The last few decades offer a depressing fact: We are addicted to military force. Presidents of both political parties, regardless of their pre-White House stances, have proven to be willing coconspirators with the foreign policy establishment, a group that views the use of force as a primary tool in the United States foreign-policy tool kit.
Even Barack Obama, who won the peace vote based on a single 2002 speech opposing the then-still-planned war in Iraq, has proven to be just as addicted to the military option as his predecessors essentially every president going back at least to Dwight Eisenhower.
The Iraq War has been declared over, but were still there. Afghanistan has been amped up with a promised withdrawal date that likely will not happen. And now we are fighting with the French and British in Libya in an ill-defined mission (we talk about protecting civilians but are doing far more than that this is about removing the despicable and murderous Qaddafi regime from power).
Protection of civilians, of course, is a ruse if it were our primary objective, we would have gone into the Ivory Coast to back a legally elected president and end a civil war that has seen atrocities committed on both sides.
So why Libya? The only reason I can come up with is that Qaddafis hold on the western imagination was on a par with Saddam Husseins unstable, violent and brutal with a long history of thumbing his nose at the west. And, of course, there is oil.
But, as Andrew J. Bacevich, author of Washington Rules, wrote recently on TomDispatch.com, to ascribe a single governing purpose or rationale to any large-scale foreign policy initiative is to engage in willful distortion. The point is not that there is one cause, but many and that the motivation ultimately is not all that important.
Rather than why, what deserves far more attention than it generally receives is the question of how, Bacevich writes. Here is where we find Barack Obama and George W. Bush (not to mention Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter) joined at the hip. When it comes to the Islamic world, for more than three decades now Washingtons answer to how has been remarkably consistent: through the determined application of hard power wielded by the United States. Simply put, Washingtons how implies a concerted emphasis on girding for and engaging in war.
Presidents may not agree on exactly what we are trying to achieve in the Greater Middle East (Obama wouldnt be caught dead reciting lines from Bushs Freedom Agenda, for example), but for the past several decades, they have agreed on means: whatever it is we want done, military might holds the key to doing it. So today, we have the extraordinary spectacle of Obama embracing and expanding Bushs Global War on Terror even after having permanently banished that phrase to the Guantanamo of politically incorrect speech.
Bacevichs point is that Obama and his foreign policy coterie couldnt be bothered or didnt think it necessary to assess whether the hammer actually works as advertised notwithstanding abundant evidence showing that it doesnt.
The reason, as we said, is that the hammer is the preferred mode of operation for the foreign policy establishment. Those who dismiss the hammer, whether they are activists, academics, opinion writers or diplomats, are not taken seriously. As Glenn Greenwald has demonstrated over and over again, the establishment is more likely to listen to hawks that got it wrong on Iraq than the doves that got it right. The doves, they say, are just not serious.
Its a circular argument that perpetuates militarism. If the doves are pushed to the margins, their voices can not be heard and, therefore, cannot influence policy. The hawks are the only ones left on the stage, the only ones who can influence the decision-makers, and we know what theyre going to push for.
So we end up in the middle of a civil war in Libya without much of a plan or an understanding of what we are getting ourselves into as we follow the French and British down the rabbit-hole.
Hank Kalet is regional editor for Patch.com in New Jersey. You can email him at email@example.com.
From The Progressive Populist, May 15, 2011
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