By the end of the presidency of George W. Bush, the neoconservative orientation was questioned by the people, largely as a consequence of the war in Iraq and the financial crisis of 2008. In this context, Barack Obama won the elections of 2008, promising “change.” Consistent with the norms of the electoral process of the United States, Obama did not outline a specific program. However, the message of change created the possibility that Obama would seek a fundamental turn in US foreign policies.
There was indeed a change from the administration of George W. Bush, which had pursued a policy of aggressive pursuit of US interests through unilateral military action. In the view of the Obama administration, this strategy had backfired, because it alienated US allies, and thus weakened US influence. So the Obama administration adopted a new approach that came to be known as “smart power.” However, this was more a change of tone rather than a change of policy. Claudia Cinatti writes that the Obama strategy “is nothing more than the old recipe of combining the use of military and economic power with diplomacy and negotiation in order to attain the support of allies, semi-allies, and partners of convenience in the attaining of the national interests of the United States. Concretely, it implies an ordered withdrawal of the United States from ‘extravagant’ objectives—like installing ‘democracy’in failed states or dedicating itself to ‘nation building’ in Iraq or Afghanistan—in order to concentrate on intervening where imperialist interests are truly at stake” (2010:74-75).
Accordingly, when Obama took office, the aggressive and arrogant tone of Bush was abandoned, and Obama adopted a different rhetoric, making friendly gestures toward the Islamic world. However, the imperialist policies of the Bush administration in essence continued. “Beyond the gestures and the words, in relation to the principal issues, the foreign policy of the government of Obama represents more continuity than change from the government of Bush: it pursued the essential components of the ‘war against terrorism;’ it maintained troops in Iraq; it tripled military presence in Afghanistan; it extended the conflict to Pakistan; and it found a new target in Yemen in order to combat the Al Qaida network and Islamic radicalism” (Cinatti 2010:75).
The continuity of the policy of Obama can be seen in the region of Southwest Asia, where the basic goal has been to reaffirm US power in the region and to gain access to the petroleum and natural gas reserves of the Caspian Sea. The Obama plan has been: to consolidate a stable government in Iraq; to prevent the retaking of power in Afghanistan by groups hostile to the United States, transferring troops from Iraq to Afghanistan in order to attain this objective; to limit the influence in the region of radical Islamic groups that seek to establish Islamic states, which have been emerging in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Kirgizstan; to reduce the influence of Russia in the region and in Europe, which depends on Russia for its supply of natural gas, by means of the construction of a Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, facilitating supply of the world market via the Indian Ocean (Cinatti 2010:63).
The attack on Libya also demonstrates the continuity of Obama’s policies. From 1969 to 2012, Muammar Qaddafi led a revolutionary process in Libya that sought economic and social development and the establishment of structures of popular participation under the guidance of a philosophy that synthesized Islam with revolutionary nationalism/socialism. During the Reagan, Qaddafi was declared evil by the government of the United States, but tension between Libya and the United States was reduced during the 1990s, due to Qaddafi’s accommodation to the neoliberal project. However, his explorations toward African unity and alliances with progressive governments in Latin America during the Obama administration led to a reemergence of malicious portrayals of Qaddafi by the core powers, culminating in the NATO attack that brought down his government and led to his death.
In relation to Latin America, imperialist policies continue under Obama. The blockade against Cuba continues. The United States ultimately legitimated the 2009 coup d’état in Honduras, and there possibly was US involvement in the failed coup d’état in Ecuador in 2010. The United States signed an agreement in 2009 with the government of Colombia for the installation of seven new military bases, and subsequent agreements for military bases were made with Panama and Costa Rica. Moreover, the United States continues to support the opposition in Venezuela and Bolivia and opposes the process of reform and revolution underway in Latin America (Cinatti 2010:76; Regalado 2010; Ceceña 2010).
Ceceña, Ana Esther. 2010. “América Latina en la encrucijada: restauración sistémica o alternativa civilizatoria,” Curso de actualización: América Latina: entre el cambio y la restauración conservadora, Centro de Investigaciones de Política Internacional, La Habana, Cuba, November 25, 2010.
Cinatti, Claudia. 2010. “El imperialismo en la era Obama,” Estrategia Internacional, N° 26 (March), Pp. 55-78.
Regalado, Roberto. 2010. “Gobierno y poder en América Latina hoy,” Curso de actualización: América Latina: entre el cambio y la restauración conservadora, Centro de Investigaciones de Política Internacional, La Habana, Cuba, 22 de noviembre de 2010.
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