Amidst great expectations in the United States and overseas, on Tuesday, January 20, Barack Obama took the oath as the 44th President. In front of two million people who witnessed the ceremony in Washington and millions around the world who followed it by television, Obama delivered the inaugural address of his presidency, that begins with two wars under way, no less, Iraq and Afghanistan, and an economic crisis of historic magnitude.
But the illusions and expectations for Obama’s administration will collide with reality sooner rather than later; Wall Street, which welcomed Obama with the worst plunge in its history during a presidential inauguration, partly showed that. The worsening of the economic crisis is a fact, not only in the United States, but also among the European economies, showing that the bailouts of billions of dollars in recent months were completely insufficient (at press time, it was announced that in 2009 Germany will suffer the worse recession in years). The recent announcements of losses of millions by US and European banks, after having been “bailed out” during the previous months, only shows the seriousness of the economic situation, that is added to an international scene where the crisis is pushing to bigger conflicts between classes and states, with sharp conflicts, as in the Middle East.
In this complex international scene, Obama and his cabinet are preparing to respond to the numerous challenges that the battered US hegemony faces, the decline of which has been accelerating these last eight years of Republican government. The same factors that led to Obama’s victory, the crisis and the wars, are now the main challenge for the Democratic administration that will also have a congressional majority in both houses. In this sense, Obama warned, “… no less profound is a sapping of confidence across our land — a nagging fear that America’s decline is inevitable … the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time.”
The imperialist replacement that the election of Barack Obama expresses, and the expectations of the financial and political establishment, of restoring the position of the United States in the world, will be put to the test, just like the illusions of broad groups of the mass movement, immediately after the festivities in Washington.
Illusions and realities of the new administration
The symbolic weight of the arrival of the first African-American in the White House, with little experience in Washington and representing a supposed new generation, in addition to the broad rejection of George W. Bush, and the records that his two administrations leave, have nurtured the expectations of broad groups of the population, especially young people, women and the African-American and Latino communities in the US.
However, these last few months of “transition” have shown that, in spite of the promises and rhetoric of change of his campaign, Obama has been on the frontline of the bailout of billions of dollars for the banks and firms responsible for the crisis, which has meant growing unemployment and poverty for millions of working-class families in the US. Another sign was Obama’s silence when faced with the State of Israel’s brutal attack against the Gaza Strip.
As we suggested in the article, “Obama, candidate of change, President of continuity,” in the new issue of the magazine Estrategia Internacional: “But this promise of change appears to be completely meaningless. Far from expressing any change in the sense that a big part of his voters were waiting for, the personnel of the future administration display a clear continuity with the last few decades of US politics, a bipartisan synthesis between the moderate wing of the Republicans and key figures from the Clinton era, which indicates that it will involve no radical change, but will attempt to recover the ‘center’ of the political spectrum.”
Although the first measures by the new administration, like the suspension of trials at Guantánamo and the plan for gradual and “responsible” withdrawal from Iraq, appear to be gestures that they will try to leave behind some of Bush’s hated policies, essentially Obama and his cabinet — which has more old faces than new ones — will give continuity to the United States’ imperialist policy. Obama also made that clear during his words on January 20: “We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you.” And, with the veneer of a promise of a kind of return to multilateralism, he once again confirmed the continuity of imperialist policy and its “war against terrorism,” now focussed on Afghanistan: “Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort — even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan.”
Nor are radical changes concerning Latin America to be expected, beginning with continuing the blockade against Cuba (in force since 1962), which will not be lifted for now (there is only talk about remittances and trips to the island). In order to put an end to expectations that Chávez had once taken charge of spreading, Obama even declared that “Chávez has been a force that has interrupted progress in the region” and that “Venezuela is exporting terrorist activities [and] supporting malicious entities like the FARC.”
In the first weeks of the administration, it is expected that Obama and his cabinet will speed up negotiations with Congress and the Senate for approval of the $825 billion stimulus and assistance package, besides continuing bailout measures for firms (by continuing the bailout with billions of dollars initiated by the Republican administration), and job creation, something that “neo-Keynesian” economists like Paul Krugman consider completely insufficient for an economy that has already lost more than 2 million jobs.
Beyond being the first African-American President, Obama and the Democratic Party defend and represent the interests of the imperialist bourgeoisie, by seeking to safegard and guarantee the deals of its banks and firms. US workers are currently paying for the crisis with joblessness and wage cuts. To the extent this increases, the tendency will not be towards “reformist” solutions, but to new attacks against the masses of the people. This, combined with a deepening of the contradictions at an international level, could speed up the workers’ experience with the Obama administration more than anticipated, giving rise to a new stage of class struggle. Only the mobilization of the US working class, united to the anti-imperialist struggle of the entire continent, can offer a progressive perspective, in view of the horizon of suffering and savagery of imperialist capitalism.
We invite our readers to read more about Obama’s presidency in issue 25 of the magazine Estrategia Internacional, where articles about the international economic crisis, Latin America and Europe can also be found.
Translation by Yosef M