Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to
By David E. Sanger
a Book Review By Jim Miles
Harmony Books (Random House), New York. 2009.
ccun.org, August 5, 2009
David Sanger makes it clear what his book, “The Inheritance”, is all
about. Simply stated in the first line of the preface he says,
“This book looks backward at the seismic events that led America to lose so
much standing and leverage in the world and looks forward to reimagine ways
we can rebuild our influence and power.” While the book itself makes
for an interesting – but not enlightening – read, it does not do well with
either looking backward or looking forward.
look backward is essentially a look back at the Bush years, a commentary on
current events as seen as a newspaper correspondent who has some kind of
access, direct or indirect, to many of the higher officials in the
administration. It does not go back far enough to cover important
aspects of the pre-Bush history – a history that served as Bush’s
“Inheritance” as well. In other words, U.S. history cannot be isolated
to one era without fitting it into the overall context of its foreign and
domestic policies that are intertwined into a much longer string of history.
Certainly references are made to earlier historical moments, but there is
little analysis, little context, and as with many U.S. writers, the context
of “blowback” from previous negative U.S. policies is not truly accounted
for. There is little acceptance of U.S. foreign policy practices
that over the decades have helped shape the mess they currently find
The problem with Sanger’s look
forward is that there really is not one, certainly not on the scale of
Stern’s “The Global Deal” or Starobin’s “After America”. While I am
not always a fan of conjecture into the future, as unintended and unexpected
consequences tend to be the norm, there should be more room given to
developing more ideas on how Obama could move forward to help untangle the
current foreign policy difficulties. His look forward consists
mainly of three short items, all really one and the same thing – a terrorist
attack of some sort on the homeland, and one piece of advice.
The three items are familiar to anyone who reads any kind of
newspaper or internet site with news on it: rogue nuclear weapons; chemical
weapons in the form of plagues, toxins or poisons; and computer
cyber-attack. This look forward occupies the last ninth of the book
and consists mainly of scary scenarios from think tanks and the poor job the
administration is doing to prevent any of them.
talks about Obama in the Epilogue “Obama’s Challenge,” a meagre ten pages is
devoted to Obama’s prospects for ‘change’. He quotes Rahm Emanuel who
said, “Never allow a crisis to go to waste; they are opportunities to do big
things.” The intent is to spur Obama to action. Unfortunately it
fits into the general trend of U.S. history that a “crisis” includes the
context of history, it also includes the creating and fomenting of a crisis
that can be taken advantage of, a strong point of the CIA and special ops
teams. Pakistan/Afghanistan and Iran are the current crises, treated
by Sanger as special developments of the Bush era.
Four illusions from the Bush era face Obama, according to Sanger.
The first is the shift of global power – more economic than military, but
also including the latter - is heading east. The second illusion is
that the rest of the world “will naturally seek to emulate the American
model.” The other two illusions are smaller in scale. Free trade
is not primarily responsible for job loss. The U.S. will no longer use
the “Big Stick and no longer threaten force to contains some of the world’s
These are not just Bush illusions, they are
U.S. illusions and can be writ boldly. And illusory or not, Obama has
not done much to dispel them and if he follows Sanger’s main line of advice,
will only affirm the “illusions” in the minds of the citizens:
“Marry the use of force to a comprehensive plan to build up states, pursued
with the same gusto and resources as Bush used to pursue al Queda cells.”
That about sums up the proposals for the future – marry force with
state building plans and dispel a few illusions! Sounds pretty much
like the same old Bush program, but as with all things Obama, it will
probably be carried out with much finer sounding rhetoric than the
gunslinger lingo that Bush employed.
Missing in action
A reader interested in current events would do well with this work as it
contains much of the history of the Bush administration, although without
any great insights into any of it. What is missing for the reader is
that historical string that entwines itself around all presidencies, as U.S.
foreign policy, and while it may receive a different tone and timbre from
one president to the next, always sings the same song.
U.S. faces crises with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran for sure, crises that
have a great deal to do with previous U.S. policies towards the region.
Israel is mentioned within the context of Iran, but no mention of Palestine
occurs. If the Middle East is to be “solved”, Palestine/Israel must be
solved. If the Middle East is to be solved, the U.S. needs to account
for much of its covert and overt operations there since essentially taking
over from the British Empire.
Other omissions from action
especially looking towards the future concern two major global crises, the
economic meltdown and global climate change, neither of which receive any
serious consideration. For that matter, it seems that the only
seriousness about the solutions is the line about “force” and “gusto.”
If any of this is to be solved, not only the linear integration of
historical information needs to be considered, but the multi-dimensional
integration of a variety of concepts needs to be included. That
includes the global and domestic economies, climate change, the role of
international law and international institutions, the settlement of
international disputes by applying international law and human rights
agreements, the pervasiveness of U.S. military bases globally and its
dominant nuclear weapons base, the many diverging foreign policy views from
China, Russia, Japan, the Koreas and others, and especially the ongoing
tactic of “force” and “gusto” used to ‘promote’ U.S. foreign policy – the
hidden (not so hidden really) fist that supports the U.S. accumulation of
wealth and power to the homeland.
Admittedly, Obama “inherited” a mess, but it is not a mess that he was
unfamiliar with. Nor can anyone be elected president in the U.S. if
they do not fit the general conforming modes of acceptable presidential
practices. Nor should any reader be under any illusion that the mess
was a result of the Bush administration, but is the ongoing familiar
territory of U.S. foreign policy. Only six months into the Obama
tenure, and there are very few signs of “hope” and “audacity” (attacking
Pakistan and increasingly using Ms Clinton to spread U.S. threats around
counts for neither).
All the same, “The Inheritance” provides
a good enough read for a non-academic, not too critical audience to pick up
on some current events information they may have missed out on during the
Bush years. Just don’t expect any great pronouncements of solutions
for the future.
 see Paul Starobin, “After America”, at
Nicholas Stern's book, "The Global Deal" (Public Affairs, Perseus, New York.
2009) is a flawed discussion of climate change and the economy.
Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular
contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine
Chronicle. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other
alternative websites and news publications.