Saturday 12 January 2013

Roosevelt’s policy may guide Obama (PO)

By M D Nalapat

Friday, January 11, 2013 - Franklin Delano Roosevelt was one of the three greatest Presidents of the United States, together with Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. The current US President has the potential to join the list of all-time greats, but only if “Obama becomes Obama”. Throughout his first term in office, Barack Obama followed a Clinton Lite policy, placing in key positions those loyal to the Clintons rather than to him. As a consequence, his record for the past four years has been one of stagnation rather than innovation.

The 2008 financial crash had its origins thirteen years earlier, when Bill Clinton obeyed the commands of his donors and savagely slashed regulation of the financial markets, doing away with firewalls against greed that had done useful service for six decades. In his policies towards the financial sector, George W Bush adopted a policy of Clinton Neat, a super strong version of the policies of his predecessor, while his successor, Barack Obama, followed a policy of Clinton Lite.

However, now that he has won re-election and is in the final four years of his stint at the world’s top job, early indications are that Barack Obama is finally distancing himself from the Clinton shadow and is becoming his own man. His nominations for CIA Director, Secretary of Defense and now Treasury Secretary reveal this to be so. None of the three nominees - Brennan, Hagel and Lew - would have passed muster with Bill Clinton, who was ever attentive to the views of lobbysists. The three are individualistic men not afraid to swim against the tide of “conventional wisdom”, a formulation which is often code for the views of lobbyists expert in creating misperceptions in the minds of the public. Outgoing Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have done immense damage to long-term US interests. Geithner continued the policy of sops to Wall Street, arguably the most venal bit of geography on earth, thereby stunting the recovery and enabling the depredators who made hundreds of billions of dollars out of thin air escape any legal claim on them.

While pickpockets get jail terms in the US, those stealing billions get to keep their cash hoards,their private aircraft and their freedom. The wave of speculation that such elements have unlashed on the globe has led to the price rises in commodities which has impoverished hundreds of millions and created social unrest on a scale sufficient to overturn long-established governments. It was the rising price of bread and meat which caused the French revolution, not abstruse concepts of popular privilege, and it is the same reason which drove most of the congregation in Tahrir Square in early 2011 to demand the fall of Mubarak. Speculation in commodities has become one of the greatest threats to international stability, leaving behind even such factors as global terrorism. However, the big speculators remain a privileged group, protected by the likes of Timothy Geithner, an acolyte of the Clintons who joined numerous other Clintonites in the so-called “Obama” administration in 2009.

Hillary Clinton took as her own the policy of Turkey and Qatar towards first Libya and now Syria, throwing the support of the US behind the groups backed by Ankara and Doha. There are those who claim that huge donations have been received from Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE and Saudi Arabiar by the foundations controlled by Bill Clinton, hinting thereby that it is no accident that Hillary’s policy so closely hews to that suggested by the GCC monarchies. Thus far, the Clinton foundations have not released lists of their big donors, so there is no way of knowing if claims that the GCC (directly or indirectly) accounts for a huge share of donations to his foundations is correct.

Barack Obama has the opportunity to fashion a set of policies as revolutionary as those crafted by Lincoln and Roosevelt. An example is Lend-Lease, the Rooseveltian policy of transferring surplus US military equipment to the UK and Russia during World War II. But for Lend-Lease, it would not have been possible to send across war materiel to the USSR in quantities sufficient to enable the Red Army to first hold and then throw back the German army when the latter was at the very outskirts of Moscow, Leningrad and Stalingrad.

In 2013-15,the time has come for Lend-Lease II. This would involve the transfer of surplus US military equipment (naval vessels and aircraft included) to countries such as Vietnam, the Philippines and India. Given the economic condition of all three, there is no way this trio of sea powers can build up sufficient heft to collectively become a formidable force in nearby seas, except if given a boost through the transfer of surplus US military equipment. Such a Lend-Lease II would create immense goodwill for Washington all across Asia, and could later on be expanded to cover Indonesia, Pakistan and Thailand. However, such a policy would represent a complete break from the cautious and super-incremental Europeanist policy of the Clintons, who regard as normal the excessive interest shown by former European colonial powers in their previous possessions, the latest example being the French activism on Syria.

Lend-Lease II would transform the security architecture of Asia in a way designed to ensure peace. Once the countries given assistance through the program make their new equipment operational, there would be zero incentive by any power to disturb the peace. What Asia needs is peace, and the avoidance of the conflict which characterised Europe till 1945.Only military might can ensure peace. However, this can come about only hand in hand with economic development. Countries in Asia need to avoid excessive spending on defense that could destroy their economies. At the same time, they need the security only strength can bring. This I possible, should Barack Obama follow Franklin Roosevelt and introduce a Lend-Lease plan which in 2013-15 transfers surplus US military equipment to selected powers in Asia.

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