Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS
Without question, President Obama inherited from his predecessor a vast bed of coals on which he must walk daily. He inherited two wars; illegally operated prisons around the world; policies that violate human rights; ineffectual policies regarding Iran, Israel, Palestinians; a worldwide loss of confidence in America; a practice of rendition (which started under Bill Clinton); a history of torture. And these are just some of the foreign policy problems. Nevertheless, Obama asked for the job and his conduct should be examined by the same standards applied to Bush.
Of the many decisions made by President-elect and President Barack Obama since his election in November 2008, none has been as vexing and disappointing as the decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan. While there are many other policies President Obama has instituted that continue practices of his predecessor that were found abhorrent by a majority of Americans, none is more troubling than his pursuit of war. During the campaign, he told us that he would focus anew on Afghanistan as he wound down the War in Iraq, but escalating the Afghan war is not the only way to correct Bush’s occupation of that country.
I had hoped that President Obama would consider other options to war, like using some or all of that $1 million per American soldier deployed to Afghanistan in a variety of vital infrastructure projects for Afghans–roads, schools, medical clinics, water development, and agricultural efforts to substitute for poppy production–which could be administered through non-governmental organizations who know how to work with the tribal chiefs who control Afghanistan. But his speech was all about war, not alternatives to war. It is hard to escape the irony that Obama is about to receive a Nobel Peace Prize.
After Obama’s escalation speech on December 1, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow brought up the relationship between Obama’s Afghan-Pakistan policy and the Bush Doctrine, a doctrine enunciated by Bush to justify the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001–a country has the right to attack another country that harbors or gives aid to terrorist groups. This view may have made sense when the Taliban government of Afghanistan was giving al Queda free rein to do as it pleased (and it pleased to attack America on 9/11/2001). But the doctrine was later expanded by the Bush crowd to support the War in Iraq. This expansion added preventive war–the US could depose foreign governments that represented a potential or perceived threat to the US, whether or not the threat was immediate.
On September 17, 2002, the Bush Doctrine was fully fleshed out in the National Security Strategy of the United States and was updated in 2006:
“… the first duty of the United States Government remains what it always has been: to protect the American people and American interests. It is an enduring American principle that this duty obligates the government to anticipate and counter threats, using all elements of national power, before the threats can do grave damage. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction – and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. … To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively in exercising our inherent right of self-defense.”
A week before Obama’s escalation speech, Jeremy Scahill broke the story that the Joint Special Operations Command has been waging war in Pakistan with the aid of the private mercenary force Blackwater, now renamed Xe, but operating under various names around the world. Obama embraced the Bush Doctrine after it morphed into a secret war doctrine that has the US killing people with mercenaries and Special Forces in Pakistan. To be clear, Scahill pointed out that Blackwater doesn’t do the killing–that’s for our Special Forces operating in Pakistan–it does the combat planning.
As one who opposed the Bush Doctrine as going beyond what is permitted by our UN commitments, our treaties, international law, and just-war theory, and was sure to lead us further into perpetual war, I can’t see how secret wars that are for the same purposes enunciated by George W. Bush are any different when they are carried out by Barack Obama. We now have the Bush-Obama Doctrine–a doctrine of preventive, undeclared, and secret war.
Reporting for The Nation magazine, Scahill wrote, “At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, ‘snatch and grabs’ of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan. The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help direct a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.”
President Obama did not start the War in Afghanistan, but he supported it. He did not start the secret war in Pakistan. This secret war in Pakistan started under the leadership of Gen. Stanley McCrystal in 2007 when he headed the JSOC before being named by Obama as the head of military operations in Afghanistan. But the fact remains that Obama has allowed the secret war to continue since he assumed office last January. This secret war in Pakistan reminds me of Nixon’s secret bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Both are illegal and immoral, though it may be redundant to call war immoral, as President Eisenhower suggested in his comments about the wretchedness of war.
The history of Afghanistan indicates that this American and NATO escalation of the Afghan War will not mean just more Americans and Europeans fighting against the Taliban. It will increase the number of fighters joining with the Taliban. And, according to a McClatchy Newspapers report on November 23, 2009, “The U.S. Army’s recently revised counterinsurgency manual estimates that an all-out counterinsurgency campaign in a country with Afghanistan’s population would require about 600,000 troops.” With the escalation in troop strength, there will be about 100,000 American and 43,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, far short of the number of counterinsurgency troops needed for success. Even if there were a comparable number of Afghan troops working in counterinsurgency (and there are not), there would be less than half the number needed for success. It appears, then, that the escalation is a move doomed to failure, a waste of life and resources, yet this is the strategy we are now following.
Based on what our government has told us, President Obama’s deliberations about the escalation in Afghanistan was made without the benefit of a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE). As former CIA, State Department, and Defense Department employee and US Army veteran Michael Goodman explained recently, “NIEs are the only corporate product of the intelligence community and they have become a required item during decision-making involving the use of force.” One of the scandals of the Bush administration involved whether Vice-president Cheney had succeeded in manipulating the intelligence community into providing an NIE that would support the invasion of Iraq. The only reason I can think of that Obama does not want an intelligence community assessment of Afghanistan is that it would not support his escalation.
Whatever residual hope I had for Obama as a president of change with respect to foreign policy was snuffed out with his escalation speech. He, too, has been captured by the military-industrial complex. John Kerry’s famous question during the Vietnam era–“How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”–is more relevant than ever. It should be rephrased as “How do you ask anyone to be the last to die for the benefit of the military-industrial complex?”
Regrettably, the answer to this question is not hard to find. No one will ever be the last to die because the perpetual wars promoted, aided, and abetted by the military-industrial complex will go on forever with fresh victims, both military and civilian, until the American people rise up and demand that we honor our ideals and reclaim our country from the politicians and their wealthy supporters and benefactors, whom Bob Dylan called (in his song of the same name) “Masters of War.”
© Freethought San Marcos, Lamar W. HankinsEmail | Print