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David Rieff (born 1952, in Boston, Massachusetts) is an American nonfiction writer and policy analyst. His books have focused on issues of immigration, international conflict, and humanitarianism. He has published[…]

David Rieff reflects on Obama’s conservatism

Question: Will Obama be a foreign policy disappointment?Rieff:    I mean, the adulation that Obama is the subject of seems, to me, to put… charitably misplaced.  Obama’s a senator from Illinois.  He’s a centrist senator from Illinois.  By European standards, he would be on the right wane of any social democratic party, possibly the left wane of any Christian democratic party.  I don’t consider Obama to be a transformative figure.  Of course, symbolically, the fact that he’s black or anyway… of mixed race is very good, symbolically.  And anyone who has contempt for symbolic politics is a fool.  So… I mean, it’s significant that a non-white person could be president of the United States to the extent these racial categories even make sense in 2009.  But obviously, historically, they make more than tragic sense.  But I don’t consider anything… He said, during the campaign, particularly enlightened except by comparison to the Bush administration.  And I tend to share the view of a lot of American historians that George Bush is either the worst president of the history of the republic or the second worst after Buchanan.  So I… You know, I don’t think it’s hard to be better than Bush.  I think Mrs. Clinton would’ve been a lot better than Bush.  I think McCain would’ve been better than Bush.  As far as… What’s interesting to me about Obama in this sense, he seems to recapitulate the Clinton administration in its first term, is he’s fundamentally interested in domestic policy and economic policy.  Economic policy has to be interested because we’re stuck in this economic meltdown, the great recession or the new depression or whatever you want to call it it’s certainly one of the 2.  But I think he’s temperament was what led him to both… to interest in domestic politics.  And his expertise is certainly in domestic politics.  He’s a very intelligent man so… unlike his predecessors.  So obviously, he’s a guy like Bill Clinton who can… even on subjects he’s not particularly interested, he can master a brief… fast.  But I think… I thought it was always on the cards.  We spoke before he was elected, I thought he was always… it’s always on the cards that he would be very, very conventional and centrist in foreign policy, and I think he has been.  Having said that, he’s taken 2 initiatives that are excellent.  One is to tone down the rhetoric with Iran and at least make a few gestures toward diplomacy.  And the other has been the administration’s clear decision to liberalize relations with Cuba.  Already, they’ve roll back the Bush era restrictions on… some of the Bush era restrictions on travel and monetary transfers for Cuba-Americans toward their relatives on the island.  That’s very good.  But these are safe choices if you compare Obama’s decision not to rock the boat of the basic pro-Israel consensus in the US with his willingness to defy the old Cuban lobby.  All you have to do is see that the polling data suggest very strongly that younger Cuban-Americans support Obama’s view, that the hard line in Miami is increasingly that of people over 45 or 50.  Whereas, you know, the pro-Israel consensus remains as strong as ever in this country.  And I don’t… And he’s decided not to back it.  So… But I think on Cuba, on Iran, these have been better policies.  And I do think that the nomination of these special representatives particularly of Holbrooke and of Senator Mitchell are good decisions. These are smart, tough people who certainly are infinitely preferable to their predecessors, I think.  You know, it’s a good centrist, foreign policy.  It’s just not a huge departure from anything,