Wednesday, January 30, 2013

About Ending Perpetual War...

There was a lot of hoopla in my city last week, as President Obama was re-inaugurated amidst large crowds. Given the centrality of Obama to our blog (we started this 4 years ago after his initial inauguration, with some of our first posts devoted to capturing the movement that developed around him that catapulted him into the presidency), I though it'd be useful to write down a few thoughts about inauguration #2. The main takeaway from his speech was that he seemed far more bold on domestic politics: the references to climate change, Stonewall, and immigration were much stronger stances than he was willing to make in his first inauguration. Second-term presidencies can bring about more activism, obviously. But, for me, the most interesting part was his discussion of the need to end perpetual war (d'uh, I do international politics). Like so much about Obama, a lot of liberals applauded this (supposedly) brave statement and felt optimism about further distancing ourselves from the Bush years. But...yeah, as seems to be frequently the case with liberals and Obama, they didn't pay attention to what he has actually done. The press didn't do a particularly good job with this either, analyzing his words more than his actions. Perhaps Barry O is really committed to shifting away from militarism. But, the reality is, he's got to walk away from a lot of his own policies to do so.

Yes, the United States is dwindling our official presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan. This means...we're walking back from those wars, right? Not exactly. What we're doing is shifting from official military troops to private troops. You know, Blackwater, etc. There is still a de-escalation, sure, and I'm willing to give credit on that. But, Obama supporters love talking about how he is ending these wars. That's not factually correct. Whether one agrees with whether we should or shouldn't end the wars is a different debate, but the fact is, we're still going to have a lot of troops in those places. They just won't be official American troops. This leads to a larger discussion about PMCs, particularly over issues of legality (since private military contractors [PMCs] do not have to follow the same code of conduct as do official U.S. troops) and making war invisible and, hence, costless (PMC deaths don't get reported to anywhere near the extent that U.S. military deaths do), both of which we haven't really talked about much in the mainstream press. But, yeah, Obama hasn't really ended those wars.

More importantly, Obama has escalated many of Bush's war policies, particularly on civil liberties. From due process to executive power to freedom of speech to military detentions, Obama hasn't changed much. In many cases, he has gone further than Bush did. Check out this site to get a better background on civil liberties issues that we've had in place since the War on Terror began. This is not a pretty list, and it is hardly suggestive of someone interested in ending perpetual war.

Finally, there are the silent wars that Obama has escalated. The Drone War is probably the best example. I've written about it (and the media silence over it) before. It simply isn't getting much coverage. The Drone War is another way to make war on the cheap, but even more so than PMCs, because it doesn't involve any people (on our side) getting hurt. Bush started drone strikes in Pakistan, but Obama has made it seemingly his only policy towards Pakistan. Drones have also been used in Yemen and other places, and the most recent news is that we will be building a drone base in Niger. The topic is very contentious when actually discussed in the media, but it is rarely done so. For a good debate over it, watch the video below.

So the take-home message seems to be: Obama's talk about ending perpetual war flies in the face of everything he's actually been doing. One would think he'd be called out on this more, particularly by his supporters and the press, but given that we've had minimal debates over these topics over the years, this becomes more challenging. It is striking that many people who called Bush a war criminal for his actions support Obama for pursuing similar policies. Apparently one's views on American militarism depend on which party is in power.

Not everyone is playing this game, of course. Here's a great interview on Democracy Now with Jeremy Scahill and Rick Rowley on their new film "Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield", which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. Its probably one well worth checking out.

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