Multiple Wars are Symptoms of the Need to Escape the Quagmire of Empire

By Kevin Zeese

I can’t remember a time when the U.S. military has been stuck in so many war quagmires at once. Libya seems destined to fail unless the U.S. gets a lucky shot and kills Gaddafi. 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 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 as saying 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 beyond 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). He 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.  Last month 15 American troops died making June the bloodiest month for American combat-related fatalities since the Bush administration in June 2008. This in the war where Obama told us combat was over.

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 reported killing of Osama bin Laden has made the relationship even worse, with Pakistan expelling US military trainers from the country and limiting the ability of US diplomats and other officials to get visas. The crisis culminated this week in the U.S. withholding $600 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 chorus of politicians and corporate media in Washington was recently singing about the success of the Obama surge and the need to protect U.S. gains, they were deluded or lying.  Since then, the Taliban showed they could successfully attack one of the most guarded hotels in the country, the highly-protected Inter-Continental Hotel in Kabul. And, this week they showed they can kill one of the most guarded people in Afghanistan, President Karzai’s brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, a notorious governor in Southern Afghanistan.

The bad news continues, Libya the war that was supposed to last “days not weeks” is now in its fifth month. Gaddafi has survived assassination attacks against him, mass demonstrations of support have been seen 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 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 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 could run against him and tear apart his role as commander-in-chief.  While I do not support a general being in charge of the CIA, Obama was politically smart to put General 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 some describe George Bush’s invasion of Iraq as an outgrowth 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. The empire seeks bases around the world especially where there are important natural resources and full-spectrum dominance of other nations.

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 defeats on the battlefield before U.S. leaders learn what Great Britain learned from U.S. colonists – it is difficult 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 G.W. Bush administration’s as well people from across the political spectrum from libertarian to liberal, progressive to conservative.  Others are promising to make Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC an American Tahrir Square, planning to occupy 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? It seems, the leadership must come from the people.

Kevin Zeese directs Come Home America and is on the steering committee of Stop the Machine: Create a New World.



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