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US Empire Is Changing its Stripes: Drones, Special Operations Forces and the US Navy Are Changing the Way We Do War

Make no mistake: we’re entering a new world of military planning. It won't make the Pentagon smaller, but it will change the nature of empire.
 
 
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Make no mistake: we’re entering a new world of military planning.  Admittedly, the latest proposed Pentagon budget manages to preserve just about every costly toy-cum-boondoggle from the good old days when MiGs still roamed the skies, including an uncut nuclear arsenal.  Eternally over-budget items like the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, cherished by their services and well-lobbied congressional representatives, aren’t leaving the scene any time soon, though delays or cuts in purchase orders are planned.  All this should reassure us that, despite the talk of massive cuts, the U.S. military will continue to be the profligate, inefficient, and remarkably ineffective institution we’ve come to know and squander our treasure on.

Still, the cuts that matter are already in the works, the ones that will change the American way of war.  They may mean little in monetary terms -- the Pentagon budget is actually slated to increase through 2017 -- but in imperial terms they will make a difference.  A new way of preserving the embattled idea of an American planet is coming into focus and one thing is clear: in the name of Washington's needs, it will offer a direct challenge to national sovereignty.

 

Heading Offshore

The Marines began huge amphibious exercises -- dubbed Bold Alligator 2012 -- off the East coast of the U.S. last week, but someone should IM them: it won’t help.  No matter what they do, they are going to have less boots on the ground in the future, and there’s going to be less ground to have them on.  The same is true for the Army (even if a cut of 100,000 troops will still leave the combined forces of the two services larger than they were on September 11, 2001).  Less troops, less full-frontal missions, no full-scale invasions, no more counterinsurgency: that's the order of the day.  Just this week, in fact, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta suggested that the schedule for the drawdown of combat boots in Afghanistan might be speeded up by more than a year.  Consider it a sign of the times.

Like the F-35, American mega-bases, essentially well-fortified American towns plunked down in a strange land, like our latest “embassies” the size of lordly citadels, aren't going away soon.  After all, in base terms, we’re already hunkered down in the Greater Middle East in an impressive way.  Even in post-withdrawal Iraq, the Pentagon is negotiating for a new long-term defense agreement that might include getting a little of its former base space back, and it continues to build in Afghanistan.  Meanwhile, Washington has typically signaled in recent years that it’s ready to fight to the last Japanese prime minister not to lose a single base among the three dozen it has on the Japanese island of Okinawa.

But here’s the thing: even if the U.S. military is dragging its old habits, weaponry, and global-basing ideas behind it, it’s still heading offshore.  There will be no more land wars on the Eurasian continent.  Instead, greater emphasis will be placed on the Navy, the Air Force, and a policy “pivot” to face China in southern Asia where the American military position can be strengthened without more giant bases or monster embassies.

For Washington, “offshore” means the world’s boundary-less waters and skies, but also, more metaphorically, it means being repositioned off the coast of national sovereignty and all its knotty problems.  This change, on its way for years, will officially rebrand the planet as an American free-fire zone, unchaining Washington from the limits that national borders once imposed.  New ways to cross borders and new technology for doing it without permission are clearly in the planning stages, and U.S. forces are being reconfigured accordingly.

 
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