Monday, 23 January 2017

Predator Drone - American Foreign Policy under Obama

I have neglected my blog, again.   Christmas is a busy time, and I also was travelling.   But there are many things to discuss in the bad new days.

Not least of these things would be the realisation that the 'bad new days' - the days of the rise of the European Right, the election of Trump, and the British Brexit vote - have not come from nowhere, but rather they find their origin in much of the politics of the recent good old days.  And of course those 'good old days' are the Obama administration, in the eyes of many Irish and American liberals.

It's been hard not to be struck, over the last two weeks, by the contrast in personal styles, speech, and demeanour between President Trump, as he now is, and ex-President Obama.  Obama is tall, elegant, handsome.  Though his speech can at times seem stiff, with that oddly clipped manner he has, he's also capable of high eloquence.  His singing of 'Amazing Grace', when he visited the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, after the massacre there of nine worshipers by a white supremacist, showed an enormous and impressive confidence in hitting the right note with his audience.  Many other examples could be adduced.  Likewise his and Secretary Kerry's late speeches regarding Israel and the long death of the 'two state solution' in Israel/Palestine finally revealed a somewhat more realistic vision of the Middle East than we've heard from senior American politicians for some time.   Compare this to the ranting, bilious and hyper-aggressive vulgarity of President Trump, both as president-elect, and now as president even in the last four days, and one begins to see how Obama-nostalgia might set in.

Walter Benjamin once said that nostalgia could be the basis for a radical critique of the present.  But Obama nostalgia is not that kind of nostalgia.  We need to remember that Obama's foreign policy, in spite of his winning the Nobel Peace Prize, has been deeply problematic, and that it was marked primarily by continuities with the policies of the George W Bush administration and the general trends of American grand strategy since the end of the Cold War..

No-one has explained this more forcefully or pithily than Perry Anderson.  Trained as a historian, longtime editor of the New Left Review, Anderson nowadays has become an extraordinary radical man of letters, who takes as his ambit the entirety of the humanistic and social scientific disciplines.  The sheer effrontery of his tackling, by turns, issues such as the historical novel, Indian state nationalism, and the American foreign policy apparatus, and writing about them with an exceptional mixture of style and what Michel Foucault called 'relentless erudition', makes him stand out in a mostly dreary landscape of academic professionalism and management jargon.

Anderson's most recent book is American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers, originally published as a special issue of the New Left Review.   It consists of two major sections - 'Imperium' and 'Consilium' - which chart, respectively, the history of American attitudes to the world beyond the borders of the Republic, and the thought of major contemporary thinkers on foreign policy working inside the Washington Beltway (Robert Kagan, Francis Fukuyama, Zbigniew Brezinski, amongst others).  'Imperium' ends with a chapter on 'The Incumbent', that is, Obama.  Anderson here reveals and reminds us of just how conservative Obama's foreign policy was, and of just how much of Trump's posture was already enabled or even put in place by his putatively liberal predecessor.

Predator DroneAmerican Foreign Policy Under Obama


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