Despite winning office based on an anti-war “change” platform, President Barack Obama’s militarization of foreign policy has dwarfed the imperialism of George W. Bush and his neocon cabal, with no end in sight to the escalation of America’s national security state, as Obama embraces and expands upon the Bush credo of “preventive war”.
Obama was supposed to usher in an era of “smart power”, promising to keep America out of “stupid” wars, only to engage in wars of “necessity” as opposed to those of “choice.” Yet his administration will spend approximately $895 billion on defense in 2011, 40% more than the Bush administration spent at its peak in 2008.
The U.S. now spends nearly as much on military might as the rest of the world combined, according to the Stockholm International Peace Institute – and 6 times more than the country with the second highest budget, China. It’s only fair to wonder if all line items buried within the behemoth security outlay meet Obama’s standard of necessity – and not something more sinister.
The U.S. currently has, at least, 1,000 bases around the world, many of which are Cold War legacy sites – as if pulling out of Germany will tempt Russia to spread its sphere of influence. A sentiment succintly captured by Andrew Bacevich in his book Washington Rules:
This global military presence is ostensibly essential to the defense of American freedom even in places where the actual threat to American freedom is oblique or imaginary.
During his first two years in office Obama had authorized nearly four times as many drone strikes as Bush did during his entire two terms. This, despite the fact the former constitutional law professor is likely cognizant the drone attacks violate international law. Not to mention the fact he’s been unable to identify viable alternatives to the interrogation rooms and military tribunals at Guantanamo.
The Bush era’s paranoid “War on Terror” put the nation on a militaristic footing like no other time in its history, garrisoning the planet to transform the “arc of instability” – which consists of nearly every country within what was formerly called the “Third World” – into an “arc of freedom”.
By the end of his reign Bush’s Pentagon had military personnel deployed in 60 countries around the world actively engaged in a plethora of taskings which include, according to Nick Turse:
…covert special forces and spy operations, launching drone attacks, building bases and secret prisons, training, arming, and funding local security forces, and engaging in a host of other militarized activities right up to full-scale war.
The Obama regime obviously also subscribes to the notion that keeping a watchful eye on these innumerable terrorist breeding grounds is a valid rationalization for the burgeoning defense budget, considering in 2010 the U.S. conducted similar exercises in 75 countries, from South America to Central Asia, and plans on increasing that number to 120 by year’s end.
Not only has Obama lacked the will to change Washington’s defense-obsessed status quo, he doubled-down on America’s broken war strategy in Afghanistan. He also involved the country in Libya, putting the just war theory he pronounced during his noble peace prize acceptance speech in motion, in an invasion meant to “prevent” a massacre of potentially yet untold proportions that was about to unfold at the hands of “mad dog” Muammar Gaddafi.
Was the Libyan intervention necessary? The President’s authorization of this war pushed the bounds of the constitution and the White House legal team’s imagination, as it scrambled to redefine what one meant by “war”. At a minimum, the action contradicted the staunch position Obama took on the campaign trail:
“The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation”. Obama added: “It is always preferable to have the informed consent of Congress prior to any military action.”
As the U.S. faces its biggest economic crises in years, a Democratic president is willing to cut social programs while failing to apply the same level of creativity in finding defense cuts as he was in justifying military force. The amount of taxpayer dollars wasted on Obama’s military buildup is staggering, especially when one considers the opportunity costs involved.
A 2009 study by the University of Massachusetts found that defense spending isn’t as efficient at job creation as other industries, citing that military expenditures yield 12,000 jobs per $1 billion in spending, compared with 17,000 for the green economy, 20,000 for health care and 29,000 for education.
President Dwight Eisenhower spoke to this tragic tradeoff between the U.S. enhancing power projection at the expense of meeting the needs of its citizenry, saying that “the problem with defense is how far you can go without destroying from within what you are trying to defend from without.” This point Ike underlined even further in 1953:
“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”
In his famous farewell address in 1961, Ike admonished of the perils wrought in issuing the defense establishment a blank check:
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
Colin Powell, in a modern-day incarnation of Ike’s farewell forebode, warned against what he called the “terror-industrial complex”. Powell asserted that the U.S. must take care not to “get so caught up in trying to throw money at the terrorist and counterterrorist problem that we’re essentially creating an industry that will only exist as long as you keep the terrorist threat pumped up”.
Powell also underlined the concept of spending only the amount that is essential to defend our country, as opposed to the gross over-investment in offensive capabilities that has produced a loaded-gun mentality – because with a hammer, every problem appears a nail. Powell also said:
“Let’s keep it in context, because the United States has many needs. We have needs to deal with the poverty of some of our people, education and the environment”.
The U.S. government has fostered a culture of militarism which has socialized Americans to accept imperial overreach and to believe the U.S. shall always play the role of benevolent hegemon, accompanied by the unreasonable assumption that all the world will feel the same.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has exempted itself from certain norms of which it expects other countries to adhere. I can’t even comprehend what the U.S. reaction would look like if China were to establish a similar global empire of bases buttressed by a military budget of a size unprecedented in world history.
The “change” president has his work cut out for him in order to reverse course, which is something unattainable so long as Obama fails to understand the difference between choice and necessity.
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