American President Barack Obama must make sure that his administration is working for the multilateral and open world that he claims he supports. The final announcements of his security and foreign policy team are troubling as they show the political control of the military and CIA going to hawks, who may fail to keep the ambitions of their mission-led generals within the political bounds of the Obama administration’s declared aims.
It is worrying that Obama has nominated John Brennan, his counter-terrorism adviser, to be the head of the CIA. Brennan was the architect of the drone strikes on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen and confirmed his destructive attitude when he announced that in his new position, he would hope to “make it my mission to ensure the CIA has the tools it needs to keep our country safe”. This is from the man who Obama hesitated to nominate to head the CIA in 2008 for fear of questions over his complicity in the CIA’s torture tactics, which the American government calls “enhanced interrogation techniques”.
However, Brennan’s nefarious skills might be balanced out by Obama’s two other nominations: Republican Senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defence and John Kerry as Secretary of State. Both have a wide awareness of foreign policy issues and have shown independence of mind, such as when Hagel broke the mould by condemning intimidation of US politicians by “the Jewish lobby”.
The real challenge is that these politicians must relaunch Obama’s lacklustre performance in the world outside the US. They have to impose a multi-lateral and cooperative spirit on American foreign policy. They should avoid the embarrassing flip-flops over the Arab Spring, as Obama supported some protesters, but not others. Above all, they should not let a deliberately hawkish defence policy become Obama’s insurance policy against attacks from the Republicans, who will certainly want to use foreign affairs to make Obama seem indecisive, as the real political struggle in the US focuses on the domestic economy and the lingering fiscal cliff.