‘No change from Bush to Obama', say Neocons and Liberals

16 Sep 2009

American foreign policy under Barack Obama has not changed course after the Bush years, according to a group of prominent commentators from both sides of the political divide.

The academics from The University of Manchester, Birkbeck College and the Institute for the Study of the Americas, say the public should be properly informed that the US aims to pursue its interests, regardless of which party holds power.

They will outline their views in a book “New Directions in US Foreign policy” - published this week by Routledge which has contributions from experts on both Left and Right.

Neoconservative Professor Rob Singh, from the Institute for the Study of the Americas said: “While the US scene is incredibly polarised, when it comes to foreign policy it's not unusual for serious thinkers to engage with each other in friendly and constructive ways.

“That Obama presents himself as the 'un-Bush' is self-evident. But when you look at substance over style and rhetoric, you can legitimately question the extent of change.

“We all agree that militarism is a crucial part of US strategy, along with a commitment to robust free trade.

“Where we disagree is on the legitimacy and desirability of US military interventions, strategy and tactics.”

He added: “I feel the key thing to a better public understanding is depersonalising US politics but that’s difficult especially given the supremely gifted and charismatic president now in office.

“But certain prosaic questions - the size of the Pentagon budget, the number of US military bases around the world  the sheer scale of the US national security state - are sometimes a useful way to get away from the obsession with personality.

“How many Brits for example know there are 57 US bases in the UK?”

And Inderjeet Parmar  - one of the book’s editors and a left wing Professor of Politics at The University of Manchester said: “Obama is more subtle and diplomatic but we all agree there are no radical policy shifts in practice between his administration and Bush’s.

“It is quite unusual in political circles for Left and Right to come together in this way.

“But it’s a little more usual among academics and we think that’s a constructive way to proceed.

“The more the public know and think critically about these matters, the greater the pressure on their leaders to change.”

He added: “It’s fair to say that Bush and Obama are very different in many ways.

“But they do share deep religiosity and Obama supports the bush faith-based initiatives and programmes.

“The rhetoric about America's destiny still strong under Obama and the Bush freedom agenda  - the so called promotion of Democracy abroad-  has been replaced by the Obama dignity agenda which is almost exactly the same.”

On Iraq:

Inderjeet Parmar 

“Between 35-50,000 troops will remain in Iraq after the 2010 'withdrawal' at a number of permanent military bases.

“Organised labour is still not fully recognised and continues to be persecuted. The Bush/McCain policies of privatisation continue unabated.

Rob Singh:

“I can envisage a steady drawdown in Iraq, but not total, If however, the security situation deteriorates, even that will be stayed.

“But things look, relatively, positive for there to be a much reduced, if still significant, US presence there.

“Obama needs to be able to declare victory and leave by the re-election campaign of 2012.”

On Afghanistan and Pakistan:

Inderjeet Parmar 

“Policies to extend surge policy to Afghanistan already began under the Bush administration.

“Bombings and civilian killings by NATO troops and the backing of corrupt political leaders who are not especially democratic continue.

Rob Singh:

“If public support continues to dwindle, and Obama continues to fail to make the case for staying, domestic pressure will ratchet up to get out.

“But that  seems impossible to execute for years to come.

“I would anticipate more of the same for the next 4-6 years - recalibrations of strategy, reinjection of more US ground forces, more diplomatic dead ends, with increasing pressures on Washington as the fiction of the NATO operation becomes progressively less sustainable as allies exit.”

On Guantamo:

Inderjeet Parmar:

“The prison is still open for business and allegation of torture persist.

“Rendition continues as do the military tribunals, despite promises to the contrary during the Obama campaign.”

Rob Singh:

“Guantanamo, whose significance is vastly overstated, is not closed and Obama encounters the same problems as Bush did who also wanted to close it in his second term.

“Rendition carries on.

“Targeted assassinations by predator drones continue at an increased level over those of Bush, allegedly involving some civilian casualties but prompting no outrage from the liberal left.

Notes for editors

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