The Third International after Lenin

Friday, October 9, 2015

Sanctions and bombs, not troops: recent developments in U.S. "foreign" policy

US forges imperialist alliance on war policy 

Vol. 79/No. 2      January 26, 2015

In the final years of his presidency, Barack Obama is charting a course on U.S. foreign policy that is increasingly in sync with that desired and needed by the country’s propertied rulers. This doesn’t mean they like Obama, his meritocratic pretenses of worldliness, intellect and empathy, or how he exercises his rule. But they largely concur on what Washington needs to do in today’s world.

It is a road away from the “boots on the ground” invasions, conquest and “nation-building” attempted by former President George W. Bush in Iraq and Afghanistan. That course failed to achieve stability, fueled new division and conflict and weakened relations with other imperialist powers.

From his pivot toward containment of China to his course of limited engagement in Syria and Iraq and with Ukraine and Russia, Obama is seeking to build a new coalition to defend imperialist rule and exploitation with minimal use of combat troops.

A significant wing of conservative politicians in the Republican Party share this view. And their presidential candidate in 2016 will advance this course or have little chance of victory.

Short- or long-lived alliances are the norm, not the exception, for Washington. The alliance with the Soviet Union was necessary to defeat Germany in World War II, even though it flew apart at the war’s end. The U.S. rulers engineered an alliance with other imperialist powers during the Cold War that came apart with the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991. U.S. capitalists today see no enemies that pose an immediate threat to imperialist rule requiring substantial military intervention.

Obama is pursuing military and political alliances with governments representing the propertied rulers in Europe, Japan, Australia and a growing number of semicolonial countries, aimed over time at bringing more stability in the Mideast, more investment in Latin America and the containment of China. At the same time, the rulers count on no rising working-class revolts against the grinding effects of today’s crisis of world capitalist production and trade and no revolutionary explosions against imperialist control worldwide.

Sanctions and bombs, not troops 

In Syria and Iraq, Washington and its allies have mobilized no significant troop presence, correctly assuming time is on their side to destroy Islamic State. The U.S. can focus on targeted bombings, drones and occasional shipments of arms to allies, while troops from Iraq, those battling the dictatorial rule of the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria, as well as Kurdish forces throughout the region push forward on the ground, taking many casualties along the way in a drawn-out conflict.

Islamic State’s decision to establish a dictatorial caliphate, an Islamist state run by Sharia law, has no future in the 21st century and is losing support, not rising. No amount of beheadings and oppression can force adherence from the millions of toilers in the region.

And while the U.S. rulers and their capitalist allies in the area are not pleased to see the Kurdish independence movement getting wind in its sails, that is a minor downside to dealing blows to Islamic State.

The Obama administration is also having results in containing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s military aggressions against Ukraine without engaging in combat. Many Republicans, from Arizona Sen. John McCain to Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, criticized Obama for not reacting with stronger unilateral threats after the Russian government occupied Crimea and engineered its absorption into the Russian Federation through a sham referendum in March 2014.

But Obama’s success in winning German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European leaders to join the U.S. in imposing economic sanctions against Russia, aided by the impact of plummeting oil prices on a country that depends on fuel exports, has had a slow but devastating impact on the Russian economy — especially on workers, who are hit hardest. Washington seeks to force Russian capitalists to press Putin — who ultimately has to do their bidding — to pull back. The sanctions are making the occupation of Crimea a disaster for the Putin regime.

In the longer term, Washington offers Moscow a “reset” as a U.S.-European Union ally against a common enemy — Chinese expansion and competition.

One big economic development is helping Washington along this course. The massive production of oil by fracking changes the relationship of forces between the U.S. and the rulers in the Middle East, Russia and elsewhere, driving down the revenues that these governments depend on.

In the Americas, the Obama administration’s decision to free the Cuban Five in exchange for Cuba’s release of U.S. spies and to reestablish diplomatic relations and begin negotiations between the two countries has the backing of the propertied rulers here. It removes a major obstacle to the ability of U.S. capitalists to maneuver in Latin America, in a way they haven’t had for decades.

Embargo has taken toll on Cuba 

For more than 50 years, the crippling U.S. economic embargo against Cuba has hammered away on Cuban workers and farmers. It has created economic hardship and, in the absence of rising revolutionary struggles in the world, has opened the way to the erosion of revolutionary consciousness in a layer of the toilers. Washington’s move to win openings for U.S. business and propaganda in Cuba aims to take advantage of the success of the embargo to intervene more directly in class relations on the island, to undermine Cuba’s socialist revolution.

The Pentagon and U.S. officer corps in their big majority concur with Obama’s course of coalition building and limited military engagement, agreeing that the Iraq and Afghan wars failed, producing unintended and unwelcome consequences.

Similarly, while his administration orchestrated a congressional report sharply critical of CIA secret prisons and torture under his predecessor, Obama has made clear there will be no change in the mission, leadership or funding of the rulers’ key foreign espionage agency.

Obama didn’t come into office with a plan for taking these steps. But he has grown into the office of chief executive of the capitalist rulers. Forswearing troops on the ground to rely on broader alliances, economic muscle, drones, targeted bombings and occasional special forces expeditions is what the dominant class needs.

While the rulers take this path in their class interests, the working class can take advantage of the time it gives to organize resistance to the bosses’ efforts to make workers pay for the crisis of their capitalist system, to gain experience, confidence and learn class politics.

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