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Economic and Foreign Policy Entwined in Obama's New Deal

By Alidad Mafinezam, Ph.D., Co-founder and Senior Fellow, The Mosaic Institute, Toronto


By the time it is fully implemented, the Obama administration's massive, multi-trillion-dollar economic rescue program will be recorded as the largest in U.S. history. Less than two months into his tenure, Obama has also spawned an ambitious diplomatic initiative to promote peace and to re-engage a world community still reeling from the effects of George W. Bush's two-term presidency.


Bush's cowboy diplomacy and the concomitant "war on terror" had succeeded in striking fear in the hearts of Americans and the world community, and had effectively precluded dissent inside America during most of Bush's tenure.  "You are either with us, or with the terrorists," had become the defining mantra of American foreign policy. A complacent media and academic establishment merely tagged along. 


Close to two months after the end of the Bush era, Obama's message of change continues to resonate so profoundly because it takes on the economic downturn and American foreign policy at the same time.   For most of this decade, "terror talk" had precluded debate on American foreign policy, replacing it with expressions that could have been drawn from the most jingoistic of Hollywood westerns: "Wanted: Dead or Alive, " "Smoke-em out of their holes," "Bring it On," and, in its most onerous neoconservative reincarnation, "the Axis of Evil."


Obama's epoch-making victory and his exceptional popularity on the world stage have shown that people everywhere have become highly wary of right-wing Republican rule, which has become equated in the court of world public opinion with pre-emptive wars, torture, resource grabs, corporate mercenaries, and "gangster capitalism." People everywhere, including a solid majority of Americans, have rejected America 's "wild west" and its hallowed gun-slingers as viable paradigms for governing international affairs in our time.


All too often during the past decade, it seemed as though, morally and strategically, America would veer off a cliff and take much of humanity down with it. During this time, the Pew Global Attitudes Project, surveying international public opinion, found repeatedly that most people across the world harboured highly negative views of America , with critical, if not hostile, views of U.S. unilateralism, its propensity to use force, its glorification of violence, and cavalier disregard for diplomacy and cultural exchange. Obama has indeed assumed the leadership of the free world not a day too soon.  In the wake of Bush's two-term presidency, America and the world, together, need all the help they can get.  


The Obama team's simultaneous launch of economic and diplomatic "rescue packages"   shows the need for restoring confidence in America among billions of people around the world and defining a new, sustainable way of doing business in the U.S. and abroad.  Just as the U.S. Treasury is demanding responsible action from major companies it is bailing out regarding excessive executive pay, so, too, must America's dealings with the rest the world become more law-based, consultative, and multilateral.  


In short, Obama's ambitious plan to reform the American economy and its foreign policy is a sign of the dire need for restoring America 's legitimacy, and changing the onerous aspects of "the American way of life." The bursting of the bubble of American financial institutions has spawned an unprecedented search for new solutions to the world's problems.  


The euphoria and promise of the Obama presidency may make us forget that from 2001 to 2009,  the Republican Party controlled not just the White House, but for half this period, from 2003 to 2007, both houses of Congress as well, giving Republican ideologues the means to unilaterally exert America's imperial might, and to advance their exclusively pro-corporate agenda at home and abroad.  


According to Princeton University historian Sean Wilentz, in his new book, The Age of Reagan: A History 1974-2008,  the Reagan Revolution no longer has a stranglehold on  America 's destiny.  During the George W. Bush years,  the forces of International Monetary Fundamentalism unleashed during the Reagan presidency in the 1980s were taken to unsustainable extremes. Now, thankfully, with the election of Obama, the pendulum has begun to swing in the opposite direction.  


During the Bush years, as the human and financial toll of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan set in, America's image as the beacon of democracy and freedom became tarnished, replaced with ghastly images of Iraqi corpses at Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison, and hooded "enemy combatants" at the U.S. military's maximum security prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


Obama's election, as the nation's first African-American president, and as one of the most progressive members of the Democratic Party, goes a long way in showing the unrivalled openness and potential of America, and its positive contributions to human progress.  And despite the unchartered terrain he encounters, Obama can draw valuable lessons from some of his Democratic predecessors: Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy.  These presidents made seminal contributions to human progress and world peace during their time. Obama is the bearer of their tradition in our time.  Among these progressive American presidents, the one that bears the most resemblance to Obama, however, is Roosevelt .


During the heady days of the New Deal in the early 1930s, as America battled an unprecedented economic depression, Roosevelt launched some of the most progressive and humane policies in American history. He instituted the Social Security Administration, launched massive public works programs, and laid the foundations of a welfare state to protect society's most vulnerable. On the foreign policy front during this time, Roosevelt signed numerous non-intervention and friendship treaties across the Americas , a continent that had often borne the brunt of America 's imperial ways. 


Another achievement of the Roosevelt administration, from which Obama can draw inspiration, was the "brain trust," which drew some of the most talented scholars active in American universities into policymaking roles, and enabled them to place their intellectual prowess and knowledge of the world at the service of the American people and the world at large. The contributions of scholar-statesmen such as Rexford Tugwell, Adolf Berle, and Felix Frankfurter were critical in placing America on a new path, and in enabling it to play a leadership role across the world.  


The greatest promise of the Obama presidency lies in its promise of change. Obama and his brain trust should realize that economic and foreign policy reform are two sides of the same coin, and that in this defining moment in their history, as they did in Roosevelt's time, Americans, as the world's most innovative people, have nothing to fear but fear itself.

... Payvand News - 03/19/09 ... --

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