We are living through an extraordinary moment in recent world history. For sixty years, America has organized its entire foreign policy around the projection of military force, the support of ostensibly stable dictators, the protection of Israel, and the pretence of a concern for what we grandly call freedom and democracy. This policy has cost us untold trillions of dollars, weakening our infrastructure and condemning Americans to an increasingly unequal distribution of our enormous annual output of goods and services. But it has served American capital rather well, which was, indeed, its purpose.
Now, the world we helped to create and on which we have relied is coming undone. Not even the dissolution of our premier enemy, the Soviet Union, caused us to reconsider, let alone revise, the premises on which our entire foreign policy has rested for almost all of my life. But what is happening in North Africa and the Middle East holds out the promise of a fundamental reorganization of the world geopolitical order.
There is an opportunity here for a radical break with the past that would nevertheless continue to serve the long-run interests of capital [it is not even worth fantasizing about a future in which the American state is committed to anything else.] Obama needs not simply to adjust to what is happening in the world but to embrace it, own it, support it. He needs at long last to sever our ties with regimes like that in Saudi Arabia. There is no serious danger that this could lead to a cut off of our oil imports. Oil is fungible [with some minor caveats about different kinds of crude] and is sold into a world market. The nations that supply the bulk of the world's oil have no choice but to sell it. Their survival depends upon doing so. At the same time, Obama needs to terminate the costly, futile, destructive, pointless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Neither nation is where the real action in the Middle East is taking place.
Will Obama take either of these steps? I see absolutely no sign that he is inclined toward either. Nor, I might add, is any other major American public figure. Doctrinaire libertarians like Ron and Rand Paul are sympathetic to a minimalist foreign policy, but they carry no weight either in their own party or among the right wing fanatics who support them.
Fortunately for the hundreds of millions of Muslims, young and old, who are risking their lives in these uprisings, America's failure to support them actively will not condemn them to failure. But we are shamed as a nation by our failures at this moment.