Friday, January 04, 2008

A primer about the Primaries

To be published in The Post

The American primaries, elections which decide the presidential candidates of the two dominant political parties in the country, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have begun. The Iowa caucus is the first state poll followed by a sequence of polls in other states which decide the party candidate for president through a “winner take all” basis. Which means that the candidate who wins the most number of states is taken to be the presidential representative for the parties. For a interested south Asian, the presidential election process in the United States is important because one gets to see the various positions on foreign policy and worldview of the different candidates for the most powerful executive post in the world today.

In the predominant two party system that drives American democracy, the presidential candidate nomination process follows a set routine; the candidates get heavy duty funding from various sources and use expensive campaigns to get support for themselves. Numerous public debates are also conducted where the various candidates' positions on different issues come to the fore. The upcoming elections would widely decide if a change is brought about in the the decidedly right wing world view that has dominated the Bush presidency in the US. As such therefore, a perusal of the various policy positions of the different presidential candidates would serve a teaser preview of the possibility of such change.

The Democratic Party candidates, primary of whom are Hillary Clinton (former first lady in the Bill Clinton administration), Barack Obama (the only African American senator in the US senate) and John Edwards, attest to formulating and implementing a change in the disastrous foreign policy followed by the Bush administration. The prominent Republican party candidates, however, more or less affirm to the direction in the foreign policy brought about by the Bush administration and suggest a continuum of the unilateral measures adopted by the incumbent administration.

Yet for the outside observer, this difference hardly matters much. The prominent Democratic candidates with the exception of Barack Obama endorsed the war in Iraq by approving the measure to invade Iraq. John Edwards apologises for having done this basing his opinion on faulty intelligence in 2003, while Hillary Clinton refuses to acknowledge her mistake. Obama on the other hand has voted for increases in the war fund in Iraq. Even though he emphasises that his vision would envisage a change in the foreign policy discourse and that he would hold talks with regimes opposed to the US, he has betrayed the same unilateralist tendency as others in the Democratic fray by suggesting that he would keep the options open for a military initiative in Iran and even in Pakistan, disspelling any doubts on his respecting national sovereignty. Overall, the Democratic position on foreign policy seems nuantically different from the Bush course but in essence on overall policy, does not envisage any change in the American hegemonist positions on world affairs. And this is despite the near overwhelming opposition to the war among Americans, one reason for the strong Democrat performance in the 2006 Congressional elections.

The only Democrat candidate who has rejected “war as an instrument of foreign policy” and has opposed American unilateralism, including the Iraq invasion consistently is Dennis Kucinich, a Congressman who has promised a “Department of Peace” once elected to power. Yet, Kucinich seems to be a fringe candidate with very little funding and destined only to win a marginal number of votes of support. The record of other Democrat candidates does not inspire much confidence in them for a resident of the developing world, who sees hegemonic action by the United States as violation of all international norms and institutions, and as being dangerous to the citizens of the developing world.

The Republican candidates' positions are even more dreadful. Leading candidate Mike Huckabee has practically little knowledge about foreign policy and his social conservative and religious views reflect a warped understanding of the East. Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney not only endorse the war on Iraq but want to continue the unilateral course of action on other nations even if it amounts to invasion, bombing or violations of sovereignty, all in the name of “war on terror”. No remorse is shown for the near three quarters of a million Iraqi deaths since the American occupation, or for the fraudulent reasons that were advocated for the illegal occupation. Among the Republicans however, there is one candidate, Ron Paul who happens to be a libertarian and sees no place for a interventionist foreign policy, as it violates the constitutional principles of the United States and as it is a huge drain on the exchequer. Ron Paul, who has become some sort of a internet favourite in the US however remains as much a fringe candidate among the Republicans as much as Kucinich is among the Democrats.

The battle among the Democrats therefore seems to be as to who would occupy the liberal imperialist mantle and among the Republicans as to who would inherit the neoconservative hardline imperial position on foreign policy. The virtual non-existence of a recognition to strengthen liberal international institutions in regulating world affairs and to reverse the disastrous geopolitical course in west Asia is common to both the Republicans and the Democrats. As such therefore, none of the purported successors to George Bush inspire much confidence to the inhabitants of the third world, even as one would be relieved that the likes of George Bush and Dick Cheney would finally be out of power.

Noam Chomsky when once asked as to how different he would have acted if he was hypothetically in presidential power in the aftermath of the 2001 terror attacks in New York, replied sarcastically that he would have perhaps done the same thing as George Bush. Chomsky mentioned that whoever the president is in the United States, the foreign policy establishment and the policy making circles, driven by nationalism and interests of the elite have circumscribed decision making to a set of policies that tend to emphasise American hegemony. The current positions of the different candidates for president in the US among the two parties is reflective of Chomsky's understanding.

The future presidency in the United States would be exposed to a world that has been rendered dangerous because of disastrous foreign policy decisions by the Bush administration. West and south Asia are the spots where the effects of American intervention have been the most turmoil-ridden. In Afghanistan, there is virtual anarchy beyond Kabul as the NATO presence has not helped resist the return and rise of the Taliban. Iraq remains a nightmarish quagmire of ethnic, sectarian and internecine divisions which have been exacerbated by American rule. Years of meddling in Pakistan's internal affairs and covert links between the American establishment and the Pakistani military and ruling classes have resulted in a situation where extremism has reared its head, after having been nourished by covert support for quite sometime. The Palestinian greivances against Israeli expansionism continue to remain and the US' continued emphasis on rejecting a just solution to the Palestinian cause by favouring Israeli hegemony has resulted in tearing up of the peace process in the region. Renewed threats of bombing and military action by the US has been played upon by radical sections all across west Asia. Even if military action has virtually decimated Al Qaeda, the terrorist organisation's oxygen has been sustained by acts of American unilateralism in the region.

All these point out to the need for a radical change in American policy from unilateralism and from an urge to control natural resource rich regions in the world to winning the confidence of the peoples of this reason by strengthening international institutions. Except for fringe candidates in the presidential fray, none of the frontrunners have shown the wherewithal to bring about this much needed change.


Lina said...

Yes, Srini,that point about Chomsky's comment and the fact that the foreign policy establishment and policy making lobbies have already in a sense drawn up the proforma and set the agenda is a good one.
Its frightening though that this kind of "circumscribed decision making" dictated by powerful lobbies would be a feature of most "democracies", including ours.

the_unexamined_life said...

I sorely missed the word "imperialism" in your essay. Somehow "Unilateralism" is hardly a substitute. And my comment is not about the verbiage to be used, its about the absence of the concept.

If you take the concluding paragraph of your essay,

All these point out to the need for a radical change in American policy from unilateralism and from an urge to control natural resource rich regions in the world to winning the confidence of the peoples of this reason by strengthening international institutions. Except for fringe candidates in the presidential fray, none of the frontrunners have shown the wherewithal to bring about this much needed change.

you seem to suggest that you would welcome a US president who carries world opinion with him/her and does not want to control natural resource rich regions of the world. Apart from the impossibility of such a US President, in my estimation to make such a claim is to peddle a dangerous illusion that the tiger can turn vegetarian. I wonder how this sits with your Marxism...