the last days of Obama might yet be the worst

About five years ago, away on a teaching course in Athens, I met up with some very friendly Danes. During the week, we discussed all sorts of subjects, and often politics. My new Danish friends were interested to hear what I thought about Tony Blair and so I explained to them how his policies had, in just about every respect, been atrocious, if not, ruinous. They were dumbstruck by what I told them, having been given to believe that Blair was not only very popular, but also that his government was a largely progressive one. In return, I was equally amazed by their high opinion of a British Prime Minister already so reviled at home. Blair’s PR was better than I’d supposed.

Going further back, to 1997, I had helped vote in Tony Blair’s original New Labour government. For this I am sorry. It wasn’t even that I wanted what Tony Blair was offering, but like many other dupes, I’d been convinced (or convinced myself) to believe that he might only be disguising himself as a Tory, and then, once in office, and whatever Blair’s true colours, he would probably be kept honest by the Labour Party members and the trade unions. In fairness to myself, it didn’t take long to change my mind on this, and I certainly didn’t vote Blair back into power in either of his two re-elections. Indeed, I’ve not voted for Labour since 1997, but been fooled instead into supporting the weaselly Lib Dems and, in their last campaign, the dishonourable and toadying Nick Clegg. Apologies once more. So my record of voting in recent elections has not been good, but then in fairness again, what were the choices? None were available.

Already by the mid-nineties, I had become one of an ever-growing minority who were completely disenfranchised by our essentially two-party “first past the post” electoral system. So last time around, the slim hope was that if the Lib Dems got any sniff of power, then, and aside from moderating the thoroughly anti-liberal and right-wing agendas of either New Labour or the Conservatives, they would also press hard for electoral reform. A result that might then open the backdoor for a longer term revival of a genuinely left-leaning, liberal and anti-imperialist alternative. And the Lib Dems really had nothing to lose. They might never get a second chance to demand overhaul of our clearly unfair voting system, but, as it transpired, suddenly holding balance of power, but then playing their hand so badly, they blew even that limited opportunity. Indeed, having settled for a damp squib referendum that had nothing to do with the kinds of proportional representation system they have traditionally called for, the whole argument about electoral reform seems to be dead, and, in consequence, it’s even harder to understand if the Lib Dems actually stand for anything at all. Who gets my vote next time is anybody’s guess. I loathe them all, as do a huge portion of the British public.

With Britain lost, it’s tempting to seek glimmers of hope abroad, but hard to find any. The race for the Republican nomination in this year’s US Presidential election is an interesting case in point. As with previous years, it looks like a catwalk for the nasty, the glib and the downright stupid. Obama vs Gingrich. Obama vs Romney. Obama vs Santorum. In other words, at best it’s Obama vs Obama, and at worst…. well, I’d rather not go there.

There is, of course, still an outside bet: Obama vs Paul. Ron Paul appearing in many respects to be a genuine alternative to Obama et al; and outstanding among his Republican rivals in that he promises to end the wars, roll back the unconstitutional Patriot Acts, and take on the private Federal Reserve. Pledges that if kept would be a blessing for all of us. Sadly, however, Paul’s economic plans (aside from his call to heel of the Federal Reserve) are truly dreadful. Full scale neo-liberalism. As if the people haven’t suffered enough ‘austerity’ already. What is worse, however, is that Obama, who in common Blair, is far more popular abroad than with actual US voters, nonetheless remains unopposed by any serious challenge within the Democratic Party. The question then, why is there no opposition to Obama coming from the left?

After all, Obama has been such a wretched President. He has been to Bush, what Blair was to Thatcher. Superficially he appears different – marginally more human, basically – but everything he does is simply more of the same. Continued clampdown on civil liberties and human rights, continued protection of the financial criminals on Wall Street, continued tax breaks for the big corporations and the ruling elite, and last but not least, continued expansion of the preposterous and often illegal “war on terror”.

Not only has Obama expanded Bush’s “war on terror” into Pakistan, but more surreptitiously into other regions. He has achieved this whilst replacing conventional forces with ‘contractors’ (i.e., mercenaries) and also by dramatically escalating the use of drones, which are now launched from bases not only in Pakistan and Afghanistan, but from Turkey, the Arabian Peninsula, Djibouti, Ethiopia, and even The Seychelles. Click here to view a map published by the Washington Post in late December1. Using private armies and killer robots (i.e., drones), the new preferred weapon of choice, he has opened up the possibility for what he promotes as a ‘leaner’ military, unveiling, as the BBC news reported on Thursday [Jan 5th], “a far-reaching defence review under which thousands of troops are expected to be axed.” Although, as the same article concedes:

No specific cuts to troop numbers or weapons programmes were announced on Thursday – those are to be presented as part of the federal budget next month.

Whilst confirming our suspicions:

Anticipating criticism from his Republican rivals in an election year, the president stressed that the defence budget would still grow, but at a slower pace.2 [my highlight]

The nub of it is that Obama is as addicted to war as Bush was; the difference being that Obama always tells us how he’s trying to quit.

Behind the scenes, right now, US troops are being moved into Israel, as further evidence that a build-up to a war against Iran seems almost unstoppable:

Under the Austere Challenge 12 drill scheduled for an undisclosed time during the next few weeks, the Israeli military will together with America host the largest-ever joint missile drill by the two countries. Following the installation of American troops near Iran’s neighboring Strait of Hormuz and the reinforcing of nearby nations with US weapons, Tehran authorities are considering this not a test but the start of something much bigger. […]

Israeli military officials say that the testing was planned before recent episodes involving the US and Iran. Of concern, however, is how the drill will require the deployment of thousands of American troops into Israel. The Jerusalem Post quotes US Commander Lt.-Gen Frank Gorenc as saying the drill is not just an “exercise” but also a “deployment” that will involve “several thousand American soldiers” heading to Israel. Additionally, new command posts will be established by American forces in Israel and that country’s own IDF army will begin working from a base in Germany.3

Click here to read full article on Russia Today and here to read a follow-up story the following day [Fri 6th Jan].

The Washington Post [Thu 5th Jan] also reported on the “Austere Challenge 12” drill saying it “is designed to improve defense systems and cooperation between the U.S. and Israeli forces” and that “It follows a 10-day Iranian naval exercise near the strategic Strait of Hormuz”:

The Israeli military spokesman did not give a date for the drill Thursday, but a senior military official said it would be in the next few weeks. He said it would be the biggest missile defense drill ever held. He was speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.4

Click here to read the full article in the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, in his recent “far-reaching defence review”, as the BBC described it, which is ominously entitled “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities For 21st Century Defense”, Obama writes:

“As we end today’s wars and reshape our Armed Forces, we ensure that our military is agile, flexible, and ready for the full range of contingencies. In particular, we will continue to invest in the capabilities critical to future success, including intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaisance; counterterrorism; countering weapons of mass destruction; operating in anti-access environments; and prevailing in all domains, including cyber.”

Reading those final points (especially the part I’ve highlighted in bold) reminded me very much of a document produced more than a decade earlier. It was published by a right-wing “think-tank” called The Project for the New American Century (PNAC).

PNAC had been founded in the spring of 1997 as an initiative of the New Citizenship Project, and was co-chaired by William Krystol and Robert Kagan. Ringing any bells? Here is one of its Statement of Principles to give you a flavour: “We aim to make the case and rally support for American global leadership.”5 It’s worth bearing in mind that Obama’s defence review is called “Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership”.

The PNAC commission was endorsed by such notables as Dick Cheney, Jeb Bush, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Dan Quayle, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz, as well as by famous postmodern historian Francis Fukuyama. So this wasn’t just any old think-tank, but rather the plans for a new world laid out in advance as aims for the incoming US neo-con administration.

In September 2000, the PNAC think-tank brought out a new report entitled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century.” It is a report that has since become notorious (at least in some circles). Here was PNAC’s vision for the twenty-first century:

“At present the United States faces no global rival. America’s grand strategy should aim to preserve and extend this advantageous position as far into the future as possible.”6

However, to achieve such a grand objective meant the need of substantial increases in defence expenditure, because to attain their goal of a glorious Pax Americana (which was how PNAC promoted their plans of world dominion) required nothing short of “full spectrum dominance”7:

“Although it may take several decades for the process of transformation to unfold, in time, the art of warfare on air, land, and sea will be vastly different than it is today, and “combat” likely will take place in new dimensions: in space, “cyber-space,” and perhaps the world of microbes.”

More alarming still, and a just little further down the same page, the authors make the following recommendation:

“And advanced forms of biological warfare that can “target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.”8

This talk of targeting “specific genotypes”, which is nothing short of proposing some form of genocide, is available as a publicly accessible document, published and endorsed by a group integrally connected to the highest echelons of the previous US administration. But there’s more, and here we reach the sentence of greatest notoriety:

“Further, the process of transformation [towards a Pax Americana], even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.”9

Please remember that this extract is taken from a document that was released just one year prior to the most “catastrophic and catalyzing event” in modern history.

By contrast Obama’s latest defence review includes the following statement:

In order to credibly deter potential adversaries and to prevent them from achieving their objectives, the United States must maintain the ability to project power in areas in which our access and freedom to operate are challenged.” (bottom p.4)

The highlight is mine again. So PNAC had called very bluntly for ‘world dominance’ and ‘global hegemony’, whereas Obama’s report talks up America’s ‘global responsibilities’, but both are actually pushing towards the same ends: “to project power in areas in which our access and freedom to operate are challenged” being ultimately tantamount to the ‘full-spectrum dominance’ dreamt of by the PNAC crew. But as the empire grows, where are America’s ‘potential adversaries’ now? – well, read on:

States such as China and Iran will continue to pursue asymmetric means to counter our power projection capabilities, while the proliferation of sophisticated weapons and technology will extend to non-state actors too.”

All of which ratchets a little more tension on Iran [who were also the main target of PNAC] and on China, whilst also hinting at more nebulous enemies for the public at home to fear:

Terrorist access to even simple nuclear devices poses the prospect of devastating consequences for the United States.” (bottom p.3)

If I were an American, however, the part of the report I would find most alarming goes as follows:

U.S. Forces will continue to defend U.S. Territory from direct attack by state and non-state actors. We will also come to the assistance of domestic civil authorities in the event such defense fails or in the case of natural disasters, potentially in response to a very significant or even catastrophic event.”

With the NDAA 2012 act (see my previous post) now permitting the indefinite military detention of anyone (civilians included) ‘suspected’ of any ‘association’ with terrorists, just signed into law by Obama, following on here, only a week later, is a statement justifying deployment of the military on the streets. All that is absent is some catastrophic and catalyzing event – as the PNAC bullyboys would have put it.

The intent is all too clear, whereas the timetable is less so. The domestic clampdown might simply continue with the already steady erosion of civil liberties, or, and given the ideal ‘catalyzing event’, could happen almost overnight. Just think about it — that’s exactly what the latest NDAA ‘indefinite detention’ bill provides for. The nets are ready to haul you in.

Meanwhile, an attack against Iran might be launched next month, next year, or might never happen. But this last option will surely depend upon real political change in America. Could Ron Paul deliver such a change? How would I know — given my current track record I am loathe to endorse any candidates for any election ever again, and it’s not my country anyway. I feel unqualified to judge. It is reasonable to suppose, in any case, that it will take more than a single election (however important) to turn America around. All I can do is cheer from the sidelines. Come on the people of America — right now, we’re all really counting on you!

*

Today’s Democracy Now! asked William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy, about Obama’s new strategy, which leaves military spending at levels equal to the Bush administration. The accompanying report also compares foreign policy and military spending pledges made by the current Republican Presidential candidates:

Click here to read full transcript, or to watch the report on the Democracy Now! website.

1http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/national-security/under-obama-an-emerging-global-apparatus-for-drone-killing/2011/12/13/gIQANPdILP_story.html to read related article entitled “Under Obama, an emerging global apparatus for drone killing”, written by Greg Miller, published in the Washington Post on December 28, 2011.

2 From an article entitled “Obama unveils new strategy for ‘leaner’ US military, published by BBC news on January 5, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-16430405

3 From an article entitled “Thousands of US troops deploying to Israel” published by Russia Today on January 5, 2012. http://rt.com/usa/news/us-troops-israel-iran-257/

4 From an article entitled “Israel and US troops gear up for major missile defense drill after Iran maneuvers” by Associated Press, published in the Washington Post on January 5, 2012. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle-east/israeli-and-us-troops-gear-up-for-major-missile-defense-drill-after-iran-maneuvers/2012/01/05/gIQAE0QqcP_story.html

5 These statements were released on June 3rd 1997, just a few months after the foundation of PNAC.

6 Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century. p.1

7 Although this precise term is not found in the document in question, it has become the key term in subsequent report entitled Joint Vision 2020, which offers the latest blueprint for the US Department of Defence.

8 ibid: p.60

9 ibid: p.51

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, China, drones, Iran, Israel, Uncategorized, USA

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