Friday, September 28, 2012

The Obama Foreign Policy Myth

There are few narratives surrounding U.S. foreign policy which infuriate me more than the one articulated by Michael Doran and Max Boot in their 26 September New York Times op-ed.  “Whether you agree or disagree with President Obama”, they wrote, “there is no doubt that he has formulated a coherent approach to the use of American power.  The Obama Doctrine involves getting into a conflict zone and getting out fast without ground wars or extended military occupations.  This approach proved its effectiveness in Libya last year”.  They then point out that “the president is not applying his own doctrine where it would benefit the United States the most—in Syria”.  

I think they’re drawing the wrong conclusions.  I think that the President’s foreign policy and his use of American power is based around amoral where not immoral expediency, and a combination of electoral arithmetic and bureaucratic calculus designed to meet the demands of a disinterested but still-jingoistic electorate on the one hand and the aspirations of a frankly rather bloodthirsty war-making apparatus on the other, its values increasingly out of step with those of the public. 

Doran and Boot are also plain wrong.  President Obama’s signature foreign policy move was his escalation of the war in Afghanistan, where over 250 U.S. soldiers and an unknown number of Afghans have been killed since he took office.  In advocating the continuation of this war, now eleven years old, President Obama made no pretence of wishing to transform the country for the better.  He defined the need for our presence there very narrowly, in purely national security terms, clearly disinterested in doing any good for Afghans.  But even by this narrow security metric, we are failing.  The training of Afghan security forces has been halted in many cases, the thorny political conflicts which drive violence remain as tangled as everywhere, the U.S. remains widely reviled across the Middle East and South Asia because of our hubristic militarism, and the President is now trumpeting the impending withdrawal, meaning that he and George W Bush have killed a whole lot of people for no purpose.

Over 6,600 U.S. soldiers, and nearly 8,000 coalition forces in general, have been killed in our wars of revenge and retribution against Afghanistan and Iraq, well over double the number of people killed on 9/11.  We are no safer, and are probably significantly less safe given that Iraq posed no security threat to the U.S. before 9/11 and that we have been busy making enemies across North and East Africa while doing nothing to discourage the impression in the Middle East that we support Israeli imperialism. 

One of the ways in which George W Bush was able to get away with invading Iraq was by muddling the issue.  He and members of his administration lied.  They invented an imminent threat.  They misused intelligence.  They made wild claims without substantiation.  They pretended that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were attached at the hip.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “suggested there was a link between the Qaeda franchise in North Africa and the attack on the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed the American ambassador and three others”.  She provided no evidence for this claim—one which echoed Dick Cheney’s allegations from the last decade—allegations which helped to plunge us into an incredibly destructive, immoral, unnecessary, irresponsible and pointless war in Iraq.  Clinton, a notorious foreign policy radical and proponent of U.S. militarism, needs to shut up and stop making such claims if she’s not going to provide evidence.  Another popular Secretary of State did irreparable harm to the country and discredited himself by misrepresenting intelligence, engaging in irresponsible speculation, and in not thinking through the implications of sewing misinformation and inciting state violence. 

Her husband, Bill Clinton, famously eviscerated progressive politics in the nineties with his unholy strategy of triangulation, which mandated that policy be made constructed not on the basis of any merits or cohesiveness, but based on the appeal of a given policy to the 51st percentile of the electorate.  Obama has introduced this poll-driven policymaking framework into international affairs.  But in that sphere the opportunism is complemented by a capacity for extraordinary destructiveness, and is pulled and pushed unpredictably by a national security apparatus with its own agenda, an intelligence network which has been increasingly militarised under Bush and Obama, jumpy politicians (including the geographically illiterate, warmongering Mitt Romney, who appears to be running for the position of Israeli foreign minister) who, in election year, are ready to lash out at anything resembling a threat, purely for electoral gain.


Early this morning, the Kenyan military with its African Union allies stormed the beaches at Kismayo, an Al Shabab stronghold in Somalia.  Elements of the Kenyan media, along with the Kenyan President, were quick to proclaim victory for their country’s armed forces, in a move typical of their response to Kenya’s invasion of Somalia which has, on the whole, been a great discredit to the Kenyan media. 

Interestingly, the BBC reported that they were told “that the AU forces appeared to include white troops.  There have been numerous reports of U.S. special forces operating against the Islamist militants in Somalia”.  AFRICOM disputed the rumour.  But I’m left wondering.  I sadly do not trust our government to tell us the truth about its military interventions, and I don’t trust them to make good calls about deploying our military or about evaluating the consequences of that deployment.  I don’t believe that their vision of national security is one which reflects the public interest or safety, and I believe that their increasingly-casual use of U.S. military power is a threat to our country and to people around the world.

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