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Bracing for a Major Disappointment

Posted on Nov 18, 2008

By William Pfaff

BRUSSELS—The Americans who voted for Barack Obama as president were promised change they could count on, but it rather looks as if they may actually be asked to make do with a mildly refurbished Clinton administration, with many of the same officials and nearly all of the same policies. The policies are drawn from the same centrist Democratic Party sources as those of Bill Clinton, and Obama’s admirers might even find themselves with Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state—which makes no sense whatsoever.

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Are there no significant differences of view on war and peace between the two of them? Why did the American (and international) public have to endure a year and a half of Democratic Party primaries in addition to the national election contest if the Democratic race could have been settled by the flip of a coin between people who believed in the same policies and thought the same thoughts?

Where is the sweeping change Barack Obama was promising the electorate? Looking back, he was rarely specific about the changes he intended to make. He constantly invoked the principle of change, without going much into the messy details, for which—admittedly—he was criticized at the time.

Many who voted for him, as did this writer, relied upon his evident qualities, in comparison with his predecessor and most of his competitors, which were that he clearly was very intelligent, as well as balanced and mature: He was an adult, who spoke to his audiences as fellow adults. This was his great difference from Hillary Clinton. Personally very intelligent, she has spent too long in the shady political precincts of ambition and calculation. She could never have made the speech Obama made on race. (Possibly he will never again be able to make such a speech. He has himself said that we must settle down now to being disappointed by Obama.)

The disappointment problem is international. Because of the enormous expectations Obama’s election has aroused abroad, above all among America’s European allies, any Obama-Clinton restoration of Clintonism would be met with incomprehension and disappointment. This is not because the Clinton administration was so awful, but because it was so confused in perception and lacking in foreign policy direction that it was easy for George W. Bush to merge it into the Great War on Terror. He had simply to add fear, security hysteria, lies about mass destruction weapons, and torture.


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Europeans had never thought of Americans as torturers. When it turned out that the sponsors and defenders of torture occupied the highest offices of government in the United States, with the chief legal enablers of torture in the White House counsel’s office itself, and heading no less than the Department of Justice, a chill passed through the Western alliance. It was noted that the chosen euphemism for torture by the president, lawyers and the CIA was “enhanced measures,” a direct translation of the term employed by the Gestapo.

I was just in Brussels to speak to the European Ideas Network, sponsored by the Christian Democratic-Center Right-Conservative group, the largest in the European Parliament. The audience seemed taken aback when I answered their question about what will change in European-American relations under Barack Obama by replying, “Probably not much.”

The president-elect has said he will stop torture and extra-legal imprisonment, but on fundamental matters of transatlantic relations, he clearly has indicated that he wants an alliance in which the Europeans contribute more. (This will undoubtedly be a welcome change from the Bush effort to split the European Union by encouraging hostility toward the West Europeans by the pro-American former Warsaw Pact governments.)

The U.S. contribution to the Georgia fiasco has undermined its reputation among the East Europeans. In the future, there probably will be more American consultation and good will in transatlantic relations, and perhaps even in dealing with Russia (there certainly is nothing to gain from hostility). However, Barack Obama himself said in his Berlin speech that he expects the Europeans to contribute a lot more to “winning” the war in Afghanistan.

This is not a popular idea; the European governments have been encouraging regional diplomatic solutions for Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. Most Americans may be surprised to know that there is West European concern (as French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told a Brookings audience in Washington last week) that the new American administration might try to take all this over for itself, and thereby wreck the progress already made. After all, it was Barack Obama who said that he would himself talk to the Iranians.

Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at

© 2008 Tribune Media Services Inc.

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By RdV, November 19, 2008 at 5:58 am Link to this comment

Sit up and pay attention, Obama, the writing is on the wall. Keep it up and you won’t even last until you cross the whitehouse threshold.

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By Inherit The Wind, November 19, 2008 at 5:27 am Link to this comment

Pfaff pre-judged Obama long ago.  It’s no surprise.

The constant irrational rejoinder is “Change? But he’s using Clinton’s people. How can THAT be change????”

The answer is simple.  Clinton had a successful presidency. Bush has not.  Many of Clinton’s efforts and initiatives were successful, and he left the nation solvent and at peace.  WTF is so wrong with THAT???

Second, (and yet again, ANOTHER thing Pfaff has overlooked) is that Obama can and has pledged to undo much of the fascist state Bush has implemented.  There’s far more to do than Guantanamo (which he has pledged to close and re-iterated).  As important as the high-profile torture and special renditions, is the less obvious set of steps: Reversing the EOs. Designating as unwarranted the signing statements.  Firing all the “zampolit” Bush installed in the Federal agencies. De-politicizing those same agencies.  Appointing jurists instead of ideologues to the Federal Judiciary, which is just as important as the Supreme Court.  Repairing relations abroad.

Pfaff is wrong.  There is SO much Obama can do by just intelligently NOT being George W. Bush.

But, like so many posters at TD, Pfaff has his ultra-left wing “progressive” agenda that, unless Obama carries it out step by step like a robot, Pfaff will call Obama a “failure” and a “tool” of the corporations.  Just look at the posts on this thread.  Naderites parroting Ralph’s stupidest and “wrongest” assertion: “There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between the parties.”

Even the rock-solid evidence of the last 8 years hasn’t convinced them.

“Who you gonaa believe? Me, or your own eyes?”—Chico Marx to Margaret Dumont…“Duck Soup”

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By patrick heck, November 19, 2008 at 5:12 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I full share Mr Pfaff’s insight. It also creates a huge issue of loyalty for Obama. Surrounding himself with Clinton posse may turn out to be an encirclement. The Clintons will have a huge clandestine influence on Obama’s policymaking. They will be loyal to the Clintons and not Obama (look at all of Obama’s advisers rooting for HRC at State). I really supported Obama with his refreshing ideas and now he veering towards the stale old Washington foreign policy clichés : Russia is all bad, Iran is all evil, Israel is holy. etc.

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By Rome, November 19, 2008 at 2:44 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Craaaacks are appearing….

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By Steve E, November 19, 2008 at 1:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Check out for the article by bmaz titled Obama`s Long Arm/Short Arm Stiff of the Grassroots. I`m convinced you just have to review the facts.

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By Sepharad, November 19, 2008 at 1:06 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Anarcissie, You said of your 6:24 post “But no use to say this, I suppose.”

It’s always useful to speak the truth, and that’s what you just did. What is not useful is to refuse to look at it.

Plus, Obama wants a Caucus he can work with, which is why he isn’t letting Senators cut Lieberman off, or anyone else who can help him get things moving again. Still, given Lieberman’s take on the Iraq War, it would have been more sensible to take away his Home Security post but retain him on EPW—the environment needs—desperately—all the friends it can get, and from the Sierra Club to Greenpeace the environmentalists give Lieberman the highest ratings for his constant hassling and discomfiting of the earth lasters.

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By JD, November 19, 2008 at 12:40 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I like the Truthdig web site, but the people who post to the forums here are just total morons. This guy has not taken office yet. He’s picking the most experienced people he knows, and with the exception of one or two, it’s nothing but bitch, bitch, bitch. Amazing. Obama IS change, or haven’t you noticed? The people who are already trashing Obama here somehow think everything must go their way—exactly the way they want it—or they’re taking their toys and going home. I say good riddance. You don’t care what’s good for America. You just care about yourselves and your own petty opinions and selfish concerns.

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By Outraged, November 18, 2008 at 10:51 pm Link to this comment

What legitimacy is there in saying, “give Obama the benefit of the doubt…he’s not president yet”?

LOOK at those he is choosing to surround himself.  It’s understandable that anyone could unwittingly choose one bad business associate, friend or acquaintance, but how valid is it to surround yourself with them, purposefully.  It doesn’t matter that he’s not yet president.  The die is being cast.

If you truly believe that you can surround yourself by reliably crooked individuals and attain a positive outcome, I challenge you…..

Move into the MOST CRIME RIDDEN neighborhood you can find….surround yourself, now tell me this is somehow “bipartisan”.  Do what Obama is doing and just “look to the future” of your neighbors…don’t worry about their past.  Just move forward to “fix” the situation.

Does any of this sound remotely plausible?  I think NOT.

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By coloradokarl, November 18, 2008 at 10:24 pm Link to this comment

I wouldn’t vote for Hillary because I saw the Clinton machine as just that, The machine of the globalist agenda. the one world order of fascism. I have a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and every new revelation ( I know, I know it’s all just speculation) elicits a slow crawl of hopelessness. I am not alone in this concern and time will tell all, one way or the other. It bothered me when Obama talked during the campaign about “Killing” Bin Laden as I saw him as pretty much a Pussy who has probably never even held a gun let alone shot one. Tough talk that included Afghanistan (ask Putin about those tough bastards).  I give Obama until July 4th, If My 47 million uninsured friends and I are not offered some affordable Health insurance I predict a third party of Progressives that will destroy ANY chance of an Obama 2012 victory.

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By P. T., November 18, 2008 at 9:26 pm Link to this comment

Now that he’s been elected, Obama is obviously into triangulation.

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By ocjim, November 18, 2008 at 8:52 pm Link to this comment

So where do you find the day-to-day experience required for an administration that must hit the ground running? Some economists even suggest something like taking over the reins of government even before the feckless Bush leaves.

Who will be blamed if Obama doesn’t immediately take action to repair a critically damaged economy, a futile war, and other emergencies looming within months.

If the media didn’t have something to bellyache about, what would it do?

Give the guy credit. He can’t do it alone.

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By Alan, November 18, 2008 at 8:51 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Let’s get the election results straight:
McCain-Palin was the Rube-Ticket,
Obama-Biden was the Corporate-Ticket

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By Alan, November 18, 2008 at 8:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If there was any doubt at all, it was today dispelled by the WSJ; Turn on your CSPAN and look Spot,
look and see the Aussie-Rupertoid WSJ exec introducing
Rahm Emmanuel.  It’s a Rahm go when your in the know!

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By P. T., November 18, 2008 at 8:34 pm Link to this comment

An Obama administration is going to be Clinton Lite.

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By Dr. Knowitall, PhD, PhD, November 18, 2008 at 8:06 pm Link to this comment

Having now been taken into Hell by 8 Bush years, what is it about the Clinton years that seems so bad to you, Bill? 

Put that together with there being someone other than a White Euro in the WH for the first time in a couple hundred + years and I think it can only get better. 

The guy hasn’t served a day yet.

Go take an aspirin, lie down, and come back in two years. Then I’ll listen.

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By hourglass, November 18, 2008 at 7:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I recall ‘change’ being the obvious call of both campaigns. The Bush term would end and then a ‘change’ would come. I am not disappointed in Obama at all. He is proving to be exactly what he showed one and all who he was with his FISA vote. That disappointed me, but the primary process itself woke me up to the joke of one-man-one-vote American citizenship.

No, what crushed me was the entire Executive and Legislative branch push for the unaccountable (pun intended) 2-trillion and 850-billion rupee, er, dollar, bailout that your media still tells you is as yet an unspent 700 billion. Single payer healthcare? Social Security? Medicare? Infrastructure? Mortgage relief? How much of this 3 trillion did you get? And how much do you owe? Now that is some hunk-a-hunk-a-burnin’ change you can believe in!

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By Fadel Abdallah, November 18, 2008 at 7:48 pm Link to this comment

Thank you William Pfaff for confirming the conclusions I have already reached just from the early signs of Obama’s political acrobatics.

It’s the same story of the old political class rubbing each others shoulders and perpetuating their powers and privileges. The only thing that will change is the color of the occupants of the White House.

Just today, the news of confirming Joe Lieberman in his position as chair of the Home Security Committee is a telling story who are going to be in control of the politics of this country.

This is the backward change you can believe in since the elections are over!

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By Jacks, November 18, 2008 at 7:28 pm Link to this comment

Europeans never thought of Americans of torturers?  Yes, we have.  Jesus.  I grew up knowing Reagan was absolutely atrocious and that Americans continued to lionize him.  Clinton didn’t make it easy for George W. Bush.  The Reagan Myth, American exceptionalism, and a gun-ho, anti-intellectual culture allowed George W. Bush to exploit September 11th (after stealing the 2000 election) without barely a ripple, let alone tremendously large national protests and intense howls of outrage from the American public.  Instead, the majority of Americans believed the damn lie that Saddam Hussein was involved in September 11th and yet you blame Clinton for this?  Please.

What nonsense.

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By Anarcissie, November 18, 2008 at 7:24 pm Link to this comment

I’m not disappointed in Obama.  He’s exactly what he said he was and gave every evidence of being: cautious and conservative in ideology; articulate, competent and intelligent in its execution.  He is not revolutionary and not even “progressive”, but he certainly seems like a big improvement over the snickering, ignorant, Bible-beating moron he’s going to replace, and the movement that put him over changed everybody’s image of the United States.  That’s enough to make me moderately happy for a day or two, anyway.

If you want some more profound change in the social order, you’re going to have to work for it at home and in your neighborhood.  No monarch, not even Mr. O, can hand it to you.  But no use to say this, I suppose.

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By lichen, November 18, 2008 at 7:22 pm Link to this comment

Yes, this is a change back to the lies of the 90’s, and it will show who is really ok with that sort of neoliberal imperialist greywash, and who isn’t.  Those of us who weren’t old enough to vote in a presidential election until 2004 or 2008 can perhaps be excused—we may have been unaware of what the clinton administration was while it was happening, but those who lived adult lives through it and still tried to claim there would be a big difference once Obama came…hopefully you won’t do it again.

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By Jayson Harsin, November 18, 2008 at 6:17 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Well said, genearlly. But there’s a suggestion that Obama is somehow different than past candidates in terms of campaign-speak. You surely know that campaigns these days are political branding, and have been for some time (“Tippecanoe and Tyler too). Whether it was better in the past is a matter of argument, but just consider the last few elections. Every challenger tries to align himself/herself with change and progress. How often are their policy visions clearly articulated in detail? Look at the news business and space-time compression of it. Candidates adapt to it because, frankly, who’s going to publish their long policy proposals for the future? How many people even read the EU constitution before its vote. Maybe Obama won’t change that much in terms of policy (but a lot symbolically). However, it’s not a fault of his shallow campaign promises; it’s the system.

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By Zeya, November 18, 2008 at 6:07 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Let’s give Barack the benefit of the doubt, at least until he actually assumes office. I interpret his willingness to work with his former adversaries (instead of ostracizing his opponents) as a welcome and much needed change in Washington!  Because our country is on the verge of complete economic collapse, we all need to work collaboratively for the common good. I’m still very optimistic that Obama will fulfill his promise - it may not happen instantly, but over time things will improve, especially if we all stay actively engaged to ensure our politicians remain honest and accountable!

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By yours truly, November 18, 2008 at 5:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“It’s up to us to make sure that President Barack Obama holds to his promise to bring about change.”

“Based on?”

“Yes we can.’

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