14 November 2012, 11:22

Will the changes in the US top brass lead to policy change?

Will the changes in the US top brass lead to policy change?

The two leading US daily newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post, have almost simultaneously published lengthy articles dealing with the question of who is going to replace Hillary Clinton and Leon Panetta as Secretaries of State and Defense respectively.

The reshuffle in the top brass of US defense and foreign policy has been planned long ago – Hillary Clinton is probably stepping down right after Barack Obama's second term inauguration in January next year, Leon Panetta may stay longer, but is definitely going to resign before the end of the President's second term. These days the discussion of the topic has become even more timely after the resignation of David Petraeus as director of the CIA.

Until recently, the discussion was mostly focused on two key figures who could replace Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State – Democratic Senator John Kerry, and the US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.

Both are known to be very close to the current president. Ms. Rice is regarded as a clear favorite. The only objection may come from the Republicans in the Congress who cannot forgive her statements concerning the deadly attack on the US consulate in Benghazi which resulted in the killing of the US ambassador to Libya. Ms. Rice said that the attack was spontaneous and a reaction to the infamous film "Innocence of Muslims". Republicans, who are less inclined to admit the anti-Islamic line of US foreign policy claim that the attack was a pre-planned terrorist act.

Senator Kerry is also Barack Obama's close confidant, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Obama's sparring partner during his preparations for debates with Mitt Romney. But as has been revealed by the Washington Post, President Obama is considering asking Senator Kerry to serve as his next Defense Secretary.

Still, one factor remains that may impede Kerry's appointment to either of the two positions. He represents Massachusetts in the Senate, and with the slim majority the Democrats enjoy there at present, Obama may not dare risk losing one of the staunchest supporters whose consequent re-elections are all but guaranteed as long as Kerry chooses to run.

In fact, all the discussions may be interesting for the US public. And the juicy scandal surrounding General Petraeus' resignation (which is likely to last long and probably not be limited to one person) is going to add fuel to the discussion and increase the enthusiasm (and incomes) of the media community.

But the core question remains obscured by the personal details. The question is, whether the changes, the shufflings and reshufflings in the top brass of the US military and diplomatic corps are indicating any change in the US policy?

The answer may come as a disappointing one. Remember the 2008 campaign and Barack Obama's slogan "The Change We Can Believe In". How many hopes were surrounding the campaign, the new face and the new, formerly unheard rhetoric! Obama was virtually falling over himself trying to demonstrate that he was different from his predecessors in all respects, including the military sphere and foreign policy. Obama, the Peacemaker was one of the highest hopes that was linked with his image.

It did not take long to make clear to almost everybody that however different from George W. Bush Barack Obama might look, his policy was basically following the same old route. He had promised to end the two wars launched by his predecessor. He ended one (he wouldn't have, had not Iraqi authorities firmly insisted on the total pullout of US troops), and that resulted in total chaos in Iraq. He is still promising to end the second one in Afghanistan, but as time passes by, it becomes more and more obvious that there will be no total pullout from there, and that the situation in Afghanistan is evolving according the worst thinkable scenarios.

More so, he launched an attack on Libya, is mulling a similar action against Syria and a military strike against Iran. A republican in the White House would have hardly done anything more.

And even if the change of the ruling party does not imply any major change in policies, why should personal details of the candidates belonging to the same party matter? Really, Obama could even make a random choice at the nearest crossroads between 1600 Pennsylvania avenue and the Capitol Hill. The core of the policy will remain unchanged.

Boris Volkhonsky, senior research fellow, Russian Institute for Strategic Studies

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