Obama's first key appointment helped extinguish any fevered expectations of revolutionary change, as his first trumpet blast of change ushered in Rahm Israel Emanuel as his chief of staff. We could almost hear the collective moan of disappointment from the Middle East when Emanuel was appointed. His father was part of Israel's Irgun terrorist militia in the 1940s, and he himself served as a volunteer on an Israeli military base in 1991. Emanuel sent several letters to the White House accusing the Bush administration of being "too tough on Israel". Emanuel was also a figure in the Clinton administration, and he helped push through NAFTA, the crime bill, the balanced budget, and welfare reform. Unlike his new employer, he favored the war in Iraq. More recently, when he was chairing the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2006, he made substantial efforts to knock out anti-war Democratic candidates.
Obama is doing a great job so far of continuing Bush's anti-Iran rhetoric. When asked about Iran during his first press conference as President-elect, he reiterated the same US talking points about preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and demanding that it ends support for "terrorism". However, this attitude could change. Obama will most likely wait until the Iranian elections to interpret public opinion in Iran before even trying to end the diplomatic standoff with the Islamic Republic.
In regards to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, Obama will most likely continue the growingly pointless talks between the Palestinian Authority and the current Israel government. Odds are that we will not see in any dramatic shift in policy in this regard. Obama and the Democrats don't want to make enemies on Capitol Hill, so they'll leave the Palestinian issue alone, which in other terms means allowing the continued humanitarian suffering in Gaza.
Throughout the two year campaign, Obama had stated time and again that he wishes to withdraw from Iraq as soon as people. Allowing common sense to prevail, it would seem highly unlikely for him to do such a thing. Iraq is still negotiating a SOFA agreement with the United States, since the United Nations mandate ends in December 2008. The hopes held by the Iraqi government for an earlier withdrawal have only increased with the election of Obama. But realities on the ground in Iraq will most likely delay any swift withdrawal.
An Obama foreign policy is already becoming a nightmare, and the man has yet to even assume office. Among the possible contenders for his top foreign policy advisers is Madeline Albright, the great supporter of sanctions on Iraq during the Clinton era which killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people. This same Albright shamelessly condoned the sanctions on 60 Minutes when she infamously declared: "I think this is a very hard choice. But the price – we think the price is worth it." Another worrying prospect is Samantha Powers, who advocates "humanitarian intervention" in Darfur and may just lead Obama to send troops to Sudan.
Obama's win is a symbolic victory. Celebrating the end of the Bush administration is one thing, but celebrating the continuation of his policies with a different administration is another. The current Obama plans appear to be leading us back to the Clinton era, which may be swallowed for a year or two while the economy is regrouped. This is not the change we have been promised, and this is a far cry from the change needed to reach social, economic, and environmental justice.
Alas, we can only hope for 2012.