So — Americans can be proud to know that a Democrat will be held responsible for the catastrophes of the last eight years. Americans can also be relieved that henceforth the predominantly brown-skinned victims of their nation’s aggression will be killed, mutilated or imprisoned without trial on the orders of a brown-skinned person. A day for celebration, to be sure.
Certain obvious things can be said. Obama is less stupid than George W Bush and has probably a less dysfunctional personality. It is thus possible that he will administer American plutocratic imperialism more efficiently than George W Bush did. As a consequence of this it is possible that Obama will make things worse, but it is also possible that he might make things better; it is a toss-up. Obviously nobody can be sure, because Obama’s real nature is much more hidden from the public than Bush’s real nature was before his election.
The Democratic Party is supposedly to the left of the Republican Party. Notwithstanding, it is probable that Obama is the most right-wing successful Democratic candidate at least since James K Polk. Those people who anticipate any serious improvements in the horrible socio-economic state of the Union or its foreign policy are almost bound to be disappointed. In truth, it is likely that matters will get worse.
CNN last night warned that Obama was taking over two wars, but as usual, CNN was lying. The United States is at present involved in a number of wars, all of which are civil wars. It is directly involved, through occupation by combat troops, in two of these: Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama tepidly opposed the American imperialist aggression against Iraq, but has since heartily endorsed the American campaign of state terror and ethnic cleansing in that country known as the “surge”. He has pretended to support the withdrawal of troops from that country which an overwhelming majority of Americans desire, but there is no evidence that he will ever do anything about that.
Obama is a great enthusiast for America’s imperialist aggression against Afghanistan. His goal is to deploy more troops there; apparently he wants to win the war, although virtually nobody thinks it can be won. He has also expressed excitement about the possibility of invading Pakistan, even before the U.S. military did so last month. It is difficult to see any comfort in this aspect of his foreign policy. As for the notion of withdrawing from America’s proxy wars in Colombia and Somalia, there has been no sign of this. On the contrary, there is a distinct possibility that America will expand this level of aggression to elsewhere in Africa, in the Sudan (where America has already been arming-up the southerners) and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (where Rwandan aggression continues to rage with America’s tacit support).
As for other foreign policy, Obama claims to desire to rebuild America’s alliances. This is an ambiguous claim at best. It is exceedingly unlikely that an Obama government will be able to reconstruct the old crony relationship which Clinton had with the Yeltsin junta in Russia. Nor is it likely that an Obama government will build better relations with China. The Obama government may be less crass about its American imperialism in Latin America, but so long as the Americans are backing the terrorist state in Colombia they are unlikely to build better relations with the loose coalition of “Bolivarist” states in Latin America. What is quite possible is that an Obama government will attempt to restore the old pro-American ruling class in power in these countries, in which case it will alienate Latin America as much as it did in the days of Ronald Reagan — but under a more democratic climate which would make any Reagan-style meddling much more of a disaster for Obama.
In Europe, Obama will doubtless ditch the xenophobic nonsense of the Bush administration, but the trouble is that the EU is, in the end, a competitor for the United States. Under Clinton and even Bush it was possible for America and the EU to work together because they shared common hostility to the rest of the world. However, now that the global economy is in recession, economics will drive America and the EU apart. No doubt Obama will persist in America’s attempts to economically penetrate Eastern Europe, and as such spark further competition both with Europe and with Russia (which holds all the trumps in any serious competition).
As for the rest of the world, Obama may well try harder to plunder Africa than Bush did, entailing a return to the Clinton policies. This will be more difficult because even much of the African ruling class has gradually come to recognise that America’s word cannot be trusted and that American policies are junk. The collapse of the American banking system casts a cold light on the lies and misrepresentations of the IMF, World Bank and WTO over the past couple of decades, which impoverished much of Africa’s elite. As a result, the de facto anti-American coalitions such as the SA-Brazil-India alliance (which David Frum might term the “axis of mild disgruntlement”) will probably endure and possibly strengthen under Obama. Indeed, the present trend towards, so far as possible, economically and politically decoupling from the United States, will persist unless Obama can provide a much better reason for doing otherwise than he has provided thus far.
It is, of course, possible that the wave of corporate-fuelled euphoria over Obama’s election will continue. The Creator would bet, however, that this will not happen. The Creator seriously wonders whether it genuinely existed in the first place. Meanwhile, the objective problem is that the United States in world affairs is in the grip of political and economic forces which it has in part greated but which it is too weak to influence swiftly. If it is not prepared to be diplomatic — and diplomacy requires give and take, whereas the United States has historically been unwilling ever to give — then it will not be able to influence these forces at all.
Very well, but what about the United States internally? The United States faces crises which are predominantly economic; the rich, bluntly, are too rich. The rich, also, are rich because of financial transactions rather than because of activities which actually employ large numbers of people outside the service sector. This is why the United States lacks a proper system of nationally sponsored health-care; the rich are not prepared to save the lives of the poor if they can possibly avoid having to do so. In addition, while other countries are also in the hands of their rich minorities, the United States virtually wrote the handbook on plutocratic governance.
There are other problems, such as race relations, gender relations and so on (homophobia is apparently alive and well to judge by the hostility to gay marriage). There is also, perhaps more importantly, a massive and almost entirely invented divide between the Republicans and the Democrats which seems more acute than ever. (Note that Obama won by anything but a landslide, and he actually took a minority of whites.) The fact that this divide is imaginary, being based on a false construct of American rural and small-town populism which ignores the reality of those environments, does not mean that it is insignificant, any more than the fact that Germany actually was militarily defeated in World War I and was not betrayed by the Jews made it difficult for the Nazis to promote the dolchstosslegende and the notion of the Jewish peril.
It will be difficult for Obama to overcome these divides, so perhaps he would be better placed to sort out the economic problems, starting with the current crisis in the financial system and the gigantic budget deficit. Unfortunately, the former problem is probably not soluble. What is desirable is for the banks to be reduced to manageable size, by allowing them to fail, or preferably to disintegrate into a less overconcentrated form. But the American ruling class will not tolerate this, so there must be bailouts to give the highest executives of the banks the opportunity to safely enrich themselves before the banks crumble. In other words, instead of at least some of the money being returned to the depositors, the bankers are looting it for themselves, increasing the economic divide.
What is also desirable is the introduction of rigorous financial constraints to prevent the corrupt practices which brought the disintegration of America’s investment banks; limits on what can be done with the money, and on what can be done when one doesn’t have enough money. This would, however, put the brakes on financialisation, which is the only area in which America is seriously growing, economically. Hence the ruling class doesn’t want this.
Consider the savage cuts in the interest rates across the planet, which are supposedly intended to encourage the corporations which have not invested in industrial plant for two or three decades to suddenly begin to do so (they are doing nothing of the kind — in fact, the easy credit will almost certainly make it even easier to promote unsound loans). These cuts are actually making it almost impossible for banks to turn a profit on interest alone. Hence they are almost being forced to pursue more lucrative financial instruments. If Obama were to restore legislation like the Glass-Steagall Act, which restricted speculation after the Great Crash of 1929, banks would have a lot of trouble making ends meet. So they will make sure that he does nothing of the kind. Besides, his Vice-President is Joe Biden, heavily beholden to the financial sector.
He could, of course, redistribute wealth through increasing taxes on the rich and reducing those on the poor. He talks about doing such things, but it would require an enormous amount of effort to increase taxes on the rich significantly, unless the whole tax code were reformed (which would alienate the powerful tax lawyer lobby). Pretending to increase taxes on the rich might be a political solution, but would not serve to redistribute wealth. On the other hand, cutting middle-class taxes, which Obama is committed to doing, will reduce American government revenue quite substantially, precisely at a time when the government is plunging deep into deficit. It will make it very difficult for any real redistributionist activities; the American government just does not have enough money and cannot borrow more in the near future.
So it appears that all Obama can really do, out of all his plans, is to introduce a national health-care system. This is a desirable outcome, of course. Unfortunately, the powerful medical-industrial-legal complex will probably prevent a simple single-payer health-care system of the kind which works. What will instead be produced will be an excessively complicated system of managed health care not very different from what American businesses offer, which will make huge profits for a few and will not help Americans terribly much.
One other thing which Obama has promised has been a move towards renewable energy. This is again desirable and a lot of money could be spent on it for pleasing returns. Perhaps. We shall have to wait and see whether this actually happens. Unfortunately it is possible that this will be sidelined by the move towards more domestic oil drilling and the greater application of nuclear power. Also, the agribusiness lobby, which is strong among the Democrats, will want to pursue the vegetable-fuel programmes which George W Bush introduced, and this will be good neither for the environment, nor ultimately for the United States.
In short, it seems likely that “Yes, We Can” will soon be replaced by “Sorry, We Can’t”. We must wait and see whether Obama can salvage anything from the wreckage or whether his term leads to unprecedented disappointment, disillusion, and the implosion of his party.