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The Military Solution

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Posted on Jul 7, 2012
The U.S. Army (CC BY 2.0)

U.S. troops march in Kuwait.

By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch

(Page 3)

Bahrain: Home of the U.S. Fifth Fleet, tiny Bahrain, facing a democratic uprising of its repressed Shiite majority, called in the Saudi military on a mission of suppression.  The U.S. has offered military aid and support to the ruling Sunni monarchy.

Syria:  In radically destabilized Syria, where a democracy uprising has morphed into a civil war with sectarian overtones that threatens to further destabilize the region, including Lebanon and Iraq, the CIA has now been dispatched to the Turkish border.  Its job: to direct weapons to rebels of Washington’s choice (assuming that the CIA, with its dubious record, can sort the democrats from the jihadis).  The weapons themselves are arriving, according to the New York Times, via a “network of intermediaries including Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood and paid for by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.”  It’s a project that has “this can’t end well” written all over it.

Somalia: Long a failed state, Somalia has suffered, among other things, through a U.S.-fostered Ethiopian invasion back in 2006 (and another more recently), drone attacks, CIA and special forces operations, a complicated U.S. program to subsidize a force of African (especially Ugandan) troops in the capital and support for a Kenyan invasion in the south—each step in the process seemingly leading to further fragmentation, further radicalization, and greater extremism. 

Egypt: Ever since Tahrir Square, Washington has been focused on its close ties with the Egyptian military high command (key figures from which visit Washington every year) and on the billions of dollars in military aid it continues to provide to that military, despite the way it has usurped democratic rule. 

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Libya: The Obama administration called in the U.S. Air Force (along with air power from NATO allies) to support an inchoate uprising and destroy the regime of long-time strong-man Muammar Gaddafi.  In this they were successful.  The long-term results still remain unknown.  (See, for instance, the Islamist revolt in destabilized neighboring Mali.) 

How to Set the Planet on Fire and Learn Nothing

This remains a partial list, lacking, to give but one example, the web of drone bases being set up from the Seychelles Islands and Ethiopia to the Arabian Peninsula—clearly meant for expanded drone wars across the region.  Nonetheless, it is a remarkable example of the general ineffectiveness of applying military or militarized solutions to the problems of a region far from your own shores.  From Pakistan and Afghanistan to Yemen and Somalia, the evidence is already in: such “solutions” solve little or nothing, and in a remarkable number of cases seem only to increase the instability of a country and a region, as well as the misery of masses of people. 

And yet the general lack of success from 2002 on and a deepening frustration in Washington have just led to a stronger conviction that some recalibrated version of a military solution (greater surges, lesser surges, no invasions but special forces and drones, smaller “footprint,” larger naval presence, etc.) is the only reasonable way to go. 

In fact, military solutions of every sort have such a deep-seated grip on Washington that the focus there might be termed obsessive.  This has been particularly obvious when it comes to the CIA’s drone wars.  Back in the Vietnam War years, President Lyndon Johnson was said to have driven his generals crazy by “micromanaging” the conflict, especially in weekly lunch meetings in which he insisted on picking specific targets for the air campaign against North Vietnam. 

These days, however, Johnson almost looks like a laissez-faire war president.  After all, thanks to the New York Times, we know that the White House has a “nominating” process to compile a “kill list” of terror suspects, and that the president himself decides which drone air attacks should then be launched, not target area by target area, but individual by individual.  He is choosing specific individuals to kill in the Pakistani, Yemeni, and Somali backlands. 

It should be considered a sign of the times that, whatever shock this news may have caused in Washington (mainly because of possible administration leaks about the nature of the “covert” drone program), few have even mentioned presidential micromanaging, nor, it seems, are any generals up in arms.  Some may have found the “nomination” process shocking, but rare are those who seem to think it strange that a president of the United States should be involved in choosing individuals (including U.S. citizens) for assassination-by-drone in distant lands.  

The truth is that such “solutions,” first tested in the Greater Middle East, are now being applied (even if, as yet, in far more modest ways) from Africa to Central America.  In Africa, I suspect you could track the growing destabilization of parts of that continent to the setting up of a U.S. command for the region (Africom) in 2007 and in subsequent years the slow movement of drones, special forces operatives, private contractors, and others into a region that already has problems enough.

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