Posts Tagged ‘pilotless drones’

Disillusion among Liberal Supporters: Obama’s Foreign / Military Policy

January 19, 2010
by Jack A. Smith
Global Research, January 19, 2010

A year has gone by since Sen. Barack Obama assumed the presidency, replacing George W. Bush, who was among the worst chief executives in American history.

The election of an African American to the White House is an historically positive development. And his first year in office  has shown his superiority to Bush and his defeated opponent, rightist Sen. John McCain, in several areas.

At the same time, in terms of foreign/military policy, President Obama has essentially continued many of the Bush Administration’s initiatives  first and foremost his predecessor’s “global war on terrorism,” but in other international endeavors as well.

Democrats of the political center and center right have remained uncritical of President Obama‹ some to the extent of keeping quiet about, or supporting, his administration’s expanding wars, although they may have opposed the wars during Bush’s reign.

But a number of liberal Obama supporters who identify with the party’s center left are expressing serious disappointment. Center right governance, continual compromise with the right wing Republicans, and more wars are not the changes they expected from a candidate some believed to harbor progressive intentions.

In this article we will explore the first year of President Obama’s foreign/military policies ‹ a principal source of progressive dissatisfaction.

On one level, the Bush-Obama global war on terrorism, with its military moves in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines and elsewhere, are aimed at defeating al-Qaeda, which claims responsibility for the attack of Sept. 11, 2001, and other organizations it deems to be “terrorist,” even if their activities are confined to their own countries or in fact are not actually terrorists at all.

But on another far more important level the real objective of this endless series of wars is the attainment of geostrategic advantage against any country or bloc that potentially might undermine Washington’s dominion over world affairs.

Within this strategic context the Obama government is particularly interested in five objectives: (1) Winning the Afghan war, or at least conveying the impression that the U.S. has not lost; (2) Making sure Washington’s old Cold War rivals ‹ now reconstituted as the economic powerhouse of China and resource-rich Russia ‹ are “contained,” or at least are not subverting American power; (3) keeping the European Union in tow as a junior partner; (4) insuring that Latin America and the Caribbean remain firmly within the Yankee sphere of influence; and (5) certifying that the lion’s share of the world’s petroleum and natural gas resources continue to accrue to the world’s only military superpower.

Obama’s foreign/military strategy is a continuation of policies that began in the aftermath of World War II in 1945. For the first 45 years, to 1990, the main goal was to dominate and lead the capitalist countries in a Cold War to overpower socialist and communist alternatives to capitalism. For the remaining 20 years the main goal was for the U.S. to dominate and lead all of countries of the world as the “indispensable” unipolar hegemon.

The eight years of the Bush Administration deviated from America’s postwar international line, but not in its devotion to fulfilling the political system’s hegemonic and militarist goals. Where Bush ruptured the continuity of traditional U.S. foreign/military policy was in the counterproductive methodology and dysfunctional risk evaluation emanating from the hubris and gross misperceptions of the neoconservative ideologists who crafted presidential decisions.

Starting unjust wars against much smaller countries hardly contradicts traditional U.S. international behavior. Indeed, it is the hallmark of such behavior. But responding to 9/11 with an amorphous, endless, and unwinnable “war on terrorism” was absurd. The subsequent attack on desperate, underdeveloped Afghanistan, and then invading already half-crippled Iraq, were disastrous errors that have cost Washington mightily in terms of treasure and reputation.

Bush announced early in his administration: (1) that the Pentagon would exercise its full spectrum military dominance, preemptively when desired, against any challenge from anywhere ‹ and demanded worldwide allegiance to Washington’s adventurism; (2) that the mission of the White House was to transform the governments of “rogue countries,” “failed states,” and societies that “harbored terrorists” into “democratic” subsidiaries of the U.S. government by violence if persuasion failed; (3) that other countries ‹ especially America’s NATO allies ‹ must dance to Washington’s martial music or risk being shunned or even tossed aside like a used tissue or an Old Europe.

The result of Bush’ overt imperialist grab to extend Washington’s global domination, coupled with rude treatment and bullying of hesitant allies, was the weakening of U.S. world power politically, militarily, and economically.

Politically, many allied nations grew more distant. Much of heretofore subordinate Latin America began to move left and to ignore Uncle Sam’s orders. The Muslim world was aghast at Bush’s unjust wars against two Islamic countries and 100% support for Israel. Militarily, the Pentagon’s armies suffered the humiliation of being fought to a stalemate by small and poorly armed guerrilla forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Economically during this period the U.S. became the world’s greatest debtor nation, and of course it sank into a painful recession.

Regarding debt, which is often brushed aside, an article in the Dec. 29 Financial Times pointed out: “Over the next decade U.S. publicly held debt is forecast to more than double to 85% of gross domestic product ‹ the highest rate since the second world war. And that is without including the intra-government debt in Social Security and Medicare, the government health scheme for the elderly, which would push U.S. indebtedness well above 100% of GDP during Mr. Obama¹s second term. Hegemons cannot for long survive such rising indebtedness.”

As President Obama entered the White House a year ago, the U.S. was still the world’s only superpower and despite its debts and the recession it remained a rich and dominant country. Its share of global income remains about where it has been for decades: 22%. But America’s standing in the world was greatly diminished because of its past and especially more recent policies. Also, other nations were rising, such as the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China). And some previously subordinate countries were disinclined to continue playing follow the leader after Washington’s neoliberal economic model caused them grave hardship and its extreme laissez faire form of capitalism sparked the present recession.

What principally props up the U.S. today is

(1) its overall military power and hair-trigger willingness to use it;

(2) the continuing political and organizational weakness of the European Union, a potentially powerful economic competitor and rival were it to leave Washington’s orbit;

(3) and China’s expressed indifference to displacing the U.S. as the global hegemon. Beijing has been committed for decades to multipolarity,  global leadership by several countries and blocs, not just the present unipolar superstate. Many other countries support such a reorganization.

Washington grudgingly recognizes that some form of multipolarity is unavoidable within the next decade or two at most, in which case it would certainly seize the opportunity to become “first among equals,”  retaining as much “leadership” as possible.

This is where Obama fits in, and we’ll begin at the beginning. At 48, he is an exceptionally intelligent, self-confident and ambitious man who obviously feels comfortable wielding power. He had not even served a full first Senate term in Washington, after several years as an obscure Illinois state legislator, when he put himself forward and was selected by the power elite to seek the Democratic nomination for the presidency.

By power elite ‹the term coined by the great sociologist C. Wright Mills ‹ we’re speaking of that informal assemblage of corporate, financial, military, and political leaders and their intellectual minions in the U.S. who together possess hugely disproportionate influence and access to wealth. During the grueling primaries and the presidential campaign corporate and financial institutions were among Obama’s biggest contributors, uniquely investing more in the Democrat this time than in his openly pro-business Republican opponent.

Obama of course was elected by the masses of American people, but it is extremely doubtful he would have been a serious candidate to begin with were it not for the backing of these powerful interests.

The elite wanted a chief executive who would (1) repair the damage Bush caused, and quickly restore U.S. dominance in world affairs; and (2) should the days of unipolarity prove short, as seems likely, manipulate the transition to multipolarity so that the United States comes out on top.

Obama made it clear in the two years before the election that his foreign/military strategy would rest upon a combination of the reliable hegemonic policies of the Democratic Clinton Administration and the “realist” international program of the Republican administration of George H. W. Bush (the First). These were the “successful” policies that existed during the dozen halcyon years before the neocon Vandals sacked Washington.

Obama won election for several reasons. The most important were that the Democratic candidate followed eight dreadful years of President Bush, and the country was in an economic recession. But equally important was the “hope for change” he cultivated in the minds of multitudes of Democrats and independents, while never specifying clearly what that “change” was supposed to be, though many voters assumed it would be progressive. That he opposed the Iraq war was a big plus, even though he voted to fund it during each of his few years in national politics. Not to be overlooked, of course, were his winning personality, and spellbinding ability as a public speaker.

Obama’s first payback to his elite backers was the selection of an economic team that would not impose overly harsh regulations on the financial system. Treasury Secretary Geithner, National Economic Council Director Summers, and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke had also supported policies that facilitated the recession but they’ve supposedly learned from their colossal mistakes.

The second payback was keeping Bush’s Defense Secretary Robert Gates (who is also connected to Bush the First’s administration) in his old job, naming pro-Iraq war Democratic Sen. Hillary Clinton Secretary of State, and retaining Gen. David Petraeus as head of Central Command. This triumvirate seems mainly responsible for the vast expansion of the Afghan war, its overlapping into Pakistan and now the extension to Yemen. With their help, Obama  believes he will “win” the Afghan war (and thus a second term).

Obama’s immediate task upon assuming office was to repair the Bush Administration’s mishandling of relations with the rest of the world. He quickly made peace with the major U.S. allies who had been offended by the Bush regime’s arrogance and unilateralism. He promised a new policy for Latin America based on equality and mutual respect. He assured the nearly 1.6 billion Muslims that America was their friend.

When these overtures were made, it seemed as though the conduct of the old foreign policy ‹ which had served the  U.S. handsomely since the mid-1940s until the neoconservative train wreck ‹ was back on track. No more alienating our friends, and no more harebrained wars.

After a year, what does this foreign/military policy look like? It’s quite similar to Bush’s but without with  the neocon management, so it looks better.

There has been a huge expansion of the Afghan war, increasing thrusts into Pakistan, and now Yemen’s the target of Washington’s bombings, pilotless drones, military aid and bribes. The war budget is more bloated than ever before. The costs of it all are astronomical, but it will be future generations of Americans ‹ those of our children and grandchildren ‹ who will pay big time for the imperial wars of the Bush-Obama years.

The overture to Latin America was a charade. Washington mildly criticized but facilitated the successful anti-democratic Honduran coup to prevent a reliable satellite from possibly turning toward the left in future years. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is taking over seven new military bases in Colombia, threatening adjacent Venezuela ‹ the CIA’s number one target in South America. And of course the Cold War with Cuba is as cold as ever.

The Obama Administration is still pursuing the goal of exercising hegemony over the entire oil-rich Middle East. Washington’s total partiality to Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people remains unchanged. The attitude of the Democratic Congress and the Obama White house toward the suffering people of Gaza is unforgivably cruel. The White House still supports dictatorial Egypt and backward Saudi Arabia against the aspirations of their own people.

Muslims around the world welcomed Obama’s Cairo speech June 4, but the good will it generated has dissipated. Efforts to destabilize Iran are continuing apace, along with threats of “killer” sanctions, and the prospect of war remains “on the table.”

NATO, which is remotely controlled from Washington like a drone over western Pakistan, is still inching toward Russia, to Moscow’s continuing annoyance. And by penetrating Afghanistan, the armies of the North Atlantic are situated close to the Central Asian oil and gas reserves located in several former southern republics of the late Soviet Union. NATO bases are now virtually touching western China.

Billions are being spent to convert Guam into a major U.S. base in the Pacific, undoubtedly with China in mind. In northeast Asia Obama is continuing Washington’s 57-year refusal to sign a peace treaty with North Korea to officially end the Korean War ‹ a major irritant stimulating Pyongyang’s antipathy toward Washington. All the over 700 U.S. major military outposts abroad ‹ “America’s Empire of Bases,” as Chalmers Johnson puts it ‹ are remaining in place, as are the nuclear-armed missiles targeting China’s cities, a push-button away from oblivion.

Despite its rhetoric about taking environmental action ‹ a foreign policy issue of enormous importance ‹ the Obama Administration’s performance at the UN’s December climate conference in Copenhagen was big on posturing but small indeed on programmatic commitments.

The Obama White House couldn’t do much about Iraq because Bush made the deal with the Baghdad government to withdraw at the end of 2011. We will believe the complete withdrawal when we see it. At this stage it is likely that there will be an eventual agreement between Baghdad and Washington to prolong the Iraq occupation with a substantial number of American troops remaining indefinitely.

Progressives have every reason to be dismayed by the Obama Administration’s foreign/military policy. It’s essentially a continuation of the postwar policy that brought the U.S. to global power, though in a bright new wrapping. It’s better than the Bush years, but that’s the faintest of praise.

Barack Obama was the candidate of change, but the reality in international endeavors is small change indeed. Social commentator Glenn Greenwald remarked on this general point during an interview on Democracy Now in early January:

“It’s ironic, given that the campaign was all based on changing the nature of how Washington works ‹ [but] the central attribute of the Obama Administration is to accommodate and keep in place the same power factions that have run Washington forever, and as a result, the same mindset, the same dynamic that governs Washington in virtually every area.”

Unless we Americans take a public stance against war and hegemony, and associate ourselves with the antiwar and social movements struggling for substantial change, there will be no change at all. It’ll just be war after war. Maybe if Albert Einstein said this it would be more convincing. Well, he did:

“We must not conceal from ourselves that no improvement in the present depressing situation is possible without a severe struggle; for the handful of those who are really determined to do something is minute in comparison with the mass of the lukewarm and the misguided. And those who have an interest in keeping the machinery of war going are a very powerful body; they will stop at nothing to make public opinion subservient to their murderous ends.”

Jack A. Smith is editor of the Activist Newsletter (, and former editor of the now defunct Guardian newsweekly. He may be reached at


Obama wants record $708 billion for military next year

January 15, 2010
Yahoo! News
Associated Press

By ANNE GEARAN and ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writers Anne Gearan And Anne Flaherty, Associated Press Writers Wed Jan 13, 2010

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama will ask Congress for an additional $33 billion to fight unpopular wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on top of a record $708 billion for the Defense Department next year, The Associated Press has learned — a request that could be an especially hard sell to some of the administration’s Democratic allies.

The extra $33 billion in 2010 would mostly go toward the expansion of the war in Afghanistan. Obama ordered an extra 30,000 troops for that war as part of an overhaul of the war strategy late last year.

Continues >>

Three Good Reasons To Liquidate Our Empire

July 31, 2009

We (the US) are like the British at the end of World War II: desperately trying to shore up an empire that we never needed and can no longer afford, using methods that often resemble those of failed empires of the past — including the Axis powers of World War II and the former Soviet Union, notes Chalmers Johnson.

Chalmers Johnson, The Huffington Post, July 31, 2009

Ten Steps to Take to Do So

However ambitious President Barack Obama’s domestic plans, one unacknowledged issue has the potential to destroy any reform efforts he might launch. Think of it as the 800-pound gorilla in the American living room: our longstanding reliance on imperialism and militarism in our relations with other countries and the vast, potentially ruinous global empire of bases that goes with it. The failure to begin to deal with our bloated military establishment and the profligate use of it in missions for which it is hopelessly inappropriate will, sooner rather than later, condemn the United States to a devastating trio of consequences: imperial overstretch, perpetual war, and insolvency, leading to a likely collapse similar to that of the former Soviet Union.

Continues >>

Iraq, AfPak, beyond: the global cost of war

June 20, 2009

Paul Rogers, OpenDemocracy, June 18, 2009

The toxic phrase “war on terror” has fallen out of use, but the destructive effects of the real thing continue and even escalate in a period of economic crisis.

A major landmark in the in the United States’s military presence in Iraq arrives on 30 June 2009, when the army is scheduled to withdraw its combat-troops from the country’s cities. The terms of the “status-of-forces agreement” with the Iraqi government will see most of these (currently 133,000)  soldiers relocated to a number of major bases in rural areas, though some will join the 30,000 troops that have left Iraq since the peak of the “surge” in mid-2008.

The process is taking place against the background of continuing violence in Iraq, notwithstanding reports of an overall increase in security. Indeed, Iraq’s foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari is warning that al-Qaida and Ba’athist militant clusters will seek to escalate the level of violence in advance of the 30 June deadline, in order to take credit for forcing the Americans into a humiliating retreat (see Patrick Cockburn, “US troops ask Syria to thwart al-Qa’ida offensive“, Independent, 17 June 2009).

Continued >>

Obama Picks Up Where Bush Left Off

May 16, 2009

From My Lai to Bala Baluk

By Mike Whitney | Counterpunch, May 15 – 17, 2009

Barack Obama is aggressively stepping up the war in Afghanistan. He’s intensified the cross-border bombing of Pakistan and he is doubling the number of U.S. troops to 68,000 by 2010. He’s also a strong proponent of pilotless drones even though hundreds of civilians have been killed in bombing raid blunders.

On May 4, 2009, 143 civilians were killed in a bombing raid in Bala Baluk, a remote area south of Herat. Obama brushed off the incident with terse apology never intimating that the US policy for aerial bombardment would be reviewed to avoid future mishaps. Patrick Cockburn gave a summary of the incident:

I did not meet survivors but I did talk to a reliable witness, a radio reporter called Farooq Faizy, who had gone to Bala Baluk soon after the attack happened. He (had) some 70 or 80 photographs and they bore out the villagers’ story: there were craters everywhere; the villages had been plastered with bombs; bodies had been torn to shreds by the blasts; there were mass graves; there were no signs of damage from bullets, rockets or grenades.

US military spokesmen denied the news reports and concocted a wacky story about Taliban militants rampaging through the village hurling grenades into buildings. It was a ridiculous narrative that no one believed. The facts have since been verified by senior government officials, high-ranking members of the Afghan military and representatives of the Red Cross. The United States military killed 143 unarmed villagers and then they tried to cover it up with a lie. None of the victims were fighters. After the bombing, the villagers loaded body parts onto carts and took them to the office of the regional governor who confirmed the deaths. The photos of grief-stricken Afghans burying their dead have been widely circulated on the Internet.

From Reuters:

Ninety-three children and 25 adult women are among a list of 140 names of Afghans who villagers say were killed in a battle and U.S. air strikes last week, causing a crisis between Washington and its Afghan allies.

The list, obtained by Reuters, bears the endorsement of seven senior provincial and central government officials, including an Afghan two-star general who headed a task force dispatched by the government to investigate the incident.

Titled “list of the martyrs of the bombardment of Bala Boluk district of Farah Province”, it includes the name, age and father’s name of each alleged victim.

The youngest was listed as 8-day-old baby Sayed Musa, son of Sayed Adam. Fifty-three victims were girls under the age of 18, and 40 were boys. Only 22 were men 18 or older. (“List of 140 Afghan Killed In US Attack Includes 93 Children”, Reuters)

Neither Obama nor anyone in his administration has acknowledged that 93 children were killed by American bombs.

Military operations in Afghanistan have increased under Obama especially in the south where the Taliban are most heavily concentrated. The fighting has spread into Pakistan where President Asif Ali Zardari has been pressured into deploying his troops the Swat Valley to fight militants despite growing public disapproval. Nearly 850,000 people have been forced from their homes in the last few weeks to seek shelter in the south. For the most part, the humanitarian crisis has gone unreported in the western media, but Obama knows what is going on and is sticking with the same policy. Hundreds of thousands of people are now living in tent cities without food or clean water because of the escalation in the violence. It’s a disaster.

OBAMA PICKS A GENERAL: Enter the assassination squads

This week, General David McKiernan was replaced by Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal as Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan. Here’s how the Washington Post summarized McChrystal’s qualifications for the job:

“McChrystal kills people. Has he ever worked in the counterinsurgency environment? Not really,” said Roger Carstens, a senior nonresident fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a former Special Forces officer….

Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the former Special Operations chief who is President Obama’s new choice to lead the war in Afghanistan, rose to military prominence because of his single-minded success in a narrow but critical mission: manhunting. As commander of the military’s secretive Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) for nearly five years starting in 2003, McChrystal masterminded a campaign to perfect the art of tracking down enemies, and then capturing or killing them. He built a sophisticated network of soldiers and intelligence operatives who proceeded to decapitate the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq and kill its most notorious leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.(“High-value-target hunter takes on Afghan war” Washington Post)

Obama chose McChrystal because of his “black ops” pedigree, which suggests that the conflict in Afghanistan is about to take a very ugly turn. According to Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, McChrystal ran the “executive assassination wing” of the military’s joint special-operations command. (JSOC) The experts believe that he will breeze through congressional confirmation hearings because many Senators believe that his counterinsurgency theories helped the surge in Iraq to succeed. There’s some truth to this, too. But it would be more accurate to say that the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad helped to reduce the violence. That is the truth about the surge; it’s a public relations moniker for ethnic cleansing.

McChrystal’s appointment suggests that Obama supports the idea that hunter-killer units and targeted assassinations are an acceptable means of achieving US foreign policy objectives. Obama supporters should pay close attention; this is a continuation of the Rumsfeld policy with one slight difference, a more persuasive and charismatic pitchman promoting the policy. Other than that, there’s no difference.

Obama knows of McChrystal’s involvement in the prisoner abuse scandal at Baghdad’s Camp Nama, just as he knows of his role in the cover-up in the friendly-fire death of ex-NFL star and Army Ranger Pat Tillman. None of this matters to Obama. What matters is winning; not principle, ideals, human rights or civilian casualties. Just winning.


On March 16, 1968, the US military was involved in a similar incident which soured the public on Vietnam and eventually helped bring the war to a close. Barack Obama was only seven years old when Charlie Company–led by platoon leader second Lieutenant William Calley–entered the small hamlet of My Lai and proceeded to slaughter 347 unarmed civilians. This is Sam Harris’s account of what took place on that day 40 years ago:

“Early in the morning the soldiers were landed in the village by helicopter. Many were firing as they spread out, killing both people and animals. There was no sign of the Vietcong battalion and no shot was fired on Charlie Company all day, but they carried on. They burnt down every house. They raped woman and girls and then killed them. They stabbed some women in the vagina and disemboweled others, or cut off their hands or scalps. Pregnant woman had there stomachs slashed open and were left to die. There were gang rapes and killings by shooting or with bayonets. There were mass executions. Dozens of people at a time, including old men, women and children, were machined-gunned in a ditch. In four hours nearly 500 villagers were killed.” (Sam Harris from his book “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason“)

The only difference between My Lai and Bala Baluk is the degree of savagery. In both cases the guilt can be traced directly back to the White House.

Obama believes that civilian casualties are an unavoidable part of achieving one’s policy goals. The end justifies the means. He has strengthened the Bush policy, not repudiated it. So much for “change”.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He can be reached at