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Obama Shows His War-Mongering Side

Obama aims to create a neat, high-tech image of war, and act like everything is in control.

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While the document only referred to the Pentagon budget-cutting process that had been making headlines for weeks in the most oblique manner, the briefings offered by the president, the secretary of defense, and  other top officials highlighted those “cuts”: $487 billion over the next decade. It was the sort of thing that should have made any deficit hawk’s heart flutter.  Yet somehow -- a bow to defense hawks? -- the same budget, already humongous from an unprecedented 12 straight years of expansion, was, Obama assured his audience, actually slated to keep on growing.

Like a magician pulling the proverbial rabbit from the hat, the president  described the situationthis way: “Over the next 10 years, the growth in the defense budget will slow, but the fact of the matter is this: It will still grow, because we have global responsibilities that demand our leadership.  In fact, the defense budget will still be larger than it was toward the end of the Bush administration.”

This magic trick was only possible because those headlined cuts were to come largely from the Pentagon’s “ projected defense spending.”  You’ll get the idea if you imagine an obese foodie announcing that he’s going to “diet” by cutting back on his dreams of future feasts, even as he modestly increases his actual caloric intake.

Surrounded by Panetta, Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs, and the service secretaries, the president had so much more to offer.  Those nasty, unwinnable, nation-building-style  counterinsurgencywars “with large military footprints” were now a thing of the past.  On them, the tide was, as he so poetically put it, receding.  Yes, there would be losers -- Army and Marine Corps troop strength was slated to drop by perhaps  80,000 to 100,000 in the coming decade -- but weren’t they already the losers of wars no one wanted?

Listening to his presentation and those to follow, you could have been pardoned for imagining that we were already practically out of Afghanistan and looking to a time when everything military would be just cool as hell.  In that future, there would be nothing but neat, high-tech military operations (and war toys) to the horizon. 

These would include our latest  perfect weapon, the pilotless drone; nifty cyberwar-style online combat; plenty of new spy and advanced surveillance gear; and sexy shadow wars, just the thing for “environments where adversaries try to deny us access.”   Elite special operations forces -- the secret military, cocooned inside the regular military, that took down Osama bin Laden -- would be  further expanded; and finally, there would be a “ pivot to Asia” to confront the planet’s rising superpower, China, by sea and air, leaving all those nasty Arabs and Pashtuns and their messy, ugly guerrilla insurgencies, IEDs, and suicide bombers behind.

It couldn’t have sounded cheerier once the media speculation began and it offered something for just about anyone who mattered in imperial Washington. In fact, as sober as Obama looked and as business-like as his surroundings were, if you closed your eyes, you could almost imagine a  flight suit and an aircraft carrier deck, for this felt eerily like his “mission accomplished” moment.

Hostilities of the old nasty sort were practically at an end and a new era of high-tech, super-secret, elite warfare was upon us.  The future would be so death-of-bin-Laden-ish all the way.  It would be safe, secure, and glorious in the hands of our reconfigured military and its efficiently reconfigured budget.

Military-First Imperial Realism

This particular reconfiguration also allowed the globe’s last great imperial power to put a smiley face on a  decade of military disasters in the Greater Middle East and -- for all the clever politics of the moment -- to cry uncle in its own fashion.  More miraculous yet, it was doing so without giving up its global military dreams.