Obama Gathering a Flock of Hawks to Oversee U.S. Foreign Policy January 31, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Iraq and Afghanistan, Peace, War.
Tags: Afghanistan War, cia, Colin Powell, Dennis Blair, east timor, east timor massacre, foreign policy, foreign policy appointments, gaza, General Wiranto, george mitchell, hawks, hillary clinton, human rights, indonesian death squads, internatinal treaties, International law, Iran-Contra, Iraq invasion, israel, janet napolitano, jim jones, joe biden, leon panetta, Middle East, nicaragua, obama administration, obama commander-in-chief, pakistan, Palestine, Pentagon, Rahm Emanuel, reagan administation, richard holbrooke, Robert Gates, roger hollander, saddam hussein, sandinistas, scott ritter, self-determination, special envoy, stephen zunes, susan rice, u.s. hegemony, united nations charter, wmds
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Most of Obama’s key foreign policy appointments seem more committed to military dominance than international law.
In disc golf, there’s a shot known as “an Obama” — it’s a drive that you expect to veer to the left but keeps hooking right.
In no other area has this metaphor been truer than Barack Obama’s foreign policy and national security appointments. For a man who was elected in part on the promise to not just end the war in Iraq but to “end the mindset that got us into war in the first place,” it’s profoundly disappointing that a majority of his key appointments — Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, Dennis Blair, Janet Napolitano, Richard Holbrooke and Jim Jones, among others — have been among those who represent that very mindset.
As president, Obama is ultimately the one in charge, so judgment should not be based upon his appointments alone. Indeed, some of his early decisions regarding foreign policy and national security – such as ordering the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay, initiating the necessary steps for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, and ending the “global gag rule” on funding for international family-planning programs – have been quite positive.
But it’s still significant that the majority of people appointed to key foreign policy positions, like those in comparable positions in the Bush administration, appear to be more committed to U.S. hegemony than the right of self-determination, human rights and international law.
Supporters of Wars of Conquest
Though far from the only issue of concern, it is the fact that the majority of Obama’s appointees to these key positions were supporters of the invasion of Iraq that is perhaps the most alarming.
Obama’s defenders claim that what is most important in these appointments is not their positions on a particular issue, but their overall competence. Unfortunately, this argument ignores the reality that anybody who actually believed that invading Iraq was a good idea amply demonstrated that they’re unqualified to hold any post dealing with foreign and military policy.
It was not simply a matter of misjudgment. Those who supported the war demonstrated a dismissive attitude toward fundamental principles of international law, and disdain for the United Nations Charter and international treaties which prohibit aggressive war. They demonstrated a willingness to either fabricate a non-existent threat or naively believe transparently false and manipulated intelligence claiming such a threat existed, ignoring a plethora of evidence from weapons inspectors and independent arms control analysts who said that Iraq had already achieved at least qualitative disarmament. Perhaps worst of all, they demonstrated an incredible level of hubris and stupidity in imagining that the United States could get away with an indefinite occupation of a heavily populated Arab country with a strong history of nationalism and resistance to foreign domination.
Nor does it appear that they were simply fooled by the Bush administration’s manufactured claims of an Iraqi threat. For example, Napolitano, after acknowledging that there were not really WMDs in Iraq as she had claimed prior to the invasion, argued that “In my view, there were lots of reasons for taking out Saddam Hussein.” Similarly, Clinton insisted months after the Bush administration acknowledged the absence of WMDs that her vote in favor of the resolution authorizing the invasion “was the right vote” and was one that, she said, “I stand by.”
Clearly, then, despite their much-touted “experience,” these nominees have demonstrated, through their support for the Bush administration’s invasion and occupation of Iraq, a profound ignorance of the reality of the Middle East and an arrogant assumption that peace, stability and democratic governance can be created through the application of U.S. military force.
Given that the majority of Democrats in Congress, a larger majority of registered Democrats nationally, and an even larger percentage of those who voted for Obama opposed the decision to invade Iraq, it is particularly disappointing that Obama would choose his vice-president, chief of staff, secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of Homeland Security and special envoy to Afghanistan and Iraq from the right-wing minority who supported the war.
But the Iraq War isn’t the only foreign policy issue where these Obama nominees have demonstrated hawkish proclivities. In previous articles, I have raised concerns regarding the positions of Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Below is a list of some additional foreign policy appointees who are troubling …
A Friend of Death Squads Heading Intelligence
One of the most problematic Obama appointees is Admiral Dennis Blair as Director of National Intelligence. Blair served as the head of the U.S. Pacific Command from February 1999 to May 2002 as East Timor was finally freeing itself from a quarter century of brutal Indonesian occupation. As the highest ranking U.S. military official in the region, he worked to undermine the Clinton administration’s belated efforts to end the repression, promote human rights and support the territory’s right to self-determination. He also fought against Congressional efforts to condition support for the Indonesian military on improving their poor human rights record.
In April 1999, two days after a well-publicized massacre in which dozens of East Timorese civilians seeking refuge in a Catholic church in Liquica were hacked to death by Indonesian-backed death squads, Blair met in Jakarta with General Wiranto, the Indonesian Defense minister and military commander. Instead of pressuring Wiranto to end his support for the death squads, he pledged additional U.S. military assistance, which, according to The Nation magazine, the Indonesian military “took as a green light to proceed with the militia operation.” Two weeks later, and one day after another massacre, Blair phoned Wiranto and, rather than condemn the killings he “told the armed forces chief that he looks forward to the time when [the army will] resume its proper role as a leader in the region.”
Blair’s role in all this is well-known. The Washington Post, for example, reported several months later that “Blair and other U.S. military officials took a forgiving view of the violence surrounding the referendum in East Timor.” I was interviewed on NBC Nightly News at the time and spoke directly to Blair’s meetings earlier that year.
Combined with Obama’s selection of supporters of Morocco’s occupation and repression in Western Sahara and Israel’s occupation and repression in Palestine to other key foreign policy and national security posts, perhaps it is not surprising that he would pick someone who supported Indonesia’s occupation and repression in East Timor. That his pick for DNI would have acquiesced to massacres facilitated by U.S.-backed forces, however, is particularly disturbing.
A Super Hawk at the Pentagon
Obama’s decision to Bush appointee Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense was a shock and a betrayal to his supporters who believed that there would be a change in the Pentagon under an Obama administration.
Gates’ record of militarism and deceit includes his role in the Iran-Contra scandal, where he apparently took part in the cover-up of the Reagan administration’s crimes. Special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh expressed frustration that Gates – well-known for his “eidetic memory” – curiously could not recall information his subordinates, under oath, had sworn they had told him. The special prosecutor’s final report noted, “The statements of Gates often seemed scripted and less than candid.” Indeed, the best the final report could say was that “a jury could find the evidence left a reasonable doubt that Gates either obstructed official inquiries or that his two demonstrably incorrect statements were deliberate lies.”
In addition, Howard Teicher, who served on the National Security Council staff during the Reagan administration, submitted a sworn affidavit that Gates engaged in secret arms transfers to Saddam Hussein’s regime during the 1980s in violation of the Arms Export Control Act. During this same period, according to former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, who served as Gates’ branch chief, Gates was personally involved in the apparent manipulation of intelligence regarding Iran and the Soviet Union in order to back up questionable policies of the Reagan administration.
The quintessential hawk, Gates advocated a U.S. bombing campaign against Nicaragua in 1984, according to the Los Angeles Times, in order to “bring down” that country’s leftist government, arguing that “the only way that we can prevent disaster in Central America” is for the United States to “do everything in its power short of invasion to put that regime out.” Given there are today a number of Latin American countries under leftist governments more strategically significant than the tiny impoverished Nicaragua with which Gates was once so obsessed, one wonders how, as Obama’s Secretary of Defense, he will advise the new president to deal with these countries.
As he has for most of his career, Gates has been far to the right not only of the American public, but even that of the foreign policy establishment, most of which recognized that Nicaragua under the Sandinistas was of no threat to U.S. national security and that a bombing campaign would be a blatant violation of international law.
Unable to convince his superiors to bomb Nicaragua, Gates became a major supporter of the illegal supplying of arms to the Nicaraguan Contras, a notorious terrorist group responsible for the deaths of thousands of Nicaraguan civilians. In choosing Gates to head the Defense Department, Obama appears to be giving a signal that his opposition to international terrorism is limited to those who target Americans and their allies, not to terrorism overall.
Another Super-Hawk at NSC
Recently-retired Marine General Jim Jones -– who, like Gates, is a Republican and was a supporter of Senator John McCain in the November election –– has been named as Obama’s National Security Advisor. A pragmatic leader who reportedly opposed the decision to invade Iraq and has questioned the unconditional U.S. support for some of Israel’s more aggressive policies, Jones’ appointment is nonetheless troubling.
As NATO commander earlier this decade, Jones pushed for an expanded NATO role in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Perhaps not coincidentally, he joined the board of directors of Chevron soon after his retirement from the military as well becoming president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, which has called on the U.S. government to engage NATO “on energy security challenges and encourage member countries to support the expansion of its mandate to address energy security.”
Jones opposed any deadline for a withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq, which sits on top of the second largest oil reserves in the world, declaring that “I think deadlines can work against us, And I think a deadline of this magnitude would be against our national interest.” A passionate supporter of the Vietnam War who apparently supported a U.S. invasion of Laos and Cambodia as well, Jones considered the war’s opponents to essentially be traitors. More recently, he has used rhetoric remarkably similar to that of defenders of that war to call for a dramatic escalation of the war in Afghanistan on the grounds that American “credibility” would be at stake if the United States withdrew.
The Nation’s contributing editor Robert Dreyfus, who refers to Jones as Obama’s “most hawkish advisor,” quotes a prominent Washington military analyst noting that “He’s not a strategic thinker,” but he will certainly join other Obama appointees in pushing the administration’s foreign policy to the right.
A Dangerous Pick for Special Envoy
Obama’s choice for special envoy to perhaps the most critical area of U.S. foreign policy – Afghanistan and Pakistan – has gone to a man with perhaps the most sordid history of any of the largely disappointing set of foreign policy and national security appointments.
Richard Holbrooke got his start in the Foreign Service during the 1960s in the notorious pacification programs in the Mekong Delta of South Vietnam. In the late 1970s, Holbrooke served as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. In this position, he played a major role in formulating the Carter administration’s support for Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor and the bloody counter-insurgency campaign responsible for the deaths of up to a quarter million civilians. In a particularly notorious episode while heading the State Department’s East Asia division, Holbrooke convinced Carter to release South Korean troops under U.S. command in order to suppress a pro-democracy uprising in the city of Kwangju against the Chun dictatorship, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians. He also convinced President Jimmy Carter to continue its military and economic support for the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines.
In the former Yugoslavia, he epitomized the failed U.S. policy toward autocratic rulers that swings between the extremes of appeasement and war. He brokered a peace agreement in Bosnia which allowed the Serbs to hold on to virtually all of the land they had seized and ethnically cleansed in the course of that bloody conflict and imposed a political system based upon sectarian divisions over secular national citizenship. During the 1996 pro-democracy uprising in Serbia, Holbrooke successfully argued that the Clinton administration should back the Milosevic regime in suppressing the movement so to not risk the instability that might result from a victory by Serb democrats. In response to increased Serbian oppression in Kosovo just a couple years later, however, Holbrooke became a vociferous advocate of the 1999 U.S.-led bombing campaign, creating a nationalist reaction that set back the reconstituted pro-democracy movement once again. The young leaders of the pro-democracy movement, which finally succeeded in the nonviolent overthrow of the regime, remain bitterly angry at Holbrooke to this day.
Scott Ritter, the former chief UNSCOM inspector who correctly predicted the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and a disastrous outcome for the U.S. invasion, observes that “not only has he demonstrated a lack of comprehension when it comes to the complex reality of Afghanistan (not to mention Pakistan), Holbrooke has a history of choosing the military solution over the finesse of diplomacy.” Noting how the Dayton Accords were built on the assumption of a major and indefinite NATO military presence, which would obviously be far more problematic in Afghanistan and Pakistan than in Europe, Ritter adds, “This does not bode well for the Obama administration.”
The Mixed Record of Susan Rice
The post of U.S. representative to the United Nations, which is being treated as a cabinet-level post in the Obama administration, is now held by Susan Rice, a protégé of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Perhaps the most impressive intellectual on Obama’s foreign policy team, she was a Rhodes Scholar who studied under Oxford professors Adam Roberts and Benedict Kingsbury at Oxford, strong supporters of international law and the United Nations.
Serving under President Clinton in the National Security Council and later as assistant Secretary of State for Africa, she helped reverse the decades-old policy of support for Zairean dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, she received praise from civil society groups in Africa for her support for human rights but also criticism for her strident support for economic liberalization and free trade initiatives.
Though seen by many as one of the most moderate of Obama’s foreign policy team, she – like some of the more hawkish Obama appointees – is also handicapped by her tendency to allow her ideological preconceptions to interfere with her analysis.
Though, unlike most of Obama’s other top foreign policy appointees, she has serious reservations about invading Iraq, she naively bought into many of the myths used to justify it. For example, back in 2002 – years after Iraq had disarmed itself of its chemical and biological weapons and eliminated its nuclear program – she declared, “It’s clear that Iraq poses a major threat” and, despite the success of the UN’s disarmament program, she insisted “It’s clear that its weapons of mass destruction need to be dealt with forcefully, and that’s the path we’re on.”
In February 2003, Colin Powell testified before the United Nations that Iraq had somehow reconstituted its biological and chemical weapons arsenal and its nuclear weapons program and had somehow hidden all this from the hundreds of United Nations inspectors then in Iraq engaged in unfettered inspections. None of this was true and his transparently false claims were immediately challenged by UN officials, arms control specialists, and much of the press and political leadership in Europe and elsewhere. (See my article written in response to his testimony: Mr. Powell, You’re No Adlai Stevenson.)
Rice, however, insisted that Powell had “proved that Iraq has these weapons and is hiding them and I don’t think many informed people doubted that.” In light of such widespread and public skepticism from knowledgeable sources, Rice’s dismissal of all the well-founded criticism was positively Orwellian: those who blindly accepted Powell’s transparently false claims were “well-informed,” while the UN officials, arms control specialists, and others knowledgeable of the reality of the situation were presumably otherwise.
What this means is that Rice will have a serious credibility problem at the United Nations, whose remarkable success at disarming Iraq she summarily dismissed. When Rice speaks out in important debates about international peace and security in the UN Security Council, including possible genuine threats, there will inevitably be some questions as to whether she should be believed. This raises the questions as to why Obama would choose someone with a potentially serious credibility in such a sensitive position just as the United States is trying to restore its influence in the world body.
Some Bright Spots?
There have been some somewhat hopeful appointments as well. One is that of Leon Panetta, former Congressman and the first chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, to direct the CIA. He has been praised for his principled opposition to the abuse of detainees under the Bush administration and his forced resignation from the Nixon Justice Department for opposing the administration’s opposition to school desegregation.
The major concern is that Panetta – a former Republican known as a centrist who tends to seek compromise more than he is one to shake things up – will likely find himself as simply another part of the center-right national team Obama is putting together, especially since he will be serving under DNI director Blair. As The Nation‘s Dreyfus put it, “He’s no match for the hardheaded spooks who run the place, and he’s no match for the military brass who are elbowing their way to more and more control of intelligence spending and priorities.”
On the one hand, when the best that can be said of a nominee for an important national security position is that he opposes school segregation and believes that the U.S. government should not be engaging in torture, it is indicative of just how for down the bar has been lowered. At the same time, Panetta’s appointment is a clear signal that the Obama administration will not tolerate the kind of abuses that occurred under its predecessor.
Another potentially positive appointment is that of George Mitchell as special Middle East envoy. Though a hawkish supporter of right-wing Israeli governments during his days in the Senate, the report of his 2000-2001 commission on Israeli-Palestinian violence was surprisingly balanced and reasonable. Its failures rested in the limitations imposed upon it by the Clinton Administration and the failure of the Bush administration to follow through on its recommendations. The question now is whether Mitchell and President Obama will be willing to effectively challenge Israel’s refusal to withdraw the bulk of its illegal settlements from the occupied West Bank to make a viable Palestinian state possible. (See my article: Is Mitchell Up to the Task?)
Obama as Commander-in-Chief
Even though many of Obama’s key foreign policy appointments are not that different than previous administration, it is important to remember that Barack Obama will be a very different commander-in-chief than George W. Bush.
For one thing, unlike the outgoing president, Obama is non-ideological, very knowledgeable and highly-intelligent. He was quite prescient about the irrationality of invading Iraq, even speaking at an anti-war rally at a time when most Americans supported going to war and – prior to becoming a national figure – he espoused a number of progressive positions ranging on issues ranging from human rights to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In other words, even if Gates does call for bombing Venezuela, Obama is not going to do that. Even if Napolitano comes to him claiming that invading Iran is necessary to defend the homeland, Obama will recognize the folly of such a recommendation. Even if Clinton renews her attacks on the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court, Obama is unlikely to go along with them. Even if Jones argues for sending in the Marines to capture Saudi oil fields, Obama will not take such a recommendation seriously.
It is also quite possible that all this is a shrewd political move on Obama’s part of placing center-right appointees is visible positions to better enable him to pursue a more progressive foreign policy, not unlike Bush using the moderate Colin Powell to sell the Iraq war. Had George McGovern won the 1972 presidential election, he would have likely appointed a number of prominent figures from the hawkish Democratic foreign policy establishment to key positions to assuage skeptics as well, but that does not mean he would have abandoned the core principles which had been the basis of his campaign and his entire political career.
Another reason that an Obama administration will not likely be as far to the right as these appointments may imply is that his electoral base – energized by popular opposition to the Iraq War – is perhaps the most progressive in history when it comes to foreign policy. It is also the most engaged and organized base the party has ever seen. Once the relief of Bush’s departure and the glow of Obama’s inauguration has worn off, he will have to face the millions of people responsible for his election who will expect him to keep his word regarding “change you can believe in.”
Indeed, with a few conscientious exceptions, Democratic officials have rarely led in terms of a more progressive foreign policy. They have generally abandoned hawkish policies only after being forced to do so by popular mobilizations. From Vietnam to Central America to the nuclear arms race to South Africa to Iraq, Democratic leaders initially allied with the Republicans until they recognized their political futures were at stake unless they listened to the rank-and-file Democrats for whom they were dependent for their re-election. Then, and only then, were they willing to change course.
As a result, what may be most important will not be the people that Obama appoints, but the choices we give them.
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND PASS THE AMMUNITION December 13, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About George Bush, About War, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tags: Afghanistan, ammunition, Bush, Bush Doctrine, christ, christmas, ferlinghetti, foreign policy, hawks, insanity, Iraq, jesus, Obama, peace, permanent war, pre-emptive war, roger hollander, targeted assassination, war, war on drugs, war on terrorism
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(“C’est La Guerre,” Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 1988)
War on Drugs, War on Terrorism, Pre-emptive War,
Targeted Assassination, the Bush Doctrine:
“Well, maybe not such a quick withdrawal from Iraq
“Send more to kill and die in Afghanistan.”
PEACE ON EARTH GOOD WILL
Barack Obama’s Kettle of Hawks December 7, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tags: Afghanistan, america first, anti-war, biden, Bush, cia, foreign policy, hawks, hillary clinton, house of represenatives, Iraq war, james jones, jeremy scahill, Karl Rove, max boot, McCain, neocoms, neoliberalism, Obama, pakistan, Pentagon, Rahm Emanuel, Robert Gates, roger hollander, rumsfeld, senate
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Barack Obama’s national security team has been called a cast of rivals. (Photo: Reuters)Monday 01 December 2008, www.truthout.org
by: Jeremy Scahill, The Guardian UK
The absence of a solid anti-war voice on Obama’s national security team means that US foreign policy isn’t going to change.
Barack Obama has assembled a team of rivals to implement his foreign policy. But while pundits and journalists speculate endlessly on the potential for drama with Hillary Clinton at the state department and Bill Clinton’s network of shady funders, the real rivalry that will play out goes virtually unmentioned. The main battles will not be between Obama’s staff, but rather against those who actually want a change in US foreign policy, not just a staff change in the war room.
When announcing his foreign policy team on Monday, Obama said: “I didn’t go around checking their voter registration.” That is a bit hard to believe, given the 63-question application to work in his White House. But Obama clearly did check their credentials, and the disturbing truth is that he liked what he saw.
The assembly of Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, Susan Rice and Joe Biden is a kettle of hawks with a proven track record of support for the Iraq war, militaristic interventionism, neoliberal economic policies and a worldview consistent with the foreign policy arch that stretches from George HW Bush’s time in office to the present.
Obama has dismissed suggestions that the public records of his appointees bear much relevance to future policy. “Understand where the vision for change comes from, first and foremost,” Obama said. “It comes from me. That’s my job, to provide a vision in terms of where we are going and to make sure, then, that my team is implementing.” It is a line the president-elect’s defenders echo often. The reality, though, is that their records do matter.
We were told repeatedly during the campaign that Obama was right on the premiere foreign policy issue of our day – the Iraq war. “Six years ago, I stood up and opposed this war at a time when it was politically risky to do so,” Obama said in his September debate against John McCain. “Senator McCain and President Bush had a very different judgment.” What does it say that, with 130 members of the House and 23 in the Senate who voted against the war, Obama chooses to hire Democrats who made the same judgement as Bush and McCain?
On Iraq, the issue that the Obama campaign described as “the most critical foreign policy judgment of our generation”, Biden and Clinton not only supported the invasion, but pushed the Bush administration’s propaganda and lies about Iraqi WMDs and fictitious connections to al-Qaida. Clinton and Obama’s hawkish, pro-Israel chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, still refuse to renounce their votes in favour of the war. Rice, who claims she opposed the Iraq war, didn’t hold elected office and was not confronted with voting for or against it. But she did publicly promote the myth of Iraq’s possession of WMDs, saying in the lead up to the war that the “major threat” must “be dealt with forcefully”. Rice has also been hawkish on Darfur, calling for “strik[ing] Sudanese airfields, aircraft and other military assets”.
It is also deeply telling that, of his own free will, Obama selected President Bush’s choice for defence secretary, a man with a very disturbing and lengthy history at the CIA during the cold war, as his own. While General James Jones, Obama’s nominee for national security adviser, reportedly opposed the Iraq invasion and is said to have stood up to the neocons in Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, he did not do so publicly when it would have carried weight. Time magazine described him as “the man who led the Marines during the run-up to the war – and failed to publicly criticise the operation’s flawed planning”. Moreover, Jones, who is a friend of McCain’s, has said a timetable for Iraq withdrawal, “would be against our national interest”.
But the problem with Obama’s appointments is hardly just a matter of bad vision on Iraq. What ultimately ties Obama’s team together is their unified support for the classic US foreign policy recipe: the hidden hand of the free market, backed up by the iron fist of US militarism to defend the America First doctrine.
Obama’s starry-eyed defenders have tried to downplay the importance of his cabinet selections, saying Obama will call the shots, but the ruling elite in this country see it for what it is. Karl Rove, “Bush’s Brain”, called Obama’s cabinet selections, “reassuring”, which itself is disconcerting, but neoconservative leader and former McCain campaign staffer Max Boot summed it up best. “I am gobsmacked by these appointments, most of which could just as easily have come from a President McCain,” Boot wrote. The appointment of General Jones and the retention of Gates at defence “all but puts an end to the 16-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, the unconditional summits with dictators and other foolishness that once emanated from the Obama campaign.”
Boot added that Hillary Clinton will be a “powerful” voice “for ‘neoliberalism’ which is not so different in many respects from ‘neoconservativism.'” Boot’s buddy, Michael Goldfarb, wrote in The Weekly Standard, the official organ of the neoconservative movement, that he sees “certainly nothing that represents a drastic change in how Washington does business. The expectation is that Obama is set to continue the course set by Bush in his second term.”
There is not a single, solid anti-war voice in the upper echelons of the Obama foreign policy apparatus. And this is the point: Obama is not going to fundamentally change US foreign policy. He is a status quo Democrat. And that is why the mono-partisan Washington insiders are gushing over Obama’s new team. At the same time, it is also disingenuous to act as though Obama is engaging in some epic betrayal. Of course these appointments contradict his campaign rhetoric of change. But move past the speeches and Obama’s selections are very much in sync with his record and the foreign policy vision he articulated on the campaign trail, from his pledge to escalate the war in Afghanistan to his “residual force” plan in Iraq to his vow to use unilateral force in Pakistan to defend US interests to his posturing on Iran. “I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel,” Obama said in his famed speech at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee last summer. “Sometimes, there are no alternatives to confrontation.”
Jeremy Scahill pledges to be the same journalist under an Obama administration that he was during Bill Clinton and George Bush’s presidencies. He is the author of “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army” and is a frequent contributor to The Nation and Democracy Now! He is a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.
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Tuesday 02 December 2008, www.truthout.org
by: Robert Dreyfuss, TomDispatch.com
Douglas Feith. (Illustration: Paul Giambarba)
What, exactly, does Barack Obama’s mild-mannered choice to head the Department of Health and Human Services, former Senator Tom Daschle, have to do with neocons who want to bomb Iran?
A familiar coalition of hawks, hardliners, and neoconservatives expects Barack Obama’s proposed talks with Iran to fail – and they’re already proposing an escalating set of measures instead. Some are meant to occur alongside any future talks. These include steps to enhance coordination with Israel, tougher sanctions against Iran, and a region-wide military buildup of U.S. strike forces, including the prepositioning of military supplies within striking distance of that country.
Once the future negotiations break down, as they are convinced will happen, they propose that Washington quickly escalate to war-like measures, including a U.S. Navy-enforced embargo on Iranian fuel imports and a blockade of that country’s oil exports. Finally, of course, comes the strategic military attack against the Islamic Republic of Iran that so many of them have wanted for so long.
It’s tempting to dismiss the hawks now as twice-removed from power: first, figures like John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, and Douglas Feith were purged from top posts in the Bush administration after 2004; then the election of Barack Obama and the announcement Monday of his centrist, realist-minded team of establishment foreign policy gurus seemed to nail the doors to power shut for the neocons, who have bitterly criticized the president-elect’s plans to talk with Iran, withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq, and abandon the reckless Global War on Terrorism rhetoric of the Bush era.
“Kinetic Action” Against Iran
When it comes to Iran, however, it’s far too early to dismiss the hawks. To be sure, they are now plying their trade from outside the corridors of power, but they have more friends inside the Obama camp than most people realize. Several top advisers to Obama – including Tony Lake, UN Ambassador-designate Susan Rice, Tom Daschle, and Dennis Ross, along with leading Democratic hawks like Richard Holbrooke, close to Vice-President-elect Joe Biden or Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton – have made common cause with war-minded think-tank hawks at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and other hardline institutes.
Last spring, Tony Lake and Susan Rice, for example, took part in a WINEP “2008 Presidential Task Force” study which resulted in a report entitled, “Strengthening the Partnership: How to Deepen U.S.-Israel Cooperation on the Iranian Nuclear Challenge.” The Institute, part of the Washington-based Israel lobby, was founded in coordination with the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and has been vigorously supporting a confrontation with Iran. The task force report, issued in June, was overseen by four WINEP heavyweights: Robert Satloff, WINEP’s executive director, Patrick Clawson, its chief Iran analyst, David Makovsky, a senior fellow, and Dennis Ross, an adviser to Obama who is also a WINEP fellow.
Endorsed by both Lake and Rice, the report opted for an alarmist view of Iran’s nuclear program and proposed that the next president set up a formal U.S.-Israeli mechanism for coordinating policy toward Iran (including any future need for “preventive military action”). It drew attention to Israeli fears that “the United States may be reconciling itself to the idea of ‘living with an Iranian nuclear bomb,'” and it raised the spurious fear that Iran plans to arm terrorist groups with nuclear weapons.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with consultations between the United States and Israel. But the WINEP report is clearly predisposed to the idea that the United States ought to give undue weight to Israel’s inflated concerns about Iran. And it ignores or dismisses a number of facts: that Iran has no nuclear weapon, that Iran has not enriched uranium to weapons grade, that Iran may not have the know-how to actually construct a weapon even if, sometime in the future, it does manage to acquire bomb-grade material, and that Iran has no known mechanism for delivering such a weapon.
WINEP is correct that the United States must communicate closely with Israel about Iran. Practically speaking, however, a U.S.-Israeli dialogue over Iran’s “nuclear challenge” will have to focus on matters entirely different from those in WINEP’s agenda. First, the United States must make it crystal clear to Israel that under no circumstances will it tolerate or support a unilateral Israeli attack against Iran. Second, Washington must make it clear that if Israel were indeed to carry out such an attack, the United States would condemn it, refuse to widen the war by coming to Israel’s aid, and suspend all military aid to the Jewish state. And third, Israel must get the message that, even given the extreme and unlikely possibility that the United States deems it necessary to go to war with Iran, there would be no role for Israel.
Just as in the wars against Iraq in 1990-1991 and 2003-2008, the United States hardly needs Israeli aid, which would be both superfluous and inflammatory. Dennis Ross and others at WINEP, however, would strongly disagree that Israel is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Ross, who served as Middle East envoy for George H.W. Bush and then Bill Clinton, was also a key participant in a September 2008 task force chaired by two former senators, Daniel Coats (R.-Ind.) and Chuck Robb (D.-Va.), and led by Michael Makovsky, brother of WINEP’s David Makovsky, who served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the heyday of the Pentagon neocons from 2002-2006. Robb, incidentally, had already served as the neocons’ channel into the 2006 Iraq Study Group, chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Representative Lee Hamilton. According to Bob Woodward’s latest book, The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008, it was Robb who insisted that the Baker-Hamilton task force include an option for a “surge” in Iraq.
The report of the Coats-Robb task force – “Meeting the Challenge: U.S. Policy Toward Iranian Nuclear Development” – went far beyond the WINEP task force report that Lake and Rice signed off on. It concluded that any negotiations with Iran were unlikely to succeed and should, in any case, be short-lived. As the report put the matter, “It must be clear that any U.S.-Iranian talks will not be open-ended, but will be limited to a pre-determined time period so that Tehran does not try to ‘run out the clock.'”
Anticipating the failure of the talks, the task force (including Ross) urged “prepositioning military assets,” coupled with a “show of force” in the region. This would be followed almost immediately by a blockade of Iranian gasoline imports and oil exports, meant to paralyze Iran’s economy, followed by what they call, vaguely, “kinetic action.”
That “kinetic action” – a U.S. assault on Iran – should, in fact, be massive, suggested the Coats-Robb report. Besides hitting dozens of sites alleged to be part of Iran’s nuclear research program, the attacks would target Iranian air defense and missile sites, communications systems, Revolutionary Guard facilities, key parts of Iran’s military-industrial complex, munitions storage facilities, airfields, aircraft facilities, and all of Iran’s naval facilities. Eventually, they say, the United States would also have to attack Iran’s ground forces, electric power plants and electrical grids, bridges, and “manufacturing plants, including steel, autos, buses, etc.”
This is, of course, a hair-raising scenario. Such an attack on a country that had committed no act of war against the United States or any of its allies would cause countless casualties, virtually destroy Iran’s economy and infrastructure, and wreak havoc throughout the region. That such a high-level group of luminaries should even propose steps like these – and mean it – can only be described as lunacy. That an important adviser to President-elect Obama would sign on to such a report should be shocking, though it has received next to no attention.
Palling Around With the Neocons
At a November 6 forum at WINEP, Patrick Clawson, the erudite, neoconservative strategist who serves as the organization’s deputy director for research, laid out the institute’s view of how to talk to Iran in the Obama era. Doing so, he said, is critically important, but only to show the rest of the world that the United States has taken the last step for peace – before, of course, attacking. Then, and only then, will the United States have the legitimacy it needs to launch military action against Iran.
“What we’ve got to do is to show the world that we’re making a big deal of engaging the Iranians,” he said, tossing a bone to the new administration. “I’d throw everything, including the kitchen sink, into it.” He advocates this approach only because he believes it won’t work. “The principal target with these offers [to Iran] is not Iran,” he adds. “The principal target of these offers is American public opinion and world public opinion.”
The Coats-Robb report, Meeting the Challenge,” was written by one of the hardest of Washington’s neoconservative hardliners, Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute. Rubin, who spent most of the years since 9/11 either working for AEI or, before and during the war in Iraq, for the Wolfowitz-Feith team at the Pentagon, recently penned a report for the Institute entitled: “Can A Nuclear Iran Be Deterred or Contained?” Not surprisingly, he believes the answer to be a resounding “no,” although he does suggest that any effort to contain a nuclear Iran would certainly require permanent U.S. bases spread widely in the region, including in Iraq:
“If U.S. forces are to contain the Islamic Republic, they will require basing not only in GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries, but also in Afghanistan, Iraq, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. Without a sizeable regional presence, the Pentagon will not be able to maintain the predeployed resources and equipment necessary to contain Iran, and Washington will signal its lack of commitment to every ally in the region. Because containment is as much psychological as physical, basing will be its backbone.”
The Coats-Robb report was issued by a little-known group called the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC). That organization, too, turns out to be interwoven with WINEP, not least because its foreign policy director is Michael Makovsky. Perhaps the most troubling participant in the Bipartisan Policy Center is Barack Obama’s éminence grise and one of his most important advisers during the campaign, Tom Daschle, who is slated to be his secretary of health and human services. So far, Daschle has not repudiated BPC’s provocative report.
Ross, along with Richard Holbrooke, recently made appearances amid another collection of superhawks who came together to found a new organization, United Against Nuclear Iran. UANI is led by Mark Wallace, the husband of Nicole Wallace, a key member of Senator John McCain’s campaign team. Among UANI’s leadership team are Ross and Holbrooke, along with such hardliners as Jim Woolsey, the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and Fouad Ajami, the Arab-American scholar who is a principal theorist on Middle East policy for the neoconservative movement.
UANI is primarily a propaganda outfit. Its mission, it says, is to “inform the public about the nature of the Iranian regime, including its desire and intent to possess nuclear weapons, as well as Iran’s role as a state sponsor of global terrorism, and a major violator of human rights at home and abroad” and to “heighten awareness nationally and internationally about the danger that a nuclear-armed Iran poses to the region and the world.”
Barack Obama has, of course, repeatedly declared his intention to embark on a different path by opening talks with Iran. He’s insisted that diplomacy, not military action, will be at the core of his approach to Tehran. During the election campaign, however, he also stated no less repeatedly that he will not take the threat of military action “off the table.”
Organizations like WINEP, AIPAC, AEI, BPC, and UANI see it as their mission to push the United States toward a showdown with Iran. Don’t sell them short. Those who believe that such a confrontation would be inconceivable under President Obama ought to ask Tony Lake, Susan Rice, Dennis Ross, Tom Daschle, and Richard Holbrooke whether they agree – and, if so, why they’re still palling around with neoconservative hardliners.
Robert Dreyfuss, an independent journalist in Alexandria, Virginia, is a contributing editor at The Nation magazine, whose website hosts his The Dreyfuss Report, and has written frequently for Rolling Stone, The American Prospect, Mother Jones, and the Washington Monthly. He is the author of “Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam.”
This Is Change? Twenty Hawks, Clintonites and Neocons to Watch for in Obama’s White House November 22, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tags: Afghanistan, anthony lake, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, bill richardson, clintonites, defence, dennis ross, foreign policy, hawks, Hllary Clinton, Iraq, ivo daalder, jami miscik, joe biden, john brennan, john kerry, lee hamilton, madeleine albright, martin indyk, michele flournoy, Rahm Emanuel, richard holbrooke, Robert Gates, roger hollander, sara sewall, susan rice, tom donilon, war, war on drugs, wendy sherman
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Thursday 20 November 2008
by: Jeremy Scahill, AlterNet
President-elect Barack Obama steps off a stage with former President Bill Clinton. Contrary to his campaign call for change, Obama appears to be surrounding himself with hawkish foreign policy advisers from both the Clinton and Bush administrations. (Photo: Reuters)
A who’s who guide to the people poised to shape Obama’s foreign policy.
U.S. policy is not about one individual, and no matter how much faith people place in President-elect Barack Obama, the policies he enacts will be fruit of a tree with many roots. Among them: his personal politics and views, the disastrous realities his administration will inherit, and, of course, unpredictable future crises. But the best immediate indicator of what an Obama administration might look like can be found in the people he surrounds himself with and who he appoints to his Cabinet. And, frankly, when it comes to foreign policy, it is not looking good.
Obama has a momentous opportunity to do what he repeatedly promised over the course of his campaign: bring actual change. But the more we learn about who Obama is considering for top positions in his administration, the more his inner circle resembles a staff reunion of President Bill Clinton’s White House. Although Obama brought some progressives on board early in his campaign, his foreign policy team is now dominated by the hawkish, old-guard Democrats of the 1990s. This has been particularly true since Hillary Clinton conceded defeat in the Democratic primary, freeing many of her top advisors to join Obama’s team.
“What happened to all this talk about change?” a member of the Clinton foreign policy team recently asked the Washington Post. “This isn’t lightly flavored with Clintons. This is all Clintons, all the time.”
Amid the euphoria over Obama’s election and the end of the Bush era, it is critical to recall what 1990s U.S. foreign policy actually looked like. Bill Clinton’s boiled down to a one-two punch from the hidden hand of the free market, backed up by the iron fist of U.S. militarism. Clinton took office and almost immediately bombed Iraq (ostensibly in retaliation for an alleged plot by Saddam Hussein to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush). He presided over a ruthless regime of economic sanctions that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and under the guise of the so-called No-Fly Zones in northern and southern Iraq, authorized the longest sustained U.S. bombing campaign since Vietnam.
Under Clinton, Yugoslavia was bombed and dismantled as part of what Noam Chomsky described as the “New Military Humanism.” Sudan and Afghanistan were attacked, Haiti was destabilized and “free trade” deals like the North America Free Trade Agreement and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade radically escalated the spread of corporate-dominated globalization that hurt U.S. workers and devastated developing countries. Clinton accelerated the militarization of the so-called War on Drugs in Central and Latin America and supported privatization of U.S. military operations, giving lucrative contracts to Halliburton and other war contractors. Meanwhile, U.S. weapons sales to countries like Turkey and Indonesia aided genocidal campaigns against the Kurds and the East Timorese.
The prospect of Obama’s foreign policy being, at least in part, an extension of the Clinton Doctrine is real. Even more disturbing, several of the individuals at the center of Obama’s transition and emerging foreign policy teams were top players in creating and implementing foreign policies that would pave the way for projects eventually carried out under the Bush/Cheney administration. With their assistance, Obama has already charted out several hawkish stances. Among them:
His plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan; An Iraq plan that could turn into a downsized and rebranded occupation that keeps U.S. forces in Iraq for the foreseeable future; His labeling of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as a “terrorist organization;” His pledge to use unilateral force inside of Pakistan to defend U.S. interests; His position, presented before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), that Jerusalem “must remain undivided” — a remark that infuriated Palestinian officials and which he later attempted to reframe; His plan to continue the War on Drugs, a backdoor U.S. counterinsurgency campaign in Central and Latin America; His refusal to “rule out” using Blackwater and other armed private forces in U.S. war zones, despite previously introducing legislation to regulate these companies and bring them under U.S. law.
Obama did not arrive at these positions in a vacuum. They were carefully crafted in consultation with his foreign policy team. While the verdict is still out on a few people, many members of his inner foreign policy circle — including some who have received or are bound to receive Cabinet posts — supported the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Some promoted the myth that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. A few have worked with the neoconservative Project for the New American Century, whose radical agenda was adopted by the Bush/Cheney administration. And most have proven track records of supporting or implementing militaristic, offensive U.S. foreign policy. “After a masterful campaign, Barack Obama seems headed toward some fateful mistakes as he assembles his administration by heeding the advice of Washington’s Democratic insider community, a collective group that represents little ‘change you can believe in,'” notes veteran journalist Robert Parry, the former Associated Press and Newsweek reporter who broke many of the stories in the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s.
As news breaks and speculation abounds about cabinet appointments, here are 20 people to watch as Obama builds the team who will shape U.S. foreign policy for at least four years:
There was no stronger sign that Obama’s foreign policy would follow the hawkish tradition of the Democratic foreign policy establishment than his selection of Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate. Much has been written on Biden’s tenure as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but his role in the invasion and occupation of Iraq stands out. Biden is not just one more Democratic lawmaker who now calls his vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq “mistaken;” Biden was actually an important facilitator of the war.
In the summer of 2002, when the United States was “debating” a potential attack on Iraq, Biden presided over hearings whose ostensible purpose was to weigh all existing options. But instead of calling on experts whose testimony could challenge the case for war — Iraq’s alleged WMD possession and its supposed ties to al-Qaida — Biden’s hearings treated the invasion as a foregone conclusion. His refusal to call on two individuals in particular ensured that testimony that could have proven invaluable to an actual debate was never heard: Former Chief United Nations Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter and Hans von Sponeck, a 32-year veteran diplomat and the former head of the U.N.’s Iraq program.
Both men say they made it clear to Biden’s office that they were ready and willing to testify; Ritter knew more about the dismantling of Iraq’s WMD program than perhaps any other U.S. citizen and would have been in prime position to debunk the misinformation and outright lies being peddled by the White House. Meanwhile, von Sponeck had just returned from Iraq, where he had observed Ansar al Islam rebels in the north of Iraq — the so-called al-Qaida connection — and could have testified that, rather than colluding with Saddam’s regime, they were in a battle against it. Moreover, he would have pointed out that they were operating in the U.S.-enforced safe haven of Iraqi Kurdistan. “Evidence of al-Qaida/lraq collaboration does not exist, neither in the training of operatives nor in support to Ansar-al-Islam,” von Sponeck wrote in an Op-Ed published shortly before the July 2002 hearings. “The U.S. Department of Defense and the CIA know perfectly well that today’s Iraq poses no threat to anyone in the region, let alone in the United States. To argue otherwise is dishonest.”
With both men barred from testifying, rather than eliciting an array of informed opinions, Biden’s committee whitewashed Bush’s lies and helped lead the country to war. Biden himself promoted the administration’s false claims that were used to justify the invasion of Iraq, declaring on the Senate floor, “[Saddam Hussein] possesses chemical and biological weapons and is seeking nuclear weapons.”
With the war underway, Biden was then the genius who passionately promoted the ridiculous plan to partition Iraq into three areas based on religion and ethnicity, attempting to Balkanize one of the strongest Arab states in the world.
“He’s a part of the old Democratic establishment,” says retired Army Col. Ann Wright, the State Department diplomat who reopened the U.S. embassy in Kabul in 2002. Biden, she says, has “had a long history with foreign affairs, [but] it’s not the type of foreign affairs that I want.”
Obama’s appointment of Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel as Chief of Staff is a clear sign that Clinton-era neoliberal hawks will be well-represented at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. A former senior Clinton advisor, Emanuel is a hard-line supporter of Israel’s “targeted assassination” policy and actually volunteered to work with the Israeli Army during the 1991 Gulf War. He is close to the right-wing Democratic Leadership Council and was the only member of the Illinois Democratic delegation in the Congress to vote for the invasion of Iraq. Unlike many of his colleagues, Emanuel still defends his vote. As chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006, Emanuel promoted the campaigns of 22 candidates, only one of who supported a swift withdrawal from Iraq, and denied crucial Party funding to anti-war candidates. “As for Iraq policy, at the right time, we will have a position,” he said in December 2005. As Philip Giraldi recently pointed out on Antiwar.com, Emanuel “advocates increasing the size of the U.S. Army by 100,000 soldiers and creating a domestic spying organization like Britain’s MI5. More recently, he has supported mandatory paramilitary national service for all Americans between the ages of 18 and 25.”
While Obama has at times been critical of Clinton-era free trade agreements, Emanuel was one of the key people in the Clinton White House who brokered the successful passage of NAFTA.
Hillary Rodham Clinton
For all the buzz and speculation about the possibility that Sen. Clinton may be named Secretary of State, most media coverage has focused on her rivalry with Obama during the primary, along with the prospect of her husband having to face the intense personal, financial and political vetting process required to secure a job in the new administration. But the question of how Clinton would lead the operations at Foggy Bottom calls for scrutiny of her positions vis-a-vis Obama’s stated foreign-policy goals.
Clinton was an ardent defender of her husband’s economic and military war against Iraq throughout the 1990s, including the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which ultimately laid the path for President George W. Bush’s invasion. Later, as a U.S. senator, she not only voted to authorize the war, but aided the Bush administration’s propaganda campaign in the lead-up to the invasion. “Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile-delivery capability and his nuclear program,” Clinton said when rising to support the measure in October 2002. “He has also given aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including al-Qaida members … I want to insure that Saddam Hussein makes no mistake about our national unity and for our support for the president’s efforts to wage America’s war against terrorists and weapons of mass destruction.”
“The man who vowed to deliver us from 28 years of Bushes and Clintons has been stocking up on Clintonites,” New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd recently wrote. “How, one may ask, can he put Hillary — who voted to authorize the Iraq war without even reading the intelligence assessment — in charge of patching up a foreign policy and a world riven by that war?”
Beyond Iraq, Clinton shocked many and sparked official protests by Tehran at the United Nations when asked during the presidential campaign what she would do as president if Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons. “I want the Iranians to know that if I’m the president, we will attack Iran,” she declared. “In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.”
Clinton has not shied away from supporting offensive foreign policy tactics in the past. Recalling her husband’s weighing the decision of whether to attack Yugoslavia, she said in 1999, “I urged him to bomb. You cannot let this go on at the end of a century that has seen the major holocaust of our time. What do we have NATO for if not to defend our way of life?”
While Obama’s house is flush with Clintonian officials like former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Defense Secretary William Perry, Director of the State Department Office of Policy Planning Greg Craig (who was officially named Obama’s White House Counsel) and Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, perhaps most influential is Madeleine Albright, Bill Clinton’s former Secretary of State and U.N. ambassador. Albright recently served as a proxy for Obama, representing him at the G-20 summit earlier this month. Whether or not she is awarded an official role in the administration, Albright will be a major force in shaping Obama’s foreign policy.
“It will take time to convince skeptics that the promotion of democracy is not a mask for imperialism or a recipe for the kind of chaos we have seen in the Persian Gulf,” Albright recently wrote. “And it will take time to establish the right identity for America in a world that has grown suspicious of all who claim a monopoly on virtue and that has become reluctant to follow the lead of any one country.”
Albright should know. She was one of the key architects in the dismantling of Yugoslavia during the 1990s. In the lead-up to the 1999 “Kosovo war,” she oversaw the U.S. attempt to coerce the Yugoslav government to deny its own sovereignty in return for not being bombed. Albright demanded that the Yugoslav government sign a document that would have been unacceptable to any sovereign nation. Known as the Rambouillet Accord, it included a provision that would have guaranteed U.S. and NATO forces “free and unrestricted passage and unimpeded access throughout” all of Yugoslavia — not just Kosovo — while also seeking to immunize those occupation forces “from any form of arrest, investigation or detention by the authorities in [Yugoslavia].” Moreover, it would have granted the occupiers “the use of airports, roads, rails and ports without payment.” Similar to Bush’s Iraq plan years later, the Rambouillet Accord mandated that the economy of Kosovo “shall function in accordance with free-market principles.”
When Yugoslavia refused to sign the document, Albright and others in the Clinton administration unleashed the 78-day NATO bombing of Serbia, which targeted civilian infrastructure. (Prior to the attack, Albright said the U.S. government felt “the Serbs need a little bombing.”) She and the Clinton administration also supported the rise to power in Kosovo of a terrorist mafia that carried out its own ethnic-cleansing campaign against the province’s minorities.
Perhaps Albright’s most notorious moment came with her enthusiastic support of the economic war against the civilian population of Iraq. When confronted by Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” that the sanctions were responsible for the deaths of “a half-million children – more children than died in Hiroshima,” Albright responded, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.” (While defending the policy, Albright later called her choice of words “a terrible mistake, hasty, clumsy, and wrong.”)
Like Albright, Holbrooke will have major sway over U.S. policy, whether or not he gets an official job. A career diplomat since the Vietnam War, Holbrooke’s most recent government post was as President Clinton’s ambassador to the U.N. Among the many violent policies he helped implement and enforce was the U.S.-backed Indonesian genocide in East Timor. Holbrooke was an Assistant Secretary of State in the late 1970s at the height of the slaughter and was the point man on East Timor for the Carter Administration.
According to Brad Simpson, director of the Indonesia and East Timor Documentation Project at the National Security Archive at George Washington University, “It was Holbrooke and Zbigniew Brzezinski [another top Obama advisor], both now leading lights in the Democratic Party, who played point in trying to frustrate the efforts of congressional human-rights activists to try and condition or stop U.S. military assistance to Indonesia, and in fact accelerated the flow of weapons to Indonesia at the height of the genocide.”
Holbrooke, too, was a major player in the dismantling of Yugoslavia and praised the bombing of Serb Television, which killed 16 media workers, as a significant victory. (The man who ordered that bombing, now-retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, is another Obama foreign policy insider who could end up in his cabinet. While Clark is known for being relatively progressive on social issues, as Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, he ordered bombings and attacks that Amnesty International labeled war crimes.)
Like many in Obama’s foreign policy circle, Holbrooke also supported the Iraq war. In early 2003, shortly after then-Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech to the UN, where he presented the administration’s fraud-laden case for war to the UN (a speech Powell has since called a “blot” on his reputation), Holbrooke said: “It was a masterful job of diplomacy by Colin Powell and his colleagues, and it does not require a second vote to go to war. Saddam is the most dangerous government leader in the world today, he poses a threat to the region, he could pose a larger threat if he got weapons of mass destruction deployed, and we have a legitimate right to take action.”
Middle East envoy for both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Ross was one of the primary authors of Obama’s aforementioned speech before AIPAC this summer. He cut his teeth working under famed neoconservative Paul Wolfowitz at the Pentagon in the 1970s and worked closely with the Project for the New American Century. Ross has been a staunch supporter of Israel and has fanned the flames for a more hostile stance toward Iran. As the lead U.S. negotiator between Israel and numerous Arab nations under Clinton, Ross’ team acted, in the words of one U.S. official who worked under him, as “Israel’s lawyer.”
“The ‘no surprises’ policy, under which we had to run everything by Israel first, stripped our policy of the independence and flexibility required for serious peacemaking,” wrote U.S. diplomat Aaron David Miller in 2005. “If we couldn’t put proposals on the table without checking with the Israelis first, and refused to push back when they said no, how effective could our mediation be? Far too often, particularly when it came to Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, our departure point was not what was needed to reach an agreement acceptable to both sides but what would pass with only one — Israel.” After the Clinton White House, Ross worked for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a hawkish pro-Israel think tank, and for FOX News, where he repeatedly pressed for war against Iraq.
Founder of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Indyk spent years working for AIPAC and served as Clinton’s ambassador to Israel and Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs, while also playing a major role in developing U.S. policy toward Iraq and Iran. In addition to his work for the U.S. government, he has worked for the Israeli government and with PNAC.
“Barack Obama has painted himself into a corner by appealing to the most hard-line, pro-Israel elements in this country,” Ali Abunimah, founder of ElectronicInifada.net, recently told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, describing Indyk and Dennis Ross as “two of the most pro-Israel officials from the Clinton era, who are totally distrusted by Palestinians and others across the Middle East, because they’re seen as lifelong advocates for Israeli positions.”
Clinton’s former National Security Advisor was an early supporter of Obama and one of the few top Clintonites to initially back the president-elect. Lake began his foreign policy work in the U.S. Foreign Service during Vietnam, working with Henry Kissinger on the “September Group,” a secret team tasked with developing a military strategy to deliver a “savage, decisive blow against North Vietnam.”
Decades later, after working for various administrations, Lake “was the main force behind the U.S. invasion of Haiti in the mid-Clinton years,” according to veteran journalist Allan Nairn, whose groundbreaking reporting revealed U.S. support for Haitian death squads in the 1990s. “They brought back Aristide essentially in political chains, pledged to support a World Bank/IMF overhaul of the economy, which resulted in an increase in malnutrition deaths among Haitians, and set the stage for the current ongoing political disaster in Haiti.” Clinton nominated Lake as CIA Director, but he failed to win Senate confirmation.
Hamilton is a former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and was co-chairman of both the Iraq Study Group and 9/11 Commission. Robert Parry, who has covered Hamilton’s career extensively, recently ran a piece on Consortium News that characterized him this way: “Whenever the Republicans have a touchy national-security scandal to put to rest, their favorite Democratic investigator is Lee Hamilton. … Hamilton’s carefully honed skill for balancing truth against political comity has elevated him to the status of a Washington Wise Man.”
Former Assistant Secretary of Sate Susan Rice, who served on Bill Clinton’s National Security Council, is a potential candidate for the post of ambassador to the U.N. or as a deputy national security advisor. She, too, promoted the myth that Saddam had WMDs. “It’s clear that Iraq poses a major threat,” she said in 2002. “It’s clear that its weapons of mass destruction need to be dealt with forcefully, and that’s the path we’re on.” (After the invasion, discussing Saddam’s alleged possession of WMDs, she said, “I don’t think many informed people doubted that.”)
Rice has also been a passionate advocate for a U.S. military attack against Sudan over the Darfur crisis. In an op-ed co-authored with Anthony Lake, she wrote, “The United States, preferably with NATO involvement and African political support, would strike Sudanese airfields, aircraft and other military assets. It could blockade Port Sudan, through which Sudan’s oil exports flow. Then U.N. troops would deploy — by force, if necessary, with U.S. and NATO backing.”
A longtime CIA official and former head of the National Counterterrorism Center, Brennan is one of the coordinators of Obama’s intelligence transition team and a top contender for either CIA Director or Director of National Intelligence. He was also recently described by Glenn Greenwald as “an ardent supporter of torture and one of the most emphatic advocates of FISA expansions and telecom immunity.” While claiming to oppose waterboarding, labeling it “inconsistent with American values” and “something that should be prohibited,” Brennan has simultaneously praised the results achieved by “enhanced interrogation” techniques. “There has been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the agency has, in fact, used against the real hard-core terrorists,” Brennan said in a 2007 interview. “It has saved lives. And let’s not forget, these are hardened terrorists who have been responsible for 9/11, who have shown no remorse at all for the death of 3,000 innocents.”
Brennan has described the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program — the government-run kidnap-and-torture program enacted under Clinton — as an absolutely vital tool. “I have been intimately familiar now over the past decade with the cases of rendition that the U.S. Government has been involved in,” he said in a December 2005 interview. “And I can say without a doubt that it has been very successful as far as producing intelligence that has saved lives.”
Brennan is currently the head of Analysis Corporation, a private intelligence company that was recently implicated in the breach of Obama and Sen. John McCain’s passport records. He is also the current chairman of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance (INSA), a trade association of private intelligence contractors who have dramatically increased their role in sensitive U.S. national security operations. (Current Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell is former chairman of the INSA.)
Miscik, who works alongside Brennan on Obama’s transitional team, was the CIA’s Deputy Director for Intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war. She was one of the key officials responsible for sidelining intel that contradicted the official line on WMD, while promoting intel that backed it up.
“When the administration insisted on an intelligence assessment of Saddam Hussein’s relationship to al-Qaida, Miscik blocked the skeptics (who were later vindicated) within the CIA’s Mideast analytical directorate and instructed the less-skeptical counterterrorism analysts to ‘stretch to the maximum the evidence you had,’ ” journalist Spencer Ackerman recently wrote in the Washington Independent. “It’s hard to think of a more egregious case of sacrificing sound intelligence analysis in order to accommodate the strategic fantasies of an administration. … The idea that Miscik is helping staff Obama’s top intelligence picks is most certainly not change we can believe in.” What’s more, she went on to a lucrative post as the Global Head of Sovereign Risk for the now-bankrupt Lehman Brothers.
John Kerry and Bill Richardson
Both Sen. Kerry and Gov. Richardson have been identified as possible contenders for Secretary of State. While neither is likely to be as hawkish as Hillary Clinton, both have taken pro-war positions. Kerry promoted the WMD lie and voted to invade Iraq. “Why is Saddam Hussein attempting to develop nuclear weapons when most nations don’t even try?” Kerry asked on the Senate floor in October 2002. “According to intelligence, Iraq has chemical and biological weapons … Iraq is developing unmanned aerial vehicles capable of delivering chemical and biological warfare agents.”
Richardson, whose Iraq plan during his 2008 presidential campaign was more progressive and far-reaching than Obama’s, served as Bill Clinton’s ambassador to the UN. In this capacity, he supported Clinton’s December 1998 bombing of Baghdad and the U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq. “We think this man is a threat to the international community, and he threatens a lot of the neighbors in his region and future generations there with anthrax and VX,” Richardson told an interviewer in February 1998.
While Clinton’s Secretary of Energy, Richardson publicly named Wen Ho Lee, a scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, as a target in an espionage investigation. Lee was accused of passing nuclear secrets to the Chinese government. Lee was later cleared of those charges and won a settlement against the U.S. government.
Washington consensus is that Obama will likely keep Robert Gates, George W. Bush’s Defense Secretary, as his own Secretary of Defense. While Gates has occasionally proved to be a stark contrast to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, he would hardly represent a break from the policies of the Bush administration. Quite the opposite; according to the Washington Post, in the interest of a “smooth transition,” Gates “has ordered hundreds of political appointees at the Pentagon canvassed to see whether they wish to stay on in the new administration, has streamlined policy briefings and has set up suites for President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team just down the hall from his own E-ring office.” The Post reports that Gates could stay on for a brief period and then be replaced by Richard Danzig, who was Clinton’s Secretary of the Navy. Other names currently being tossed around are Democratic Sen. Jack Reed, Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel (a critic of the Iraq occupation) and Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, who served alongside Biden on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Ivo H. Daalder
Daalder was National Security Council Director for European Affairs under President Clinton. Like other Obama advisors, he has worked with the Project for the New American Century and signed a 2005 letter from PNAC to Congressional leaders, calling for an increase in U.S. ground troops in Iraq and beyond.
Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance during the Clinton administration, Sewall served as a top advisor to Obama during the campaign and is almost certain to be selected for a post in his administration. In 2007, Sewall worked with the U.S. military and Army Gen. David Petraeus, writing the introduction to the University of Chicago edition of the Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual. She was criticized for this collaboration by Tom Hayden, who wrote, “the Petraeus plan draws intellectual legitimacy from Harvard’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, whose director, Sarah Sewall, proudly embraces an ‘unprecedented collaboration [as] a human rights center partnered with the armed forces.'”
“Humanitarians often avoid wading into the conduct of war for fear of becoming complicit in its purpose,” she wrote in the introduction. “‘The field manual requires engagement precisely from those who fear that its words lack meaning.”
Flournoy and former Clinton Deputy Defense Secretary John White are co-heading Obama’s defense transition team. Flournoy was a senior Clinton appointee at the Pentagon. She currently runs the Center for a New American Security, a center-right think-tank. There is speculation that Obama could eventually name her as the first woman to serve as defense secretary. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported: “While at CNAS, Flournoy helped to write a report that called for reducing the open-ended American military commitment in Iraq and replacing it with a policy of ‘conditional engagement’ there. Significantly, the paper rejected the idea of withdrawing troops according to the sort of a fixed timeline that Obama espoused during the presidential campaign. Obama has in recent weeks signaled that he was willing to shelve the idea, bringing him more in line with Flournoy’s thinking.” Flournoy has also worked with the neoconservative Project for the New American Century.
Wendy Sherman and Tom Donilon
Currently employed at Madeline Albright’s consulting firm, the Albright Group, Sherman worked under Albright at the State Department, coordinating U.S. policy on North Korea. She is now coordinating the State Department transition team for Obama. Tom Donilon, her co-coordinator, was Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs and Chief of Staff at the State Department under Clinton. Interestingly, Sherman and Donilon both have ties to Fannie Mae that didn’t make it onto their official bios on Obama’s change.gov website. “Donilon was Fannie’s general counsel and executive vice president for law and policy from 1999 until the spring of 2005, a period during which the company was rocked by accounting problems,” reports the Wall Street Journal.
While many of the figures at the center of Obama’s foreign policy team are well-known, two of its most important members have never held national elected office or a high-profile government position. While they cannot be characterized as Clinton-era hawks, it will be important to watch Denis McDonough and Mark Lippert, co-coordinators of the Obama foreign policy team. From 2000 to 2005, McDonough served as foreign policy advisor to Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle and worked extensively on the use-of-force authorizations for the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which Daschle supported. From 1996 to 1999, McDonough was a professional staff member of the House International Relations Committee during the debate over the bombing of Yugoslavia. More recently, he was at the Center for American Progress working under John Podesta, Clinton’s former chief of staff and the current head of the Obama transition.
Mark Lippert is a close personal friend of Obama’s. He has worked for Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, as well as the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Democratic Policy Committee. He is a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve and spent a year in Iraq working intelligence for the Navy SEALs. “According to those who’ve worked closely with Lippert,” Robert Dreyfuss recently wrote in The Nation, “he is a conservative, cautious centrist who often pulled Obama to the right on Iraq, Iran and the Middle East and who has been a consistent advocate for increased military spending. ‘Even before Obama announced for the presidency, Lippert wanted Obama to be seen as tough on Iran,’ says a lobbyist who’s worked the Iran issue on Capitol Hill, ‘He’s clearly more hawkish than the senator.’ ”
Barack Obama campaigned on a pledge to bring change to Washington. “I don’t want to just end the war,” he said early this year. “I want to end the mindset that got us into war.” That is going to be very difficult if Obama employs a foreign policy team that was central to creating that mindset, before and during the presidency of George W. Bush.
“Twenty-three senators and 133 House members who voted against the war — and countless other notable individuals who spoke out against it and the dubious claims leading to war — are apparently not even being considered for these crucial positions,” observes Sam Husseini of the Institute for Public Accuracy. This includes dozens of former military and intelligence officials who spoke out forcefully against the war and continue to oppose militaristic policy, as well as credible national security experts who have articulated their visions for a foreign policy based on justice.
Obama does have a chance to change the mindset that got us into war. More significantly, he has a popular mandate to forcefully challenge the militaristic, hawkish tradition of modern U.S. foreign policy. But that work would begin by bringing on board people who would challenge this tradition, not those who have been complicit in creating it and are bound to continue advancing it.
Jeremy Scahill pledges to be the same journalist under an Obama administration that he was during Bill Clinton and George Bush’s presidencies. He is the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army and is a frequent contributor to The Nation and Democracy Now! He is a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.