News & Politics

Obama and the Pentagon Plan Massive Military Escalation and the Media Barely Seem to Care

U.S. troops are going back into Iraq, our presence in Libya is escalating, and Obama has widened the war in Afghanistan—all without much of a public debate.

Anti-Gaddafi fighters in Libya in 2011.
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Arrott/Voice of America/Wikimedia Commons

Almost five years after the United States and its NATO allies launched a campaign in Libya to overthrow Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the United States is on the verge of massively escalating its military operations in the war-torn country. According to the New York Times, the new effort is “expected to include airstrikes and raids by elite American troops.” It is unclear how long this newest effort will last.

The announcement comes on the heels of U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announcing combat troops were going back to Iraq last week. While U.S special forces have been conducting “clandestine reconnaissance missions in Libya to identify militant leaders and map out their networks” over the past year, the New York Times report marks the first time overt combat troops will be deployed in the North African nation.

The 2011 campaign was itself something of a bait and switch. What was originally sold as simply a no-fly zone quickly became regime change. A few weeks after the UN-sanctioned bombing of Libya’s infrastructure and air capacity, the scope of the campaign pivoted when President Obama, along with Presidents Sarkozy and Cameron of France and the UK respectively, announced the entirely new objective: NATO airstrikes, in concert with ongoing CIA support of rebels, to overthrow the Qaddafi government.

After this was quickly achieved, the pundit classes rallied to congratulate a job well done. As Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept noted Wednesday:

War advocates such as Anne-Marie Slaughter and Nicholas Kristof were writing columns celebrating their prescience and mocking war opponents as discredited, and the New York Times published a front-page article declaring: “U.S. Tactics in Libya May be a Model for Other Efforts.”

It was widely expected that Hillary Clinton, one of the leading advocates for and architects of the bombing campaign, would be regarded as a Foreign Policy Visionary for the grand Libya success: “We came, we saw, he died,” Clinton sociopathically boasted about the mob rape and murder of Qaddafi while guffawing on 60 Minutes.

Despite the fanfare at the “overthrow” of Qaddafi (who suffered a brutal death at the hands of a mob), not much has been made of the U.S. military’s slow escalation of its involvement in Libya over the past year. This time the objective, much like in Iraq after the U.S. deposed its leader, is destroying the presence of ISIS, a process that could take, in the words of former Defense Secretary Panetta, “thirty years.” And it's an escalation that has largely gone under the public's radar.

Slowly trickling wars are a common feature in U.S. policy. The latest war in Iraq against ISIS was originally sold as “limited,” “humanitarian” airstrikes to save the Yezidi trapped on a mountain from ISIS, and it has now gone on for over a year and a half, spans two countries, and soon will include “boots on the ground.” All this with neither the corporate media nor Congress, which hasn’t yet brought military authorization to a vote, paying much attention.

This new level of indifference on the part of the public about what is an ISIS war spiraling into a massive global effort has even bothered the normally hawkish Times. In the context of Libya, it wrote:

This significant escalation is being planned without a meaningful debate in Congress about the merits and risks of a military campaign that is expected to include airstrikes and raids by elite American troops.

That is deeply troubling. A new military intervention in Libya would represent a significant progression of a war that could easily spread to other countries on the continent. It is being planned as the American military burrows more deeply into battlegrounds in Syria and Iraq, where American ground troops are being asked to play an increasingly hands-on role in the fight.

It’s always difficult to tell if public indifference is what leads to a media blackout or the other way around, but the Times is correct that a broad public discussion about the wisdom of committing to potentially decades-long military efforts is disturbingly absent.

When the U.S. began its anti-ISIL efforts in August 2014, ISIL was in two countries. Now, after tens of thousands of aerial ordinances have been dropped on two continents, ISIS now has a presence in over 20 countries. The U.S. has even expanded its war in Afghanistan to include ISIS, the White House announced last Thursday. None of the major presidential candidates, including the most progressive member of the U.S. Congress, Bernie Sanders, outwardly opposes the U.S.' current anti-ISIL efforts, including the once-unpopular drone program. 

Over the past two weeks, the Defense Department and the Obama administration have been peppering the media with their plans to massively increase the war effort in Libya as well as Iraq, Afghanistan and potentially elsewhere. All the evidence points to the fact that war-makers in Washington and Brussels are gearing up for a major effort that could very well last a long time. The question is, will we ever have a public debate about it? 

Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst at FAIR and contributing writer for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @AdamJohnsonNYC.

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