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Is Barack Obama Morphing Into Dick Cheney?

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Posted on Jun 21, 2012
david drexler (CC BY 2.0)

By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch

(Page 4)

Central to the Obama plan—like that advanced by Dick Cheney in 2007—is the construction of a network of bases and alliances encircling China, the globe’s rising power, in an arc stretching from Japan and South Korea in the north to Australia, Vietnam, and the Philippines in the southeast and thence to India in the southwest.  When describing this effort in Canberra, Obama revealed that he had just concluded an agreement with the Australian government to establish a new U.S. military basing facility at Darwin on the country’s northern coast, near the South China Sea.  He also spoke of the ultimate goal of U.S. geopolitics: a region-embracing coalition of anti-Chinese states that would include India.  “We see America’s enhanced presence across Southeast Asia,” both in growing ties with local powers like Australia and “in our welcome of India as it ‘looks east’ and plays a larger role as an Asian power.”

As anyone who follows Asian affairs is aware, a strategy aimed at encircling China—especially one intended to incorporate India into America’s existing Asian alliance system—is certain to produce alarm and pushback from Beijing.  “I don’t think they’re going to be very happy,” said Mark Valencia, a senior researcher at the National Bureau of Asian Research, speaking of China’s reaction.  “I’m not optimistic in the long run as to how this is going to wind up.”

Finally, Obama has followed in Cheney’s footsteps in his efforts to reduce Russia’s influence in Europe and Central Asia by promoting the construction of new oil and gas pipelines from the Caspian via Georgia and Turkey to Europe.  On June 5th, at the Caspian Oil and Gas Conference in Baku, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan read a message from Obama promising Washington’s support for a proposed Trans-Anatolia gas pipeline, a conduit designed to carry natural gas from Azerbaijan across Georgia and Turkey to Europe—bypassing Russia, naturally.  At the same time, Secretary of State Clinton traveled to Georgia, just as Cheney had, to reaffirm U.S. support and offer increased U.S. military aid.  As during the Bush-Cheney era, these moves are bound to be seen in Moscow as part of a calculated drive to lessen Russia’s influence in the region—and so are certain to elicit a hostile response.

In virtually every respect, then, when it comes to energy geopolitics the Obama administration continues to carry out the strategic blueprint pioneered by Dick Cheney during the two Bush administrations.  What explains this surprising behavior?  Assuming that it doesn’t represent a literal effort to replicate Cheney’s thinking—and there’s no evidence of that—it clearly represents the triumph of imperial geopolitics (and hidebound thinking) over ideology, principle, or even simple openness to new ideas.

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When you get two figures as different as Obama and Cheney pursuing the same pathways in the world—and the first time around was anything but a success—it’s a sign of just how closed and airless the world of Washington really has become.  At a time when most Americans are weary of grand ideological crusades, the pursuit of what looks like simple national self-interest—in the form of assured energy supplies—may appear far more attractive as a rationale for military and political involvement abroad.

In addition, Obama and his advisers are no doubt influenced by talk of a new “golden age” of North American oil and gas, made possible by the exploitation of shale deposits and other unconventional—and often dirty—energy resources.  According to projections given by the Department of Energy, U.S. reliance on imported energy is likely to decline in the years ahead (though there is a domestic price to be paid for such “independence”), while China’s will only rise—a seeming geopolitical advantage for the United States that Obama appears to relish.

It is easy enough to grasp the appeal of such energy geopolitics for White House strategists, especially given the woeful state of the U.S. economy and the declining utility of other instruments of state power.  And if you are prepared to overlook the growing environmental risks of reliance on offshore oil, shale gas, and other unconventional forms of energy, rising U.S. energy output conveys certain geopolitical advantages.  But as history suggests, engaging in aggressive global geopolitical confrontations with other determined, well-armed players usually leads to friction, crisis, war, and disaster.

In this regard, Cheney’s geopolitical maneuvering led us into two costly Middle Eastern wars while heightening tensions with both China and Russia.  President Obama claims he seeks to build a more peaceful world, but copying the Cheney energy blueprint is bound to produce the exact opposite.

Michael T. Klare is a professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College, a TomDispatch regular, and the author most recently of The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources (Metropolitan Books). To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Klare discusses imperial geopolitics as the default mode for Washington since 1945, click here or download it to your iPod here.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch, join us on Facebook, and check out the latest TD book, Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050.

Copyright 2012 Michael Klare


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