Monday, March 02, 2009


"The characteristic feature of the crisis of the twenty years between 1919 and 1939 was the abrupt descent from the visionary hopes of the first decade to the grim despair of the second, from a utopia which took little account of reality to a reality from which every element of utopia was rigorously excluded. The mirage of the nineteenth-twenties was, as we now know, the belated reflexion of a century past beyond recall -- the golden age of continuously expanding territories and markets, of a world policed by the self-assured and not too onerous British hegemony, of a coherent 'Western' civilisation whose conflicts could be harmonised by a progressive extension of the area of common development and exploitation, of the easy assumptions that what was good for one was good for all and that what was economically right could not be morally wrong. The reality which had once given content to this utopia was already in decay before the nineteenth century had reached its end. The utopia of 1919 was hollow and without substance. It was without influence on the future because it no longer had any roots in the present".

E. H. Carr, The 20 Years' Crisis: 1919-1939.

There has been much speculation, so far with not much more to go on than mere hearsay and scraps of news, about the nature of the foreign policy of the ex-junior Senator from Illinois with the absurd name. In the more high-brow and intelligent online journals such Joshua Landis' Syria Comment ( , there is a very noticeable back and forth between hopes that the advent of the new American regime will mean a completely new policy and the fear (so far much justified) that in point of fact, that aside from some change in rhetoric, the reality is that policy will remain much as it was before the 20th of January 2009. Certainly, in the case of American policy towards the Near East, one can quite easily see, that it is continuity, not dis-continuity which is in order. Something which was predicted here quite awhile back. With the appointments most recent appointments (Dennis Ross to be 'Special Envoy' to handle Persia, and, Jeffrey Feltman as Assistant Secretary of State for the Near and Middle East) clearly revealing a clear continuity with American policy under the Bush regime. Which is not to gainsay the fact that that said policy, may very well be handled in a much more professional and clear sighted fashion by experienced (Dennis Ross) and indeed superb (Richard Holbrooke) officials. That however does not obviate the fact, that just as policy dealing with the bankrupted American banks has not in essence changed very much under Treasury Secretary Geithner, similarly policy dealing with say Afghanistan, Iraq or Persia shows much signs of change.

For example the recently announced revised, timetable (19 months) for the complete withdrawal of American combat troops from Iraq, is: a) not altogether different from what Bush and company agreed to in late 2008 with the Iraqi government; b) has so many holes in terms of possible changes that it could serve as a very tasty bit of Swiss cheese. Similarly, Secretary Clinton's recent trip to Peking, bore a stunning resemblance to similar outings by Secretaries Powell and Rice. Id est., no direct criticism of the PRC, over human rights, Tibet or Chinese policy in Sudan, the Congo or elsewhere. Just as one may expect a policy of 'no change', at the Egyptian hosted Summit to deal with the aftermath of the Gaza War. With the Bush policy of boycotting Hamas still in force (see: "Clinton Heads to Israel and West Bank bearing cash and caution" in Does that mean that in point of fact we will have eight years of Bush-lite? No, there will be change in American foreign policy. However the causation of that change will be less the result of American 'planning' and, more the result of changing circumstances. Indeed, what we might very well see in the next eight years, is an increased tendency for American policy to 'accommodate' itself to changes around the world, which the USA does not either like or care for, but, is unable to influence, either positively or negatively. With perhaps the best examples being say changes in Pakistan (more deterioration and radicalism), Ukraine, Belarus, and Central Asia (more and more turning towards Russia and to a lesser extent China), Persia (going nuclear), et cetera. And, while one wishes to avoid employing the phrase, one cannot but, conjure up the Nixonian idea of the USA as a 'pitiless, helpless Giant'. Unable to effectively prevent unwanted changes to the international arena. Is this likely to be true? Perhaps. It is more likely to be true than say the liberal bourgeois post-enlightenment, cosmopolitan fantasy of several months back,in which the mere fact that Senator McCain would not be elected President and his opponent would, would guarantee that the world would become a safe and tranquail place. Were that it were so. Unfortunately it is not likely to be.


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