March 30, 2015
Obama’s Mission Accomplished Moment?
Posted on Jan 14, 2012
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch
Like a magician pulling the proverbial rabbit from the hat, the president described the situation this way: “Over the next 10 years, the growth in the defense budget will slow, but the fact of the matter is this: It will still grow, because we have global responsibilities that demand our leadership. In fact, the defense budget will still be larger than it was toward the end of the Bush administration.”
This magic trick was only possible because those headlined cuts were to come largely from the Pentagon’s “projected defense spending.” You’ll get the idea if you imagine an obese foodie announcing that he’s going to “diet” by cutting back on his dreams of future feasts, even as he modestly increases his actual caloric intake.
Surrounded by Panetta, Dempsey, the Joint Chiefs, and the service secretaries, the president had so much more to offer. Those nasty, unwinnable, nation-building-style counterinsurgency wars “with large military footprints” were now a thing of the past. On them, the tide was, as he so poetically put it, receding. Yes, there would be losers—Army and Marine Corps troop strength was slated to drop by perhaps 80,000 to 100,000 in the coming decade—but weren’t they already the losers of wars no one wanted?
Listening to his presentation and those to follow, you could have been pardoned for imagining that we were already practically out of Afghanistan and looking to a time when everything military would be just cool as hell. In that future, there would be nothing but neat, high-tech military operations (and war toys) to the horizon.
Square, Site wide
These would include our latest perfect weapon, the pilotless drone; nifty cyberwar-style online combat; plenty of new spy and advanced surveillance gear; and sexy shadow wars, just the thing for “environments where adversaries try to deny us access.” Elite special operations forces—the secret military, cocooned inside the regular military, that took down Osama bin Laden—would be further expanded; and finally, there would be a “pivot to Asia” to confront the planet’s rising superpower, China, by sea and air, leaving all those nasty Arabs and Pashtuns and their messy, ugly guerrilla insurgencies, IEDs, and suicide bombers behind.
It couldn’t have sounded cheerier once the media speculation began and it offered something for just about anyone who mattered in imperial Washington. In fact, as sober as Obama looked and as business-like as his surroundings were, if you closed your eyes, you could almost imagine a flight suit and an aircraft carrier deck, for this felt eerily like his “mission accomplished” moment.
Hostilities of the old nasty sort were practically at an end and a new era of high-tech, super-secret, elite warfare was upon us. The future would be so death-of-bin-Laden-ish all the way. It would be safe, secure, and glorious in the hands of our reconfigured military and its efficiently reconfigured budget.
Military-First Imperial Realism
This particular reconfiguration also allowed the globe’s last great imperial power to put a smiley face on a decade of military disasters in the Greater Middle East and—for all the clever politics of the moment—to cry uncle in its own fashion. More miraculous yet, it was doing so without giving up its global military dreams.
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.
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