Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Is Obama a Man of Peace?

When Barack Obama ran for office, he did so on a platform of ending the war in Iraq. The campaign promise, which can still be read on Obama’s own website, stated that:

Barack Obama will immediately give his military commanders a new mission in Iraq: ending the war. He will immediately begin to remove our combat brigades from Iraq. He will remove troops at a pace of 1 to 2 brigades a month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months.

Like a breath of fresh air after the alleged “war mongering” of George W. Bush, thousands of Americans were inspired by Obama’s dreams of peace and international cooperation. "The burdens of global citizenship” Obama mused in 2008, “continue to bind us together. Partnership among nations is not a choice; it is the one way, the only way, to protect our common security and advance our common humanity."

Before he had even been in the White House for a year, Obama was awarded the highly prestigious 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples”. In his Nobel acceptance speech last December, Obama proposed that striving for peace comprises “the hope of all the world” and is our very “work here on Earth.” He added:

So let us reach for the world that ought to be - that spark of the divine that still stirs within each of our souls.... We can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that - for that is the story of human progress; that is the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.

It is nothing unusual for there to be a strong disconnect between a politicians’ words and his actions, so it should come as no surprise if Obama’s military policy has taken a rather different route than his earlier comments might lead us to expect. One might even argue that it took a certain level of maturity for the President to realize that his earlier ideals on withdrawal from Iraq were unrealistic.

Not Since 1946
It’s the United States’ best kept secret, but their new Commander and Chief has been quietly building up America’s military empire at an unprecedented speed.

On 1 February the White House submitted its Quadrennial Defense Review to Congress requesting a record-high $708 billion in Pentagon spending for fiscal 2011 – the highest in absolute and inflated-adjusted spending for any year since 1946? It’s actually worse than that. As Rick Rozoff points out, if non-Pentagon defence spending is factored in, the total figure may well exceed $1 trillion.

The last time we needed that kind of defence budget was during World War II and the year immediately following when America helped to stabilize Europe. Given America’s current military spending, you would think we were in the middle of a world war again. What is all this money paying for?

Two Wars? If Only!

In his State of the Union Address on 29 January, the president referred to the “two wars” America is prosecuting. The reality is again very different.

Four days after assuming the Presidency, Obama ordered missile attacks in Pakistan, and has significantly increased the Lethal Drone Attacks beyond what they were under Bush. He has also quietly opened a war against Yemen to hunt down Al Qaeda militants. More recently he has quietly enlarged America’s other military commitments. The war in Afghanistan has recently been expanded to the Horn of Africa and the Indian Ocean. At the same time, Obama has greatly expanded the activities of Africa Command (which Wikipedia describes as “a Unified Combatant Command of the United States Department of Defense that is responsible for U.S. military operations and military relations with 53 African nations, covering all of Africa except Egypt”).

But the Middle East and Africa are not the only area where American combat troops are deployed. As if intent on world dominance, the Pentagon is deploying 1,400 personnel to Colombia to man seven new bases under a 10-year military agreement signed last October.
Nor should it be overlooked that America is also involved by proxy on a number of other fronts. In January this year, America completed a $6.5 billion arms deal with Taiwan in what could quickly escalate into a proxy war against China.

Altogether, the American military is deployed in more than 150 countries around the world, with more than 369,000 of its 1,379,551 active-duty troops serving outside the United States and its territories. This doesn’t just include the troops we always hear about (around 128,100 troops in Iraq and around 48,250 troops in Afghanistan); it also includes 42 troops in Kenya, 29 troops in Egypt, 27,014 troops in South Korea, 32,803 troops in Japan, 95 troops in the Philippines, 311 troops in Diego Garcia, 27 troops in Indonesia, 125 troops in Singapore, 96 troops in Thailand, 15 troops in Malaysia, 140 troops in Australia, 17 troops in Marshall Islands, 5 troops in New Zealand, 57,080 troops in Germany, 386 troops in Greece, 9,855 troops in Italy, 9,825 troops in United Kingdom, 1,286 troops in Spain, 81 troops in Norway, 12 troops in Sweden, 1,594 troops in Turkey, 1,328 troops in Belgium, 826 troops in Portugal, 579 troops in the Netherlands, 363 troops in Greece, 126 troops in Greenland, 411 troops in Qatar, 1,495 troops in Bahrain, 10 troops in Kuwait, 36 troops in Oman, 96 troops in United Arab Emirates, 2 troops in Antigua, 123 troops in Colombia, 3 troops in Saint Helena, 932 troops in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and 36 troops in Ecuador.

Hankering After the Days of the Cold War

 Not content with being the only nation with troops and military bases astride all five continents, America is now engaging in a curious and unprovoked military build-up along the Russian border. This year America will be sending 4,000 troops to new bases in Bulgaria and Romania. In January the Polish defence minister announced that the U.S. Patriot missile battery being sent to his country, and the 100 Americans who will operate it, will be positioned, not on the outskirts of the capital of Warsaw as previously announced, but in the Baltic Sea city of Morag, just 35 miles from the Russian border. In his article, ‘Dangerous Crossroads: US Moves Missiles And Troops To Russian Border’, Rick Rozoff explains exactly what this will entail:

As part of the Obama administration’s new missile shield project, one which will be integrated with NATO to take in all of Europe and extend into the Middle East and the Caucasus, the Patriots will be followed by Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptor deployments on warships in the Baltic Sea and, for the first time ever, a land-based version of the same. The Pentagon will deploy command posts of SM-3 missiles, which can intercept both short- and mid-range missiles. An SM-3 was used by the Pentagon to shoot a satellite out of orbit in February of 2008 to give an indication of its range.

Further deployments will follow.

The new, post-George W. Bush administration, interceptor missile system will employ “existing missile systems based on land and at sea... Deployment of the revised missile defense would extend through 2020. The first step is to put existing sea-based weapons systems on Aegis-class destroyers and cruisers....
In October, shortly after U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden visited Warsaw to finalize the plan, Polish Deputy Defense Minister Stanislaw Komorowski met with his opposite number from the U.S., Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Alexander Vershbow, and announced that the American missiles “will be combat-ready, not dummy varieties as Washington earlier suggested.” The same report added that “Earlier, Ukrainian and American officials stated that Ukrainian territory may be used in some way in the new antimissile shield.” Poland borders Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave, but Ukraine has a 1,576-kilometer (979-mile) border with Russia.

The obvious symbolism of this military posturing was not missed by Russia, who has quickly realized that it needs to enter the arms race. "What is the problem?” said Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, to a reporter last year, “The problem is that our American partners are building an anti-missile shield and we are not building one." Putin went on to state that “In order to preserve balance ... we need to develop offensive weapons systems.”

Safety First?

In his Farewell address, George Washington warned future generations of Americans against becoming entangled in the affairs of other nations. He said, “The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.”

In the early days of the American Republic, Washington’s advice was heeded. Thus, in 1821, America’s sixth president, John Quincy Adams, could reflect back and boast that

[America] has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations while asserting and maintaining her own. She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart.... Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy
When American Presidents first began pursuing interventionist foreign policies at the close of the 19th century, it was ostensibly to make America a safer place. The idea was a simple one: America will be safer if it is bigger and tougher. This was the idea that led America into the Spanish–American War and other wars of territorial expansion. At around the time of Woodrow Wilson, a new justification for international war began to emerge. No longer was the goal merely to make America a safer place: the goal was now to make the world a safer place. The result of this paradigm shift is that neither the world or America are actually safer. If anything, the opposite is the case: America’s military internationalism has been putting the American people at a greater risk than ever.

Consider that America’s expensive militaristic policies (financed almost entirely by debt) are threatening to destroy the very economic integrity of the nation – an integrity necessary for America’s safety in the most general sense. More directly, however, America’s interventionist politics have created unprecedented levels of what the CIA calls blowback. Blowback is the violent, unintended consequences for military action directed against the civil population of the aggressor government. The bombings of 9/11 were a classic case of blowback, since they came as a reaction to the long-time presence of the American military in the Middle East. As Philip Giraldi, former counterterrorism expert with the CIA put it,

I think anybody who knows anything about what’s been going on for the last 10 years would realize that cause and effect are operating here – that, essentially, al Qaeda has an agenda which very specifically says what its grievances are. And its grievances are basically that ‘we’re over there.’

Giraldi’s conclusion was confirmed by University of Chicago’s Robert Pape, who collected a database of 462 suicide terrorist attacks between 1980 and 2004. He found that the religious beliefs of suicide terrorists were less of a motivation for the attacks than has commonly been suspected. The primary motivation is a desire “to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory the terrorists view as their homeland.” Commenting on this in his book The Revolution, Ron Paul points out that

Between 1995 and 2004, the al Qaeda years, two-thirds of all attacks came from countries where the United States had troops stationed. While al Qaeda terrorists are twice as likely to hail from a country with a strong Wahhabist (radical Islamic) presence, they are ten times as likely to come from a country in which U.S. troops are stationed. Until the U.S. invasion in 2003, Iraq had never had a suicide terrorist attack in its entire history. Between 1982 and 1986, there were 41 suicide terrorist attacks in Lebanon. Once the U.S. , France and Israel withdrew their forces from Lebanon, there were no more attacks. ...the longer and more extensive the occupation of Muslim territories, the greater the chance of more 9/11-type attacks on the United States.
This does not, of course, mean that terrorists are justified in their attacks, but it should serve to caution those Americans who assume that an aggressive foreign policy is needed to make the United States or the world a safer place. As an American, I do not sleep easier at night because I know Obama has positioned active missiles next to the border of Russia, provoking our former enemy into an arms race. Nor I do not consider myself particularly safer because America is engaged in dozens of undeclared wars in Africa. Neither will I sleep better knowing that America is involved in a proxy arms race (via Taiwan) with China. And I am certainly not safer as a result of the United States’ military being stretched almost to breaking point with bases in 150 different countries across five continents. If anything, such policies are making America and the world less safe. Only time will tell how true this is.

A shorter version of this article will be appearing in the monthly magazine of Christian Voice (http://www.christianvoice.org.uk/). It is published here by permission of Christian Voice.

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