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Opinion

Both the Maverick and the Candidate for Change cling to interventionist foreign policy

in Militarism

In the last month of the U.S. presidential campaign, the candidates of the two ruling parties and their supporters have gone into high gear in pushing the policy differences between their respective sides.

For those who closely watch or have been directly impacted by U.S. foreign policy, however, the party tickets are fundamentally the same. While the two sides may squabble over which country to target next—how precisely to intervene in that country and how to lay the justifying groundwork—they both share an open disregard for the sovereignty and will of foreign governments and peoples alike.

While the two sides may squabble over which country to target next … they both share an open disregard for the sovereignty and will of foreign governments and peoples alike.

The unapologetic and dangerous sense of entitlement to interfere in the affairs of other nations is perhaps most evident in the case of Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Biden, who has been called a "liberal" interventionist. According to the Miami Herald, former U.S. Ambassador Peter Galbraith, a former top staff aide on the Foreign Relations Committee, said that Biden "is an interventionist, but that does not necessarily mean military intervention."

Rather than acting to end the U.S. occupation that has led to ethnic cleansing, the creation of ethno-sectarian enclaves, and to the displacement of over 5 million Iraqis, Biden proposed to cement these artificially created divisions in Iraqi society by cutting up Iraq into three separate entities. Taking credit during the vice presidential debates for slicing up former Yugoslavia into units for the "Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks (sic)," Biden dreams to impose the same fate on Iraqis, without regard for the people of Iraq and certainly without the slightest doubt about his right to intervene in the lives of a people with thousands of years of history living side by side.

When asked during the same debates whether there should be a line drawn to determine the limits of U.S. interventionism, Biden responded that "the line that should be drawn is whether we A, first of all have the capacity to do anything about it number one."

From C-SPAN:

The primary determining factor, in other words, is brute force; not international law, not the requests of legitimate governments, not even the will of the people who will be involved.

Sarah Palin, Biden's Republican counterpart, has no foreign policy experience, and so has not had the chance to manifest her interventionist ideology. However, her unconditional support for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as her comments during the vice presidential debates about foreign policy more generally indicate that she has no qualms about using military or economic force to mold the world according to U.S. interests. For example, rather than challenging Biden about U.S. involvement in Bosnia — an intervention, incidentally, which McCain had strongly opposed initially — Palin refused to address the Balkans altogether, instead taking the opportunity to concur with Biden on the need to intervene in Sudan.

Indeed, far from critiquing unrestrained interference in the affairs of sovereign peoples, Palin believes it to be a divine right as evidenced by her June 2008 speech before the Wasilla Assembly of God, during which she called the U.S. invasion of Iraq "God's plan."

If interventionism is to be expected from Washington insiders like McCain and Biden as well as divine righters like Palin, how does the candidate of "hope" and "change" plan to shift course? By unilaterally attacking Pakistan …

While McCain has yet to use other worldly appeals as the primary basis for supporting military invasions, he has been among the most enthusiastic supporters of Bush's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. McCain has proudly placed his position regarding the invasion of Iraq and the subsequent "surge" of troops at the center of his presidential campaign, repeatedly attacking Obama's lack of resolve and inconsistency on the issue.

Long gone is the McCain of yesteryear, who, among other things, broke with Reagan and opposed U.S. presence in Lebanon in 1983, worried about the consequences of U.S. military action against Iraq in 1990, and attempted to force the Clinton administration to bring back the troops from Somalia in 1993. Today's McCain appears to be a full force interventionist, so blasé about the prospect of military invasions that his idea of a joke is to sing "bomb bomb Iran" to the tune of a popular Beach Boys song when he asked about the possibilities of a U.S. attack on that country.

If interventionism is to be expected from Washington insiders like McCain and Biden as well as divine righters like Palin, how does the candidate of "hope" and "change" plan to shift course? By unilaterally attacking Pakistan, it appears. Prior to gaining the Democratic presidential nomination back in August of 2007, Obama declared that he would be willing to carry out attacks inside of Pakistani territory with or without the approval of that government, a position he has continued to hold.

What Obama fails to see, however, is that his own vision for a U.S. presidency … is an intensification of an interventionist foreign policy that has left many nations and peoples in ruins.

Even McCain, notorious for his tendency to fly off the handle, thought that Obama's comments were intemperate, and made the reasonable observation in the second presidential debate that "when you announce that you're going to launch an attack into another country, it's pretty obvious that you have the effect that it had in Pakistan: It turns public opinion against us." While Obama attempted to turn the tables on McCain, blaming U.S. support for former president Musharraf on Pakistani attitudes, he failed to acknowledge that the root causes of negative opinions about the United States in Pakistan and elsewhere in West and South Asia are both broader and deeper. Obama is right to point out that U.S. support for dictators around the world is a source of international discontent, especially given the U.S. tendency to bomb, sanction, and otherwise strong-arm a host of other countries in the name of "bringing democracy."

What Obama fails to see, however, is that his own vision for a U.S. presidency – including the invasion of Pakistan, the sending of more troops to Afghanistan, and further sanctioning Iran – is an intensification of an interventionist foreign policy that has left many nations and peoples in ruins.

The only presidential candidates to speak out against the arrogant interventionism exemplified by McCain-Palin and Obama-Biden tickets are third party nominees that have virtually little chance of being heard in the closed, two ruling party system of U.S. government and mass media.

For this reason, it is all the more important to both highlight dissenting views and to challenge those who dare to apply labels such as "maverick" and "candidate for change" to themselves in the same breath as they the propagate the disastrous ideologies of invasion and interference.

Niki AkhavanNiki Akhavan is a scholar and activist whose work focuses on the relationship between media and transnational political and cultural production in Iran and the broader West Asian region. She is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of Media Studies at the Catholic University of America.
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