CC prof: Meltdown puts ‘decisive constraints’ on Obama foreign policy

A Colorado College political science professor paints a grim picture of the economic crisis facing the Obama administration and the constraints it will put on any attempt to redirect foreign policy. In an interview published Wednesday on the Harper’s Magazine Web site, international politics expert David Hendrickson — who recently wrote “Cause for Depression,” a pictorial guide to the financial crisis — spoke to Ken Silverstein and offered some dire predictions and grim warnings.

Hendrickson’s online guide is well worth a visit because it untangles the causes, implications and possibilities for responses in a format “generally pitched to the intelligent undergraduate who doesn’t know much but is eager to learn.”

The whole financial crisis now ongoing must appear as fundamentally bewildering to young people, they who just assumed that their parents’ generation knew what it was doing. Alas, no.

Speaking with Silverstein, Hendrickson pulls no punches describing the severity of the crisis: “It’s very big and we’re still early in the process,” he said. “We have the makings of a very serious downward spiral and we’re at the beginning stages.”

The situation puts substantial limits on an Obama administration’s ability to make good on campaign promises, Hendrickson says:

There will be decisive constraints. They will be able to undertake new initiatives, but only ones directed towards savings and cutting programs to make them more cost-effective. Obama’s capacity to undertake major initiatives in programs like health care will be extremely limited. The economic crisis Obama is inheriting is like the first President Bush’s gift of Somalia to the Clinton administration. After the 1992 election, President Bush sent substantial forces to Somalia, which became an enormous headache for Clinton. It was a parting gift. Now multiply the headache by 100 times. It’s not an entirely apt analogy, but the Bush Administration’s response to the financial crisis is a huge albatross for Obama.

Irrespective of the financial crisis, Hendrickson points to pitfalls awaiting an Obama foreign policy:

… He wants to surge into Afghanistan and he talks about that conflict in the same terms as Bush. Unfortunately, the strategy the United States has employed over the past six years or so has been a disaster. It’s consisted primarily of killing Taliban, but all the civilian deaths have antagonized much of the population there. Petraeus wants to do in Afghanistan what he did successfully in Iraq—divide the resistance by accommodating parts of it. Probably he deserves a chance to do so, but it needs to be emphasized that Afghanistan is not winnable by just sending in more troops to kill more Taliban. If Obama draws down troops from Iraq just to send them to Afghanistan, it will become his war. Disaster lurks if he’s not careful.

Some of the problems might be too expensive to fix properly, Hendrickson concludes. “A decade ago the United States was on top of the world economically, politically and militarily,” he said. “Since then, we’ve weakened in every dimension, yet we still have the same ambitions. Something has to give.”