The Obama Doctrine and the Dangers of the $185 Billion Increase in US Nuclear War Preparations August 5, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Nuclear weapons/power, War.
Tags: arms race, bric, first-strike, joseph gerson, military budget, nuclear, nuclear proliferation, nuclear war, nuclear weapons, obama doctrine, peace movement, roger hollander, test ban, test ban treaty, U.S. imperialism, war, war president
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Roger’s note: below this article I have posted Gar Alperovitz’s arugment against the official rational for droping the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
We continue to face the urgent imperative of eliminating the world’s nuclear arsenals before they eliminate us.
World Conference Against A- and H- Bombs, Hiroshima, August 3, 2011
Minosan Konichi-wa. I come with deep sympathy for all that the people of Japan have suffered as a result of the March 11 catastrophes and I am inspired by the resilience of the Japanese people and the Japanese peace movement.
I return to Hiroshima with humility and anger at what the government that speaks in my name has inflicted here and is preparing for the future. And, who cannot but feel rage at the ways Japanese lives have been sacrificed and your economy undermined. Like the decision to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki, human ambition and greed, not simply nature, were responsible for what you, your friends and communities have suffered from Fukushima.
Also see: “Nuclear War or Real Security?“
Let me begin with a few words about the US political landscape, the fluid state of the global (dis)order and the emerging Obama Doctrine.
The sad truth is that President Bush has been succeeded by another US war president. The US remains at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama escalated the Pakistan and Yemen wars and the aggressive military exercises in the Yellow and South China Seas. Washington has deepened its alliances across the Asia-Pacific with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Australia and India and in Europe with NATO’s new “strategic concept.”
Recall that during last winter’s Korean crisis, the US sent the nuclear powered and nuclear capable USS George Washington into the Yellow Sea, which Beijing claims as its exclusive territorial waters. As former US Ambassador R. Stapleton Roy put it, “we poked China in the eye because we could.” Whether we agree with Beijing’s claim or not, competing international claims should be addressed through law and diplomacy, not by signaling possible future nuclear attacks.
The strategic debate in US elite circles focuses on the relative US decline and the rise of China and the other BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India and China] nations. The dominant question is whether war with rising powers – especially China – is inevitable or if there are alternatives. Of course, the Know Nothings of the Tea Party are focused on cutting essential human services, and some may not even know where to find Japan or China on a map.
It is in this context that a recent article in Foreign Affairs asserted that after an initial phase of “multilateral entrenchment, we now have an Obama Doctrine: aggressive “counterpunching.”
Obama arrived at the White House with the US having become an isolated pariah nation. His initial priorities were to “Wind down [the Iraq and Afghanistan] wars, reestablish American standing and leadership … and focus on a broader set of priorities, from Asia and the global economy to a nuclear-nonproliferation regime.”(1) This included embracing the G-20, re-engaging Asia-Pacific multilateral organizations and Obama’s Prague and Cairo speeches. The BRICs were unimpressed.
Now, having revitalized its alliances, especially in the Asia-Pacific and Europe, Obama and company have turned to “counterpunching,” reasserting US power and influence across the world “when challenged by other countries, reassuring allies and signaling resolve to potential rivals ….”(2) In addition to the poking of China in its Yellow Sea eye, this includes deepening economic and military ties with most of China’s neighbors, declaring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea a core US interest and the accelerated pace of “military exercises” in contested waters.
In the Middle East, the Obama administration has used military and other leverage to limit the Arab Spring. In North Africa, Libya is the first of NATO’s new “strategic concept” wars, with European allies having increased war-fighting responsibilities.
Where do nuclear weapons fit into this picture and why was the deal made with Congressional Republicans to spend an additional $185 billion to “modernize” the US nuclear arsenal and its delivery systems?
While some believe that, “the Obama administration’s nuclear weapons policy appears to be schizophrenic,” that is not the case. Obama’s Prague speech was part of a diplomatic offensive designed to achieve the nation’s pre-eminent strategic goal: preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons and thus reducing the risk of nuclear attacks against the United States. Following the recommendations of Shultz, Kissinger, and others, Obama acknowledged the Untied States’ Article VI NPT abolition obligations and demonstrated commitments to at least limited disarmament. We had Prague, Obama’s special Security Council session, the Nuclear Security Summit, New START and preparations for CTBT ratification.
But there is a less visible operational side to US nuclear strategies: the first strike doctrine and the administration’s commitment that “as long as nuclear weapons exist, we the United States will maintain a[n] … effective nuclear arsenal.” The US is building the nuclear arsenal needed to enforce empire for decades to come. The deal that secured New START ratification committed Obama to “a major modernization effort to revitalize” the nation’s genocidal strategic nuclear warheads and its massive arsenal of stockpiled nuclear weapons. The extra $185 billion will pay to expand the nuclear weapons production infrastructure, train a new generation of nuclear weapons designers and technicians, extend the murderous “life” of aging nuclear warheads and replace so-called “old delivery systems.”(3)
While it seems counterintuitive, in addition to maintaining enough strategic warheads to completely destroy Russia or China and bring on nuclear winter, the Pentagon will be modernizing low-yield nuclear weapons and make them deliverable by the new nuclear-capable F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and cruise missiles. B-61 nuclear bombs will be converted to lower-yield warheads. Funding will be there to replace the fleet of Trident submarines and to increase the accuracy of the missiles they carry. There are also plans for a new generation of nuclear-capable drones and air launched cruise missiles.
We are warned that “as nuclear weapons proliferate, it becomes increasingly likely that the United States will find itself in conventional conflicts with nuclear-armed adversaries. So, senior analysts tell us that “deterring weak, desperate adversaries from using their nuclear trump card will be a major challenge” and that the US “must possess nuclear weapons that a president might actually use.”(4) The $185 billion program is there to reinforce US nuclear threats and to increase the probability that future US presidents will not fear pushing the nuclear button.
Of course, Washington is not the only power preparing for nuclear war. Despite last year’s NPT Review Conference, all the nuclear powers are modernizing and/or expanding their arsenals. We continue to face the urgent imperative of eliminating the world’s nuclear arsenals before they eliminate us.
In the US, both elite and community-based forces are campaigning for abolition. Our movement is committed to winning negotiation of a nuclear weapons abolition convention, and we have long made the links between nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Some are preparing for Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty ratification.
But with the massive US budget reductions and the resulting loss of essential government services, our greatest chance for near-term success lies in the growing movement to cut Pentagon spending so that human needs are met. President Obama and the Tea Party Republicans are rehashing the policies that led to the Great Depression. The military budget – already 60 percent of discretionary spending is being increased, while trillions needed for under funded schools, railways, health care, jobs and environmental safety are being cut.
Reinforced by the calls of the US Council of Mayors for abolition and to slash Pentagon spending, we now have a growing popular wave of organized labor, faith communities and the peace movement demanding “Move the Money” and “Fund Our Communities – Not War!” One of AFSC’s [American Friends Service Committee's] unique contributions is highlighting the need to put spending for nuclear weapons on the chopping block.
Other organizing includes an extended national Nuclear Free Future month. We began early in Boston with a Nuclear Free Festival on Trinity Day. There, as an expression of solidarity with your responses to Fukushima and Gensuikyo’s abolition campaigning, activists signed this banner. In the fall, we will be exhibiting Hiroshima Hibakusha Kayashige Junko’s paintings at Harvard University. And to build the our movement’s capacity to challenge militarization in the Asia-Pacific, we have organized a Peace Forum with the Chinese People’s Association for Disarmament and Peace, in which Gensuikyo will play leading roles.
Friends, none of this is enough. The 3-11 catastrophes mark a third great turning point in modern Japanese history, after the Black Ships and the Meiji Revolution and the 15-Year War and its resulting calamities. How will Japan recreate itself? With the peace marchers from Tohoku and this World Conference we are assured that the people of 21st-century Japan will continue to serve as the vanguard for the abolition of nuclear weapons and nuclear power.
Together, with imagination and persistence, WE SHALL OVERCOME!
No More Fukushimas! No More Hiroshimas! No More Nagasakis! No More Hibakusha!!
1. Daniel W. Drezner, “Does Obama Have a Grand Strategy?” Foreign Affairs, July/August 2011.
3. Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, “The Case for Modernizing America’s Nukes,” Foreign Affairs, July 6, 2011.
Dr. Joseph Gerson is disarmament coordinator of the American Friend Service Committee and director of its Peace and Economic Security Program. His most recent book is “Empire and the Bomb: How the US Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World.”
On the Sixty-Sixth Anniversary of the Bombing of Hiroshima
Today is the 66th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. Though most Americans are unaware of the fact, increasing numbers of historians now recognize the United States did not need to use the atomic bomb to end the war against Japan in 1945. Moreover, this essential judgment was expressed by the vast majority of top American military leaders in all three services in the years after the war ended: Army, Navy and Army Air Force. Nor was this the judgment of “liberals,” as is sometimes thought today. In fact, leading conservatives were far more outspoken in challenging the decision as unjustified and immoral than American liberals in the years following World War II.
By the summer of 1945 Japan was essentially defeated, its navy at the bottom of the ocean; its air force limited by fuel, equipment, and other shortages; its army facing defeat on all fronts; and its cities subjected to bombing that was all but impossible to challenge. With Germany out of the war, the United States and Britain were about to bring their full power to bear on what was left of the Japanese military. Moreover, the Soviet Union—at this point in time still neutral—was getting ready to attack on the Asian mainland: the Red Army, fresh from victory over Hitler, was poised to strike across the Manchurian border.
Long before the bombings occurred in August 1945—indeed, as early as late April 1945, more than three months before Hiroshima—U.S. intelligence advised that the Japanese were likely to surrender when the Soviet Union entered the war if they were assured that it did not imply national annihilation. An April 29 Joint Intelligence Staff document put it this way: “If at any time the U.S.S.R. should enter the war, all Japanese will realize that absolute defeat is inevitable.”
For this reason—because it would drastically shorten the war—before the atomic bomb was successfully tested (on July 16, 1945) the U.S. had strongly and repeatedly urged the Soviet Union to join the battle as soon after the defeat of Hitler as possible. A target date of three months after Germany’s surrender was agreed upon—which put the planned Red Army attack date at roughly August 8, the war in Europe having ended on May 8. (In late July the date was temporarily extended by a week.)
Nor was there any doubt that the Soviet Union would join the war for its own reasons. At the Potsdam Conference in July (before the successful atomic test) President Truman entered the following in his diary after meeting with Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin on July 17: “He’ll be in the Jap War on August 15. Fini Japs when that comes about.”
The next day, July 18, in a private letter to his wife, the President wrote: “I’ve gotten what I came for—Stalin goes to war August 15 with no strings on it…I’ll say that we’ll end the war a year sooner now…”
The President had also been urged to offer assurances that the Japanese Emperor would be allowed to remain in some form of powerless figurehead role by many top advisers—including, importantly, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, the man who oversaw the development of the atomic bomb. Before the bomb was used he explicitly urged the President that in his judgment the war would end if such assurances were given—without the use of the atomic bomb.
Nor were there insuperable political obstacles to this approach: Leadings newspapers like the Washington Post, along with leaders of the opposition Republican Party were publically demanding such a course. (Moreover, the U.S. Army wanted to maintain the Emperor in some role so as to use his authority both to order surrender and to help manage Japan during the occupation period after war’s end—which, of course, is what, in fact, was done: Japan still has an Emperor.)
As the President’s diary entry and letter to his wife indicate, there is little doubt that he understood the advice given by the intelligence experts as to the likely impact of the upcoming Russian attack. Further evidence is also available on this central point: The American and British Joint Chiefs of Staff—the very top military leaders of the two nations—also met at Potsdam to consolidate planning for the final stages of the war in the Pacific. General Sir Hastings Ismay, Chief of Staff to the British Minister of Defence, summarized the latest (early July) combined US-UK intelligence evidence for Prime Minister Churchill this way: “[W]hen Russia came into the war against Japan, the Japanese would probably wish to get out on almost any terms short of the dethronement of the Emperor.”
The July joint intelligence finding, of course, for the most part simply restated what had been the essential view of American intelligence and many of the President’s top advisers throughout the spring and summer months leading up to the July meeting at Potsdam.
Among the many reasons the shock of Soviet entry was expected to be so powerful were: first, that it would directly challenge the Japanese army in what had been one of its most important strongholds, Manchuria; second, it would signal that there was literally no hope once the third of the three Great Powers was no longer neutral; and third, and perhaps even more important, with the Japanese economy in disarray Japanese leaders were extremely fearful that leftist groups might be powerfully encouraged, politically, if the Soviet Union were to play a major role in Japan’s defeat.
Furthermore, U.S. intelligence had broken Japanese codes and knew Japanese leaders were frantically hoping against hope as they attempted to arrange some form of settlement with Moscow as a mediator. Since their strategy was so heavily focused on what the Russians might or might not do, this further underscored the judgment that when the Red Army attacked, the end would not be far off: the illusory hope of a negotiation through Moscow would be thoroughly dashed as Soviet tanks rolled into Manchuria.
Instead, the United States rushed to use two atomic bombs at almost exactly the time that an August 8 Soviet attack had originally been scheduled: Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9. The timing itself has obviously raised questions among many historians. The available evidence, though not conclusive, strongly suggests that the atomic bombs may well have been used in part because American leaders “preferred”—as Pulitzer Prize–winning historian Martin Sherwin has put it—to end the war with the bombs rather than the Soviet attack. Impressing the Soviets during the early diplomatic sparring that ultimately became the Cold War also appears likely to have been a significant factor.
Some modern analysts have urged that Japanese military planning to thwart an invasion was much more advanced than had previously been understood, and hence more threatening to U.S. plans. Others have argued that Japanese military leaders were much more ardently committed to one or more of four proposed ‘conditions’ to attach to a surrender than a number of experts hold, and hence, again, would likely have fought hard to continue the war.
It is, of course, impossible to know whether the advice given by top U.S. and British intelligence that a Russian attack would likely to produce surrender was correct. We do know that the President ignored such judgments and the advice of people like Secretary of War Stimson that the war could be ended in other ways when he made his decision. This, of course, is an important fact in its own right in considering whether the decision was justified, since so many civilian lives were sacrificed in the two bombings.
Moreover, many leading historians who have studied both the U.S. and Japanese records carefully (including, among others, Barton Bernstein and Tsuyoshi Hasegawa) have concluded that Japan was indeed in such dire straits that–as U.S. and British intelligence had urged long before the bombings–the war would, in fact, have likely ended before the November invasion target date once the Russians entered.
It is also important to note that there was very little to lose by using the Russian attack to end the war. The atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and August 9. There were still three months to go before the first landing could take place in November. If the early August Russian attack did not work as expected, the bombs could obviously have been used anyway long before any lives were lost in the landing.
(Since use of the atomic bombs and Russia’s entry into the war came at almost exactly the same time, scholars have debated at great length which factor influenced the surrender decision more. This, of course, is a very different question from whether using the atomic bomb was justified as the only way to end the war. Still, it is instructive to note that speaking privately to top Army officials on August 14 the Japanese Emperor stated bluntly: “The military situation has changed suddenly. The Soviet Union entered the war against us. Suicide attacks can’t compete with the power of science. Therefore, there is no alternative…” And the Imperial Rescript the Emperor issued to officers and soldiers to make sure they would lay down their arms stated: “Now that the Soviet Union has entered the war, to continue under the present conditions at home and abroad would only result in further useless damage… Therefore…I am going to make peace.”)
The most illuminating perspective, however, comes from top World War II American military leaders. The conventional wisdom that the atomic bomb saved a million lives is so widespread that (quite apart from the inaccuracy of this figure, as noted by Samuel Walker) most Americans haven’t paused to ponder something rather striking to anyone seriously concerned with the issue: Not only did most top U.S. military leaders think the bombings were unnecessary and unjustified, many were morally offended by what they regarded as the unnecessary destruction of Japanese cities and what were essentially noncombat populations. Moreover, they spoke about it quite openly and publicly.
Here is how General Dwight D. Eisenhower reports he reacted when he was told by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson that the atomic bomb would be used: “During his recitation of the relevant facts, I had been conscious of a feeling of depression and so I voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary, and secondly because I thought that our country should avoid shocking world opinion by the use of a weapon whose employment was, I thought, no longer mandatory as a measure to save American lives.”
In another public statement the man who later became President of the United States was blunt: “It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing.”
General Curtis LeMay, the tough cigar-smoking Army Air Force “hawk,” was also dismayed. Shortly after the bombings he stated publically: “The war would have been over in two weeks. . . . The atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all.”
Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet, went public with this statement: “The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace. . . . The atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military standpoint, in the defeat of Japan.”
I noted above the report General Sir Hastings Ismay, Chief of Staff to the British Minister of Defence, made to Prime Minister Churchill that “when Russia came into the war against Japan, the Japanese would probably wish to get out on almost any terms short of the dethronement of the Emperor.” On hearing that the atomic test was successful, Ismay’s private reaction was one of “revulsion.”
Shortly before his death General George C. Marshall quietly defended the decision, but for the most part he is on record as repeatedly saying that it was not a military decision, but rather a political one. Even more important, well before the atomic bombs were used, contemporary documents record show that Marshall felt “these weapons might first be used against straight military objectives such as a large naval installation and then if no complete result was derived from the effect of that, he thought we ought to designate a number of large manufacturing areas from which the people would be warned to leave–telling the Japanese that we intend to destroy such centers….”
As the document concerning Marshall’s views suggests, the question of whether the use of the atomic bomb was justified turns not only on whether other options were available, and whether top leaders were advised of this. It also turns on whether the bombs had to be used against a largely civilian target rather than a strictly military target—which, in fact, was the explicit choice since although there were Japanese troops in the cities, neither Hiroshima nor Nagasaki was deemed militarily vital by U.S. planners. (This is one of the reasons neither had been heavily bombed up to this point in the war.) Moreover, targeting was aimed explicitly on non-military facilities surrounded by workers’ homes. Here we can gain further insight from two additional, equally conservative military leaders.
Many years later President Richard Nixon recalled that “[General Douglas] MacArthur once spoke to me very eloquently about it, pacing the floor of his apartment in the Waldorf. He thought it a tragedy that the Bomb was ever exploded. MacArthur believed that the same restrictions ought to apply to atomic weapons as to conventional weapons, that the military objective should always be limited damage to noncombatants. . . . MacArthur, you see, was a soldier. He believed in using force only against military targets, and that is why the nuclear thing turned him off.”
Although many others could be cited, here, finally, is the statement of another conservative, a man who was a close friend of President Truman’s, his Chief of Staff (as well as President Roosevelt’s Chief of Staff), and the five star Admiral who presided over meetings of the Combined U.S.-U.K. Chiefs of Staff during the war—William D. Leahy: “[T]he use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender. . . . [I]n being the first to use it, we . . . adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make war in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.”
Gar Alperovitz is the Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland and co-founder of the Democracy Collaborative. Among his most recent books are America Beyond Capitalism and (with Lew Daly) Unjust Deserts: How the Rich Are Taking Our Common Inheritance and Why We Should Take It Back.
The ‘Obama Doctrine’: Kill, Don’t Detain April 12, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in War, War on Terror.
Tags: Anwar al-Awlaki, asim qureshi, Bush Doctrine, civilian casualties, drone, drone missiles, extrajudicial killings, Guantanamo, human rights, International law, military commissions, obama doctrine, pakistan, pre-emptive war, predator drone, presidential assassination, roger hollander, targeted assassination, unmanned missiles
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(Roger’s Note: Bush and Obama define the entire world as a battlefield in the “war on terror.” Since the rules of war say that the enemy has no rights (Bush said adios to the Geneva Conventions and Obama, the law professor, has dittoed it), you shoot to kill and ask questions later. Hence, unmanned drone missiles, and watch out if you’re throwing a big wedding party in rural Pakistan. Hence, if the president/CIA believes that an American citizen has gone over to the enemy, the latter has sacrificed any rights he might have had. Individual terrorists used to be hunted down using police methods. Now, terrorism is viewed as an organized global army and the rules of war apply.
The obvious solution to the geometric growth of terrorists would be to address the root cause: US imperial military and commercial expansion (and, to a large extent, uncritical support of the Israeli government). But, since the president and Congress are for all intents and purposes owned by the military-industrial complex, this sane option is effectively off the table.
What we are left with is permanent war (the more we attack terrorism militarily, the more it grows, the more it needs to be attacked, and on and on). Conclusion: militarized corporate America, with the government, media and education system becoming more integrated with this Behemoth on a daily basis, is the deeper root. This is what needs to be addressed.)
by Asim Qureshi
George Bush left a big problem in the shape of Guantánamo. The solution? Don’t capture bad guys, assassinate by drone
In 2001, Charles Krauthammer first coined the phrase “Bush Doctrine”, which would later become associated most significantly with the legal anomaly known as pre-emptive strike. Understanding the doctrine with hindsight could lead to a further understanding of the legacy that the former administration left – the choice to place concerns of national security over even the most entrenched norms of due process and the rule of law. It is, indeed, this doctrine that united people across the world in their condemnation of Guantánamo Bay.
The ambitious desire to close Guantánamo hailed the coming of a new era, a feeling implicitly recognised by the Nobel peace prize that President Obama received. Unfortunately, what we witnessed was a false dawn. The lawyers for the Guantánamo detainees with whom I am in touch in the US speak of their dismay as they prepare for Obama to do the one thing they never expected – to send the detainees back to the military commissions – a decision that will lose Obama all support he once had within the human rights community.
Worse still, a completely new trend has emerged that, in many ways, is more dangerous than the trends under Bush. Extrajudicial killings and targeted assassinations will soon become the main point of contention that Obama’s administration will need to justify. Although Bush was known for his support for such policies, the extensive use of drones under Obama have taken the death count well beyond anything that has been seen before.
Harold Koh, the legal adviser to the US state department, explained the justifications behind unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) when addressing the American Society of International Law’s annual meeting on 25 March 2010:
“[I]t is the considered view of this administration … that targeting practices, including lethal operations conducted with the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), comply with all applicable law, including the laws of war … As recent events have shown, al-Qaida has not abandoned its intent to attack the United States, and indeed continues to attack us. Thus, in this ongoing armed conflict, the United States has the authority under international law, and the responsibility to its citizens, to use force, including lethal force, to defend itself, including by targeting persons such as high-level al Qaeda leaders who are planning attacks … [T]his administration has carefully reviewed the rules governing targeting operations to ensure that these operations are conducted consistently with law of war principles … “[S]ome have argued that the use of lethal force against specific individuals fails to provide adequate process and thus constitutes unlawful extrajudicial killing. But a state that is engaged in armed conflict or in legitimate self-defense is not required to provide targets with legal process before the state may use lethal force. Our procedures and practices for identifying lawful targets are extremely robust, and advanced technologies have helped to make our targeting even more precise. In my experience, the principles of distinction and proportionality that the United States applies are not just recited at meeting. They are implemented rigorously throughout the planning and execution of lethal operations to ensure that such operations are conducted in accordance with all applicable law.”
The legal justifications put forward by Koh are reminiscent of the arguments that were used by John Yoo and others in their bid to lend legitimacy to unlawful practices such as rendition, arbitrary detention and torture. The main cause for concern from Koh’s statements is the implication that protective jurisdiction to which the US feels it is entitled in order to carry out operations anywhere in the world still continues under Obama. The laws of war do not allow for the targeting of individuals outside of the conflict zone, and yet we now find that extrajudicial killings are taking place in countries as far apart as Yemen, the Horn of Africa and Pakistan. From a legal and moral perspective, the rationale provided by the State Department is bankrupt and only reinforces the stereotype that the US has very little concern for its own principles.
Despite the legalities of what is being conducted, the actuality of extrajudicial killings, especially through UAVs is frightening. The recent revelations by WikiLeaks on the killing of civilians by US Apache helicopters in Iraq has strongly highlighted the opportunities for misuse surrounding targeting from the air. In the Iraq case, there were soldiers who were supposed to be using the equipment to identify so-called combatants, and yet they still managed to catastrophically target the wrong people. This situation is made even worse in the case of UAVs, where the operators are far removed from the reality of the conflict and rely on digital images to see what is taking place on the ground.
Conservative estimates from thinktanks such as the New American Foundation claim that civilian causalities from drone attacks are around one in three, although this figure is disputed by the Pakistani authorities. According to Pakistani official statistics, every month an average of 58 civilians were killed during 2009. Of the 44 Predator drone attacks that year, only five targets were correctly identified; the result was over 700 civilian casualties.
Regardless of the figures used, the case that extrajudicial killings are justified is extremely weak, and the number of civilian casualties is far too high to justify their continued use.
A further twist to the Obama Doctrine is the breaking of a taboo that the Bush administration balked at – the concept of treating US citizens outside of the US constitutional process. During the Bush era, the treatment of detainees such as John Walker Lindh, Yasser Hamdi and Jose Padilla showed reluctance by officials to treat their own nationals in the way it had all those of other nationalities (by, for instance, sending them to Guantánamo Bay and other secret prisons). The policy of discrimination reserved for US citizens showed that there was a line the US was not willing to cross.
At least, today, we can strike discrimination off the list of grievances against the current president. The National Security Council of the US has now given specific permission to the CIA to target certain US citizens as part of counter-terrorism operations. Specifically, Anwar al-Awlaki has been singled out for such treatment, as it has been claimed that he was directly involved in the planning of the Major Hasan Nidal killings and the Christmas Day bomber attacks. Indeed, it is claims such as this that bring the entire concept of targeted assassinations into question. The US would like us to believe that we should simply trust that they have the relevant evidence and information to justify such a killing, without bringing the individual to account before a court.
The assumption that trust should be extended to a government that has involved itself in innumerable unlawful and unconscionable practices since the start of the war on terror is too much to ask. Whatever goodwill the US government had after 9/11 was destroyed by the way in which it prosecuted its wars. Further, the hope that came with the election of Barack Obama has faded as his policies have indicated nothing more than a reconfiguration of the basic tenet of the Bush Doctrine – that the US’s national security interests supersede any consideration of due process or the rule of law. The only difference – witness the rising civilian body count from drone attacks – being that Obama’s doctrine is even more deadly.
© 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited
Colonizing Iraq: The Obama Doctrine? July 9, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tags: al-Maliki, colonialism, general odierno, halliburton, imperialism, Iraq, iraq bases, iraq colonialism, iraq combat troops, iraq contractors, iraq economy, iraq embassy, iraq green zone, Iraq mercenaries, iraq military, iraq military bases, Iraq Obama, Iraq occupation, Iraq oil, iraq oil revenues, iraq reconstruction, Iraq sovereignty, Iraq war, Iraq withdrawal, iraqi government, krb, malika, michael schwartz, obama doctrine, roger hollander, saddam hussein, SOFA, U.S. imperialism, U.S. troops in Iraq
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“Much of the complicated work of dismantling and removing millions of dollars of equipment from the combat outposts in the city has been done during the dark of night. Gen. Ray Odierno, the overall American commander in Iraq, has ordered that an increasing number of basic operations — transport and re-supply convoys, for example — take place at night, when fewer Iraqis are likely to see that the American withdrawal is not total.”
Acting in the dark of night, in fact, seems to catch the nature of American plans for Iraq in a particularly striking way. Last week, despite the death of Michael Jackson, Iraq made it back into the TV news as Iraqis celebrated a highly publicized American military withdrawal from their cities. Fireworks went off; some Iraqis gathered to dance and cheer; the first military parade since Saddam Hussein’s day took place (in the fortified Green Zone, the country’s ordinary streets still being too dangerous for such things); the U.S. handed back many small bases and outposts; and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki proclaimed a national holiday — “sovereignty day,” he called it.
All of this fit with a script promisingly laid out by President Barack Obama in his 2008 presidential campaign. More recently, in his much praised speech to the students of Egypt’s Cairo University, he promised that the U.S. would keep no bases in Iraq, and would indeed withdraw its military forces from the country by the end of 2011.
Unfortunately, not just for the Iraqis, but for the American public, it’s what’s happening in “the dark” — beyond the glare of lights and TV cameras — that counts. While many critics of the Iraq War have been willing to cut the Obama administration some slack as its foreign policy team and the U.S. military gear up for that definitive withdrawal, something else — something more unsettling — appears to be going on.
And it wasn’t just the president’s hedging over withdrawing American “combat” troops from Iraq – which, in any case, make up as few as one-third of the 130,000 U.S. forces still in the country — now extended from 16 to 19 months. Nor was it the re-labeling of some of them as “advisors” so they could, in fact, stay in the vacated cities, or the redrawing of the boundary lines of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, to exclude a couple of key bases the Americans weren’t about to give up.
After all, there can be no question that the Obama administration’s policy is indeed to reduce what the Pentagon might call the U.S. military “footprint” in Iraq. To put it another way, Obama’s key officials seem to be opting not for blunt-edged, Bush-style militarism, but for what might be thought of as an administrative push in Iraq, what Vice President Joe Biden has called “a much more aggressive program vis-à-vis the Iraqi government to push it to political reconciliation.”
An anonymous senior State Department official described this new “dark of night” policy recently to Christian Science Monitor reporter Jane Arraf this way: “One of the challenges of that new relationship is how the U.S. can continue to wield influence on key decisions without being seen to do so.”
Without being seen to do so. On this General Odierno and the unnamed official are in agreement. And so, it seems, is Washington. As a result, the crucial thing you can say about the Obama administration’s military and civilian planning so far is this: ignore the headlines, the fireworks, and the briefly cheering crowds of Iraqis on your TV screen. Put all that talk of withdrawal aside for a moment and — if you take a closer look, letting your eyes adjust to the darkness — what is vaguely visible is the silhouette of a new American posture in Iraq. Think of it as the Obama Doctrine. And what it doesn’t look like is the posture of an occupying power preparing to close up shop and head for home.
As your eyes grow accustomed to the darkness, you begin to identify a deepening effort to ensure that Iraq remains a U.S. client state, or, as General Odierno described it to the press on June 30th, “a long-term partner with the United States in the Middle East.” Whether Obama’s national security team can succeed in this is certainly an open question, but, on a first hard look, what seems to be coming into focus shouldn’t be too unfamiliar to students of history. Once upon a time, it used to have a name: colonialism.
Colonialism in Iraq
Traditional colonialism was characterized by three features: ultimate decision-making rested with the occupying power instead of the indigenous client government; the personnel of the colonial administration were governed by different laws and institutions than the colonial population; and the local political economy was shaped to serve the interests of the occupying power. All the features of classic colonialism took shape in the Bush years in Iraq and are now, as far as we can tell, being continued, in some cases even strengthened, in the early months of the Obama era.
The U.S. embassy in Iraq, built by the Bush administration to the tune of $740 million, is by far the largest in the world. It is now populated by more than 1,000 administrators, technicians, and professionals — diplomatic, military, intelligence, and otherwise — though all are regularly, if euphemistically, referred to as “diplomats” in official statements and in the media. This level of staffing — 1,000 administrators for a country of perhaps 30 million — is well above the classic norm for imperial control. Back in the early twentieth century, for instance, Great Britain utilized fewer officials to rule a population of 300 million in its Indian Raj.
Such a concentration of foreign officialdom in such a gigantic regional command center — and no downsizing or withdrawals are yet apparent there — certainly signals Washington’s larger imperial design: to have sufficient administrative labor power on hand to ensure that American advisors remain significantly embedded in Iraqi political decision-making, in its military, and in the key ministries of its (oil-dominated) economy.
From the first moments of the occupation of Iraq, U.S. officials have been sitting in the offices of Iraqi politicians and bureaucrats, providing guidelines, training decision-makers, and brokering domestic disputes. As a consequence, Americans have been involved, directly or indirectly, in virtually all significant government decision-making.
In a recent article, for example, the New York Times reported that U.S. officials are “quietly lobbying” to cancel a mandated nationwide referendum on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) negotiated between the United States and Iraq — a referendum that, if defeated, would at least theoretically force the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the country. In another article, the Times reported that embassy officials have “sometimes stepped in to broker peace between warring blocs” in the Iraqi Parliament. In yet another, the military newspaper Stars and Stripes mentioned in passing that an embassy official “advises Iraqis running the $100 million airport” just completed in Najaf. And so it goes.
Most colonial regimes erect systems in which foreigners involved in occupation duties are served (and disciplined) by an institutional structure separate from the one that governs the indigenous population. In Iraq, the U.S. has been building such a structure since 2003, and the Obama administration shows every sign of extending it.
As in all embassies around the world, U.S. embassy officials are not subject to the laws of the host country. The difference is that, in Iraq, they are not simply stamping visas and the like, but engaged in crucial projects involving them in myriad aspects of daily life and governance, although as an essentially separate caste within Iraqi society. Military personnel are part of this segregated structure: the recently signed SOFA insures that American soldiers will remain virtually untouchable by Iraqi law, even if they kill innocent civilians.
Versions of this immunity extend to everyone associated with the occupation. Private security, construction, and commercial contractors employed by occupation forces are not protected by the SOFA agreement, but are nonetheless shielded from the laws and regulations that apply to normal Iraqi residents. As an Iraq-based FBI official told the New York Times, the obligations of contractors are defined by “new arrangements between Iraq and the United States governing contractors’ legal status.” In a recent case in which five employees of one U.S. contractor were charged with killing another contractor, the case was jointly investigated by Iraqi police and “local representatives of the FBI,” with ultimate jurisdiction negotiated by Iraqi and U.S. embassy officials. The FBI has established a substantial presence in Iraq to carry out these “new arrangements.”
This special handling extends to enterprises servicing the billions of dollars spent every month in Iraq on U.S. contracts. A contractor’s prime responsibility is to follow “guidelines the U.S. military handed down in 2006.” In all this, Iraqi law has a distinctly secondary role. In one apparently typical case, a Kuwaiti contractor hired to feed U.S. soldiers was accused of imprisoning its foreign workers and then, when they protested, sending them home without pay. This case was handled by U.S. officials, not the Iraqi government.
Beyond this legal segregation, the U.S. has also been erecting a segregated infrastructure within Iraq. Most embassies and military bases around the world rely on the host country for food, electricity, water, communications, and daily supplies. Not the U.S. embassy or the five major bases that are at the heart of the American military presence in that country. They all have their own electrical generating and water purification systems, their own dedicated communications, and imported food from outside the country. None, naturally, offer indigenous Iraqi cuisine; the embassy imports ingredients suitable for reasonably upscale American restaurants, and the military bases feature American fast food and chain restaurant fare.
The United States has even created the rudiments of its own transportation system. Iraqis often are delayed when traveling within or between cities, thanks to an occupation-created (and now often Iraqi-manned) maze of checkpoints, cement barriers, and bombed-out streets and roads; on the other hand, U.S. soldiers and officials in certain areas can move around more quickly, thanks to special privileges and segregated facilities.
In the early years of the occupation, large military convoys transporting supplies or soldiers simply took temporary possession of Iraqi highways and streets. Iraqis who didn’t quickly get out of the way were threatened with lethal firepower. To negotiate sometimes hours-long lines at checkpoints, Americans were given special ID cards that “guaranteed swift passage… in a separate lane past waiting Iraqis.” Though the guaranteed “swift passage” was supposed to end with the signing of the SOFA, the system is still operating at many checkpoints, and convoys continue to roar through Iraqi communities with “Iraqi drivers still pulling over en masse.”
Recently, the occupation has also been appropriating various streets and roads for its exclusive use (an idea that may have been borrowed from Israel’s 40-year-old occupation of the West Bank). This innovation has made unconvoyed transportation safer for embassy officials, contractors, and military personnel, while degrading further the Iraqi road system, already in a state of disrepair, by closing useable thoroughfares. Paradoxically, it has also allowed insurgents to plant roadside bombs with the assurance of targeting only foreigners. Such an incident outside Falluja illustrates what have now become Obama-era policies in Iraq:
“The Americans were driving along a road used exclusively by the American military and reconstruction teams when a bomb, which local Iraqi security officials described as an improvised explosive device, went off. No Iraqi vehicles, even those of the army and the police, are allowed to use the road where the attack occurred, according to residents. There is a checkpoint only 200 yards from the site of the attack to prevent unauthorized vehicles, the residents said.”
It is unclear whether this road will be handed back to the Iraqis, if and when the base it services is shuttered. Either way, the larger policy appears to be well established — the designation of segregated roads to accommodate the 1,000 diplomats and tens of thousands of soldiers and contractors who implement their policies. And this is only one aspect of a dedicated infrastructure designed to facilitate ongoing U.S. involvement in developing, implementing, and administering political-economic policies in Iraq.
Whose Military Is It?
One way to “free up” the American military for withdrawal would, of course, be if the Iraqi military could manage the pacification mission alone. But don’t expect that any time soon. According to media reports, if all goes well, this isn’t likely to occur for at least a decade. One telltale sign of this is the pervasive presence of American military advisors still embedded in Iraqi combat units. First Lt. Matthew Liebal, for example, “sits every day beside Lt. Col Mohammed Hadi,” the commander of the Iraqi 43rd Army Brigade that patrols eastern Baghdad.
When it comes to the Iraqi military, this sort of supervision won’t be temporary. After all, the military the U.S. helped create in Iraq still lacks, among other things, significant logistical capability, heavy artillery, and an air force. Consequently, U.S. forces transport and re-supply Iraqi troops, position and fire high-caliber ordnance, and supply air support when needed. Since the U.S. military is unwilling to allow Iraqi officers to command American soldiers, they obviously can’t make decisions about firing artillery, launching and directing U.S. Air Force planes, or sending U.S. logistical personnel into war zones. All major Iraqi missions are, then, fated to be accompanied by U.S. advisors and support personnel for an unknown period to come.
The Iraqi military is not expected to get a wing of modern jet fighters (or have the trained pilots to fly them) until at least 2015. This means that, wherever U.S. air power might be stationed, including the massive air base at Balad north of Baghdad, it will, in effect, be the Iraqi air force for the foreseeable future.
Even the simplest policing functions of the military might prove problematic without the American presence. Typically, when an Iraqi battalion commander was asked by New York Times reporter Steven Lee Myers “whether he needed American backup for a criminal arrest, he replied simply, ‘Of course.’” John Snell, an Australian advisor to the U.S. military, was just as blunt, telling an Agence France Presse reporter that, if the United States withdrew its troops, the Iraqi military “would rapidly disintegrate.”
In a World Policy Journal article last winter, John A. Nagl, a military expert and former advisor to General David Petraeus, expressed a commonly held opinion that an independent Iraqi military is likely to be at least a decade away.
Whose Economy Is It?
Terry Barnich, a victim of the previously discussed Falluja roadside bombing, personified the economic embeddedness of the occupation. As the U.S. State Department’s Deputy Director of the Iraq Transition Assistance Office and the top adviser to Iraq’s Electricity Minister, when he died he was “returning from an inspection of a wastewater treatment plant being built in Falluja.”
His dual role as a high official in the policy-making process and the “top advisor” to one of Iraq’s major infrastructural ministries catches the continuing U.S. posture toward Iraq in the early months of the Obama era. Iraq remains, however reluctantly, a client government; significant aspects of ultimate decision-making power still reside with the occupation forces. Note, by the way, that Barnich was evidently not even traveling with Iraqi officials.
The intrusive presence of the Baghdad embassy extends to the all-important oil industry, which today provides 95% of the government’s funds. When it comes to energy, the occupation has long sought to shape policy and transfer operational responsibility from Iraqi state-owned enterprises of the Saddam Hussein years to major international oil companies. In one of its most successful efforts, in 2004, the U.S. delivered an exclusive $1.2 billion contract to reconstruct Iraq’s decrepit southern oil transport facilities (which handle 80% of its oil flow) to KBR, the notorious former subsidiary of Halliburton. Supervision of that famously mismanaged contract, still uncompleted five years later, was allocated to the U.S. Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.
The Iraqi government, in fact, still exerts remarkably little control over “Iraqi” oil revenues. The Development Fund for Iraq (whose revenues are deposited in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York) was established under U.N. auspices just after the invasion and receives 95% of the proceeds from Iraq’s oil sales. All government withdrawals are then overseen by the U.N.-sanctioned International Advisory and Monitoring Board, a U.S.-appointed panel of experts drawn mainly from the global oil and financial industries. The transfer of this oversight function to an Iraqi-appointed body, which was supposed to take place in this January, has been delayed by the Obama administration, which claims that the Iraqi government is not yet ready to take on such a responsibility.
In the meantime, the campaign to transfer administration of core oil operations to the major oil companies continues. Despite the resistance of Iraqi oil workers, the administrators of the two national oil companies, a majority bloc in parliament, and public opinion, the U.S. has continued to pressure the al-Maliki administration to enact an oil law that would mandate licensing devices called production-sharing agreements (PSAs).
If enacted, these PSAs would, without transferring permanent ownership, grant oil companies effective control over Iraq’s oil fields, giving them full discretion to exploit the country’s oil reserves from exploration to sales. U.S. pressure has ranged from ongoing “advice” delivered by American officials stationed in relevant Iraqi ministries to threats to confiscate some or all of the oil monies deposited in the Development Fund.
At the moment, the Iraqi government is attempting to take a more limited step: auctioning management contracts to international oil companies in an effort to increase production at eight existing oil and natural gas fields. While the winning companies would not gain the full discretion to explore, produce, and sell in some of the world’s potentially richest fields, they would at least gain some administrative control over upgrading equipment and extracting oil, possibly for as long as 20 years.
If the auction proves ultimately successful (not at all a certainty, since the first round produced only one as-yet-unsigned agreement), the Iraqi oil industry would become more deeply embedded in the occupation apparatus, no matter what officially happens to American forces in that country. Among other things, the American embassy would almost certainly be responsible for inspecting and guiding the work of the contract-winners, while the U.S. military and private contractors would become guarantors of their on-the-ground security. Fayed al-Nema, the CEO of the South Oil Company, spoke for most of the opponents of such deals when he told Reuters reporter Ahmed Rasheed that the contracts, if approved, would “put the Iraqi economy in chains and shackle its independence for the next 20 years.”
Who Owns Iraq?
In 2007, Alan Greenspan, former head of the Federal Reserve, told Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that “taking Saddam out was essential” — a point he made in his book The Age of Turbulence — because the United States could not afford to be “beholden to potentially unfriendly sources of oil and gas” in Iraq. It’s exactly that sort of thinking that’s still operating in U.S. policy circles: the 2008 National Defense Strategy, for example, calls for the use of American military power to maintain “access to and flow of energy resources vital to the world economy.”
After only five months in office, the Obama administration has already provided significant evidence that, like its predecessor, it remains committed to maintaining that “access to and flow of energy resources” in Iraq, even as it places its major military bet on winning the expanding war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There can be no question that Washington is now engaged in an effort to significantly reduce its military footprint in Iraq, but without, if all goes well for Washington, reducing its influence.
What this looks like is an attempted twenty-first-century version of colonial domination, possibly on the cheap, as resources are transferred to the Eastern wing of the Greater Middle East. There is, of course, no more a guarantee that this new strategy — perhaps best thought of as colonialism lite or the Obama Doctrine — will succeed than there was for the many failed military-first offensives undertaken by the Bush administration. After all, in the unsettled, still violent atmosphere of Iraq, even the major oil companies have hesitated to rush in and the auctioning of oil contracts has begun to look uncertain, even as other “civilian” initiatives remain, at best, incomplete.
As the Obama administration comes face-to-face with the reality of trying fulfill General Odierno’s ambition of making Iraq into “a long-term partner with the United States in the Middle East” while fighting a major counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan, it may also encounter a familiar dilemma faced by nineteenth-century colonial powers: that without the application of overwhelming military force, the intended colony may drift away toward sovereign independence. If so, then the dreary prediction of Pulitzer Prize-winning military correspondent Thomas Ricks — that the United States is only “halfway through this war” — may prove all too accurate.
Copyright 2009 Michael Schwartz
A professor of sociology at Stony Brook State University, Michael Schwartz is the author of War Without End: The Iraq War in Context (Haymarket Books), which explains how the militarized geopolitics of oil led the U.S. to dismantle the Iraqi state and economy while fueling a sectarian civil war. Schwartz’s work on Iraq has appeared in numerous academic and popular outlets. He is a regular at TomDispatch.com. (An audio interview with him on the situation in Iraq is available by clicking here.) His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.