Posts Tagged ‘Robert Gates’

Obama and the Permanent War Budget

December 24, 2009

William Hartung, Foreign Policy in Focus, Dec 23, 2009

It’s been a good decade for the Pentagon. The most recent numbers from Capitol Hill indicate that Pentagon spending (counting Iraq and Afghanistan) will reach over $630 billion in 2010. And that doesn’t even include the billions set aside for building new military facilities and sustaining the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

But even without counting the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department of Defense budget has been moving relentlessly upward since 2001. Pentagon budget authority has jumped from $296 billion in 2001 to $513 billion in 2009, a 73% increase. And again, that’s not even counting the over $1 trillion in taxpayer money that has been thrown at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even if those wars had never happened, the Pentagon would still be racking up huge increases year after year after year.

And perhaps most disturbing of all, the Pentagon budget increased for every year of the first decade of the 21st century, an unprecedented run that didn’t even happen in the World War II era, much less during Korea or Vietnam. And if the government’s current plans are carried out, there will be yearly increases in military spending for at least another decade.

We have a permanent war budget, and most of it isn’t even being used to fight wars – it’s mostly a giveaway to the Pentagon and its favorite contractors.

What Can Be Done?

For starters, the Pentagon needs to cut unnecessary weapons systems that were designed to meet Cold War threats that no longer exist. A good place to look for these kinds of cuts is in the Unified Security Budget, an analysis provided annually by a taskforce organized by Foreign Policy In Focus. Its most recent recommendations call for over $55 billion in cuts in everything from unneeded combat aircraft to anti-missile programs to nuclear weapons spending.

To their credit, President Obama and his Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have sought to eliminate eight such programs, from the F-22 combat aircraft to the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (a leftover from the old “Star Wars” program). An analysis recently produced by Taxpayers for Common Sense indicated that six of the eight proposed program cuts stuck. This is an impressive record, given the need to fight the weapons contractors and their pork-barreling allies in Congress to get the job done. But as the analysis also notes, additional spending on other programs added up to $1 billion more than the amount saved by the cuts.

This shouldn’t be surprising. As a candidate for president, Obama told a rally in Iowa that it might be necessary to “bump up” the military budget beyond the record levels established by the Bush administration. And in announcing the administration’s proposed weapons cuts in spring 2009, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made it clear that he was seeking to rearrange priorities within the Pentagon, not reduce its budget. Gates sought more funding for equipment that would support counterinsurgency operations – like unmanned aerial vehicles – and less for systems designed to fight a Soviet threat that no longer exists – like the F-22 combat aircraft. And he got pretty much what he asked for.

Reducing U.S. Reach

Another area for savings would be to cut the size of the armed forces. But Obama campaigned on a promise to carry out a troop increase of 92,000, mirroring proposals made by the Bush administration. And his commitment of 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan might set the stage for even larger increases in the total U.S. forces at some point down the road.

Finally, any real savings in U.S. military spending would need to be accompanied by a reduction in U.S. “global reach” – in the hundreds of major military facilities it controls in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America. But – in parallel to the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan- U.S. overseas-basing arrangements have been on the rise, not only in Iraq and Afghanistan themselves but in bordering nations.

So, barring major public pressure, don’t expect the overall Pentagon budget to go down anytime soon. We can certainly still achieve some real reforms, from the elimination of outmoded systems like the F-22, to cracking down on war profiteering, to supporting the Obama administration’s indispensable efforts to cut back the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. At least for now, though, making the Pentagon do with less when most communities in the country are suffering from the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression is not in the cards. Not unless large numbers of us make it an issue.

© 2009 Foreign Policy in Focus

William Hartung is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus and the director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation.

U.S. Internal Politics and its Military Interventions

September 16, 2009

Immanuel Wallerstein, Commentary No. 265, Sept. 15, 2009

In the last few weeks, there has been a marked increase of calls, coming from both liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, for some kind of early “exit strategy” from Afghanistan. This is coming at the very moment that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates are about to recommend formally to President Obama an increase in U.S. troop commitments there.

Nothing is certain, but the general expectation is that Obama will agree to this. After all, during the elections, Obama had said that he considered U.S. intervention in Iraq a mistake and wanted an early withdrawal. One of the reasons he gave was that it had prevented sending enough troops into Afghanistan. This was a version of the “bad war, good war” concept. Iraq was a “bad” war, Afghanistan a “good” one.

There has apparently been much debate in the inner circle of President Obama about the wisdom of escalating U.S. military commitments in Afghanistan. It is reported that the leading opponent of troop escalation in Afghanistan is none other than Vice-President Biden. Biden has always been considered somewhat of a Democratic hawk. So how come he is now opposing troop escalation? The reported reason is that he now considers Afghanistan a hopeless quagmire, and that investing troops there will prevent the United States from concentrating on the really important zone, Pakistan. So we have a new version of the “bad war, good war” doctrine. Afghanistan has become a “bad” war; Pakistan is the “good” one.

Why is it so difficult for the United States to extricate itself from military interventions it is so patently losing? Some left analysts, in the United States and elsewhere, say it is because the United States is an imperialist power and therefore engages in such military interventions in order to maintain its political and economic power in the world. This explanation is quite insufficient, for the simple reason that the United States has not won a single major military confrontation since 1945. As an imperialist power, it has shown great incompetence in achieving its goals.

Consider the five wars in which the United States has committed large numbers of troops since 1945. The biggest – in terms of numbers of troops, economic costs, and political impact – was Vietnam. The United States lost the war. The other four were the Korean War, the first Gulf War, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the second invasion of Iraq. The Korean War and the first Gulf War were politically draws. The wars ended at the exact point that they began. The United States is clearly losing the war in Afghanistan. I believe that history will judge the second invasion of Iraq a draw as well. When the U.S. finally pulls out, it will be no stronger politically than when it went in – probably indeed the opposite.

So what drives the United States to engage in such politically self-defeating actions, especially if we think of the United States as a hegemonic power trying to control the entire world to its advantage? To answer that, we have to look at the internal politics of the United States.

All great powers, and especially hegemonic powers, are intensely nationalist. They believe in themselves and in their moral and political right to assert their so-called national interests. The overwhelming majority of their citizens consider themselves patriotic, and take this to mean that their government ought indeed to assert itself vigorously, and if necessary militarily, in the world arena. In the United States, since 1945, the percentage of the population who are principled anti-imperialists is politically insignificant.

U.S. politics is not divided between supporters and opponents of imperialism. It has been divided between those who are strongly interventionist and those who believe in “fortress America.” The latter used to be called isolationists. Isolationists are not anti-military. Indeed, they tend to be strong supporters of financial investment in military forces. But they are skeptical about using these forces in far-off places.

Of course, there is a whole gamut of intermediate positions between the extremes in this cleavage. The crucial thing to see is that almost no politician is ready to call for a serious reduction in U.S. military expenditures. This is why so many of them engage in the “bad war, good war” distinction. They justify reducing the use of military in the “bad” wars by suggesting that there are other, better uses for the military.

At this point, we have to analyze the differences between the Republican and Democratic Parties on these questions. The isolationist wing of the Republican Party was very strong before the Second World War, but since 1945 it has become rather small. The Republicans since 1945 have regularly tended to call for increased investment in the military, and have usually argued that the Democrats have been too “soft” on military questions.

The fact that the Republicans have been very inconsistent in this matter hasn’t seemed to affect their public image. For example, when President Clinton wanted to send troops to the Balkans, the Republicans opposed it. It didn’t matter. The U.S. public seems to take the Republicans at their word as patriotic hawks, no matter what they do.

The Democrats have had the opposite problem. There have been large numbers of books arguing, credibly, that Democratic administrations have been readier than Republican administrations to engage in military interventions abroad (for example, in both Korea and Vietnam). Nonetheless, the Republicans have constantly denounced the Democrats for being “doves” in their military views. It is true that a large minority of Democratic voters have in fact been “doves,” but not a large number of Democratic politicians. Democratic politicians have always worried that the voters will consider them to be “doves” and turn against them for that reason.

The Democrats have therefore almost always used the “bad war, good war” line. It hasn’t done them all that much good. The Democrats seem to be stuck with the label of being less macho than the Republicans. So it’s very simple. When Obama makes his decisions on these matters, it’s not enough for him to analyze whether or not troop escalation in Afghanistan makes any military or political sense. He worries above all that he himself, and more broadly the Democratic Party, may be labeled once again as the “sell-outs,” the “doves,” the ones who “lost” countries to the enemies – to the Soviet Union in the old days, to the “terrorists” today.

Obama will probably therefore send in more troops. And the Afghanistan War will go the way of the Vietnam War. Only the outcome for the United States will be worse, because there is no cohesive, rational opposing group to whom to lose the war – one that will allow U.S. helicopters to withdraw the troops without shooting at them. When Bertold Brecht got cynical or angry at Communist regimes, he told them that, if the people were rebelling against their wisdom, they should “change the people.” Perhaps that’s what Obama needs to do – change the people, his people. Or maybe, in time, the people will change themselves. If the United States loses too many more wars, its citizens may wake up to the realization that U.S. military interventions abroad and incredibly large military expenditures at home are not the solution to their problems, but the greatest impediment to U.S. national survival and well-being.

[Copyright by Immanuel Wallerstein, distributed by Agence Global. For rights and permissions, including translations and posting to non-commercial sites, and contact: rights@agenceglobal.com, 1.336.686.9002 or 1.336.286.6606. Permission is granted to download, forward electronically, or e-mail to others, provided the essay remains intact and the copyright note is displayed. To contact author, write: immanuel.wallerstein@yale.edu.

These commentaries, published twice monthly, are intended to be reflections on the contemporary world scene, as seen from the perspective not of the immediate headlines but of the long term.]

Officials Say Obama Advisers Split on Afghan Escalation

September 4, 2009

Biden Has ‘Deep Reservations’ About Expanding Afghan Presence

by Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com,  September 03, 2009

Despite public comments being almost universally in favor of the continued escalation of the Afghan War, behind the scenes several key Obama Administration advisers are starting to express serious doubts about the wisdom of throwing more and more troops at the ever worsening conflict.

“There is a unanimity of opinion about what our objective is, and the objective is to disable and destroy al-Qaeda,” David Axelrod insisted. But as General Stanley McChrystal seeks another major escalation as part of his “new” strategy, several officials have reservations.

Vice President Joe Biden is among the skeptics, insisting that expanding the presence into Afghanistan may distract from what he sees as the real fight: Pakistan. National Security Adviser James Jones is also reportedly in opposition and had previous told McChrystal not to ask for more troops.

The vast majority of officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates who had previously cautioned against sending too many troops, seem firmly in the corner of escalation. Still, the growing unpopularity of the war with the American public appears to be spawning at least a limited discussion in an administration that seems bent on escalating the war as much as possible as quickly as possible.

America’s Wars: How Serial War Became the American Way of Life

July 24, 2009

By David Bromwich TomDispatch.com, July 22, 2209

On July 16, in a speech to the Economic Club of Chicago, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said that the “central question” for the defense of the United States was how the military should be “organized, equipped — and funded — in the years ahead, to win the wars we are in while being prepared for threats on or beyond the horizon.” The phrase beyond the horizon ought to sound ominous. Was Gates telling his audience of civic-minded business leaders to spend more money on defense in order to counter threats whose very existence no one could answer for? Given the public acceptance of American militarism, he could speak in the knowledge that the awkward challenge would never be posed.

Continued >>

Obama and the Middle East

May 13, 2009

By Gilbert Achcar | ZNet, May 12, 2009

Whether the election and inauguration of Barack Obama as 44th President of the United States will qualitatively alter U.S. Middle East policy and the regional situation remains to be seen. The fact is that Barack Obama has been much bolder with regard to U.S. relations with Latin America than he has been with regard to the Middle East during the 100 first days of his administration. This is despite the fact that, as a presidential candidate, Obama emphasized much more his difference with the Bush administration on Middle East issues, especially Iraq, than on South American issues.

Beyond the various electoral statements, the truth is that Obama ran as a candidate dedicated to bipartisan consensus in the realm of foreign policy, and singularly with regard to the Middle East. His critique of the Bush administration was restricted to the extent to which it did not fully comply with this consensus as expressed in the report of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. To put it more precisely, Obama supported the “surge,” which conformed to the recommendations of the report, and announced that he would stick to the exit (from Iraq) strategy that it envisaged. On this, he had nothing very original to say when compared to what the Bush administration was already doing since it implemented the “surge.” Hence, the very symbolic as well as significant fact that he asked Robert Gates to remain at the helm of the Pentagon — thus repeating the kind of bipartisan gesture with regard to “Defense” that Bill Clinton made when he appointed to the same position another Republican, William Cohen, for his second term.

Where Obama differed from Bush in public statements was mainly with regard to Iran: whereas the Bush administration never really agreed to comply with the recommendation of talking to Iran that was expressed in the Baker-Hamilton report, Obama made clearly the point that this was what he would do if elected, and he got attacked for precisely that reason by all the friends of the Israel Lobby. However, since his inauguration, Obama, and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have made no real substantive changes in that respect. One explanation for this is that they fear that engaging in talks with Iran at this stage might impact the forthcoming presidential election in that country in a way that would be contrary to what they deem to be U.S. interests. If this explanation is true, it implies that they will continue to “wait and see” until the election in June 2009, that is due to be held five weeks from the time of writing these lines.

After the Iranian presidential election, the Obama administration will probably move to a more serious opening in the direction of Iran, applying a carrot and stick policy — with a big carrot whereas the Bush administration only carried a big stick. They will hope for a deal with the Iranian leadership, a deal whereby Tehran would cooperate with them in stabilizing Iraq and the Middle East, each side acknowledging the interests of the other, in the same way that they are actually doing presently in Iraq, where both sides sponsor the same Maliki government in Baghdad. Such a conciliatory policy has been imposed on the U.S. government by the dire condition in which it found itself in the Middle East as a result of the disastrous policy of the Bush administration. Basically, the Obama administration faced with the Iraqi semi-debacle, at a time when its room for maneuver has been narrowed by the global economic crisis, is contemplating a reaction similar to that of the Nixon administration when it faced the Vietnam debacle. The exit strategy then was: “Vietnamize” the war, get all the troops out of Vietnam, cut a deal with Moscow and Beijing. The strategy now is: “Iraqize” the war (done through the “surge” and its reliance on the buying off of major chunks of what used to be the Sunni “insurgency” in the form of the “Awakening Councils”), get most of the troops out of Iraq (planned until 2011), cut a deal with Tehran. Both policies take place against a backdrop of severe global economic crisis.

In a sense, the new policy, if fully implemented, will require much less boldness than the one implemented by the Nixon-Kissinger team: withdrawing from Vietnam against the background of the ongoing Cold War was much more spectacular than withdrawing from Iraq in the absence of any “peer” global challenger of the United States; talking to “Red China” was much more spectacular than any conciliatory gesture toward Iran could be, all the more that it cannot be expected that Obama-Clinton will go to the same extent of sudden warming up with yesterday’s enemy as Nixon-Kissinger did in their relation with China. One important difference is that the Nixon team could play on the “triangulation” of its relations with Moscow and Beijing in light of the enmity between the two “communist” capitals. There is no situation of this kind with regard to Iran.

But the key difference is, to be sure, the role of Israel. For the Zionist state, Iran is the main enemy in the whole region, and the nuclear issue is a “red line” that would prompt the Israeli state to act militarily if it deemed that the line was crossed. We know from the revelation by The New York Times last January (David Sanger, “U.S. Rejected Aid for Israeli Raid on Iranian Nuclear Site,” NYT, January 10, 2009) that the Olmert government already asked the Bush administration for a green light to attack Iranian nuclear facilities with air strikes flying through Iraqi air space. The Olmert government wanted to take advantage of the remaining time in office of this American administration that was most cooperative with the worst plans and deeds of the Israeli state. The green light was not granted, however, for a variety of reasons related to the highly risky and uncertain character of the operation and its potential consequences in a time of unfolding global economic crisis.

The Obama administration will indeed be clearly less amenable to Israel’s hardliners than the Bush team was. And tensions between the two countries are all the likelier to unfold given that their political evolutions are presently going in opposite directions: whereas the last U.S. presidential election started a pendulum backswing after eight years of the most reactionary administration in U.S. history, the recent Israeli parliamentary election only carried on further the swing to the right that started with the election of Ariel Sharon in February 2001 in the wake of Bush’s presidential inauguration.

These are the main elements of the present picture in the Middle East: to get into other developments — the efforts of Washington’s Arab friends to foster reconciliation between Hamas and Abbas’s “Palestinian Authority,” the forthcoming parliamentary election in Lebanon, etc. — would take longer than the space of this article. However, the whole policy of the Obama administration is a pragmatic and cautious move within the guidelines described above.

Gilbert Achcar is a Professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies of the University of London. This article is based on the preface to the Iranian edition of Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy. Dialogues on Terror, Democracy, War, and Justice by Noam Chomsky and Gilbert Achcar, edited by Stephen R. Shalom. The updated English paperback edition was published in 2008 by Paradigm Publishers.

Obama Returns to Bush Era on Guantánamo

May 6, 2009

Andy Worthington | The Future of Freedom Foundation, May 6, 2009  

Two distressing pieces of news emerged last week regarding the Obama administration’s plans to close Guantánamo, and both were delivered by Defense Secretary Robert Gates in testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Discussing what would happen to the remaining 241 prisoners, Gates announced that the question was “still open” as to what the government should do with “the 50 to 100 — probably in that ballpark — who we cannot release and cannot try.” He also announced that the much-criticized military commission trial system, suspended for four months by Barack Obama on his first day in office, was “still very much on the table.”

Both admissions indicate that when it comes to Guantánamo, it is beginning to appear that the much-vaunted change promised by Barack Obama on the campaign trail has actually involved nothing more than imposing a closing date on Guantánamo while maintaining the Bush administration’s approach to the men still held there.

Back in Bush’s day, for example, those “who we cannot release and cannot try” were sometimes referred to as those who were “too dangerous to release but not guilty enough to prosecute” — essentially because the supposed evidence against them was the fruit of torture or other abuse.

As someone who has studied the story of Guantánamo and its prisoners in detail over the last three years, I’m aware that much of the information compiled by the Bush administration for use against the prisoners at Guantánamo was obtained through torture or coercion and is, therefore, unreliable, and that other, equally unreliable information was secured through the bribery of other prisoners.

As a National Journal investigation revealed in 2006, one prisoner, described by the FBI as a notorious liar, made false allegations against 60 prisoners in Guantánamo in exchange for more favorable treatment, and in February this year the Washington Post published the sobering tale of another informant, whose copious confessions should have set alarm bells ringing. In both cases, however, there is no indication that the officials responsible for compiling the information examined by the president’s review team have acknowledged that a substantial number of allegations against the prisoners are actually worthless.

Moreover, the defense secretary’s talk of 50 to 100 suspicious prisoners (above and beyond those regarded as demonstrably dangerous) is at odds with repeated intelligence assessments reported over the years, which have indicated that the total number of prisoners with any meaningful connection to international terrorism is between 35 and 50. To this should be added the recent revelation by Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s chief of staff, that “no more than a dozen or two of the detainees” held in Guantánamo ever had any worthwhile intelligence.

In addition, the defense secretary’s talk of reviving the military commissions is a distressing development for the many critics of the novel trial system invented by Dick Cheney and David Addington, who hoped that the administration would resist all calls to reinstate them, and would, instead, move the relatively few prisoners regarded as genuinely dangerous to the mainland to face trials in federal court.

However, on Saturday, after speaking to Obama administration officials, the New York Times reported that, despite declaring that, as president, he would “reject the Military Commissions Act,” and stating that “by any measure our system of trying detainees has been an enormous failure,” President Obama was indeed considering reviving the commissions.

As the Times described it,

Administration lawyers have become concerned that they would face significant obstacles to trying some terrorism suspects in federal courts. Judges might make it difficult to prosecute detainees who were subjected to brutal treatment or for prosecutors to use hearsay evidence gathered by intelligence agencies.

As a result, they said, decision-makers were considering whether to tinker with the rules regarding the use of coercive interrogations and hearsay, in what the Times described as “walk[ing] a tightrope of granting the suspects more rights yet stopping short of affording them the rights available to defendants in American courts.”

The “tightrope” analogy, though apt, is also something of an understatement. Almost universally derided in their seven-year history, the commissions demonstrated, above all, that inventing a legal system from scratch was a poor substitute for respecting the laws which have served the Republic well for over 200 years.

Nor can it be claimed that the federal court system is incapable of dealing with terrorism cases. As was explained in a 2008 report by Human Rights First, “In Pursuit of Justice: Prosecuting Terrorism Cases in the Federal Courts” (PDF), over 100 terrorism cases have been prosecuted successfully in the federal courts in the last 15 years.

Moreover, last Thursday, as Robert Gates was telling the Senate that the military commissions were still “on the table,” the Justice Department was taking a very different line in the case of Ali al-Marri, a legal U.S. resident who was held in extreme isolation for nearly six years without charge or trial as an “enemy combatant” in a U.S. naval brig, until he was returned to the federal justice system by the Obama administration.

As al-Marri accepted a plea agreement and admitted that he had been sent to the United States as an al-Qaeda “sleeper agent,” Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the result “reflects what we can achieve when we have faith in our criminal justice system and are unwavering in our commitment to the values upon which this nation was founded and the rule of law.”

To remove the stain that Guantánamo has left on the reputation of the United States as a nation founded on the rule of law, Mr. Holder’s words should be repeated to him every time that the administration attempts to turn back the clock to the days of George W. Bush, with its dangerous talk of finding new ways to justify holding prisoners without charge or trial and its willingness to revive a trial system despised as nothing more than a “kangaroo court.”

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press) and serves as policy advisor to the Future of Freedom Foundation. Visit his website at: www.andyworthington.co.uk.

Obama announces plan to continue US military occupation of Iraq

February 28, 2009
By Joseph Kishore | WSWS,  28 February 2009

President Obama formally announced his administration’s plans for the continued US military occupation of Iraq on Friday, in remarks delivered at the Camp Lejeune marine base in North Carolina. Far from bringing the war to an end, the plans will maintain present troop levels for one year and ensure a substantial military presence for at least three years, through the end of 2011.

As leaked to the press earlier this week, Obama’s plan calls for the withdrawal of all “combat troops” by August 31, 2010, 19 months after his inauguration. This means that the US military presence will continue at present levels through the Iraqi elections scheduled in the fall, ensuring that the occupying forces can maintain a watchful eye over the “democratic” process.

Beginning next year, troops are scheduled to be gradually transferred out of Iraq, leaving a “residual force” of up to 50,000 soldiers after August 2010. Although referred to by the administration as “non-combat troops,” this is a verbal sleight-of-hand, as they will continue to be involved in combat activities. Obama said that these soldiers will be involved in “training, equipping, and advising Iraqi Security Forces as long as they remain non-sectarian; conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our ongoing civilian and military efforts within Iraq.”

Obama also said that all US soldiers would be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, as required by the Status of Forces Agreement reached by the Bush administration and the Iraqi government in 2008. In a press conference call on Friday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates indicated that this deadline is largely a diplomatic fiction that could be altered. “My own view would be that we should be prepared to have some very modest-sized presence for training and helping them with their new equipment and providing, perhaps, intelligence support and so on,” past 2011, he said. “The Iraqis have not said anything about that at this point, so it remains to be seen whether they will take the initiative.”

The central aim in drawing down US forces in Iraq is to free up military resources for a surge in Central and South Asia, a priority of the Obama administration. “America can no longer afford to see Iraq in isolation from other priorities,” Obama said. “We face the challenge of refocusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan; of relieving the burden on our military; and of rebuilding our struggling economy.”

Last week, Obama announced that he was deploying an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan, including 8,000 marines from Camp Lejeune, and the new government has already significantly escalated air attacks on Pakistani soil. Some 15,000 more soldiers will be sent to Afghanistan in the coming months. In his remarks on Friday, Obama said he was also planning a significant increase in the size of the military to facilitate future actions.

Even as he announced the drawdown of “combat” troops over the next 18 months—three months longer than he pledged during his election campaign—Obama made clear his deference to the military. “We will proceed carefully, and I will consult closely with my military commanders on the ground and with the Iraqi government,” he said, making clear that changes to the schedule are quite possible. “There will surely be difficult periods and tactical adjustments. But our enemies should be left with no doubt: this plan gives our military the forces and the flexibility they need to support our Iraqi partners, and to succeed.”

The Obama administration plan conforms to the demands of the military brass, including General Raymond Odierno, the commanding general in Iraq, and General David Petraeus, head of central command and the architect of the Iraq “surge” implemented in 2007. Both Odierno and Petraeus, along with Defense Secretary Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen, are holdovers from the Bush administration, ensuring essential continuity with the policy of the previous government.

While some Democrats voiced mild concerns that the 50,000-strong residual force was too high a figure, the plan also won the quick support of major figures in the Republican Party, including former presidential candidate John McCain, who said on Friday that the plan was “reasonable.” He commented, “Given the gains in Iraq and the requirements to send additional troops to Afghanistan, together with the significant number of troops that will remain in Iraq and the president’s willingness to reassess based on conditions on the ground, I am cautiously optimistic that the plan as laid out by the president can lead to success.” House Republican leader John Boehner also endorsed the plan.

The Wall Street Journal quoted Gordon Johndroe, the last national security spokesman for Bush, saying that Obama’s plan was not in conflict with that of his former boss. “The specific timing is only slightly different but consistent with the goal of helping Iraq become self-sufficient in providing its own security,” he said. “This is possibly because of the success of the surge.”

According to media reports, Obama telephoned Bush immediately before beginning his speech at Camp Lejeune, though there was no indication as to what the two discussed.

The main concern of the military was to ensure that any partial drawdown was delayed until after the Iraqi elections, and Obama’s plan was adapted to meet these concerns. In his remarks on Friday, Gates said that it was critical to “get through this year and all of the elections that will take place” and “have a period of adjustment after those national elections to make sure people are accepting the results.”

Obama’s speech was replete with obsequious praise for the military, an implicit endorsement of the “surge” policy of the Bush administration, and an acceptance of the lies employed to justify the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

The US military had fought “against tyranny and disorder,” he claimed. “You have borne an enormous burden for your fellow citizens, while extending a precious opportunity to the people of Iraq.” The military had “served with honor, and succeeded beyond any expectation.”

Hammering home his acceptance of the lies used to justify the 2003 invasion, Obama declared to his military audience, “And so I want to be very clear: We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime—and you got the job done. We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government—and you got the job done. And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life—that is your achievement; that is the prospect that you have made possible.”

In a particularly loathsome passage directed at the Iraqi people, Obama declared, “We Americans have offered our most precious resource—our young men and women—to work with you to rebuild what was destroyed by despotism; to root out our common enemies; and to seek peace and prosperity for our children and grandchildren, and for yours.”

In fact, the principal force of destruction in Iraq has been the American military itself. More than a million people have died as a result of the war and occupation, and millions more turned into refugees. The economy of the country has been shattered by two wars and a decade-long sanctions regime.

All the lies used to justify this crime—lies facilitated by the Democrats and explicitly endorsed by Obama—were intended to cover for a policy aimed at securing the geo-strategic interests of American imperialism, above all the control of Iraq’s oil resources. More than 4,500 US and coalition soldiers have been killed in the process.

Millions of people in the United States voted for Obama because they wanted change in government policy, in particular an end to the war in Iraq. These voters have been disenfranchised, as Obama continues the Iraq occupation and extends military aggression in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In line with his economic program, his military policies are dictated by the interests of the corporate and financial elite.

The Price of Hillary Clinton

November 26, 2008

by Srdja Trifkovic

Global Research, November 25, 2008

Chronicles – 2008-11-24

No secretary of state will come to that office with stronger pro-Israel credentials or closer ties to the Jewish community than Sen. Hillary Clinton, Douglas Bloomfield assures his readers in The Jerusalem Post. Good for them, and for Bosnia’s Muslims and Kosovo’s Albanians; but for the rest of us Mrs. Clinton’s appointment as the third woman U.S. Secretary of State is hugely problematic. It heralds “the end of the world as we know it” in some ways, although neither she nor her coterie necessarily know what they are doing.

At the technical level, Hillary Clinton is likely to deepen the chronic crisis of the once-venerable institution at Washington’s Foggy Bottom, to which her two female predecessors have contributed in two different ways.

Madeleine Albright was an activist who will be remembered for her hubris (“If we have to use force, it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.”), coupled with studied callousness. Asked on “60 Minutes” about the death of a half-million Iraqi children due to sanctions, she promptly responded, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price is worth it.” Her crowning glory was her premeditated 1999 war in the Balkans, prior to which she said that “the Serbs need a little bombing.” Her State Department contributed to the formulation, as well as execution, of Bill Clinton’s doctrine of “humanitarian intervention.”

Condoleezza Rice, less evil and more obtuse, will be remembered for nothing. She was an auxilliary tool of the Bush-Cheney team, with all key decisions made elsewhere.

Mrs. Clinton will try to rebuild the relative importance of the Department of State, which will become her personal fiefdom, but her labors will not be for the better. Her appointment, the most significant among several major figures from the Clinton era, belies Obama’s rhetoric of “change” when it comes to foreign affairs. There will be tectonic shifts, cultural and moral, at home. The established premises of an imperial presidency – which in world affairs inevitably translates into the quest for dominance and justification for global interventionism – will not be challenged, however.

Once it is accepted that Obama’s primary interest lies in an irreversible redistribution of power and money at home, it ceases to be surprising that he chose Hillary Clinton as his chief diplomat. Allowing her to indulge in some global grandstanding is acceptable to him, if that means the Clintons will not stand in the way of his domestic agenda. They are both revolutionaries, after all: that Mrs. Clinton is instinctively opposed to any traditional understanding of diplomacy became obvious during the primary campaign, when she accused Obama of “naivete” for saying he was willing to meet leaders of Iran, Syria and North Korea.

With Robert Gates staying at the Pentagon and Jim Jones as Obama’s national security adviser, there will be a lot of continuity in the U.S. foreign policy, not only with the 1990s but also with recent years. In Mrs. Clinton’s case there will be more lies, the hallmark of the family. During the primaries she listed a number of foreign policy accomplishments based on her husband’s legacy. She claimed that in 1999 she “negotiated open borders” in Macedonia to Albanian refugees from Kosovo, although the crossings were opened days before her arrival. She had repeatedly invoked her “dangerous” trip to Bosnia in 1996, including alleged snipers at Tuzla airport, whereas the Bosnian war had ended six months earlier and video footage shows smiling schoolchildren greeting her in Tuzla. (She later admitted “misspeaking” over sniper claims.)

In the same spirit Mrs. Clinton declared, in late 2002,

“Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile-delivery capability and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including al-Qaida members. I want to insure that Saddam Hussein makes no mistake about our national unity and for our support for the president’s efforts to wage America’s war against terrorists and weapons of mass destruction.”

Hillary Clinton says that she has had second thoughts since that time, and a year ago she declared in Foreign Affairs magazine that “US troops should be brought home.” During the primary campaign, however, she was markedly less willing than Obama to commit to a withdrawal timetable. The woman who voted to authorize the Iraq war, and who parroted lies used to justify it, cannot be expected to clean up the mess created by that war. It is more likely that she will advocate a downsized, rebranded, and effectively open-ended U.S. occupation of Iraq for which the military has been preparing ever since the “Surge.”

In Afghanistan, far from disengaging, Mrs. Clinton will advocate greater troop deployments and an escalation of military activity. On Iran, during the primaries she sounded like John McCain: “I want the Iranians to know that if I’m the president, we will attack Iran” if it attacks Israel, she declared last April: “In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.” She will negotiate with the mullahs, however, if Tehran’s tacit support is considered necessary for the achievement of her major ambition: a breakthrough in the Middle East.

Bill Clinton came closer than any U.S. president to brokering Arab-Israeli peace in the final year of his presidency, and insiders say that Hillary will place this issue at the top of her agenda. She is a favourite of the pro-Israel lobby, however, and it is unclear what she can offer, or do, in 2009-2010 that was not offered or tried at Camp David a decade earlier.

Continued >>

America’s National Strategy of Global Intervention

October 20, 2008

By William Pfaff | Information Clearing House, Oct 18, 2008

Paris, October 15, 2008 – Last June the U.S. Department of Defense unexpectedly issued a new version of its National Defense Strategy. It was unexpected because there will be a new administration in Washington in January which might be expected to issue a statement of its own ideas about military strategy.

Some in Washington speculated that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, only recently named to that office, a man who gets along with Democrats as well as Republications, might be bidding to keep his job under a new administration.

The new statement lacks the Bush administration’s unilateralism and triumphalism (as if there were anything left to be triumphal about), but it foresees a “Long War” of “promoting freedom, justice and human dignity by working to end tyranny, promote effective democracies and extend prosperity; and confronting the challenges of our time by leading a growing community of democracies.”

All that is straight Bush doctrine, drawn from his second inaugural address and Condoleezza Rice’s policy statement last summer predicting decades of a “new American realism” of “nation-building” to conquer “extremism.” By now the “Long War,” realistic or not, will have become orthodoxy for most of the Washington defense and strategic studies community.

The noteworthy thing about this National Defense Strategy statement is that it says nothing directly about American national defense. It is a strategy for intervening in other countries, and preventing others from blocking or resisting American interventions.

It states the responsibilities of America’s armed forces (summarizing the document’s introduction) as follows:

§ Conduct a global struggle against a violent extremist ideology that seeks to overturn the international system.

§ Deal with the threats of rogue-nation quests for nuclear weapons.

§ Confront the rising military power of other states.

These duties “[will require] the orchestration of national and international power over years or decades to come” to accomplish the following:

§ Long-term innovative approaches to counter al-Qaeda’s rejection of state sovereignty, violation of borders, and attempts to deny self-determination and human dignity.

§ Deal “with the inability of many states to police themselves effectively or work with their neighbors to ensure regional security.” Armed sub-national groups must be dealt with, “including but not limited to those inspired by violent extremism” which if left unchecked will threaten the stability and legitimacy of key states, and allow instability to spread “and threaten regions of interest to the United States, its allies and friends.”

§ Form local partnerships and creative approaches to deny extremists the opportunity to gain footholds in “ungoverned, under-governed, misgoverned, and contested areas” affecting local stability and regional stability.

§ Counter Iran’s pursuit of nuclear technology and enrichment capabilities, and deal with the ability of rogue states such as Iran and North Korea to threaten international order, sponsor terrorism, and disrupt fledgling democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

§ Meet possible challenges from (a) “more powerful states [that] might actively seek to counter the United States in some or all domains of traditional warfare or to gain an advantage in developing capabilities that offset our own,” as well as (b) nations that might “choose niche areas of military capability and competition in which they believe they can develop a strategic or operational advantage [even though] some of these potential competitors [may also be partners of the U.S. in] diplomatic, commercial or security efforts…”

§ For the foreseeable future, “hedge against China’s growing military modernization and the impact of its strategic choices on international security….The objective of this effort is to mitigate near-term challenges while preserving and enhancing U.S. national advantages over time.”

§ Recognize that Russia’s [pre-Georgian crisis] “retreat from openness and democracy,” “bullying of its neighbors,” and “more active military stance… and signaled increase in reliance on nuclear weapons as a foundation for its security …[are warnings of] a Russia exploring renewed influence” and a greater international role.

§ Prevent prospective adversaries, especially non-state actors and their state sponsors, from adopting “anti-access technology and weaponry [that can] restrict our future freedom of action,” and also from “making adversary use of traditional means of influence” such as by “manipulating global opinion using mass communications venues and exploiting international commitments and legal avenues.”

§ The global “commons [space, international waters, aerospace and cyberspace] must be secured and with them access to world markets and resources,” using military capabilities and alliances and coalitions, participating in international security and economic institutions, and employing “diplomacy and soft power to shape the behavior of individual states and the international system, using force when necessary.”

The principal preoccupation of the document is to protect American forces operating in foreign countries: to block measures by foreign states to “deny” American efforts to intervene in their countries, or to develop measures and technology to resist American intervention (or to send Americans to international criminal courts).

As for the United States itself, the document quotes the constitutional obligation of the government “to provide for the common defense,” but says that today, after more than 230 years, the U.S. “shoulders additional responsibilities on behalf of the world,…a beacon of light for those in dark places.” Yet the fear of those dark places that permeates the document compels the recommendation that American troops remain at home, where they will be safe from enemies and untrustworthy allies, and defend their own country.

William Pfaff is the author of eight books on American foreign policy, international relations, and contemporary history, including books on utopian thought, romanticism and violence, nationalism, and the impact of the West on the non-Western world. His newspaper column, featured in The International Herald Tribune for more than a quarter-century, and his globally syndicated articles, have given him the widest international influence of any American commentator.

© Copyright 2008 by Tribune Media Services International. All Rights Reserved.

The reality of war in Afghanistan

October 16, 2008
By Stephen Kinzer |  The Boston Globe, October 15, 2008

Despite their differences over how to pursue the US war in Iraq, Senators John McCain and Barack Obama both want to send more American troops to Afghanistan. Both are wrong. History cries out to them, but they are not listening.

Both candidates would do well to gaze for a moment on a painting by the British artist Elizabeth Butler called “Remnants of an Army.” It depicts the lone survivor of a 15,000-strong British column that sought to march through 150 kilometers of hostile Afghan territory in 1842. His gaunt, defeated figure is a timeless reminder of what happens to foreign armies that try to subdue Afghanistan.

The McCain-Obama approach to Afghanistan, like much of US policy toward the Middle East and Central Asia, is based on emotion rather than realism. Emotion leads many Americans to want to punish perpetrators of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. They see war against the Taliban as a way to do it. Suggesting that victory over the Taliban is impossible, and that the United States can only hope for peace in Afghanistan through compromise with Taliban leaders, has been taken as near-treason.

This knee-jerk response ignores the pattern of fluid loyalties that has been part of Afghan tribal life for centuries. Alliances shift as interests change. Warlords who support the Taliban are not necessarily enemies of the United States. If they are today, they need not be tomorrow.

In recent weeks, this elemental truth has begun to reshape debate over Western policy toward Afghanistan. Warlords on both sides met quietly in Saudi Arabia. The Afghan defense minister called for a “political settlement with the Taliban.” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates would not go that far, but said he might ultimately be open to “reconciliation as part of the political outcome.”

Gates, however, struck a delusionary note of “can-do” cheeriness by repeating the McCain-Obama mantra: More US troops can pacify Afghanistan. Speaking days after a National Intelligence Estimate concluded that the United States was caught in a “downward spiral” there, Gates asserted that there is “no reason to be defeatist or underestimate the opportunity to be successful in the long run.”

In fact, long-run success in Afghanistan – defined as an acceptable level of violence and assurance that Afghan territory will not be used for attacks against other countries – will only be possible with fewer foreign troops on the ground, not more.

A relentless series of US attacks in Afghanistan has produced “collateral damage” in the form of hundreds of civilian deaths, which alienate the very Afghans the West needs. As long as the campaign continues, recruits will pour into Taliban ranks. It is no accident that the Taliban has mushroomed since the current bombing campaign began. It allows the Taliban to claim the mantle of resistance to a foreign occupier. In Afghanistan, there is none more sacred.

The US war in Afghanistan also serves as a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda. It is attracting a new stream of foreign fighters into the region. A few years ago, these jihadists went to Iraq to fight the Great Satan. Now they see the United States escalating its war in Afghanistan and neighboring regions of Pakistan, and are flocking there instead.

Even if the United States de-escalates its war in Afghanistan, the country will not be stable as long as the poppy trade provides huge sums of money for violent militants. Eradicating poppies is like eradicating the Taliban: a great idea but not achievable. Instead of waging endless spray-and-burn campaigns that alienate ordinary Afghans, the United States should allow planting to proceed unmolested, and then buy the entire crop. Some could be turned into morphine for medical use, and the rest destroyed. The Afghan poppy crop is worth an estimated $4 billion per year. That sum would be better spent putting cash into the pockets of Afghan peasants than firing missiles into their villages.

Deploying more US troops in Afghanistan will intensify this highly dangerous conflict, not calm it. Compromise with Al Qaeda would be both unimaginable and morally repugnant, but the Taliban is a different force. Skillful negotiation among clan leaders, based on a genuine willingness to compromise, holds the best hope for Afghanistan. It is an approach based on reality, not emotion.

Stephen Kinzer is author of “A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It.”


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