U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden last Saturday outlined the Obama administration’s continuation of the Bush administration’s foreign policy towards Iran.
Reiterating the Bush policy of loosely defined “preventive” warfare outlined in Bush’s National Security Strategy, he said that the “U.S. will strive to act preventively to avoid having to choose between the risks of war and the dangers of inaction.”
Echoing the previous administration’s policy, Biden offered an ultimatum, saying the U.S. would be “willing to talk to Iran” but only if Iran acquiesces to the Obama administration’s demands to abandon its nuclear program.
Translated into meaningful terms, this effectively means the U.S. will continue to refuse to talk to Iran, since its nuclear program would be one of the major points Iran would like to negotiate.
The U.S. has accused Iran of having a nuclear weapons program, despite the fact that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is actively monitoring and verifying Iran’s program and its commitment to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), has repeatedly noted that there is no evidence that this is so, and despite the U.S. intelligence community’s own assessment that Iran today has no nuclear weapons program.
Iran insists that its nuclear program is solely for civilian purposes.
Biden incongruously declared that his reiteration of the Bush policy was “a new tone in Washington”, and the Western media parroted the claim, offering no explanation for how the Obama policy Biden outlined was substantially different from that of the previous administration.
The New York Times called Biden’s remarks “a departure from the Bush administration”, failing to explain in what way it represented a “departure”.
The Associated Press reported in an analysis that “Biden promises foreign policy shifts”, while failing to observe that his “promises” of “pressure and isolation” if Iran does not submit to U.S. demands were exactly those of the Bush administration.
Even before the November elections that resulted in a victory for Barack Obama and his vice-presidential running mate Joseph Biden, Biden had strongly expressed that he favored the use of military force against Iran. When Israeli Army Radio reported that Biden firmly opposed the use of force against Iran’s nuclear facilities, his office strongly objected, with his press secretary David Wade calling it “a lie”, adding that “we will not tolerate anyone questioning Senator Biden’s 35-year record of standing up for the security of Israel” by suggesting he wouldn’t attack Iran.
The news coverage of the continuation of the foreign policy of the Bush administration has been expressed in similar terms on other issues. The move towards drawing down forces in Iraq, established under the Bush administration well prior to the inauguration of Barack Obama, has continuously been referred to as representative of a “shift” by Obama’s administration. The same holds true of the move to increase the number of military forces in Afghanistan, which was also a course firmly established during Bush’s final term.
When Obama issued a series of Executive Orders during the first days of his presidency, the Los Angeles Times declared: “Obama overturns Bush tactics in war on terrorism”. But the orders did little more than reiterate existing U.S. law, recognize court decisions that were made during the Bush administration, and respond minimally to enormous public pressure both at home and internationally.
In June 2008, the Supreme Court restored habeas corpus, ruling that prisoners held in the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were entitled to challenge their detention in a court of law.
In July, a U.S. Court of Appeals decided that the courts must be able to assess the reliability of the evidence before determining the status of prisoners, a shift from the Bush policy of simply declaring detainees “unlawful enemy combatants” without evidence.
While such court decisions did not call for the closure of the facility at Guantanamo, they eroded the shaky legal framework that defined the facility’s purpose, which was to provide a legal black hole where the rule of law did not apply.
Where Obama is able to continue Bush policies under color of law, he has already made it clear that he will do so. So, for instance, in solidarity with the Bush administration, Obama advisers told the Associated Press shortly after the November election that the new president would most likely prevent charges from being brought against CIA interrogators for having tortured prisoners.
The L.A. Times article noted above reported that Obama ordered to “permanently shut the CIA’s network of secret overseas prisons”, which had already come under intense international scrutiny. Pressure to close the not so secret CIA centers was growing with both the American public and with the public and governments of the countries where the centers are located. The Supreme Court in 2006 had ordered prisoners held by the CIA in such facilities to be transferred to Guantanamo.
At the same time, as another L.A. Times headline less than a week later observed, “Obama preserves renditions as counter-terrorism tool”. Reporting on a fact it had omitted in its earlier article, the Times noted “Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States.
One solution for dealing with Guantanamo detainees upon its closure, as ordered by President Obama to occur within a year, would be to render them to foreign governments to be held in prisons there, or possibly transfer to other U.S. military detention centers, such as at Bagram Air Force base in Afghanistan, where court rulings such as the Supreme Court’s restoration of habeas corpus do not apply.
So far, the Obama administration has offered little in the way of evidence that it represents a significant “change” from the previous administration. Headlines proclaiming a “shift” and statements declaring a “departure” and “a new tone”, however, serve as useful propaganda to lull the public into a sense of accomplishment and optimism in order to ease public pressure on the government to press for substantial and measurable changes in policy.
The fact that Obama’s stated policies match almost exactly those of his predecessor are inconvenient to that end, however, and therefore must be rendered down Orwell’s memory hole.
Jeremy R. Hammond is the editor and principle writer for Foreign Policy Journal, an online publication dedicated to providing news, critical analysis, and commentary on U.S. foreign policy, particularly with regard to the “war on terrorism” and events in the Middle East, from outside of the standard framework offered by government officials and the mainstream corporate media. He has also written for numerous other online publications. You can contact him here.