Has US Foreign Policy Ever Been Such a Mess?

I can’t remember a time when the U.S. military has been stuck in so many quagmires at once. Libya seems destined to fail unless the U.S. gets a lucky shot and kills Gadhafi. U.S. militarists are openly maneuvering to stay in Iraq — the war Obama told us was over. Relations with nuclear-armed Pakistan are at their lowest levels ever. And Afghanistan is getting worse with Obama’s minimal, slow withdrawal looking more like staying than leaving.

The new defense secretary, Leon Panetta, unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate, is making his first trip to the war fronts and letting it be known that the U.S. is staying, not leaving. The Wall Street Journal headline said it clearly, “Panetta Slips Up on Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan,” and the article highlights Panetta saying at a press conference, “We’re going to have 70,000 there through 2014.” This is inconsistent with President Obama’s stated plan of being down to 70,000 troops next summer and continuing to draw down from there.

In Iraq, The New York Times reported Panetta saying that he expected the U.S. to have “an enduring presence” in the region while pushing the Iraqi government to “invite” U.S. forces to stay after 2011. Panetta echoed the Bush administration when he told U.S. troops in Iraq that we were there because of 9/11 (when U.S. intelligence reports Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11). Panetta later clarified the remark by making it worse, saying, “We really had to deal with al-Qaeda here.” Of course, there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq until the U.S. invaded. In the war in which President Obama told us combat was over,  15 American troops died last month, making June the bloodiest month for American combat-related fatalities since June 2008.

Pakistan has become a major foreign policy problem for the U.S. The relationship has been on a downward spiral ever since the CIA-led drone war got going under commander-in-chief Obama. Then, the arrest of CIA-hired Blackwater agent Raymond Davis for killing two Pakistanis — who Obama falsely told Pakistanis and the American people was a diplomat — added to the crisis in the Pakistan-U.S. relationship. That mess resulted in hundreds of CIA agents being required to leave the country. Panetta was head of the CIA at the time of those blunders and left unable to fix the situation. Finally, the killing of Osama bin Laden has made the relationship even worse, with Pakistan expelling U.S. military trainers from the country and limiting the ability of U.S. diplomats and other officials to get visas. The crisis culminated this week in the U.S. withholding $800 million in military funds to Pakistan.

Without the Pakistan supply lines, the Afghanistan war becomes more difficult and expensive to fight. And it has become evident that when the politicians and corporate media in Washington were recently singing about the success of the Obama surge and the need to protect U.S. gains, they were either deluded or lying. Since then, the Taliban showed it could successfully attack one of the most guarded hotels in the country, the highly protected Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul. And this week it showed it can kill one of the most guarded people in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, an official in southern Afghanistan.

The bad news continues. Libya, the war that was supposed to last “days, not weeks,” is now in its fourth month.  Gadhafi has survived assassination attacks against him. Mass demonstrations of support for Gadhafi have taken place. And now NATO seems divided on how to continue. There are reports of people dancing in the streets of Tripoli as they see victory, with peace talks beginning and bombing slowing. What seems to be occurring is NATO countries are trying to find a way out of a war that cannot succeed in changing the regime in Libya.

The U.S. is also supporting Syrian rebels, and on July 11 supporters of the Syrian government attacked the U.S. Embassy in Damascus as well as the residence of the U.S. ambassador. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used the attack as an opportunity to condemn the Assad regime, saying, “President Assad is not indispensable, and we have absolutely nothing invested in him remaining in power.” The French Embassy was also attacked. The attacks occurred just days after the U.S. and French ambassadors visited the opposition stronghold of Hama in central Syria.

And other challenges in Yemen, Somalia, and Iran have the U.S. military already acting or on edge. “Spread thin” would be a mild way of describing how President Obama has positioned the military.

Obama’s lucky the Republicans don’t have a well-spoken general who can run against him and tear apart his role as commander in chief. Obama was politically smart to put Gen. David Petraeus in as CIA head to take him out of the running for the Republican nomination. Even with the cover of killing Osama bin Laden, Obama’s handling of foreign policy and the military could be successfully attacked, as it is hard to imagine much more of a mess than exists under his leadership.

Of course, Obama’s wars are an outgrowth of George W. Bush’s wars, just as the invasion of Iraq by George W. Bush was the next step from the economic blockade of Iraq by Bill Clinton. Each of these presidents was the commander in chief of a more than 100-year-old empire that since World War II has been dominated by a deeply embedded weapons and war industry that needs war for profits.

The best hope for the United States is that once again Afghanistan will be a graveyard for empire. Sadly, it will probably take hundreds of billions more in war spending and more defeats on the battlefield before U.S. leaders learn what Great Britain learned from U.S. colonists — it is hard for a distant empire to defeat people defending their homeland. Is the U.S. leadership capable of recognizing that empire is not consistent with a democratic republic and undermines both national and economic security as well as the rule of law? More Americans are waking up to this fact. Hundreds have signed a letter to President Obama and Congress urging an end to U.S. militarism and empire, and the signers include representatives of the Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush administrations, as well as people from across the political spectrum, from libertarian to liberal, progressive to conservative. Others are promising to make Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., an American Tahrir Square by occupying the plaza to protest U.S. militarism and corporatism.

Americans want an end to U.S. militarism. Some political leaders must recognize that an empire enforced by war is counterproductive to economic and national security. Where is the leadership to lead the United States out of its self-created empire quagmire?