Back when George W. Bush was running for reelection in 2004, the United States had recently completed a successful though totally unnecessary invasion of Iraq, which had not yet completely fallen to pieces despite the best efforts of Proconsul L. Paul Bremer and his neoconservative Myrmidons. But there was considerable concern among many Americans that four more years of George Bush’s doctrine of preemptive war could easily lead to an unending global conflict. Unfortunately, the cardinal lesson of Vietnam was forgotten by the majority of voters who, by a thin margin, opted to retain the “wartime president.” Americans forgot that war is ultimately a crap shoot. Possessing overwhelming firepower and mobility, American soldiers do tend to win every battle, but they frequently lose in the political game that follows. During George Bush’s second term that proved to be the case with Iraq rapidly becoming a basket case, which continues to this day, while Afghanistan remained pretty much a side show. And Bush, perhaps surprisingly, proved less than eager to expand the fighting to other areas. For all his failings, he restrained Dick Cheney on a number of occasions and also repeatedly warned the Israelis that the United States would not tolerate a new Middle Eastern war involving Iran. When W finally left office, there was hardly peace and prosperity, but it could have been a lot worse.
Well, a lot worse has finally arrived. In 2008 many voters were nervous about the Bush record and even more concerned at what disasters might be lurking if McCain-Palin were to take over the helm of the ship of state. So they voted for a candidate with no experience, no real record, and a lot of strange stuff in his resume in expectations that he would wind down America’s overseas commitments. Obama’s margin of victory was a vote for peace but it should come as no surprise to anyone that he has instead taken the easy way out by piling on the status quo and expanding Washington’s wars. Now he and the folks around him, who have betrayed the voters, seem to want six more years to plumb new depths of misery for America and the rest of the world.
Just as neoconservatives were in complete denial during the Bush years about the horrors emerging from the Pandora’s box that the Administration opened after 9/11, so too are progressives currently in denial about just how awful President Barack Obama has been on the world stage. He has authorized the extrajudicial killing of US citizens overseas based only on suspicion and has concealed war crimes committed at Guantanamo by citing the state secrets privilege. Obama has actually broadened the abominable “global war on terror,” which he refers to as “overseas contingency operations,” demonstrating his ability to wordsmith unsustainable policies by making them appear to be something that they are not. Having embraced the concept of war without end, he has sent 100,000 troops to Afghanistan and is preparing for more fighting in Somalia and Yemen. He has pretended that he is willing to negotiate with Iran while doing no such thing and placing preconditions on talks that guarantee that neither he nor Hillary will ever speak to the Mullahs. The White House has promised Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu that it will pursue a hard line on Iran and has offered a complete surrender over the issue of settlements if Israel can come to some jury-rigged peace agreement with the Palestinians, possibly landing the United States in the middle of yet another conflict in the Persian Gulf. And to ice the cake there is fear-mongering that occasionally even exceeds the frenetic output of the Bush Administration. The American public has been warned that the domestic terrorism threat is growing in the form of disenchanted Muslims living in the US, something that Bush would likely have avoided saying, and is also being told to be wary when traveling to Europe. Obama has demonstrated overall that there is nothing too low for him to contemplate if it means PAC money, votes in next month’s congressional elections, and his own reelection two years from now.
And then there is Pakistan, where, we learn, measures are being considered to make sure that its nuclear arsenal doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. Those steps clearly include some kind of American armed intervention. World War III anyone? The Washington Post print edition featured a front page headline on September 30th that was astonishing: “Worries Grow Over Pakistan Stability”. The article suggested that there is something wrong with those Pakistanis in that they can’t put their house in order. Well, it might seem churlish to suggest that the thing they can’t fix is their unfortunate close embrace by the United States. Since 2001, Washington has threatened them, interfered in their internal politics, pressured them repeatedly to take actions that destabilized the country, and, most recently, begun killing them in large numbers by aerial drones without any declaration of war or even much of an admission that the undeclared war is taking place. President Obama has actually upped the frequency and intensity of the predator strikes, which were started by W but only occasionally employed. Every move by Washington has weakened Pakistan’s government and increased corruption in the country.
On the following day after the story raising the alarm about Pakistan appeared, there was another Washington Post piece describing how the latest crisis had been caused by US helicopters actually crossing the border into Pakistan, killing three Pakistani military border patrolmen. Other media were also reporting separately that two more predator strikes on October 1st had killed 18 people in northwest Pakistan. One would think that if Obama were seriously concerned about the stability of Pakistan and had read the Washington Post he just might throttle back on the drone strikes, but, on the contrary, it has been full speed ahead and hope for the best. If that amounts to a policy it is clear that not a whole lot of deep thinking went into it. As if to demonstrate that inability to think does not handicap senior government officials, Richard Holbrooke, US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, commented on the killing of the Pakistani soldiers, opining that “I do not think it will change the fundamentals” of the Pakistan-US relationship. If fundamentals consist of slaughter along the border, he is almost certainly correct.
But contrary to Holbrooke’s ham handed analysis, it does not take a genius to figure out that all of this negative interaction is connected and that US actions serve no useful purpose except to make most Pakistanis hate Americans nearly all the time. The approval rating for the United States in “key strategic ally” Pakistan stands at 17%, the lowest level in any Muslim majority nation. If Obama were actually the wise, contemplative figure that he pretends to be instead of an inexperienced but reliable hack groomed by the corrupt Chicago Democratic Party machine, he might even figure all that out and decide that a change in policy would be advisable. No chance of that, unfortunately, and the war will go on because the real money interests that Obama represents want the conflict with Islamofascism to continue.
And let’s not forget the Republicans, the loyal opposition. They want an across the board budget cut to slim down the government. But they do not include the defense and homeland security portion, which thereby becomes the biggest entitlement program of all. The Republican embrace of our brave troops overseas is the ultimate expression of hypocrisy, as nearly six thousand of those very same soldiers have died in wars that the GOP initiated and did not have the sense to stop. That the Democrats continue down the same senseless road is a sign that the war party in America is truly bipartisan. The choice in the congressional elections next month will undoubtedly be between bad and worse.
But voting people out of office can have a salutary effect, making the rookie congressman look over his shoulder and possibly even wonder what is going wrong. For those optimists who think that six more years of Obama is bearable because he is not Bush, appears to be smart, and is a decent man who is trapped in policies initiated by his predecessor I say “Bad policy is bad policy.” If Obama truly believes that six more years of fighting half the world will result in something good for the United States and its citizens he is delusional, and that also goes for whoever is advising him. Which is not to suggest that anyone should ever pull the lever for Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich, but it would be nice if a whole lot of American voters could demand real change by getting their collective act together and voting for someone like Ron Paul.