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Are We Going Down Like the Soviets?

The Soviets made a devastating miscalculation: they mistook military power for power on this planet. Sound familiar?

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Now, without opening an atlas, just try to name any 75 countries on this planet -- more than one-third, that is, of the states belonging to the United Nations.  And yet U.S. special operatives are now engaging in war, or preparing for war, or training others to do so, or covertly collecting intelligence in that many countries across Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.  Fifteen more than in the Bush era.    

Whatever it is or isn’t called, this remains Bush’s Global War on Terror on an expansionist trajectory.  DeYoung and Jaffe quote an unnamed “senior military official” saying that the Obama administration has allowed "things that the previous administration did not," and report that Special Operations commanders are now “a far more regular presence at the White House” than in the Bush years.

Not surprisingly, those Special Operations forces have themselves expanded in the first year and a half of the Obama presidency and, for fiscal year 2011, with 13,000 of them already deployed abroad, the administration has requested a 5.7% hike in their budget to $6.3 billion.

Once upon a time, Special Operations forces got their name because they were small and “special.”  Now, they are, in essence, being transformed into a covert military within the military and, as befits their growing size, reports Noah Shachtman of the Wired's Danger Room, the Army Special Forces alone are slated to get a new $100 million “headquarters” in northern Afghanistan.  It will cover about 17 acres and will include a “communications building, Tactical Operations Center, training facility, medical aid station, Vehicle Maintenance Facility... dining facility, laundry facility, and a kennel to support working dogs... Supporting facilities include roads, power production system and electrical distribution, water well, non-potable water production, water storage, water distribution, sanitary sewer collection system, communication manhole/duct system, curbs, walkways, drainage and parking.”  

This headquarters, adds Shachtman, will take a year to build, “at which point, the U.S. is allegedly supposed to begin drawing down its forces in Afghanistan. Allegedly.”  And mind you, the Special Operations troops are but one expanding part of the U.S. military. 

Creeping Gigantism

The first year and a half of the Obama administration has seen a continuation of what could be considered the monumental socialist-realist era of American war-making (including a decision to construct another huge, Baghdad-style “embassy” in Islamabad, Pakistan). This sort of creeping gigantism, with all its assorted cost overruns and private perks, would undoubtedly have seemed familiar to the Soviets.  Certainly no less familiar will be the near decade the U.S. military has spent, increasingly disastrously, in the Afghan graveyard.

Drunk on war as Washington may be, the U.S. is still not the Soviet Union in 1991 -- not yet.  But it’s not the triumphant “sole superpower” anymore either.  Its global power is visibly waning, its ability to win wars distinctly in question, its economic viability open to doubt.  It has been transformed from a can-do into a can’t-do nation, a fact only highlighted by the ongoing BP catastrophe and “rescue” in the Gulf of Mexico.  Its airports are less shiny and more Third World-like every year.  Unlike France or China, it has not a mile of high-speed rail. And when it comes to the future, especially the creation and support of innovative industries in alternative energy, it’s chasing the pack.  It is increasingly a low-end service economy, losing good jobs that will never return.   

And if its armies come home in defeat... watch out.

In 1991, the Soviet Union suddenly evaporated.  The Cold War was over.  Like many wars, it seemed to have an obvious winner and an obvious loser.  Nearly 20 years later, as the U.S. heads down the Soviet road to disaster -- even if the world can’t imagine what a bankrupt America might mean -- it’s far clearer that, in the titanic struggle of the two superpowers that we came to call the Cold War, there were actually two losers, and that, when the “second superpower” left the scene, the first was already heading for the exits, just ever so slowly and in a state of self-intoxicated self-congratulation.  Nearly every decision in Washington since then, including Barack Obama’s to expand both the Afghan War and the war on terror, has only made what, in 1991, was one possible path seem like fate itself.

 
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