priorities of the new
Julie Mertus, "Letter to President Obama on Human Rights," Foreign Policy In
Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5648); Here are four steps for the new
president to bring U.S. human rights policy in line with global standards.
Sameer Dossani, "The Case for U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan," Foreign Policy
In Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5658); Instead of scaling up an already
disastrous war, the United States could change course in a way that would
ultimately do a lot more to ensure the world's safety.
Walden Bello, "How to Spend the Honeymoon," Foreign Policy In Focus
(http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5657); Will Obama will bring real change to U.S.
foreign policy, particularly in Afghanistan?
Kyi May Kaung, "Review of The Three Trillion Dollar War," Foreign Policy In
Focus (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5642); The economic chickens are coming home
IVAW and Aaron Glantz, "Winter Soldier: Domingo Rosas," Foreign Policy In Focus
(http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5653); One veteran's chilling account of what he
saw while serving in the Iraq War underscores the violent way U.S. forces have
treated Iraqi detainees, even after they've died.
Adil Shamoo, "A Bold Step for U.S. Good Will in Iraq," Foreign Policy In Focus
(http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5644); Convert the huge U.S. Embassy into a
Joshua Frens-String, "Postcard from.Montevideo," Foreign Policy In Focus
(http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5650); The United States could learn a few lessons
from Uruguay about how to get out of a financial crisis.
Stephen Zunes, "The Cooties Effect," Foreign Policy In Focus
(http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5643); McCain and Palin tried to smear Obama
through guilt by association. But this isn't just a Republican tactic.
. . .
Published by Foreign Policy In Focus (FPIF), a project of the Institute for
Policy Studies (IPS)
fpif.org: a think tank without walls
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