Obama, a ‘foreign policy grandmaster’? Hardly

Derek Monroe
Derek Monroe is a writer/reporter and consultant based in Illinois, USA. He has reported on international and US foreign policy issues from Latin America, Poland, Japan, Iraq, Ukraine, Sri Lanka and India. His work appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus, Alternet, Truthout and Ohmynews, and has been published in over 20 countries.
Obama, a ‘foreign policy grandmaster’? Hardly
The Nation, the oldest US progressive magazine, has published a piece entitled "Obama is a Foreign Policy Grandmaster." It’s not the content, but the opportunistic political timing (Obama legacy creation) and its symbolism in US media that’s important.

First, it is unprecedented in its hagiography of a living president coming from an officially "progressive" magazine, and whose tenure is very mixed on both the domestic and international agenda. Second, it is ironic that Obama, being a steam roller on Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), extrajudicial and unconstitutional drone killings, is now crowned the greatest strategist of living memory while the original idea of independent and progressive media speaking "truth to power" is reduced to a mere stenography by the professional "left" establishment.

Prof. Alfred McCoy’s analysis is based on stretching the myth of the old colonial game that in essence puts East (Russia and China) and the West (US, EU and its allies) into an imagined "clash of civilizations." This new attempt in revival of the Great Game of the 1800s (British Empire vs. Russian Empire) that is now presented in The Risk board game-like scenario is as dated as it is false. It is based on cultivation of the external factors influencing the perception of the "other" that is underpinning a worldview based on ideology.

Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek has dissected this aspect of Hegelian thought as it colors the ideology of a modern state. It clearly points to its use as a formulation of the idea that superpowers and regional powers, including the US, create their own reality. McCoy's essay is a typical example of this delusion that is heliocentric in its expression of "known unknowns." It leaves the reader looking at his zero sum game hypothesis in its allegorical burning of Giordano Bruno's work and himself that at the end is proven otherwise.

Interestingly the essay presents a new excuse for the bible of the American neocon movement called "Project for The New American Century in which Obama has adopted and adjusted to serve the current geopolitical challenges translated into the future power play. This vision is pinned on one of founders of geopolitics and the London School of Economics: Sir Halford Mackinder and his work: "The Geographical Pivot of History". It contains what was coined later as Heartland Theory which preaches control of the territory based on its geopolitical significance.

Along with McCoy, this theory was enthusiastically adopted by German general Karl Haushofer who also happened to be a military advisor in the pre-WW I Japan and helped the Japanese Imperial Army in its effective artillery use that was pivotal in its invasion of China. Closer to home Haushofer was a proponent of a strong military revival to the point of having his achievements welcome by the Nazis. It further blossomed into special and personal relationship with Nazi Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess that protected Haushofer as a half-Jew.  Nazis also adopted the Heartland Theory as a major cornerstone of their geopolitical strategy. Haushofer went further in his deliberations and he is widely perceived to be a father of the concept of the Lebensraum, "the living space" which was subsequently used as an ideological justification for conquering other lands and the murder and enslavement of millions. To credit the Haushofer family, the son Albrecht was executed in April 1945 for his involvement against the Nazi regime, thus clearing the family name for eternity.

When Mackinder's concepts were implemented as parts of state foreign policy they resulted in millions of lives and untold suffering. It is hard to escape the impression that McCoy's endorsement of Obama's "genius" in foreign policy puts him on a pedestal in the company of people such as Adolf Hitler, Hideki Tojo, Henry Kissinger, Donald Rumsfeld, all real and perceived war criminals. The people who paid with their lives are, in McCoy's universe, tragic and hapless chomps that just happened to be in the wrong place and wrong time, the classic collateral damage. However, to give his theory a positive boost, McCoy has come up with two wingmen that will lead Obama into the pantheon of great geopolitical strategists: Elihu Root and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Root was the classical fixer of corporate interests in the American Gilded Age, not unlike Obama campaign boosters that brought in millions in fundraisers, and an archetype of revolving door opportunist that lined his own pockets while helping clients and the super-rich get access. Unapologetic racist and imperialist, Root is hailed by McCoy as a guy who facilitated American arrival on the international stage by creating its own colonial empire in Asia (Philippines) and Central America (Cuba, Puerto Rico). However, historically Root was the first political operator that split with the American constitutional approach to foreign policy as formulated by the founding fathers that eloquently warned about foreign entanglements. Thus by McCoy's design Obama being a constitutional scholar is now clearly in the company of the guy who violated it which on its face is more of a farce than irony.

As secretary of war, Root had a huge influence on how the war and subsequent insurrections were dealt with including executions of civilians and the creation of a new concept in fighting insurrection: the concentration camps. The extra-judicial executions by drones and covert wars punctuated by the relic of the Root's era: the Guantanamo is with us now over 100 years later and this is the legacy that the Nation, if it was honest with its readers, should present.

McCoy credits Zbigniew Brzezinski with collapsing the Soviet Empire by employing Islamic extremism in what looked like a brilliant ploy at the time: the Jihad. As ardent Russophobe, Brzezinski's views oscillated between splitting Russia into several parts on the one hand and its accommodation depending on current geopolitical climate. Ironically Mackinder was also involved in breaking up of empires including Russian as direct participant in Paris Peace Conference at the end of WW 1. Intentionally or not his efforts contributed to planting seed for conflict in WW2 and even today's issues in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq can arguably be connected to the borders decided by the winning power in Paris of 1919.

However in his praise McCoy misses Brzezinski's initiative as not as original as originally thought. It just followed in the steps of Israeli special services that first funded and help establish Hamas in the 1960s as a force to split the Palestinian Liberation Organization and its support from the population. How it all went from there can be measured by thousands of victims of both sides and continuing misery that has no end.

The overwhelming impression that comes from McCoy's piece is that our foreign policy is run by ultimate sociopaths who look at the territory and countries with absolutely no regard to the lives of ordinary people. The "mistakes" are just that and what comes to mind in this vision is a horrific lack of any degree of accountability that helps the perversion continue from administration to administration. This great game is not when brought to the lowest common denominator of humanity and a Geographical Pivot of History euphemism for resulting mayhem just doesn't cut. The end game is death of a civilization and life as we all know it. According to the 2009 US government study climate change will be the most decisive element of the changing world around us and not some far out and thought out hypotheses on geopolitical trends McCoy likes to exploit.

The prognosis is for the unprecedented movement of people, changing borders and the character of states depending on the changing micro and macro-climatic conditions. This will change the character of literally everything including politics but not ideology. The ideologies tend to live in its own parallel reality and they feed on their own dynamics which if misguided create the problems they attempt to solve. That is why China and its rise is portrayed as big bogeyman despite the fact that the corporations from the West were the ones that created the problem to begin with while waking up the sleeping giant to join the modern economy. And now the giant plays by its own rules and the old rhetoric of ex-US ambassador to China, ex-CIA chief and ex-President, George Bush Sr. to "have them become just like us” has turned out to be just the opposite: we are becoming authoritarian just like them. The result is state capitalism whether by state planning and retaining commanding highs of the economy (China) or bailouts and  QE for Wall St  (too big to fail) have created a paradigm that TTP and TTIP will not address, contrary to the author's claims on Obama's genius. It will create the world void of democracy and basic humanity where the power of money and state will become one thus ushering the era of Super Fascism.

With the upcoming challenges posed by climate change, resource scarcity and population movements, wars on unprecedented scale will be unavoidable without cooperation rather than competition in the old mold of ideology championed by the worst instincts in all of us. Having Obama take the baton of a foreign policy conductor in order to preserve the power of the elite is not only perverse but if realized it will bring the American experiment in democracy to the end. Contrary to McCoy's idea, you cannot maintain the empire on the outside and democracy on the inside.


The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.