I’m not sure we really expected to change the structure of US hegemony by electing Obama. Its been clear that, in general, foreign policy paradigms begun in Republican institutions continue through the Democratic ones. Almost as if, I would snidely say, it is not even the administration controlling our warring foreign policy. Clinton firmed up and articulated our Iraq sanctions regime, maintaining the belligerence and keeping it warm for an invasion. He did it enthusiastically, of course, but it was almost as if that policy had a life of its own, as if Clinton was just the lighthouse keeper making sure the bulb didn’t go out. That regime and legislation crafted in the Clinton years, made the Iraq invasion possible; it seemed always clear to me that some actor in US policy had intended to invade Iraq with boots on the ground for years, and had only been looking for a good pretext to lend a facade of legitimacy.
Its clear to me that foreign policy churns along a different track. The question is, what do we do about it? I don’t want to sit around complaining about Obama being the same as Bush. Back in my day we actually protested this kind of thing by getting out into the streets, a strategy that has been revealed in the intervening years to be pretty much useless.
This leaves us with some questions we’ll have to start facing over the next few years:
1. Who will we support in ’12? I can certainly imagine a near future with the Republicans rebranding themselves as a crusading opposition party out to reign in our foreign policy, spending, etcetera along the lines of a Ron Paul inspired libertarianism. McCain’s daughter was on Colbert last night emitting blonde radiation and extolling a new vision for the Republican party of social openness and libertarian governing ideals. I think this is their first salvo in the bid to drain away independents. Appearances on the Colbert show for the cute Republicans, and on-going Hannity appearances for the gruff xenophobes.
If we agree that there is not much difference between the two parties [while some of us think the differences are important] then there’s obviously no point in running to a Republican, even a Ron Paul or a Kucinich. Their rhetoric quickly disappears once the election cycle is over, and they become creatures of their party. Kucinich’s “big tent” speech in ’04 comes to mind, a craven, milky paean to perpetual powerlessness. The questions remain:
2. How can we influence our government? Just what are we supposed to do here? While I think that blogs have taken over the center of activism in our country, its obviously just not enough to make real differences in policy. Is there anything we can do to actually cause a shift in our way of doing things?
3. How do we connect our foreign policy back to our way of living? One thing we don’t often examine anymore is how our individual and collective choices create the basis for our government’s foreign policy. These are all the usual suspects, but we seem to have forgotten them over the last eight years for some reason.
There was a time when many thought that by advocating less consumerist lifestyles that we would change the driving mechanism of US imperialism. Those voices seem to have been driven away now, perhaps by Obama’s sunshine “yes we can” bs. “Yes we can. And by we, I mean me. You just sit back and watch the show kids”
Anywho. I’m at a crossroads with this. As an Arab American and as a person of color in this country, I think that Obama’s election is a big step in undoing centuries of an at its core racist way of life. I tend to think that when we begin to undo our own views of race and dominance domestically, we can also change the mind-set that leads to imperialism. US exceptionalism abroad is based in no small part in US domestic exceptionalism–the idea that we can have apartheid, that we can literally enslave immigrants, and that one group should run the others, despite having ill-favored numbers in a representative democracy. These are all concepts that have been in flux for a decade or so, and now seem poised to disappear with the election of a non-white President.
In that context, I think it would be a disaster if Obama didn’t get two terms. And I also think that it would be a disaster if all of all of the nation’s problems that have accumulated over decades are suddenly laid at the feet of our country’s first non-white President.
At the same time, I’m not comfortable in just sitting and watching this ugly show continue. Something must be done. The question is what? I’m not looking for the tired leftisms of our needing to band together in civil disobedience. No suggestions of anything I can’t start doing by myself and tomorrow instead of waiting for some mythical swarm of mass uprising to come and embrace me. Well…[I said, hypocritically] I’m waiting…