Peace Magazine

Obama's Legacy

John Feffer lives in Washington, D.C., where the directs the Institute for Policy Studies’ publication, Foreign Policy in Focus, and watches diplomats come and go. Metta Spencer interviewed him over breakfast one cold day in Toronto.

By Metta Spencer (interviewer); John Feffer (interviewee)

METTA SPENCER: So you’ve come to Toronto and you’re going to tell us what we need to know about US foreign policy.

JOHN FEFFER: I think a lot of people are interested in US foreign policy because the US is involved, pretty much everywhere in the world. Everybody has an opinion about it. Judging from opinion polls around the world, most of those opinions are negative, with a few exceptions. It is generally positive in Poland.

SPENCER: What about Lithuania, Estonia…?

FEFFER: Generally favourable. It’s a little different in Western Europe. When Obama became president, there was a positive spike in US popularity. During the Bush administration, as you might guess, US popularity in the Muslim world was low, as a result of US interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq and the predominantly Muslim casualties in those conflicts, as well as in US drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia.

SPENCER: That wasn’t as much under the Bush administration as it has become under Obama.

FEFFER: Correct. And when Obama became president, he made a special effort to reach out to the Muslim world. About five months into his first term he gave a speech in Egypt—a “re-start.” The speech was very well received. He said basically all the right things: Islam is an important religion that has contributed to world civilization.

SPENCER: And he halfway apologized for the intervention against Iran’s Mossa­degh [in 1953]. The first time that was ever said by an Amer­ican leader, right?

FEFFER: Right. The speech was interrupted several times with applause and cheers. After that, there was a spike in US popularity in the Muslim world. That lasted about a month. Then, not only did US unpopularity return to the dismal, two-figure rates of the Bush administration, but actually went lower. The reason was that, despite Obama’s useful rhetoric, US policy remained unchanged. There were two policies that Obama promised to continue when he sat down with George W. Bush. One was the drone attacks. The other was the then-secret plan to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

SPENCER: Stuxnet.

FEFFER: Exactly. Those were the two things Obama promised to Bush. And Obama actually increased the drone attacks dramatically—not only their number but also the places where they were conducted.

Second, it’s true that Obama was elected in part because of his promise to end the Iraq war, and he began to implement it when he became president, but some people were surprised that he didn’t end the war in Afghanistan. But as a candidate he had never said that he was going to end the war in Afghanistan. In fact, he had said that the war in Iraq was the wrong war but the war in Afghanistan was the right war. In fact, the US was going to end the war in Iraq so it could focus on the right war. That led eventually to the escalation—the additional 30 or 40 thousand troops the US sent to Afghanistan. Now, all of that combined as a much stronger message to the Muslim world than anything Obama said. The average Muslim opened up the paper, which said again: Dead Muslims. That was a much more powerful emotional signal—that the US policy still fundamentally treated Muslim lives differently.

So, where we are today in US foreign policy is a mixed legacy. On the positive side, I would say that in general Obama recognizes, more than his predecessors, the declining utility of military force. In a variety of different documents, the Obama administration has said, “military force cannot solve this problem.” Whether it’s a problem in Ukraine, or with ISIS, or the Syrian War, he has consistently given this message. It sets him apart, not only from the Repub­licans, who have consistently said that the US must be more aggressive in prosecuting its military policies around the world, but also from the Democratic challengers. It set him apart from Hillary Clinton in the 2008 election.

SPENCER: Even when she was secretary of state.

FEFFER: Yes, although to a certain extent Hillary modified her position as secretary of state because she was secretary of state, not secretary of defence.

SPENCER: But it raises questions about what will happen when she is president.

FEFFER: Exactly. And she has recently emphasized the importance of using military power around the world. So this is on the positive side. Obama has distinguished himself in this regard. The 2015 national security strategy, which is his second national security strategy, is probably the closest the United States has come to endorsing the concept of human security. It hasn’t used the term, for it would be the kiss of death for any American president to use such a foreign concept as human security. It’s the first time that in the section on security, which previously had just been about military issues, non-military questions are addressed—in this case, climate change and health pandemics. Finally, at last, the notion of security is expanded.

SPENCER: This is news to me. I’m not aware that it has come out.

FEFFER: Yes, about two weeks ago. It is a sea change in understanding of security issues by an American administration.

As a candidate, Obama said he would respond positively, diplomatically, to any government that was an adversary of the United States that extended its hand for negotiation. Initially there weren’t a lot of takers but after six years we can say that there have been some accomplishments: Myanmar…

SPENCER: Yes.

FEFFER: There were not many reasons why Myanmar and the US were sitting down. Behind it was the concern of both countries with China and its grow­ing influence in the region. Both Myan­mar and the United States find it potentially threatening.

And most recently, Obama opened up to Cuba, and is making efforts to negotiate an end to Iran’s nuclear program. And he made attempts elsewhere in the world that didn’t work. There was an attempt with North Korea; it didn’t last very long. Obviously there was an attempt with Israeli-Palestinian relations on the part of John Kerry. All of these have been packaged as “Obama’s diplomatic offensive.” Very positive.

On other issues, clearly the US has not gone far enough on climate change questions but the president is serious about it. He’s not only trying to find funding to wean the United States off fossil fuels, but also he recognizes that the US economy has to be transformed. This is all mitigated by the power of fossil fuel interests.

SPENCER: To what extent is he limited by Congress? Take this thing about executive orders. How much can he do?

FEFFER: I would divide US policy under Obama into three categories: One consists of the positive things he has accomplished. Two consists of the positive things he wants to accomplish but has been thwarted from doing. Three is the not-so-positive things he has done, either because he actually believes in these not-so-positive things or because he’s been forced into doing them against his will.

SPENCER: And you think you know which is which?

FEFFER: One would hope. (We laugh.) So I’ve covered the positive stuff. Now we get to the part where he’s been thwarted. A good example is closing Guantanamo. He was committed to doing it and his first act as president was to write that order. Then he discovered that Congress actually could block his relocation of people in Guantanamo to American facilities and their trial in various courts. So what he has done—which is an unsatisfactory solution for many but from a pragmatic side may have been the only option—is just to release people, systematically, over time. He has substantially reduced the population of Guantanamo.

SPENCER: Some of those guys have found their way back into battle.

FEFFER: Right. That doesn’t help the overall aim of closing Guantanamo, but it’s a very small minority. I think there have been three. Most have gone to Uruguay, Albania—scattered around the world.

SPENCER: Did the US negotiate with those countries? Did they pay them off with something to get them to take these folks?

FEFFER: I don’t really know. I know that Uruguay stepped forward willingly. Uruguay has its own history of torture. The current leader of Uruguay is progressive. I think he felt that because of Uruguay’s history it was important to step forward and help people who had been tortured. Albania has a different relationship with America, but it did so as part of an overall quid pro quo. Albania and Kosovo have a warm spot for the US.

Another example of being thwarted is the Keystone pipeline. It’s unclear exactly where the president stands, though he is vetoing the legislation passed by Congress to finish the project. One day he seems to favour the expansion of (especially) shale in general, because it diminishes US dependency on Middle East oil.

SPENCER: In Canada the question always is: Why is he delaying making a decision?

FEFFER: A good question. Obama does not have a strongly defined agenda, aside from a couple of items. He wanted to get that health care bill passed. But even with that, he didn’t come in with a particular kind of health care plan in mind. It was more: I will find a middle way between different opposing interests. And that’s his political perspective—his purple America perspective, trying to find solutions that appeal to both blue America and red America. He knows that this is the only way of getting a bill through. But I think it’s also his philosophical approach. He’s quite aware of the importance of these powerful blocs in society, which he has not taken on. With the health care bill he took on the insurance companies, but he negotiated a deal in which the insurance companies get something out of it too—perhaps even more than under the previous system.

When it came to sustainable energy, he pushed through some funding finally for solar cell manufacturers, but he also threw some sops to the oil and gas industry. He is finding a solution that will effectively support an alternative within the context of the status quo. He is not interested in upending the status quo, but in finding an alternative that can somehow exist within the status quo and—within his mind­—perhaps someday replace the status quo, but he’s not going to be the person doing the replacement.

His statements on nuclear disarmament are emblematic in this regard. He doesn’t say nuclear disarmament is going to take place tomorrow. He doesn’t even say it’s going to take place within his term or even within the lifetime of his children. Possibly his grandchildren!

SPENCER: You’re putting this in the category of policies in which he is constrained. That’s what I’m wondering. I guess he thinks he is being constrained from doing something more immediate about nuclear disarmament, but I wish he would try a little harder!

FEFFER: It would be interesting to consider this in terms of his understanding of the challenge of being African-American in a white racist society. I think his experience is that, as an African-American, you can put forward your perspectives up to a certain limit—that is the limit of white American culture to accept African-Americans as equal. Of course, he recognizes the progress that has been made because of the civil rights movement—which was not a polite movement!

SPENCER: Martin Luther King did not say many sweet things about nuclear weapons himself.

FEFFER: No, he didn’t. King also said that the arc of justice eventually will bend. He didn’t necessary say it will bend the next day. I think that longer-term perspective is what Obama is embodying. Now in some cases he has acted strongly. On immigration, he said this is a problem we have to deal with right away. It was also a great political opportunity to boost Democratic Party support among Latino voters but, that aside, the Republicans had blocked the immigration bill repeatedly. There was no prospect this was going to be brought up again, so Obama said, “Forget it. I’m just going to use the executive order here.” So he recognizes at times that action is necessary.

But even take the case of Cuba. That seemed like a dramatic step that opened him up to criticism from Republicans, from Cuban-Americans in Florida—that this would be a dangerous move.

SPENCER: I don’t think so.

FEFFER: Right. What seemed like a politically dangerous move was not, because public opinion had changed in favor of détente with Cuba. It had shifted even within the Cuban-American community. He knew he would have majority support. That’s what he is always looking for—dramatic moves that are actually deeply popular, that can expose the opposition as being really minority. The Republicans are a minority on immigration questions, on economic justice questions, and on nuclear weapons issues. Remember, Obama makes his statement about nuclear disarmament only after the these old Cold Warriors, the “Four Horsemen”—George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn and William Perry—have said that disarmament is in US interests. It wasn’t a very radical statement on Obama’s part.

SPENCER: It would have been a radical thing if he had done it, though!

FEFFER: That’s true. But Obama’s defining feature is that he’s not triangulating in the way that Clinton triangulates. He is looking for radical statements or actions that, when examined closely, are deeply popular.

SPENCER: Let’s talk about the nuclear thing. All the polls I have ever read said that every society in the world except Israel wants to get rid of nuclear weapons. So it would be popular with the general public, though I don’t know how it would break in terms of the parties. Why can’t he take that into account when calling for this investment of—what? A trillion dollars? For modernizing nuclear weapons?

FEFFER: It’s about two hundred billion over the next ten years. There are a couple of reasons. The first one is political. The only way he could get the new START treaty passed through Congress was a deal, particularly with Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona. Kyl insisted that he wouldn’t get the START treaty unless modernization was accepted. So that’s how it was billed. The irony is that Kyl got what he wanted, then voted against New START anyway. The bill passed. It didn’t need Kyl’s support in the Senate. And then Kyl disappeared from the Senate. So that may have been a lesson to Obama about what it takes politically to get something through. But that was fairly early in his first term. Unfor­tunately, that modernization program, which had been a practice earlier, now is fully set into national policy.

SPENCER: He can’t pull it out? They made all this noise about how they were going to cut expenditures. You’d think that’s a good place to cut.

FEFFER: Except they haven’t cut expenditures.

SPENCER: They haven’t cut military expenditures but they talk about cutting other things. Why not that?

FEFFER: It would be lovely if they did that. When Gates was talking about the Pentagon, there actually was talk about eliminating one of the strategic triad. That would have reduced America’s nuclear footprint quite substantially.

SPENCER: Which one would they have eliminated?

FEFFER: Probably the strategic bombers.

SPENCER: That’s what I’d figure. Probably the last to go would be submarines?

FEFFER: Right. They are the hardest to detect. But that was in the context of a conversation about sequestration—the mandatory reduction of both military and domestic spending, if Congress didn’t come to an agreement. When they did come up with a budget deal, sequestration was postponed. Obama’s proposed budget this year goes beyond the limits that were set in the previous budget deal. He’s proposing a considerable increase in spending on infrastructure projects.

SPENCER: You were talking about constraints, but this is his own idea, isn’t it?

FEFFER: Yeah. Now we get into this second reason why Obama (at least in his own mind) can’t pursue more dramatic steps toward nuclear disarmament. The Republicans say: The world has become a more dangerous place, so the US has to stop its drift and step up to world leadership and more robust military engagement in the world. That requires more military spending and the nuclear deterrent. The general perspective is that if Obama were to cut back, he and the Democratic Party would again be put in the traditional place, weak on defence, and at a particularly dangerous time. That’s reason number two.

Number three is the specific relationship between the United States and Russia. Nuclear disarmament was taking place within the “reset” and it was expected that nuclear disarmament would be bilateral up until they had reached the level of weapons that Britain or France had, and then the conversation would become more general. But that didn’t happen and the relationship with Russia went south. And so those are three reasons why nuclear disarmament didn’t happen: the political deals that took place, the overall relation with the world, and then the particular relationship with Russia.

SPENCER: Let me interrupt your narrative to ask about the relations with Russia. I have been surprised by some of Gorbachev’s statements about US positions. He said, for example, that he had initially liked Obama, but now he sees him as triumphalist. I’m not quite sure what Obama has done to deserve that term. What do you make of that perception? I think Gorbachev is believing too much of what he sees on Russian TV.

FEFFER: I’d say there is some element of truth here, and gets me to the third category: things that Obama has done that I don’t like. To state the obvious, Obama is an American president. And that is like a suit of armor that you put on when you walk into the Oval Office. Regardless of what you may think inside it, you are wearing that suit of armor and it restricts your movements. He’s president of the strongest military power in the world. Every previous president since McKinley has passed on to him this brief: that the US must preserve this position in the world. To do that, there has to be a measure of triumphalism. The assumption about “triumphalism” is that the president of the country is crowing about his victory. In his own personality, Obama is not much of a triumphalist, but if you read his speeches he is always talking (even in the national security strategy) about America’s exceptionalist tradition. It’s true that he has relativized it a bit, saying, for example, that “all countries have exceptionalist traditions.” But he has carefully said all the things that Americans expect their president to say about exceptionalism. So there is that element of triumphalism there. Maybe Gorbachev expected that, as part of the reset, America would alter its position about NATO expansion.

SPENCER: I wish he had.

FEFFER: Of course. But unfortunately, it was unrealistic that Obama was going to reverse that approach.

SPENCER: Oh, come on! Why couldn’t he?

FEFFER: Because NATO now is driven as much by its new members in Eastern Europe as by the older members. And, I’m sorry, but they don’t want to be on the front line. They would prefer there to be a front line a little farther to the east. I’m talking about their NATO attitudes, not their attitudes about sanctions against Russia, which involves a different set of calculations. But as NATO members, they are still concerned about their security vis-a-vis Russia, and they want the United States to have their back. And NATO expansion included them, so NATO expansion is good. And in Poland, there has been a consistent belief that the status of Ukraine is essential for Poland’s security, and that extending NATO guarantees to Ukraine is an extension of guarantees to Poland itself.

SPENCER: But it ain’t gonna happen!

FEFFER: Well, I’m just explaining why Obama didn’t change. It’s not just the push inside US politics. It would be such a major departure from the orthodoxy of the Democratic and Republican Party to reverse. It would go against serious American and allied interests. And Obama is not interested in upending anything, but he’s looking for policies with broad popular support. And unfortunately, this does not have broad popular support, either in the United States or in Eastern Europe—and elsewhere in Europe as well, although there are unorthodox voices in some NATO countries.

SPENCER: So there’s no broad popular support anywhere for limiting NATO expansion. But it’s still not going to happen! So why not say the truth? If they wanted to defend Ukraine, they would have done it already. So they don’t want Ukraine in NATO and it’s not going to be in NATO. So face it!

FEFFER: Right, but it’s not just Ukraine. We’re talking about a number of other countries too. For instance, it looked like Georgia’s membership in NATO was off the table in 2008.

SPENCER: You don’t think it is off now?

FEFFER: Look at what happened at the last NATO summit. They started talking about what Georgia could do as intermediate steps toward NATO membership. They weren’t going to talk about an accession agreement but they were going to talk about having a military exercise—steps taking forward.

SPENCER: Every peacenik I know would say that this is the most important way, if not the only way, in which Putin is right. It was a really bad decision that Clinton made.

FEFFER: Absolutely, You’ll get agreement from me as well. I said it at the time, and again in the 1990s, and unfortunately the United States and Europe are reaping what they sowed in that period. That’s my opinion but you didn’t ask my opinion. Our perspective is not popular in NATO or the political apparatus in most of the key countries. There are some differing opinions in Germany, Austria, and France, but we’re in a different space now than when Obama took office. There were more political opportunities in 2009 and 2010. Now we have to deal with the conflict, and with the potential of escalation and the deteriorating US-Russian relationship. As you said, it’s possible that NATO expansion will be re-evaluated by NATO itself. On the other hand, it may sharpen things even more.

SPENCER: Yeah, but can’t it be re-evaluated, not because NATO wants to change, but because that’s the only way to solve the conflict with Russia? Is there a chance that Putin’s going to win that part of it?

FEFFER: I think that for the interim, the outcome will be similar to what happened in 2008—the period of time when Georgian membership in NATO really was off the table. There may be a period when Ukrainian membership is off the table, as part of the agreement.

For me that’s an opportunity to have a broader conversation about European security problems, and how to set up a structure that accommodates both Europe and the United States. Of course, we have a structure like that. It’s called the OSCE.

SPENCER: Medvedev also proposed a security architecture for Europe and Russia, which was totally ignored. What do you think about that?

FEFFER: What the United States wanted by way of restructuring was the Partnership for Peace, which was an overarching structure that accommodated NATO and Russia, as well as all the countries in between that were not NATO members but had been in the Soviet Union. Russia ultimately became very sceptical about that because it saw the Partnership for Peace as just a temporary structure until everybody could join NATO—except for Russia. And on the other side, I think the United States saw Medvedev’s plan as a way of gaining a Russian veto over policies that both the United States and existing NATO members wanted to push forward.

So can we find something that is neither that nor the Partnership for Peace? Can we find some kind of European security structure that is flexible enough to accommodate Russia’s objections and at least part of NATO’s existing security concerns? I think there is, but it’s going to require a lot of conversations.

NATO’s original alternative was to go global—to expand, not only to the Soviet Union, but to take on members like Japan and Korea, and to effectively create a kind of universal pro-American military alliance. I think that’s a horrible idea.

What Russia has been pushing is a kind of Eurasian alternative. They created the Shanghai Cooperation Council: Russia, China, and the Central Asian countries, with a number of other countries like Pakistan and Iran as observers. And this was the worst possible kind of outcome—a Cold War revived, but absorbing what had previously been non-aligned countries. NATO to a certain extent has backed off its global option, partly because NATO members were concerned about loss of focus. There was also a resource question because European countries were reducing their military spending. The enthusiasm for the Shanghai Cooperation Council is still there, but there are competing initiatives—the BRICS banks, and so on. Russia is also dealing with its failing economy at the moment. My hope is that both the ideas will ultimately be replaced by kind of overlapping initiatives that include countries from both sides.

SPENCER: How are you going to get there?

FEFFER: Well, that’s the interesting thing. Take the OSCE, which was the CSCE. The CSCE began during the Cold War and many people thought that there’s no way that this structure is going to get anything done because it includes countries on both sides of the Iron Curtain. But it did. Not only in articulating principles that became important later on, but also in dealing, day to day, with conventional force reductions, specific human rights questions on both sides, scientific and educational exchanges. So even before it became an organization, it actually functioned.

You see something similar with what’s going on in northeast Asia. You have “ASEAN-Plus” in which there are countries of very different profiles working with China, South Korea, and Japan on specific issues. That’s a crosscutting structure. Both of these structures still exist today—OSCE and ASEAN-Plus. These can exist within their respective spheres. I see no reason why we can’t have something comparable overlapping that includes Russia and the United States.

SPENCER: (Laughs.) Something once known as the United Nations?

FEFFER: The problem with the United Nations is—(a) It hasn’t been reformed to reflect realities of the post-Cold War world; (b) it has an unwieldy voting procedure that makes it difficult for the organization as a whole to move forward on a number of issues; and © because it includes everybody, it obviously has a problem with focus. So there are advantages for regional structures, addressing regional questions. Having a set of overlapping structures that go from the United States through to Asia, addressing these questions, is the next step for us.

SPENCER: Well, if you talk about OSCE and ASEAN, you don’t cover South America or Africa or the Middle East, but the UN would take care of all of that.

FEFFER: Absolutely. This is not replacing the UN; this is just alongside the UN, but addressing questions of Eurasian security in a way that doesn’t boil down to a global NATO or Russia and China against everybody else. There has to be something that in an innovative way allows the United States, Russia, and China to work out very real disputes. Some are territorial, some are economic, some are global—climate change, for example.

The Japanese have a verb that refers to coming to consensus before you sit down at the negotiating table. Consensus is so important for the Japanese that they don’t want there to be open disputes in a meeting. The parties get together beforehand so that when they come to the table, they can have harmony. That’s what this would do—allow countries to achieve some kind of consensus before going public at the UN or their own press conferences.

SPENCER: How are you going to get that?

FEFFER: First you have to have leaders who are willing to have that conversation. We have two out of three at the moment—China and the United States. Putin still hasn’t achieved what he wants to achieve—creating this buffer zone around Russia where he can be confident that, even if the sovereignty issue, and the international recognition of this buffer zone is ambiguous, he can be sure that nothing will happen in this buffer zone that will harm Russian interests. That buffer zone would include Eastern Ukraine, a section of Georgia. He’s already negotiated an agreement with Kazakhstan in which Kazakhstan accords its sizeable Russian minority the rights that Russia will find acceptable. It’s still up in the air in the Baltics. There are a number of issues that Putin has to solve, so I think he would not be a willing partner.

We might see a change in Russia after Putin exits, but it’s not just Putin. His popularity and Gorbachev’s statements indicate that there is a broad sense among Russians that they were not respected at the end of the Cold War, that they have not been given a place at the table commensurate with their size and economic and military power, that the upstart countries that had been part of the Soviet Union are not respecting the rights of Russian-speakers or the privileges of Russia as the largest country in the region. This remains a chief element of political culture in Russia, so the departure of Putin won’t mean the end of this political culture. It will require significant soul-searching, something that Serbia has gone through.

But Serbia has gone through it largely because of the promise of joining the European Union and no longer being an outsider. What will it require for Russia to engage in this kind of soul-searching? One could say that if we set up a structure that I have described, Russia’s membership in that might be sufficient. There have to be some carrots in there—some benefits to being part of this new European structure. Maybe there will be some economic benefits—trade, getting rid of sanctions. Mind you, Serbia has done that, but has Japan done that?

SPENCER: No.

FEFFER: And it has been seventy years since the end of World War II.

SPENCER: I like this wonderful vision of yours, but I’ve taken you away from the three categories you began with—what Obama has done, what he is constrained from doing, and what he has done wrong. It’s a terrible way to end the interview, but what are the things that he is wrong-headed about?

FEFFER: All right, but I will also talk about what might happen after 2016. We’ve talked a little about what he has been wrong-headed about. He really hasn’t challenged American exceptionalism or the notion that America must remain the pre-eminent power. Ob­viously, increases in military spending. The seemingly arbitrary use of military power in terms of targeted assassinations. The president has a weekly meeting in which he looks at the kill list. This is a terrible precedent to establish.

And he just gave the green light for the export of drones. It’s not the first country to do so but it will contribute to the proliferation of drones in the world. Obviously, Obama has presided over the strengthening of the national security state at home—surveillance of US citizens and foreign leaders. Those are the negative ones I would emphasize. I’m not crazy about his embrace of the Trans-Pacific Partnership but that clearly is not something he was going to win on.

If we take all those together and calculate what his legacy will be, there is nobody on the political scene in the United States today with any chance of becoming president who believes in the positive legacy of emphasizing diplomacy instead of the use of military force. No one in the American scene who has the courage to take that element of Obama’s legacy and say: “We have to continue this.” Not Hillary Clinton and certainly none of the Republican challengers.

I think that in his last two years Obama is trying to institutionalize these in specific cases. He knows he’s not going to win on the general doctrine. He could get a deal with Iran. Obviously, he’s opened Cuba. He’s even holding open the possibility of a deal with Russia in his national security strategy. So I think that is what he is attempting to do: get these things up and running so they have enough momentum so the next president can’t destroy that progress.

Whoever we have after 2016 will probably be even more committed to maintaining the status quo and keeping our nuclear arsenal, or giving priority to Wall Street to determine our economic policies, or outsourcing our energy. Currently, nobody is going to challenge the status quo. At least Obama is ambivalent.

SPENCER: Can you see any upside?

FEFFER: Yes, there is momentum around the world in civic movements toward greater economic equality, greater diplomatic engagement, much more concern for dealing with climate change. I’ll end with that. Climate change, as far as I am concerned, is what will change the political culture—not only in the United States but internationally. In order to deal with climate change it requires a transformation of lifestyle, and it requires an enormous amount of money to effect that transformation—and that money can only come from a couple of places, one is which is military budgets. It will be the most important transformation of world economies since the industrial revolution.

The question is: Who will be putting forward the kind of international structures that are necessary to preside over that transformation? And where the new power centers will be emerging in this new global economy. And what role will civic movements play in this new global economy? All of that can be dangerous, but I prefer to think of it as enormously liberating.

SPENCER: Fabulous. Thank you!

John Feffer is director of Foreign Policy in Focus, a publication of the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C.
Metta Spencer is editor of Peace.

Published in Peace Magazine Vol.31, No.2: Apr-Jun 2015
Archival link: http://www.peacemagazine.org/archive/v31n2p08.htm
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