Obama’s Promised Foreign Policy 'Change' Will Be Mostly Cosmetic

By Mark Weber

An interview conducted and distributed by the Mehr news agency, and published in the Tehran Times, a leading English-language daily in Iran, Dec. 15, 2008.


Barack Obama has promised “change”. But his track record shows that he’s not likely to make major changes in U.S. foreign policy, says historian Mark Weber, director of the Institute for Historical Review in California.

On December 3, the Mehr News Agency conducted an interview with Mr. Weber about the likely course of Obama’s foreign policy, especially with regard to Iran and the Middle East. Following is the text of the interview:

Q: What major challenges will President Obama face in foreign policy, and how is he likely to handle them?

A: During this year’s election campaign, Barack Obama repeatedly promised that as President he would bring “change.” After the deceit, disastrous wars and economic failure of the Bush presidency, disillusioned and anxious Americans were ready to embrace the hopeful message of a youthful leader of eloquence, charisma and intelligence.

But the appointments that Obama has made to positions in the new administration, along with his public statements of recent months, show that he is unlikely to make major changes in U.S. foreign policy. The promised “change” will be mostly cosmetic. His foreign policy will be familiar, but conducted more prudently and with more appealing style.

During the election campaign, Obama never called into question the basic premise of U.S. military interventionism around the world. His pledge to increase U.S. military forces in Afghanistan shows that he supports the misguided “war on terror,” and accepts an American role as a global policeman.

Obama’s appointments to high-level positions in his administration – especially his selection of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State – signal a foreign policy similar to that of President Bill Clinton. Both Clintons have records of support for American military interventionism. As a senator, Hillary Clinton approved the 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. For years she has been a fierce critic of Iran, and a fervent supporter of Israel.

Obama’s decision to keep current Defense Secretary Robert Gates as Pentagon chief, and his selections of Senator Joe Biden as Vice President, and Rahm Emanuel as White House Chief of Staff, also indicate continuity in foreign policy. Both Biden and Emanuel are familiar “establishment” figures with records of ardent support for Israel and its policies.

While Obama’s most pressing concern will be America’s serious economic and financial problems, he will also face major challenges in foreign affairs. First and foremost, he will be expected to fulfill his election campaign pledges to quickly withdraw U.S. military forces from Iraq, but he’ll be under great pressure to do so without risking new dangers for Israeli and American interests.

Obama will face longer term challenges from Russia and China, which will act with growing confidence to rival American power and influence. Moscow’s leaders will seek ever more boldly to counter what they regard as intolerable interference by Washington in Russia’s legitimate regional interests.

Q: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sent a congratulatory message to Barack Obama shortly after his election victory. What’s the significance of that message, and of Obama’s response?

A: President Ahmadinejad’s message is another expression of the obvious desire of Iran’s leaders for better relations with the United States.

Although Obama promptly replied to messages of congratulation from leaders in other countries, he dealt cautiously with the one from President Ahmadinejad, saying that he would “respond appropriately” at a later time. And echoing remarks he’s made in the past, Obama also said: “Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon I believe is unacceptable. We have to mount an international effort to prevent that from happening.” He added “Iran’s support of terrorist organizations, I think, is something that has to cease.”

These remarks were consistent with anti-Iran and pro-Israel statements he made during the election campaign. “Those who threaten Israel threaten us,” said Obama. “I will bring to the White House an unshakable commitment to Israel’s security. That starts with insuring Israel’s qualitative military advantage.” He also called Iran “a threat to all of us,” and said that he would not give up the option of using military force against Iran. Obama supports the $30 billion military aid package to Israel over the next ten years, which President Bush initiated.

Q: What policies toward Iran and the Middle East is President Obama likely to pursue?

A: Obama will doubtless avoid initiatives as irresponsible as President Bush’s calamitous invasion of Iraq, and he’ll refrain from rhetoric as reckless as some election campaign remarks by John McCain and Hillary Clinton. In general, though, he will pursue policies in the Middle East that are broadly similar to those of Presidents Clinton and Bush, including a policy of confrontation toward Iran.

Obama will press Tehran to abandon its nuclear energy development program, and to end its support for the anti-Zionist resistance in Lebanon and Palestine. He will be constrained by the propaganda of the pro-Zionist mass media, which has fostered a widely accepted image of Iran as dangerous menace.

In dealing with Tehran, Obama is likely to put less stress on threats and more on economic inducements. His goal will be the same as that of his predecessors: to pressure and persuade Iran to accept the Zionist state and its policies of oppression and aggression.

Obama will doubtless make an effort to “solve” the Israel-Palestine issue, but – as with other U.S. presidents -- in a way that consolidates the Zionist state’s position in the Middle East, including its confiscation of Palestinian lands.

In this year’s presidential election campaign, as in the past, the leaders of both major political parties slavishly pandered to the powerful “Israel lobby.” The blunt reality is that every American president is obliged to carry out a foreign policy approved by the organized Jewish community.

Barak Obama will have less freedom to chart foreign policy as he wishes than either George W. Bush or Bill Clinton because the new president’s great priority concern will be the nation’s alarming economic and budgetary problems.

Although the U.S. is still the world’s foremost military and economic factor, its relative power and influence are declining. This presents opportunities for other countries in their dealings with Washington. In any case, statesman will be most effective in dealing with the U.S. when they act on the basis of a solid understanding of the mentality and concerns of Americans, and of world political-economic realities.