Obama’s War

Author’s note: The following is the text of a speech delivered at a forum sponsored by the Students of American Liberty at East Tennessee State University, on March 4.

Illusions die hard. Especially the ideological kind. When the illusion of Barack Obama, the peacemaker, is finally dispelled, we are going to wake up and find ourselves waist-deep in a war that will soon threaten to dwarf the disastrous invasion of Iraq, both in human and material cost.

We know this from what he has said he will do, and what he has already done. He’s already announced he’s sending 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, bringing the total to nearly 40,000. Not that this comes as any surprise: his entire critique of the Bushian foreign policy during the campaign was that we’ve been fighting the wrong war: that we had to get out of Iraq so we could occupy and pacify Afghanistan, and make a proper job of it. He advocated going into Pakistan, and outflanked the Republicans on the right.

Democrats attacked Republicans for underestimating the number of troops it would take to topple Saddam and set up a full-fledged, multi-year occupation, and there was that controversy over General Eric Shinseki, the former army chief of staff who resigned after contradicting the official administration estimate and testifying that we’d need at leas a couple of hundred thousand instead of Rumsfeld’s fifty-thousand or so. The Democrats made Shinseki into a hero, but one wonders if they’ll ask him about Afghanistan. He’s liable to answer half a million.

Oh, but we’re going to do it with the help of our allies: NATO is going to take on extra added importance, once again, just as it did in the Clinton era, as the favored instrument of US military aggression. That archaic alliance of nations spawned during the cold war as a defensive shield against advancing communism, is now venturing into the former Soviet heartland as a would-be conqueror. Plunging into the Caucasus region, admitting Georgia and perhaps even Azerbaijan, the gateway to the oil riches of central Asia – NATO is going to be our spearhead, not only in Afghanistan but throughout the Eurasian crescent extending from Gdansk, in the north to Tbilisi, in the south, and then eastward to Afghanistan, the graveyard of empires.

That’s the plan, anyway, but the Democrats’ “multilateral” approach to the problem of how to police the world, and maintain and extend the American empire, has certain problems. To begin with, the economic crunch doesn’t allow for the luxury of imperialism, and the Europeans are in an even worse position that we are. Secondly, sending troops overseas to fight America’s wars and occupy foreign countries is wildly unpopular in Europe, and the political costs of supporting the NATO effort in a substantial way might be too high as the Afghan war heats up.

The Europeans, too, have more respect for history, having suffered from an excess of it; perhaps they’ll remember the fate of the previous would-be conquerors of the proud Afghan people: the Russians, the British, the Golden Horde, and even Alexander the Great. They all failed, and the bones of their centurions are dust beneath the feet of a warrior people. In that kind of terrain, against that kind of enemy, there is no such thing as victory – there is only a question of how long it will take for them to drive us out – or whether we go bankrupt before that happens, and be forced to withdraw. The Europeans, with their keen sense of history, know this, and I doubt very much that they’ll be lured into sending large numbers of their armed forces into Afghanistan.

So you thought with the exit of the Bush administration, and the entry into Washington of Obama the prince of peace, that a new era would dawn and we’d be rid of the warmaking policies of a deranged White House? No way. We are in for more of the same, albeit marketed under a more reasonable rubric. Obama made this clear in his very first major foreign policy speech, delivered at Camp Lejeune before an audience of marines.

When it comes to Iraq, said Obama, he’s taking the “centrist,” moderate position:

“To this very day, there are some Americans who want to stay in Iraq longer, and some who want to leave faster.” So let’s just forget the campaign promises, and see how Obama’s announcement conflicts with what he said he would do.

During the campaign he said he’d get us out of Iraq within 16 months – now his story is that it will three months longer than he promised. We are being told it will completed by the end of August 2010, 19 months after Obama’s inauguration. And even that is not carved in stone: Like any good self-described “pragmatist,” Obama and his advisors have always said his plan for Iraq is subject to revision due to “conditions on the ground” – which means, it can be altered, ditched, or even entirely reversed at any moment between now and 2011. That Obama is playing both sides of the aisle is underscored by a spokesman for New York Rep. John McHugh, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, who said that the President “assured [McHugh] he will revisit the tempo of the withdrawal, or he will revisit the withdrawal plan if the situation on the ground dictates it. … The president assured him that there was a Plan B.”

No sooner had Obama made his announcement of the war’s end, than NBC’s Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszewski reported that

“Military commanders, despite this Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government that all U.S. forces would be out by the end of 2011, are already making plans for a significant number of American troops to remain in Iraq beyond that 2011 deadline, assuming that Status of Forces Agreement agreement would be renegotiated. And one senior military commander told us that he expects large numbers of American troops to be in Iraq for the next 15 to 20 years.”

Of course, to anyone who was reading the fine print of his policy proposals during the campaign –- as oppose to imbibing sound bits, and getting high on his coolness – this comes as no surprise.

They key to understanding the extent and nature of Obama’s betrayal on the issue of the war lies in the fact that this alleged “withdrawal” will be back-loaded. Instead of one combat brigade per month, our force posture in Iraq will boil down to essentially the same as it would have been had Bush stayed in office. The plan is that troops will start leaving Iraq in large number only around next summer, at a pace to be left up to the field commanders.

This is key because it gives Obama plenty of space and opportunity to freeze or even reverse the withdrawal, under pressure from the Republicans, at the insistence of the military, or due to some unforeseen – but totally unsurprising – event that catalyzes the War Party once more and gives fresh impetus to our military efforts abroad – perhaps a terrorist attack Iraq, nearby in Kuwait – or in the United States.

The real kicker is that this so-called withdrawal – laden as it is with so many contingencies, conditions, and amendatory clauses – is not really a withdrawal at all. Because even after what is now called the “drawdown,” there will still be 50,000 troops remaining in the country – to train, assist, and accompany Iraqi armed forces as they go after the terrorists-of-the-week.

It’s interesting how Obama uses language, here, to give himself some kind of cover: the force is no longer called “residual.” Now it’s a “transition force.” But no matter what you call it, it’s still an occupation force – and it will continue to operate, says Obama, until the last day of 2011. At that point, Obama assures us that we’re leaving, for sure, totally and without any “transitional” or “residual” force – except, maybe not. Because if you look at the Status of Forces Agreement, recently signed by the US and Iraq, it calls for a complete US withdrawal and yet reserves the right of the Iraqi government to “request” that we intervene. As the Status of Forces Agreement puts it:

“When any external or internal danger emerges against Iraq or an aggression upon it violates its sovereignty, its political stability, the unity of its land, water, and airspace or threatens its democratic system or its elected establishments and according to the request of the Iraqi government, the two parties will immediately start strategic talks and according to what they will agree on between them the United States will undertakes the appropriate measures that include diplomatic, economic, military or any other measure required to deter this threat.”

Any US presence or military operations within Iraq, after the December 31, 2011, will be strictly “temporary,” the authors of the agreement assure us. Yet everything is temporary: nothing is forever. Somehow, I’m not reassured….

Aside from what this revision of his original position tells us about his trustworthiness, understanding how Obama, his aides, and his generals created their plan shows us what we’re up against in the fight to end this war and prevent others. As one recent news article describing the process put it:

“According to one administration official, there was never any magic to the 16-month period. …As early as last July, Obama signaled to the military leadership that they could influence his thinking. During a trip to Baghdad, Obama privately assured Gen. David Petraeus — then the top U.S. commander — that although he favored a 16-month pullout, he would do nothing rash if elected to endanger security gains in Iraq, according to a U.S. official familiar with their meeting.”

The idea that we are going to leave Iraq without endangering any of the so-called security gains is another backdoor to continuing the occupation. Iraq has been on the verge of all-out civil war since the US invaded – to expect that opportunists of various sorts won’t arise as the US is leaving or about to leave is unrealistic, to say the very least. One can easily foresee a scenario in which the Sadrist forces, which are militantly anti-American and have been opposed to the present regime in Baghdad, seize the chance to assert themselves, and the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki asks the US to intervene, with the Sadrists being deemed a “terrorist” threat, possibly in league with al-Qaedaor Iran.

The groundwork for a de facto US occupation of Iraq continuing beyond Obama’s first term has already been laid by his statements and actions so far – first of all his revision of his original plan, and the announcement of the so-called transitional force. This has been done in the signature style of the Obama administration, which prices itself on its smartness, its technocratic expertise: like most modern liberal administrations, starting with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Obama-ites hail the reign of the experts – specialists who know what’s best, and who can direct the fate of nations, including our own, from their offices in Washington.

Consider that the rationale for spending money we don’t have in order to pull ourselves out of a bad recession is expert opinion: each and every administration pronouncement on the economy is preceded by this mantra of “most economists agree.” The same argument from authority is heard when they explain the rationale behind Obama’s new stance on Iraq. That Associated Press report on the process preceding Obama’s Camp Lejeune pronouncement goes into painstaking detail about the endless meetings, consultations, video conferences and written exchanges between all levels of the national security bureaucracy, the Pentagon, the commanders in the field, and Obama. “From Day One,” we are told, “Obama directed the Defense Department to start the planning for ‘a responsible military drawdown.'” This immediately establishes an aura of competence and speed, pragmatism and determination: “Also that first week,” the article continues,

“He gathered top national security advisers in the Situation Room, with commanders participating in person and from the field via secure videoconference. A week later, he made his first trip to the Pentagon, to see the chairman and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and all four uniformed service chiefs.

“More discussions with field commanders followed, as well as with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. At the beginning, the White House encountered clear skepticism — both about the need for any defined timeline and about how rigorous Obama had been in devising his 16-month proposal, said one senior Obama aide.

“A dozen working groups were convened and 10 interagency meetings were held, said two White House officials. Another administration official said that while it was understood the final decision resided in the West Wing, it was also encouraging to those outside the White House that they were being engaged and heard, with a lot of back-and-forth and draft-sharing.”

Yes, there will be no more of this top-down, White House-directed laying down of a party line: Obama is “open” and “inclusive,” he “listens,” and thus gives himself a lot of wiggle room just in case he needs to change his stance for whatever reason. The Obama doll is infinitely flexible and can be stretched into any number of possible positions, depending on which way the wind is blowing. After all, who can argue with “a dozen working groups” of experts? Hasn’t he gathered together the Best and the Brightest, and, with an open mind – i.e. a mind emptied of all “inflexible” stances, including those that got him elected – given us the benefits of their superior knowledge?

In the age of Obama, we are subject to the rule of the experts, the regime of the know-it-alls. These, by the way, are the very same know-it-alls who knew that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction: remember that the world’s experts testified, almost to a man, that the Iraqis were preparing to develop or had already produced nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, and that the Iraqi dictator was planning to invade his neighbors. Neither of these assumptions turned out to have any basis in fact. It took a little manipulation of the intelligence, and plenty of cherry-picking, but – given the widespread assumption that Iraq was rearming – it wasn’t hard for the “experts” to utilize their “expertise” to regurgitate the conventional wisdom. When the postwar search for WMD came up with nothing, they claimed it was all a mistake, but an understandable one, because, after all, everyone thought the weapons were there.

The few dissidents – UN arms inspector Scott Ritter, and the writers for Antiwar.com, including this writer – who maintained from the beginning that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were ignored as being outside the “mainstream,” and condemned as agents of Saddam Hussein. As the political establishment, Democrats as well as Republicans, liberals as well as conservatives, were swept up in the war hysteria, the standards of “evidence” were considerably lowered. An entire mythology of alleged “intelligence” was splashed across the front pages of the nation’s newspapers, with Iraqi “defectors” planted by Ahmed Chalabi‘s Iraqi National Congress (INC) spinning tales of secret weapons stored under Saddam’s many palaces, and underground biological and chemical factories churning out steaming vats of enough poison to kill the entire population of the US several times over. All of this was reported in page one stories in the New York Times and other mainstream media – incontrovertible evidence of an alleged threat from Iraq cited by government experts and their cheerleaders in the media. Thousands of American casualties later – and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths later – it turns out the “experts” were wrong.

Do we really want our foreign policy to be run by these “experts”? Have we learned nothing from our experience in Iraq? Apparently not, because this same crowd is now pushing for a campaign to disarm Iran, which is – we are told – embarked on an effort to develop – yes, you guessed it! – Weapons of Mass Destruction!

Haven’t we seen this movie before – and surely the Obama administration isn’t going to fall for this guff – is it?

Well, unfortunately, it seems to have already fallen for it, if we take seriously the President’s pronouncement at his first press conference, wherein he referred to “Iran’s development of a nuclear weapon” before correcting himself to refer to its “pursuit of weapons capability.” His pick for CIA chief, Leon Panetta, asked during testimony before Congress whether Iran was headed to join the nuclear club, said: “From all the information I’ve seen,” Panetta said, “I think there is no question that they are seeking that capability.” As the Los Angeles Times noted:

“The language reflects the extent to which senior U.S. officials now discount a National Intelligence Estimate issued in November 2007 that was instrumental in derailing U.S. and European efforts to pressure Iran to shut down its nuclear program.”

Already, we are being subjected to a flurry of op ed pieces, full page ads in the nation’s press, and warnings from Israeli leaders all calling for a military strike against Iran – and the phony “intelligence” is already being broadcast all over creation, claiming Tehran has enough fissile material to make a bomb – in spite of its demonstrable technical incapacity, its inability to make a warhead, and the considered opinion of our own CIA, which, in a national intelligence estimate released late last year stated in its very first sentence: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”

It may seem like years, but it was only a few months ago that we were all worrying a lame duck President Bush might launch an attack on Iran, amid a flurry of reports that Tehran was about to go nuclear. The CIA’s national intelligence estimate put an abrupt end to that kind of talk. Now, however, all this seems to have been thrown overboard, and the clock is ticking once again, as the countdown to catastrophe in the Middle East resumes.

An attack on Iran would plunge the entire region into a war that would be comparable, in scope and destructive power, to the Second World War. It would, in effect, amount to World War III. There are those who look forward to this prospect, or, at least, see it as inevitable [.pdf]. Shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Bill Clinton’s former CIA chief, James Woolsey, declared that we were entering the final days before World War IV – the third world war, according to Woolsey and his fellow neoconservatives, has already occurred, it was called the cold war, and we won. Now, they aver, we must fight and win a fourth world four, and the battlefield is Iran.

Of course, back then, the battlefield of the neocons’ choice was Iraq, but that was just a prelude to the main act, the ultimate goal of the War Party in America: the conquest of proud and mighty Persia, the seat of an ancient empire that once extended from the Bosporus to the Indus and rivaled the Romans in its military prowess and cultural sophistication. Iran is a big country, nearly four times the size of Iraq, with more than twice the population, and its people will fight. There is no question of us occupying the country: it would require more resources than even the US could muster – an occupation force surely of over one million, at the very least, and the prospect of a very long war that would last, perhaps, far longer than our ability to wage it. Yet we have said that Iranian possession of nuclear weapons – or perhaps having the mere capability to produce nukes – is grounds for war. So what kind of suicidal policy are we pursuing?

There has been a lot of talk about the Israel lobby lately: its power, which is often decisive, was unchecked during the Bush administration, as we gave unconditional and unquestioning support for the Israeli government’s every action. A recent book by Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, documents the key role played by de facto agents of a foreign government in catalyzing and shaping the exercise of American power. They point to the alliance of neoconservatives, pro-Israel lobbying groups on Capitol Hill, and born-again Christian fundamentalists out in the heartland as a tripartite alliance that puts Israel’s regional agenda over and above distinctively American interests in the Middle East and beyond. Their book shows how the neoconservatives moved with alacrity after 9/11 to maintain that Israeli and American interests were and always would be in such perfect symmetry as to appear identical. “We are all Israelis now” was New Republic editor Marty Peretz’s response to the terrorist attacks, and US foreign policy subsequent to that signal event was conducted in a largely Peretzian manner. This close alignment didn’t begin to fray and diverge until the latter days of the Bush administration, when the Israel lobby and its neoconservative auxiliary – fresh from their conquest of Iraq – began to take up the cry of “On to Tehran!” Bush, having been burned by the neocons once, wasn’t about to go through that again: “Fool me once“…

In any case, the Bushies weren’t going along with the program, and so they were unceremoniously dumped by the neocons, who came out in public denouncing their former Great Leader, and complaining that the Revolution had been betrayed. About what you might expect from a lot of ex-Trotskyists – but that’s another story

Objectively, of course, the idea that Israeli and American interests are or could be identical is complete nonsense: it ignores important details, such as geography, for example, in favor of more abstract concerns. Yet geography is the determining factor in evaluating the alleged Iranian nuclear threat. Iran may have the capability to produce nuclear weapons grade material, yet without a long-range delivery system in place it cannot be considered a credible threat to the continental US. Israeli officials, and their spokesmen in this country, have continually made the point that an Iranian nuclear capability represents an “existential threat” – and they may well be right. Seen from the Iranian perspective, however, the desire for nuclear weapons is a legitimate defense measure. After all, Israel has a large nuclear arsenal, and, unlike Iran, has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which governs the peaceful use of nuclear power and which binds Iran to a series of inspections of its nuclear facilities. Israel, for its part, has never even acknowledged its possession of nukes, at least 900, according to most sources. Israel could obliterate Tehran, tomorrow, with no fear of a response in kind. Disarm Iran? They’re already disarmed – and helpless in case Avigdor Lieberman should become Prime Minister of Israel and order those missiles to be launched. After all, he’s already called for the obliteration of the Aswan Dam, in case the Egyptians get out of line. The torching of Tehran should prove even less troubling to his conscience.

There is no evidence that the Iranians are pursuing a nuclear weapons program: our own CIA says they dropped the idea in 2003. And if I were an Iranian, I would find that inexplicable. After all, why shouldn’t my country have the right to a nuclear deterrent against a possible first strike? This is what the average Iranian citizen thinks.

Obama says he is going to try the path of diplomacy, that he would meet with the Iranian leadership, but I doubt that even he – as persuasive and smooth as he is – will be able to talk them out of their right of self defense. Aside from that, the prospects of US-Iranian dialogue are not looking good. The US is starting the diplomatic process by challenging the Iranian leadership, disavowing its own intelligence assessment of Iran’s nuclear program, and issuing a series of non-negotiable demands. Our idea of “negotiations” is to issue a series of threats: if you don’t do this, or that, we’ll impose economic sanctions on your country. There is no “change” on this front. From all indications, our looming confrontation with Iran, it’ll be a long, drawn-out replay of the same process that culminated, finally, in the invasion of Iraq. A propaganda war always precedes an actual war, and in the case of Iran the first battles on being fought on the op ed pages of the nation’s disappearing newspapers, and behind closed doors in the corridors of power.

In meantime, however, there’s plenty for the War Party to do, to prepare for the final Armageddon-type battle against the Iranians. You’ll note Iran’s proximity to our latest battlefields of choice – Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Afghan theater is Obama’s battlefield of choice; he made a big issue during the campaign of the Bush administration’s inattention to the war on the Afghan front, and he’s fulfilling his campaign pledge to ratchet up that war by doubling our troops level.

This war in Afghanistan has no convincing rationale, and no one can explain it – its goals, or what “victory” means, except as a) a war of retribution against enemies who have long since fled the scene, or b) a means of surrounding the Iranians, and a pretext for extending US influence into Central Asia.

No government program or agency ever ends: it is either renamed, or re-purposed. In any case, ending the program is simply not an option, and this basic principle applies to wars as well. Long after bin Laden and his cohorts have fled the scene, we are still scouring the valleys and mountain passes of a fierce and treacherous land – and or what? To what purpose?

Obama says that al-Qaeda – the perpetrators of 9/11 – are using Afghanistan and now Pakistan as a base from which to “plan” and “plot” attacks against the United States. Yet this rationale for an all-out military invasion of a foreign land, coupled with a complex counter-insurgency and nation-building plan, is rather thin. If we are going to invade any country where “plans” and “plots” against the US have taken place, then perhaps we should invade Germany, because Hamburg was where several of the 9/11 hijackers lived for a time.

The real plot against America that led directly to 9/11 took place in the United States of America. Somehow we missed a couple of crazy Arabs who were interested in learning to fly an airplane, but weren’t that interested in how to land it. Practically all of them were legally in the country: I believe one of the hijackers won a green card in the green card lottery the immigration authorities conduct every year, which grants the winners the legal right to live and work in the US. I don’t care how many countries we invade, with this rather large chink in our armor we’ll never be safe from a terrorist attack.

The Taliban are conflated with al-Qaeda, because the former refused Bush’s demand that they turn over bin Laden, yet they are hardly the same. In taking on the Taliban, we have allied ourselves with a motley collection of warlords, minority tribalists, and a thin urban elite that wields no power outside Kabul. The so-called President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, reportedly has the ethics of Governor Blagojevich and rules over less territory than the Vatican. In a stiff-armed snub to the winner of an election once hailed by the US government as a great victory for capital-‘D’ Democracy, President Karzai was pointedly not invited to Obama’s inauguration, although several of his rivals in the upcoming election were. Whether this is a ploy to increase Karzai’s popularity is not known, but I rather doubt it: no one in charge of policymaking in America is even half that smart.

One could make the argument that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, in the 1980s, marked the beginning of the end of communism. When the history of the American republic in the twenty-first century is written, one wonders if our own downfall will be paired with the Soviet decline, as twin examples of what happens when you swallow more than you can chew. Yet this is not the worst peril that we face as we wade into even deeper waters, in Pakistan. Although we are often told that bin Laden and his top cohorts are holed up in the wilds of the so-called “tribal areas” of Pakistan, near the Afghan border, one searches in vain for any proof of this empty assertion. How do we know this? Like the existence of “weapons of mass destruction” in pre-invasion Iraq, this is simply assumed. What everybody supposedly knows for a fact seems based on mere supposition and groupthink. So where’s the evidence? Mr. President, I’m waiting ….

The reality is that we haven’t the faintest idea where bin Laden and the leadership of the shadowy al-Qaeda have taken up residence – doubtless spread out over the world at this point. What’s clear is that we aren’t going to find and/or defeat them by using conventional military means, i.e. by launching full-scale invasions, or launching attacks over the Afghan-Pakistan border that do more damage to the democratically elected government of Pakistan than to the ostensible targets. And that is really the scariest part of the game Obama is playing in the region: our actions could bring down the government of Pakistan, and give impetus to radical Islamists who make bin Laden seem like a moderate Republican. As new monsters rise out of the morass we have created, we need to be reminded that Pakistan is a nuclear-armed country. Tensions between Pakistan and India are also rising. Before stepping into that particular hornets nest, I would advise extreme caution – because we’re more than likely to get badly stung.

If the US is carrying out a policy of encirclement when it comes to Iran, a more grand-scale version of the same strategy is being simultaneously deployed against Russia. Since the rise of Vladimir Putin, and Russia’s attempt to pursue an independent foreign policy counterposed to the unipolar worldview emanating from Washington, the cold war has come to life: it’s a retro fad that became popular during the Clinton years, especially during the Kosovo war, and reached a crescendo under Bush, during the elections in the Ukraine and the events of the so-called “Orange Revolution.” A whole series of “color revolutions” took place in former Soviet Republics, from Central Europe to Central Asia, always with US government backing and financial support, as well as very vocal support from the Bush White House. When the Georgians invaded two breakaway provinces that wanted either independence or alliance with Russia, the US responded by giving unconditional support to the invaders, although Georgian tanks fired directly on civilian targets in an assault on the rebel capital: a dozen or so Russian peacekeepers, who were there under the terms of a UN mandate, were killed.

This occurred at the height of the presidential campaign, and John McCain seized on this, saying that Obama’s initial response – a desire to see both sides stop fighting – was insufficient, and evidence of his unfitness to sit in the Oval Office. Obama immediately responded by condemning Russia’s strictly defensive action, and competing with McCain to see who could be more ferociously anti-Russian and threaten the Kremlin with the direst consequences.

In this area, too, we’re going to see continuity, rather than change, in American foreign policy. The Bush administration supported and implemented the construction of a missile defense system in Poland, and the Czech Republic, supposedly to guard against the dangers of an alleged Iranian threat. Not that Iran has missile that could reach Poland, and not that Tehran would even consider it, not in anyone’s wildest dreams. No one believes the official US explanation for the existence of this provocative weaponry a few miles from the gates of Moscow, least of all the Russians. Taken by itself, this policy – and its ridiculous rationale– has got to be one of the most ham-handed, insulting, brazenly aggressive actions taken by the Bush administration, and that is saying a lot. Yet the Obama administration, which is supposed to be all about change, about turning the page, is continuing this policy, as Vice President Joe Biden made all too clear the other week in Munich.

Our conflict with Russia is widening due to the requirements of our Afghan policy, which necessitates a ring of bases around Afghanistan, so we can re-supply our armed forces on the ground. The Taliban has blocked the Khyber pass , and overland routes through Pakistan are highly problematic. Airbases in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Kazakhstan are on the agenda – and the policy of encircling Russia, as well as Iran, continues.

The new counterinsurgency doctrine [.pdf] of the US military, pioneered by Gen. David Petraeus and the authors of the Iraqi “surge,” supposedly solves the main problem of imperialism: how to subdue an occupied people. They didn’t learn it in Vietnam, and were late in learning it in Iraq, but finally – they believe – they have the Answer. We must nation-build, we must lift the poor and oppressed out of poverty and despair, we must drain the swamp in which the insurgency flourishes, like some invasive and destructive swampgrass.

When we talk about nation-building, we are talking Obama’s language: the language of moral uplift, of misplaced idealism, and soaring rhetoric. We are talking the language of the social and economic planners, who think that government – the US government, specifically – is the answer to all the world’s problems. Roads, hospitals, schools, infrastructure – these things are just as important, according to the new military doctrine, as strictly military activities, i.e. taking out the enemy. Such a strategy necessarily takes the long view – which means, no matter what Obama now says, that we’re in for the long haul in Afghanistan – and not only there.

This sort of imperialism is a perfect fit for the new age we are living in: Obama’s war will be fought in the name of moral and material uplift, whilst taking hundreds of thousands of unemployed out of the labor market. It will provide for the growth and development of government spending, which is said by the new administration to be the only cure for our current economic problems. According to the theory of John Maynard Keynes, which is today invoked by our president and his advisors, all government spending, no matter on what, greases the wheels of the economy, and causes them to mesh once again – and that includes military spending. So, spend away, and make war, not love – because it means American jobs, and gives us some hope of getting out of what is looking very much like America’s second great depression.

Of course, libertarians are uniquely situated to critique this crazy rationale for more military spending, since we believe – we know – that spending money we don’t have is the problem, and not the solution. It is precisely what got us to where we are today.

I also want to note a scary recent trend, that points to the militaristic tendencies inherent in the Obama administration, and that is the employment of wartime rhetoric to the current debate over the economic fate of the nation. If you oppose Obama’s stimulus package, or the far-reaching government control of the economy proposed by his advisors, you are deemed somehow “unpatriotic.” The “war on the recession” talk has already begun, and anyone who shirks in their duty to support the government and our Commander in chief is suspect. Boy, how times have changed – but not all that much! Remember when anyone who opposed the Iraq war was an agent of Saddam Hussein and a supporter of terrorism? As the war became more unpopular, and the lies that lured us into war were exposed, that changed – but not for a while. The smear tactics worked, if only temporarily, and what’s scary is that the left is now pulling that playing the same “patriots game” – which just goes to show that authoritarianism and conformism come naturally to whoever is in power, whether they be of the right or the left.

I want to conclude by appealing to each of you to face the future – as dark as it is – with an open yet skeptical mindset.

To the liberals in my audience, Democrats and others who see themselves on the left: don’t be taken in by appearances, by symbols, and by rhetoric. The proof is in the pudding. And beware of the corporate liberals, who use government to further their own ends – which are very far from the idealistic goals they mouth in public.

To conservatives: if the interventionism of the Obama years doesn’t open your eyes to the inherent incompatibility of imperialism with the Republican philosophy of smaller government, then I don’t know what will. Come to think of it, there’s a reason why the GOP has no credibility on this issue of spending, and it’s called the Iraq war, which fueled the biggest spending spree since the days of Lyndon Baines Johnson and the Great Society.

To libertarians, especially young libertarians, I want to say this: you have the ideas, you have the right analysis. Ron Paul opened many eyes: he was right about the coming economic collapse, and the evidence is all around us. He warned us that our empire is costing us – and that we cannot continue as we have been. Our empire is bankrupt, and it’s time to pay the piper. Now we must bring our message to the left as well as the right, and show how imperialism and big government, liberal interventionism and corporate liberalism are all part of the same system, and how one makes the other possible.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].