The New Obama Doctrine, A Six-Point Plan for Global War
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The new light-footprint Obama doctrine actually seems to be making war an ever more attractive and seemingly easy option -- a point emphasized recently by former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Peter Pace. "I worry about speed making it too easy to employ force," said Pace when asked about recent efforts to make it simpler to deploy Special Operations Forces abroad. "I worry about speed making it too easy to take the easy answer -- let's go whack them with special operations -- as opposed to perhaps a more laborious answer for perhaps a better long-term solution."
As a result, the new American way of war holds great potential for unforeseen entanglements and serial blowback. Starting or fanning brushfire wars on several continents could lead to raging wildfires that spread unpredictably and prove difficult, if not impossible, to quench.
By their very nature, small military engagements tend to get larger, and wars tend to spread beyond borders. By definition, military action tends to have unforeseen consequences. Those who doubt this need only look back to 2001, when three low-tech attacks on a single day set in motion a decade-plus of war that has spread across the globe. The response to that one day began with a war in Afghanistan, that spread to Pakistan, detoured to Iraq, popped up in Somalia and Yemen, and so on. Today, veterans of those Ur-interventions find themselves trying to replicate their dubious successes in places like Mexico and Honduras, the Central Africa Republic and the Congo.
History demonstrates that the U.S. is not very good at winning wars, having gone without victory in any major conflict since 1945. Smaller interventions have been a mixed bag with modest victories in places like Panama and Grenada and ignominious outcomes in Lebanon (in the 1980s) and Somalia (in the 1990s), to name a few.
The trouble is, it’s hard to tell what an intervention will grow up to be -- until it’s too late. While they followed different paths, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq all began relatively small, before growing large and ruinous. Already, the outlook for the new Obama doctrine seems far from rosy, despite the good press it’s getting inside Washington’s Beltway.
What looks today like a formula for easy power projection that will further U.S. imperial interests on the cheap could soon prove to be an unmitigated disaster -- one that likely won’t be apparent until it’s too late.
Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com. An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. He is the author/editor of several books, including the just published Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050 (with Tom Engelhardt). This piece is the latest article in his new series on the changing face of American empire, which is being underwritten by Lannan Foundation.