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Team Obama, guardians of the American Empire (did you expect anything else?)

14 April 2009

It is so easy to lose track of our wars, amidst the acronyms — the details of who we fight, why we fight, how we fight.  We elected a new administration on a platform of “change”.  The only change so far in our foreign policy is a new set of acronyms.  To explain what this means, this post gives excerpts from two articles:

  1. Obama’s Afghan Spaghetti Western“, Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, 28 March 2009
  2. Requiem for the War on Terror – Goodbye GWOT, Hello OCOs“, Ira Chernus, TomDispatch, 9 April 2009

(1)  New names for the Long War

The new terminology to describe the Long War suggests that either the Team Obama is very confused about this key part of our national security policy — or that they prefer to obfuscate (i.e.,  not to tell the American people about their strategy).  As explained by Pepe Escobar in this excerpt from “Obama’s Afghan Spaghetti Western“, Asia Times, 28 March 2009:

As the Barack Obama administration releases the details of its strategic review of Afghanistan’s “good war”, an acronym-plagued global public opinion is confronted with a semantic dilemma: what in the world is happening to George W Bush’s “global war on terror” (GWOT), then slyly rebranded by the Pentagon as “The Long War” (TLW)?

It all started when a mid-level bureaucrat in the Obama administration’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB) sent an e-mail to the Pentagon stressing the White House was finally axing GWOT and giving birth to the delightfully Orwellian Overseas Contingency Operations(OCO).

As it happens, no Taliban will be OCOed – at least for the moment. The White House and the Pentagon still rely on GWOT. Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell was adamant: “I’ve never received such a directive.” Asked by a reporter what nomenclature he would prefer, Morrell took no prisoners: “Another way to refer to it would be, you know, a campaign against extremists who wish to do us harm.” So exit GWOT, enter CAEWWTDUH.

… As for Taliban and neo-Taliban commanders and foot soldiers, it’s irrelevant if from now on they are designated as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) targets or the principals in CAEWWTDUH. They don’t fight acronyms; they fight “Western invaders”. So in the interests of neo-realism, let’s examine how CAEWWTDUH – or OCO, or plain old COIN – are faring when applied to a crucial microcosm of the vast Afghanistan-Pakistan theater, the western Afghanistan region around Herat.

… It’s painfully, obviously impossible to win local hearts and minds, curb drug smuggling, invest in nation-building and fight a CAEWWTDUH or OCO under these circumstances with such a set up. NATO is on a losing war – and the best political minds in Brussels know it.

But the crucial problem remains; the Obama administration is just remixing the Pentagon’s operational priorities – same as with the acronym fiasco. For all practical purposes, strategically reviewed or not, GWOT, TLW, CAEWWTDUH or OCO goes on, with no end in sight, with the Persian Gulf as a secondary theater, Afghanistan-Pakistan and Central Asia as the primary theater, and ideology poisoning strategic vision.

This framework, inherited from Bush and his former vice president Dick Cheney, is incompatible with what can be glimpsed from some of Obama’s speeches and actions, the lineaments of maybe a new, more equitable, American project. Yes we can? Not yet. There will be blood – a lot more blood – in this Afghan Spaghetti Western.

(2)  The burden of Empire

Why must America fight so many small wars in distant lands?  In Ira Chernus explains in “Requiem for the War on Terror – Goodbye GWOT, Hello OCOs“, TomDispatch, 9 April 2009 — Excerpt:

Of course, by that definition the U.S. government has been carrying out dozens of OCOs every day for decades. As early as 1937, Secretary of State Cordell Hull said publicly: “There can be no serious hostilities anywhere in the world which will not one way or another affect interests or rights or obligations of this country.” Since the late 1940s, U.S. policymakers have assumed that there were no serious “contingencies” of any kind, anywhere on the planet, that did not affect this country’s interests. In public, they substitute polite euphemisms for the pursuit of those interests like “global responsibilities” or “leader of the free world.”

Their critics call it by its true name: Empire. Empires can go for many years without fighting a war. But they have to carry out OCOs all the time.

That’s why the administration’s new military budget is geared to switching priorities, spending less on preparations for future conventional warfare against great power enemies who have yet to emerge and more on counterterrorism — “to deter aggression, project power when necessary, and protect our interests and allies around the globe,” as Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently put it. Though proposed military cuts like the F-22 Raptor are getting most of the attention this week, a Pentagon spokesman went out of his way to stress that Gates is “going to be adding a lot of things to capabilities that we need too.”

The new Pentagon budget rollout is part of a larger public relations campaign to promote a simple idea: We’re no longer at war, but there’s still plenty of fighting to do. There will still be the requisite number of OCOs with substantial costs to bear, not only in dollars but in blood and misery.

… The daily routine of OCOs may be expensive, but as long as life in the homeland is comfortable enough, few questions are likely to be asked. Even when life grows uncomfortable for many, as today, the links between domestic economic meltdown and the costs of empire remain largely obscured. As a result, the imperial government has a relatively free hand to keep “order” around the world, by any OCO necessary.

 About the author

Ira Chernus is professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of Monsters To Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin.

Afterword

Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For information about this site see the About page, at the top of the right-side menu bar.

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

Posts about the American Empire:

  1. Prof Nouriel Roubini describes “The Decline of the American Empire”, 18 August 2008
  2. The foundation of America’s empire: our chain of bases around the world, 8 September 2008
  3. “A shattering moment in America’s fall from power”, 19 November 2008
  4. “End of Empire” by David Roche, 29 November 2008
  5. The transition between Imperial reigns: what will it mean for America?, 16 December 2008
  6. To understand the Imperial Unconscious, Tom provides the Dictionary of American Empire-Speak, 6 march 2009

Posts about the war in Afghanistan:

  1. Quote of the day: this is America’s geopolitical strategy in action, 26 February 2008
  2. Another perspective on Afghanistan, a reply to George Friedman, 27 February 2008
  3. How long will all American Presidents be War Presidents?, 21 March 2008
  4. Why are we are fighting in Afghanistan?, 9 April 2008 — A debate with Joshua Foust.
  5. We are withdrawing from Afghanistan, too (eventually), 21 April 2008
  6. Brilliant, insightful articles about the Afghanistan War, 8 June 2008
  7. The good news about COIN in Afghanistan is really bad news, 20 August 2008
  8. Pakistan warns America about their borders, and their sovereignty, 14 September 2008
  9. “Strategic Divergence: The War Against the Taliban and the War Against Al Qaeda” by George Friedman, 31 January 2009
  10. America sends forth its privateers to pillage, bold corsairs stealing from you and I, 9 February 2009
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