Foreign Policy Implications of the November 6 General Elections in the United States




The re-election of President Barack Obama on November 6, and the results of the congressional election also, can be seen as a positive development for the international working class and humanity.


Many on the left, both here in the United States and worldwide, will not agree with this. There is widespread, and justified, disappointment and anger with the foreign policy of both the Obama White House and the Clinton State Department.  There is not space here to list all the things that have gone wrong or must be criticized, but an essential few would include:


*The continual U.S. hostility toward socialist Cuba, manifesting itself in the failure to end the trade blockade or make any headway in the release of the four remaining members of the Cuban 5 who are still imprisoned.


*The hostility of U.S. policy toward the leftward movement of governments and peoples in Latin America. Rather than taking the advice of Mexican presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and returning to Franklin Roosevelt's “Good Neighbor Policy” of the 1930s, of equal economic partnership and non-interference, the current administration has butted heads with progressive regional leaders and intrigued with their right wing opponents. In the case of two recent coups d'état, in Honduras in 2009 and in Paraguay this year, the Obama administration has, in the first case, connived with the coup plotters so as to allow them to consolidate their rule, and the second case has not spoken out as the government resulting from the coup has intrigued with U.S. based transnational corporations to prevent a return to democracy. The continual support of “the war against drugs” in both Colombia (Plan Colombia) and Mexico (Merida Initiative) are utter failures which have cost tens of thousands of innocent lives.


*The “pivot to the East”, in which the U.S. has been working to limit Chinese influence in Asia, combined with egregious rhetorical China-bashing in the electoral context, also does not contribute much to world stability and peace.


*In Afghanistan, the Middle East and North Africa, heavy handed actions carried out in cooperation with NATO and local reactionaries have had disastrous results. The continued war in Afghanistan, the intervention in Libya, and the current support for right wing Arab and other regimes which are contributing to the escalation of the violence and suffering in Syria is a matter for great worry and urgent action. Economic sanctions against Iran only hurt ordinary working people, and are sharply criticized by the Iranian left. Worrisome, too, is the increased U.S. military involvement in Africa.


*Though the Obama administration has been more critical of Israeli policy than some of its predecessors, which has inspired venomous attacks on Obama by Prime Minister Netanyahu, it remains to be seen whether it will do anything to prevent an Israel-Iran war or to pressure the Israelis to bargain in good faith with the Palestinians. The pattern over several decades has been for U.S. administrations, both Democratic and Republican, to get frustrated with Israeli intransigence, but in the end to go along with the status quo, leaving the Palestinian people holding the bag.


*There are many other things that could be criticized, but I will close by mentioning the atrocious policy of “drone strikes” which have killed numerous innocent people in Pakistan and Yemen, and have probably driven far more people into the arms of the Salafist jihadists in the process.


All of these are extremely serious negative features of the current administration's foreign policy. However, the election of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would have made things far worse, as would a Republican majority in the Senate, or the increase of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.


Romney attacked the Obama administration from the right on foreign policy as well as everything else. This was not just electoral demagogy, although there was a lot of that in this election, as always. It also reflected the links and networks that Romney, Vice Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan and others close to them in the Republican Party have built up over the years with specific major corporate and political actors within the United States and worldwide. Of course, the Democrats have such links also, but those of the current crop of Republican politicians are particularly dangerous.


The Romney-Ryan forces are politically very close to groups within the United States such as the Neocons and the Cuban exile right. They also link internationally with right wing networks in other countries, especially in Latin America, as well as with the most intransigent right-wing factions in Israeli politics.


Romney's financial ties in Latin America include investments in his company, Bain Capital, by people close to fascist circles in Central America, especially in El Salvador. are the people who, in tandem with U.S. neo cons such as former Reagan and Bush II official Elliot Abrams, former Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton and Republican foreign policy figures such as John Negroponte, Roger Noriega and Otto Reich, have brought us such things as the Contra Wars in Central America and the Iraq War also. Had Romney and Ryan won, these individuals and their ilk would have been in charge of U.S. foreign policy, both conceptualization and implementation. This would have been no improvement over the Obama-Clinton approach.


The voters also sent the political class a message, not for the first time, that they are not enthusiastic about bellicose approaches to international policy.


In the Senate and House of Representatives, none of the group of about 80 congresspersons who stand for a less bellicose, more peacefully oriented U.S. foreign policy were punished for it by being defeated at the polls, with the sole exception of California Democrat Laura Richardson, who was defeated by another Progressive Caucus member, Janice Hahn--they were thrown against each other in the same district because of redistricting. There is also no hint that Richardson was defeated on foreign policy issues. The rest of this group, who in the House constitute the majority of the Progressive, Black, Hispanic and Asian-Pacific Caucuses, were all reelected. Several new Senators and House members elected on November 6 are likely to join this group in terms of support for a peaceful foreign policy, including no more wars and a normalization of relations with Cuba and other countries with which the United States has picked fights.


As final election results come in, it appears that Congresspersons who have played a role in questioning the hostile U.S. policy toward Cuba were all re-elected unless they did not choose to run. A major voice in opposition to an aggressive U.S. foreign policy, Congressman Alan Grayson, had been defeated for re-election in 2010, but came storming back this year, defeating his Republican opponent by a margin of 62.7 percent to 37.5 percent to get back his old Florida seat. California Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee, the only person in the House to vote against the war in Afghanistan when it started and a major player in efforts to change U.S. policy on Cuba, was reelected without opposition.


We can also say goodbye to Joe Lieberman, the Independent, former Democratic senator from Connecticut who has been a major promoter of right wing policies on the Middle East and also on Cuba. He is replaced by a progressive Democrat, Chris Murphy, who will be much more likely to take reasonable positions on foreign policy.


On the other hand, few of the most anti-Cuba members of House and Senate lost their seats either, with the exception of Republican Congressman David Rivera of Florida, who was defeated by a moderate Democrat, Joe Garcia. Rivera went down to defeat because of an electoral fraud scandal; time will tell what kind of attitude Garcia takes. He is also Cuban-American and actually was, for a time, the Executive Director of the anti-Revolution Cuban-American Foundation, but his views have since become more moderate. Another enemy of Cuba, Florida Representative Connie Mack, tried for a Senate seat but was defeated by the incumbent Democrat, Bill Nelson, who is certainly no friend of Cuba either Very bad news is the election of Republican Ted Cruz to the Senate from Texas; he will definitely be a hard line supporter of reactionary foreign policy. And the tendency of even progressive Democrats to avoid any appearance of a conflict with Israel will probably continue.


There are also indirect, but no less real, reasons to think that the November 6 election was a victory for a saner foreign policy. A major goal of the Republican Party was to destroy the U.S. labor movement. They failed, and organized labor emerges from the election politically strengthened, and also with a greater tendency to speak out independently on international and foreign policy issues. Examples of this latter tendency include the outstanding role U.S. trade unionists have been playing in opposition to U.S. policy toward Colombia, in favor of a peaceful solution to that country's civil war. U.S. unions have also been active in solidarity with beleaguered independent left-leaning unions in Mexico and elsewhere. Weakening of U.S. unions would have greatly harmed those important solidarity initiatives. Now they are strengthened.


Nothing much positive is going to happen legislatively in the immediate future. The Republicans lost a few seats in the House of Representatives, but still have a majority there. The Democrats slightly increased their majority in the Senate, but the problem of the filibuster is not solved, and not all Democrats take even relatively progressive positions on foreign policy issues. And above all, there is no indication that because of the dynamics of the election, the Obama administration is going to make a sudden left turn on international affairs. Rather, what was good about the results of the election was that they headed off a major effort to move foreign policy to the right. Secretary of State Clinton has said she is going to step down, and there is speculation about who might replace her, or what kinds of political views such a person might have. It is premature to get into a whole discussion about this, but progressive people should be ready to speak out when things are further along.


But one thing is clear: We can not rely on the initiatives of even the best Democrats to create changes in U.S. foreign policy. Quite independently of the party identity of the occupant of the Oval Office or who controls the House and Senate, U.S. based transnational corporations, including most specifically finance capital and also the oil and mining interests and the military-industrial complex, exercise tremendous power within our state and in our elections. To provide a counterweight to these influences, we have to organize at the base, working with organized labor, civil rights, and other democratic forces to create a permanent mass lobby for a foreign policy that emphasizes peace and that is respectful of the national sovereignty of other nations, and of the right of all peoples to seek security, prosperity and dignity, whether international monopoly capital likes it or not.


And we have to teach our people not to be deceived by the game of “humanitarian interventions”. The American people do not, as a whole, approve of aggressive interventions in other countries; for them to accept such actions, they have to be dressed up as acts of humanity. Only better mass level education on foreign affairs can stop that game.

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