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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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It was a way of saying that, if the U.S. ever gets itself out of Afghanistan, when it comes to invading and occupying another Muslim land, building  hundreds of bases and an embassy  the size of the Ritz, and running riot in the name of “nation-building” and democracy: never again -- or not for a few decades anyway.

Consider this a form of begrudging imperial realism that managed never to leave behind that essential American stance of  garrisoning the planet.  In fact, in order to  fly all those drones and land all those  special operations units, Washington may need more, not less bases globally.  And of course, those 11 carrier battle groups are themselves floating bases, massively armed American small towns at sea.

As it happens, though, we already know how this story ends and it’s nothing to write home about.  Yes, they’re going with what’s hot, especially those drones.  But keep in mind that, only a few years ago, the hottest thing in town was counterinsurgency warfare and its main proponent, General David Petraeus, was being hailed as a new Alexander the Great, Napoleon, or U.S. Grant.  And you know what happened there.

Now, counterinsurgency is  history.  The new hot ticket of the moment, that “revolutionary weapon” of our time -- the drone or robotic airplane -- is to fit the bill instead.  Drones are, without a doubt, technologically remarkable and growing more sophisticated by the year.  But air power has historically proved a poor choice if you want to accomplish anything political on the ground.  It hardly matters whether those planes in the distant heavens have pilots or not, or whether they can see ants crawl from 20,000 feet and blast them away with precision.

Despite hosannas about the air war in Libya, count on one thing: air power will prove predictably inept when it comes to an American version of “revolutionary” counterterror warfare in the twenty-first century.  So much for the limits of realism. 

Washington-style realism assumes that we made a few mistakes, which can be rectified with the help of advanced technology and without endangering the military-industrial-crony-capitalist way of life.  That’s about as radical as Obama’s Washington is likely to get.

When compared to the Republicans (Ron Paul aside again) storming the  rhetorical barricadesdaily, threatening  war with Iran nightly, promising to  reinvade Iraq, or swearing that a military budget larger than those of the next 10 countries combined is wussiness itself, the Obama administration’s approach does look like shining realism.  Up against this planet as it actually is today, its military-first policies look like wishful thinking.

What Drones Can't Do

Climate-change advocates sometimes say that we’re on a new planet. (Bill McKibben calls it “ Eaarth,” with that ungainly extra “a” to signify an ungainly place that used to be comfy enough for humanity.)  It is, they say, a planet under pressure and destabilizing in all sorts of barely imagined ways.

Here’s the strange thing, though.  Set aside climate change, and to the passing, modestly apocalyptic eye, this planet still looks as if it were destabilizing.  Your three economic powerhouses -- the European Union, China, and the United States -- are all teetering at the edge of interrelated financial crises.  The EU seems to be literally destabilizing.  It’s now perfectly reasonable to suggest that the present Eurozone may, within years, be Eurozones (or worse).  Who knows when European banks, up to their elbows in bad debt, will start to tumble or whole countries like Greece go down (whatever that may mean)?