Throwing gasoline on the fire in Asia


The only good thing I can say about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's trip to Asia last month is that it is over. Some people put out fires; other people throw gasoline on them. After her trip to Asia, I can safely say that Clinton is in the latter category.

I wish her performance could be attributed to inexperience or jet lag, but I'm afraid that is not the case. What she said and did was obviously scripted and rehearsed.

Here are some "high points" of the trip:

  • Lectured the Chinese and Vietnamese on human rights, never mentioning our own human rights failures in the political, economic, and social spheres.
  • Turned up the verbal heat on North Korea.
  • Visited the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas.
  • Announced new sanctions (which inevitably hurt people more than governments), including freezing of bank assets thus making it more difficult for the North Korean government to purchase food and other necessities.
  • Expressed full support for the joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, supposedly in reaction to the alleged sinking of the South Korean warship the Cheonan by the North Koreans.
  • Ignored the UN resolution that condemned the sinking of the ship but named no responsible party until more evidence is available.
  • Disregarded the advice of the Chinese government to turn down the temperature on the Korean Peninsula and to resume the six-party talks promptly.
  • Insinuated herself into a territorial dispute between China and Vietnam.

This is provocative stuff - the kind of stuff that heightens tensions and triggers wars. It can only make an inflamed situation on the Korean Peninsula more flammable. Common sense should tell you that.

No one should think that war on the Korean Peninsula is out of the realm of the possible. That would be a dangerous misreading of the situation. In the present environment, a small misstep or misunderstanding on either side could unleash a bloody and deadly confrontation - even a clash between the U.S. and China. War can easily acquire a logic and dynamic of its own that even the best policymakers are unable to control.  

It is hard to believe President Obama wishes such an outcome. And yet the threats and sanctions of Secretary of State Clinton go in this direction.

So why are the president, the secretary of state, the Pentagon and other policymakers pursuing this course of action? Is it because of their abhorrence of the regime in the North? Is it because North Korea is a "rogue" state? Is it only because of pressures from right-wing Republicans?

No. A better explanation is found in examining the new balance of power in Asia and other regions of the world and the reaction in elite circles to it.

Asia is arguably the new engine of global economic growth, the center of rapid and sustained accumulation of capital, and the home of an ascendant world power - China. In this region new patterns of political, economic and cultural interaction and integration are steadily gaining ground to the disadvantage of the U.S.

Powerful political and economic forces in the U.S., however, are determined to scuttle this integrative process, cut down if not isolate China, and employ their financial and military power in order to maintain their controlling position in a region that they have dominated since the end of World War II. To put it more concisely, their aim is to reconstitute their imperial domination in the context of changing conditions.

Much the same is happening in other regions of the world where these same forces are bending to new realities of power (Latin America, for example), but resisting any scaling back of their dominant role.

Early on President Obama gave every indication that his administration would recalibrate U.S foreign policy in a more democratic direction, that it would close one chapter and begin another one in our relations with the rest of the world.

He engaged with states that during the Bush years were considered mortal enemies, including North Korea.

In Latin America, he expressed readiness to put relations on a different footing. In a speech in Prague, he voiced his wish to reduce and ultimately abolish nuclear weapons. And in an address in Cairo, he expressed his eagerness to develop new relations with the Muslim world, sit down with the Iranian government, and press for a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

A promising start! But it wasn't sustained. Under the pressure of imperialist-minded institutions and people, the administration has backtracked in recent months, not reversed directions entirely, but enough to cause alarm among peace-minded people everywhere.

Clinton's Asian trip continues and reinforces this negative turn in the administration's foreign policy. It suggests that the policy articulated by the president in the first months of his administration is giving way to a policy dictated by geo-economic and geopolitical objectives, by a determination to maintain U.S. global primacy in the 21st century.

Nothing could be more dangerous. Nothing could more cripple the ability of the global community to respond to the challenges of global warming, nuclear proliferation and poverty (no one should think that these challenges can be adequately addressed without U.S. participating in a constructive way in world affairs). Nothing could more drain resources from the domestic economic crisis. And nothing could be more damaging to the president's hope of a second term. Chasing after top dog status in a changing world is a "fool's errand."

Perhaps it was naïve on the part of all of us to think that a foreign policy pivoting on peace, cooperation and equality could easily materialize with powerful forces within and outside the state resisting it and without a broad upsurge of an active and mature peace majority.

Going forward, we have our work cut out for us - beginning with the November elections. A larger peace bloc and Democratic majority in Congress can only aid our fight.


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  • This is a scary time.... I was taken aback when I heard Clinton's talk, and very disappointed.

    This article makes the points that we need to know and absorb into our daily struggle. We need to be mindful of the collapse of the U.S. domination and to a large part the collapse of capitalism itself. These are scary times indeed.

    Let's keep focused!
    Thanks Sam...

    Posted by Gabriel Falsetta, 08/10/2010 11:21pm (6 years ago)

  • Valuable article and interesting discussion as always.
    As to the Honduras coup, Obama initially denounced it but his Secretary of State then worked to undermine the unity of the OAS in exerting pressure to reverse the coup. So he is perceived in the region as either talking out of both sides of his mouth, or being a weak president who gives his cabinet members 100% discretion to carry out policies that directly violate his campaign promises.
    One of the biggest danger spots right now is the Northern region of South America, especially Colombia and its neighbors where the Obama administration is working hard to undermine efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Colombian civil war by giving unstinting backing to the right wing regime in Bogota. This is an extremely dangerous situation.

    Posted by Emile Schepers, 08/04/2010 6:15pm (6 years ago)

  • Much as I dislike Joe Lieberman's politics - he is no longer a Democrat, he's an "Independent" - he does not always vote against whatever progressive legislation comes up. The Republicans do. Lieberman displays a finely tuned opportunism, like many other mainstream politicians. Don’t trust and do verify.

    The peace movement holds little sway - maybe no sway at all - with the Republicans. (The exception is of course Ron Paul's libertarianism with all its antisocial facets that wants us out of the current wars and is willing to cut the military budget.) But occasionally the conservative and moderate Democrats and Lieberman vote moderate.

    I'm not interested in working for conservative Democrats just because they're Democrats, but vote for one over a right-wing Republican? Yes. There is still a difference.

    We in the U.S. suffer severely because there exists no People's Party, no Labor Party that really represents our interests. Until one does, we often have the unpleasant choice between bad and worse. Let us not ignore the lessons of history and end up with worse.

    Anyone who thinks that the current Democratically controlled - more or less - Congress and the Obama administration are the worst possible scenario lacks imagination. Still, their record on peace and justice issues fluctuates between modest and despicable.

    Imperialists control our government. Period. Whatever Obama thinks – who knows? – he, his advisors, the lobbyists, the corporations, the military industrial complex are trying to maintain imperialism in the face of many objective barriers. They are looking for the right tactics to control the world's people and resources. By coercion if possible, by murder if necessary. The imperialists lie, cheat, steal, kill. The Party needs to recognize those facts, once again, act on them and construct the movement against imperialism. Those in the Party who deny the overwhelming influence of imperialism, building on Lenin's description a century ago, should either get an education or leave the Party.

    Anti-imperialism must be one of our cornerstones. If the Party isn't openly, proudly anti-imperialist how does the edifice stand? What do we have to offer that’s special? And how long before the remaining tenets crumble?

    Imperialism is not monolithic, or indestructible. There are cracks. Take advantage of them.

    Posted by Chester Steorra, 08/04/2010 12:05pm (6 years ago)

  • Great analysis. Faulty conclusion.

    Would electing Democrats like Lieberman and Spector help the cause of peace?

    I suggest following the tactics employed by AFL-CIO. They examine the candidates voting record and support those candidates that vote for working people's interests, whether they are Democrat, Republican or other. They have committees that make these decisions collectively.

    The Democrats cannot be consistently relied upon to support peace and working people's issues. It is important to look at the data and draw conclusions from the individual candidate's voting record. If a Democrat votes for the interests of the corporations, what good is that?

    Posted by Pat, 08/03/2010 11:02pm (6 years ago)

  • It's good to see such a strong article critical of Sec. Clinton and of Obama (I'm only surprised Sam did not mention US support for the coup in Honduras). Perhaps certain sectors of the left are correct to say the CP is too kind to the Democratic Party. All Democrats are not the same...and I wish I could be "bipartisan" about it but really almost all Republicans do have to toe a very hard-right line these days. Among Democrats there is a larger and larger anti-war (and dare we suggest anti-imperialist?) caucus growing every day, so it is not a contradiction to say, Elect more Democrats. It depends on what kind of Democrats!

    Posted by Eric, 08/03/2010 3:28pm (6 years ago)

  • Sam,
    Is there a possibility that behind all the maneuvering of US Imperialism there is an attempt, through military force, to have the huge loan to China either written off or recalulated ?

    Posted by Emil Shaw, 08/03/2010 1:19pm (6 years ago)

  • To Nicholas and Kenny,
    Whether it's a democrat or a republican it is clear that the agenda of our government is NOT peace or a stable foreign relations policy. I'm still wondering how President Obama qualified for the Nobel Peace Prize, but what do I know?

    What we must all come to understand and accept is that neithe the Democratic or Republican party wants peace. They oppose peace because their masters in the corporate sector stand to lose money should wars come to an end. Why do you think we are still in an unwinnable situations in Afghanistan and Iraq?

    Hilllary Clinton like most neo-liberals is a strong proponent of rattling swords and trying to intimidate other countries rather than to sit down in good faith and negotiate equitable agreements. Some say that the neo-liberals do this to appear "tough" and look good in the eyes of the reactionaries! Can you imagine going through life preferring to look good in the eyes of the worst element of our society, than to do the right thing?
    In the final analysis it's all about the money. War is big business and capitalists love money. The good book says that the love of money is the root of all evil. So true, so very true.

    Posted by Pancho Valdez, 08/03/2010 12:01pm (6 years ago)

  • Impeccable logic:
    1) Democrat Obama appointed Democrat Clinton to be Secretary of State.
    2) Clinton just threw gasoline on the political fires in Asia.
    3) So, let's elect more Democrats like Obama and Clinton in November.

    Thomas Kenny
    New York, NY

    Posted by Thomas Kenny, 08/03/2010 10:35am (6 years ago)

  • The historic connection between W.E.B. Du Bois's labors,the legacy of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.'s movement and its deep,deep meaning in peoples of color's consciousness,and all peoples allegiance to this movement,the re-connection with this(its the essence of the movement which elected Obama in the first place)is the historic,positive destiny of the working class and what we must help establish.
    This will be hard.
    It will require not only writing in the P W but working house by house,precinct by precinct,ward by ward.
    We do not,as a Party,have the start of the people power to do this. This is the problem. That is why we have to work with so many in such a non-sectarian way to complete this,and should recruit about 100 people per person-which we can do.
    Du Bois and King worked consistently in a non-sectarian way. Ben Davis Jr. and Pete Cacchione worked likewise.
    Let's start what we planned last year-in MO,IL,OH,FL,and CA,let's execute a plan of unity and consciousness and conscience to unify the peoples' movements around the November elections to expose all reactionary candidates and defeat them,especially in these and AZ(part of this is the critical Oct 2nd effort).
    Let's help supply the healing waters to prevent and stop wars and the tragic imperialist highjacking of the Du Bois and King movement for purposes of human destruction,and possibly nuclear conflagration,destroying all life on the planet.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 08/03/2010 10:26am (6 years ago)

  • Excellent article.

    Set phrases to include in the diplomat's bag of cliches:

    "Serving at the pleasure of the president."

    "Follow the money."

    Posted by Mark Baldwin, 08/03/2010 9:33am (6 years ago)

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