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The President and his Generals

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The President and his Generals
By Karel van Wolferen (8 Dec 09)

One of the best things that has happened since Barack Obama took over from George W. Bush is that 'the most powerful man in the world' no longer sounds like he is speaking to 11 year olds. Obama's oratory has been not only a great asset for himself - it elevated him to where he is - but also a pleasure to listen to, even though in the past eleven months it has largely been used to substitute for the concrete measures he had promised his supporters. But with his latest performance, his hooray-for-war speech of a week ago, he has much insulted the intelligence of his supporters, of Americans in general, and of all of us, concerned onlookers around the world. Quite a lot of what he said did not begin to be convincing in any way, and it all pivoted around this line: "If I did not think that the security of the United States and the safety of the American people was at stake in Afghanistan, I would gladly order every single one of our troops home tomorrow."
Now, to find examples of a politician speaking the unvarnished truth while in some way involved in war we would have to dig very, very deep in the collective memory of all nations, and do this probably in vain. But in this case, Obama's national security advisor, General James Jones, has himself said that "The Al Qaeda presence [in Afghanistan] is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies." Obama of course conflates Al Qaeda with the Taliban (who have done no Americans any harm, except those occupying their territory), as has become customary in many circles, but can he possibly believe that they form a threat worth staving off with a trillion or so dollars, perhaps thousands of new American deaths, and many times more former soldiers without limbs or half their brains, and, not to forget, record numbers of future suicides among the very same cadets before whom he chose to speak; quite aside from the tens of thousands of dead Afghans.
He may have been insufficiently prepared for the presidency, but he cannot be that naive.
Can he, on top of that, possibly believe that the new intense involvement, aimed at what used to be called a struggle for hearts and minds, will produce the desired results within the 18 months after which he promises to begin withdrawing America's soldiers?
Obama also repeated the Bush line that "we did not ask for this fight". And the line about the American people having been "viciously attacked from Afghanistan". It would be a sad display of his ignorance of recent history if he believed those points. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, the planning for the September 11 attacks, as much as we know about it, took place in European and American cities, and the attack was carried out by mostly Saudi citizens.
There are, to be sure, still serious and honest people who find virtue in the threat-to-our-safety argument. Here is Fred Kaplan writing in Slate: "Communists ruling South Vietnam was never a serious threat to our security; al-Qaida controlling a huge swath of South Asia is." Sure, but if you are truly concerned about a resurgent, or modified, or re-united or metamorphosed Al Qaeda, one not visible at the moment, you should not waste your resources on Pashtun fighters who have wanted to gain and regain control of their country in a generation-long civil war. You should instead try to become effective in a concerted intelligence-diplomatic-political effort to evaluate and hinder any transnational organizations planning terrorist activity.
If there was anything good about Obama's speech last Tuesday it was that he did not link the intensification of what is now fully 'his war' with the necessity to bring democracy to Afghanistan and to deliver its women from their Burqas. For the rest it tragically demeaned him as a person, and probably fatally undermined his reputation of being a progress-minded reformist politician. He uttered the usual 9/11 platitudes, and made his audience remember the strong national unity following those fateful attacks to help muster the unity for what needs to be done now. At one point I had the weird sensation of imagining that George W. Bush had crept into Obama's skin.

* * *

Having decided that Obama could not possibly have believed much of what he was saying, we need to tackle the question of true motives. His speech followed about three months of speculation as to what he would decide about America's Af-Pak war, with some indications a couple of weeks ago that he would do the courageous thing, risk conflict with his generals, declare a kind of victory and get out. He is supposed to have consulted intensely with many specialists. As rightwing elements introduced the notion of his 'dithering on Afghanistan' into the journalistic bloodstream, the media were continually appraised of the intensiveness of these consultations, and invited to witness a pensive president on a well-orchestrated visit to Dover Air Force Base where the dead soldiers arrive. Unlike Bush, he wants us to know he does not ignore their tragic homecoming. So, what may have gone through his head these last few months? What are his true reasons for the escalation?
Those are probably a combination of unofficial but well-established national goals, which Obama could not ignore without endangering his presidency and perhaps even himself, intertwined with personal considerations about his own political future. To begin with the first, heading that list is what is sometimes referred as pipelinestan. The former British Ambassador Craig Murray, a human rights activist and prominent academic, appears to be well-informed on these matters, and has connected the war with the American and British interests in the large natural gas deposits in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan (estimated to be worth $15 trillion). And particularly with the protection of Unocal's interest in the Trans-Afghanistan pipeline. Afghanistan's president Karzai has been linked with Unocal through Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-born U.S. envoy to the 2001 Bonn conference on Afghanistan's future, who together with Bush chose Karzai to run the country. In the broader context it is of course no secret that Washington wishes to keep its toeholds in the region for a potential strategic encirclement of Russia and China, as well as a bit of control to deny energy resources to the Chinese in case conflict and competition for those become part of a future reality.
The references to "nuclear-armed Pakistan" where the "stakes are even higher" and the characterization as the "epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by Al Qaeda" for the area straddling the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, appear to point at a genuine worry in Washington's national security community about insuffieciently guarded Pakistani nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. As the New York Times has noted, he left much unsaid about this, including the warfare waged by unpiloted bombers, the Drones, which have been indiscriminately killing hundreds, perhaps a thousand, Pakistani civilians along with suspected Taliban members. Expanding the 'dirty war' in Pakistan, with its secret operations under control of the CIA, appears to be part of the new war plans. The worries of nuclear armed terrorists are reminiscent of the 'suitcase-bomb' scare that was said to justify extreme measures by the Bush administration immediately after the September 11 attacks. As with suppressing Al Qaeda, it would seem that waging more years of open war against the Pushtun Taliban is about the least promising way of dealing with that potential danger, and that further destabilizing Pakistan will not help either.

* * *

We do not know what arrangements Obama agreed to, tacitly or otherwise, with those who permitted his candidacy and then his election, and subsequently with the generals in November last year. His identifying Afghanistan as the 'right war' should perhaps have been a give-away. But this was widely understood to have been a tactical move, allowing him to advocate and, after gaining the presidency, implement American withdrawal from Iraq. That latter aim was what brought Obama to the fore as a presidential candidate in the first place (American soldiers are still in Iraq in large numbers, busily building huge bases, and show no sign of leaving). By repeating the Bush era cliches of the need to be in Afghanistan to "defend the homeland and protect the values we hold dear", as well as the line about Americans having been viciously attacked from Afghanistan, Obama helps obstruct any further examination of what actually took place in the run up to the September 11 attacks. The Taliban consists of a lot of brutal people, but not one single act of terrorism outside of Afghanistan can been attributed to the Afghanistan-based lot. The first bombing of Afghanistan was widely viewed as an act of revenge. Something had to happen quickly. Ritual retaliation was called for. There was general international understanding that no American president would have survived without striking an immediate and hard blow somewhere.
Another reason, commonly given, for sticking it out in Afghanistan is that "we are already there"; if the United States left that tortured country the rest of the world would no longer have confidence in American promises and commitments. The other, harder, side of that same coin is the neocon-Rumsfeld-Cheney priority of showing the world who is boss. The fact that American warmaking has been counterproductive in this regard, since showcasing your incompetence through ineffectively used military force detracts from actual ability to impress does not, apparently, penetrate to the chambers where policy discussions are held.
But most importantly, I think, the United States fights in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and will continue doing so, because its military-industrial complex, which has quite some time ago began to live a life of its own, needs enemies. It is basically as simple as that. Make no mistake here: without that complex, famously named by the retiring president Eisenhower, to which a majority of the members of Congress are obeisant as well, America's political-economic system collapses. As the retired colonel Andrew Bacevich, who has emerged as one of the most cogent and knowledgeable analysts of American militarism, puts it: "permanent war has become the de facto policy of the United States."

* * *

To place Obama's personal reasons in perspective, we must always keep the comic-book nature of American politics in mind. Those aspiring to high office must display 'strength'. And that is done by not being 'soft' on enemies. We have learned from memoirists that President Johnson stayed in Vietnam (after Kennedy, shortly before his murder, had decided to leave) because he feared potential Republican rightwing accusations of betrayal. Obama's concerns about being thought weak, and therefore an easy target for deadly Republican accusations that resonate through the nation because of its largely brainless media, are compounded through appointee choices he himself has made.
Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have been strong adherents of the military solution in Afghanistan. Gates, appointed by Bush, should never have been retained. Not if Obama was truly serious about extricating the country from its ongoing wars, and had gone back to basics in his thinking about how to do this. Gates is a political operator whose political horizon, like that of Rumsfeld and Cheney, has been disfigured by the Cold War. The vanishing of that post-World-War-II 'fact of nature' has been a traumatic political experience for them and a continual source of discomfort. One of the things that render Gates unsuited for Secretary of Defense is his history of purging analysts whose conclusions ran counter to Cold Warriors from the CIA, undermining that intelligence agency's capacity to produce politically untainted reports on the world's realities.
The most immediately relevant factor for Obama's Afghanistan decision has probably been the trap prepared for him by the two top generals involved in the campaign: General Stanley McChrystal in charge of the action in Afghanistan, and his boss General David Petraeus, head of the Central Command - the area covering the Middle East and Central Asia. Petraeus gained fame and position as the Bush appointee who brought some kind of order to Iraq through his 'surge', a counterinsurgency campaign that, through positive American press reports, has established a mythology of success in Iraq. The lessening of Iraqi violence has not so much been the result of the addition of 20,000 American soldiers, as of the fact that the Shias had gained control of most of Baghdad, Sunni fighters were paid off to help reduce violence, and the Iranian government helped broker a deal for the largest of the Shia militias, the Mahdi army of Muqtada al-Sadr, to halt insurgent activity. By keeping Petraeus in place along with Gates, for the sake of 'bipartisanship', Obama as good as cancelled the possibility for a new strategy aimed at withdrawal, and instead helped prepare the ground for a 'surge' in Afghanistan, which he has just announced will now take place.
Petraeus is a hero for the American media, and clearly has political ambitions. It is widely suspected that he wants to run for public office, and perhaps aims at the Republican candidacy for president in 2012. He can probably count on considerable support, as Sarah Palin is not the ideal figure to fill that spot in the minds of more serious Republicans.
Only months his inauguration, Obama made escalation in Afghanistan more likely by allowing Petraeus to get rid of General McKiernan as commander in Afghanistan for not being sufficiently aggressive, and to put his favorite, McChrystal, in that position. McChrystal, now the top official in the battle to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people, earned his spurs as the head of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in Iraq and Afghanistan, in fact leading a team of assassins using super advanced technology at the behest, so it has been rumored, of then Vice President Dick Cheney.
The latter, discredited as he may have been as the most powerful but also worst vice president in American history, has done anything but blend into the background. The media have allowed him to play a prominent role attacking Obama for being 'soft' on national security and for 'coddling terrorists'.
Against this background of rightwing criticism about selling out the country, amplified by rabble-rousers on radio and TV, Obama fatefully asked McChrystal to produce a report on the situation in Afghanistan. He thereby maneuvered himself into a corner, as became clear when McChrystal or Patraeus leaked the report, including its demand for 40,000 extra soldiers, to the media, and McChrystal began to advocate the right policy for Afghanistan before a British audience. The two generals confidently bet on the likelihood that Obama was not going to fire either one for insubordination, as commentators reminded readers President Truman did with the vastly more popular General Douglas MacArthur in 1951.
Not going along with McChrystal's request, made public through the leaked report, would without doubt have caused a political firestorm directed at Obama from Republican quarters, and one must assume that one of Obama's great fears is defeat in the election of 2012. In his own mind, he certainly cannot afford to have two top generals, supposedly safeguarding the United States with their lives (remember, we are in comic-book mode), sniping at him from Republican platforms. He cannot afford to be accused of 'cutting and running' and of betraying the soldiers who already have died for this cause.
Different readings of Obama's motives are, of course, still possible. One of them is from Robert Dreyfuss, one of a small group of genuinely knowledgable authors to be taken seriously. Dreyfuss considers it probable that Obama is not lying to us when he says that he wants to begin withdrawing in July 2011. While Dreyfuss acknowledges that it is tempting to conclude that Obama lacked the political courage to stand up to his generals, he does not agree with that explanation, but thinks that his decision "reflects a mature, considered decision on his part to do what he thinks is the right thing. Unfortunately, it's wrong." He adds the important observation that unlike in the case of George W. Bush, Obama, "and his team, aren't supporters of global, military hegemony by the United States, nor does Obama accept the neoconservative doctine of a global war against political Islam in all its forms, from Iran's regime and the Taliban to Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the rest. Obama understands that it's a multi-polar world, in which the United States is still the biggest player in the military and security arena. But he's no progressive." Dreyfuss believes that Obama is serious about achieving a bipartisan consensus (through an emerging coalition of the Republican Party, rightwing Democratic Party members, and what have become known as 'liberal hawks') on foreign policy, while ending the two occupations, but increasing America's firepower.
But what Obama himself wants may be rather irrelevant if he continues to allow himself to be manipulated by the generals. One thing we now know for sure is that he avoids confrontation with the Pentagon and its military-industrial complex. He does not have the courage of, say, a Mikhail Gorbachev. It is also clear that his long-term political savvy, formed through Chicago community organizing, is ill-suited to long-term national level politics.

* * *

We must realize that Obama inhabits a universe different from that of (most of) you and me. In Washington's political hothouse atmosphere he is surrounded by people who give the impression that they have thought things out, and that they know what they are thinking about. But that impression is wrong. They are careerists who think of the best next move for themselves. Very little judicious political decision making takes place there, since it may get in the way of the opportunism aimed at achieving immediate goals. Those in the national security precincts breathe intellectually stale air. Also defense officials who maybe conscious of the fatefulness of the things they advocate dwell in a world of money and promotions. Staffs are trained not to suggest policy rationale that goes beyond the boundaries of what is understood to be politically desirable, or that contradicts what has already been decided. Think tanks may help give a veneer of professionalism or even 'science' to it all, but the thinkers in them mostly conclude and write what they are paid to think and write. Misguided old metaphors and misapplied historical analogies serve as guideposts in this universe, as they must substitute for realistic assessments when these do not suit preconceived ideas.
If it were otherwise, the messages from Obama's own national security and counterterrorism people on the ground about increasing evidence of fundamental conflicts between the different Taliban groups and Al-Qaeda - with the latter apparently dreaming of overthrowing Pakistani military factions that aid some of the former - should have given the president even more reason not to endorse the propaganda coming from his generals and Gates (who simplistically speaks of symbiotic relations between al Qaeda, the Taliban in Pakistan and the Taliban in Afghanistan). If it were otherwise, Obama would have taken the warnings of his own Ambassador to Afghanistan, Karl Eikenberry (himself a former military commander in Afghanistan), seriously about the grave danger of increased dependence on American forces of the Karzai government. If it were otherwise, he would take seriously the potentially great danger of India being sucked into the turmoil. If it were otherwise, Obama would listen to Andrew Bacevich who reminds everyone that "The 'strategic' debate over Afghanistan is a diversion that serves chiefly to distract attention from the condition of strategic bankruptcy that President Obama inherited. The issues in Afghanistan do not qualify as strategic. They barely rise to the level of operational. To the extent that the war in Afghanistan can claim to have any purpose, that purpose derives from its relationship to the larger struggle variously called the global war on terror or World War IV or the Long War" ... which of course is a fiction.

* * *

When it comes to occupying other countries, the American experience is radically different from that of, say, the British in their colonies. Surely, the history of European colonialism has known plenty of incompetence. But for the sake of social control and effective administration, viceroys and lesser local rulers dispatched by the colonizer had much discretionary power and were given the opportunity to hone their diagnostic ability on the spot and apply personal tactical skills to whatever they personally could decide needed to be done to preserve colonial order. Before the ubiquitous use of the telegraph, external instructions from the capital would take weeks to arrive, making those who might look over the shoulders of representatives very distant.
Most skeptical stories about what Obama and his generals could possibly achieve in Afghanistan agree on the lack of knowledge about situations on the ground. But there is a deeper reason for failure, connected with the fact that connections between Washington and Afghanistan are instantaneous and incessant, and that presence in one place can be exchanged for presence in the other in less than half a day. The result of that is much less judicious consultation than is assumed, but more bureaucracy and overwhelming formalism. Even when pockets of knowledge are allowed to develop, and left alone for a while, their contribution to the all-over goal is easily wiped out because of the whim or the momentary preoccuptations of superiors in Washington. I saw this right in front of my eyes when covering the Vietnam War. I remember this as one of the most striking things that undermined the effort there. The American military is effective when it can follow rules of frontally engaging a force using predictable strategy. But it is wholly incompetent as a colonizer having to deal with ever-changing situations that require a capacity to respond in ways that cannot be reduced to rules covered in a handbook, or such silly things as lessons learned from the Iraqi 'surge'.
Which is why we can know the outcome of what Obama has announced he will try to do in Afghanistan. Yes, withdrawal would cause horrible consequences. But the consequences of staying there will be even more horrible. Aside from another thousand or so American and ten thousand or so Afghan deaths, and aside from a multiple of that in broken lives, American violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan is bound to increase the chances of terrrorist attack in the United States, as many have been pointing out. This renders the references in Obama's speech to the great danger for the 'homeland' emanating from Afghanistan sadly laughable.
Pentagon officials, civilian and in uniform, who mostly came to prominence under George W. Bush, have been elaborating counter insurgency theory to put in their handbooks, and to accompany the explanations that come with instructions to field commanders. Known collectively as COIN, this is what is supposed to enable McChrystal to turn things around before Obama begins withdrawing in July 2011. It includes creating things that Afghanistan never had before: A centralized government with a large army to impose its authority. This is to be accomplished through a threefold expansion of the army supposedly loyal to Karzai, and training of an Afghan police force. Also, it calls for economic development assistance, and making the government less corrupt, and seducing Taliban fighters to switch sides, while trying to assassinate those who do not feel like doing that. Oh yes, and it also includes protecting Afghan civilians. This is to be done with 30.000 more soldiers and roughly an equal number of civilian and para-military contractors, who are raking in fortunes and themselves have become an interest group.
We must remember that these COIN notions are hatched and launched in the same intellectual ambience in which notions of markets creating spontaneous social order, and democratization of the Middle East through bayonets and lots of money, were never brought down in howls of riducule and mocking laughter.
Where to begin? The Pushtun have a habit of switching sides, all right; after receiving the training and weaponry from Americans in Karzai's army, to return fighting on behalf of their clans and their tribes against the infidel occupier. The army is commanded by Tajiks, an Afghan minority group, obedience to which would be humiliating for the Pushtuns. Karzai's government does not function outside Kabul, and is little more than a pseudo-government inside it. Promotion of democracy and nation building? The illiterate Afghans in the countryside that the Taliban controls do not know what you are talking about. How does one create loyalty to a weak quisling out of thin air? Will expanding the secret war inside Pakistan, with remote controlled unmanned bombers and systematic assassinations, make you popular among an anti-American population and safeguard the Pakistan government against being overthrown?
Quite aside from the question of the morality of the American invasion and occupation, and their illegitimacy when held up to the precedents of international law, there is the question of capacity. While we should reflect on the positive sides of what Obama says he wants to do, we should not take them seriously at all in the absence of the wherewithal to make it happen. Here the tradition of American coercive optimism, which is such a strong component of its social mores, even helping to get Obama elected with his "yes, we can!", may be a considerable part of the problem. In the same way that a dentist is not competent to perform heart surgery, the United States should not try to remake Afghanistan.

* * *

President Obama has inherited the top office of a state that in fundamental ways is different from the state that existed at the end of Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration, one that could be said to have helped save civilization, and that continued through the early years of the Cold War as an architect of international cooperation that brought about the relatively peaceful and stable world order of the post-World-War-II twentieth century; an order into which, eventually, the isolated communist powers dissolved. True enough, this state had shown aggressive and imperialistic expansionist tendencies, as American critics remind us today pointing at McKinley, the annexation of The Philippines, and the ambivalent Wilson, best known for his efforts "to make the world safe for democracy", as well as the neocolonial treatment of Latin America. But the American state, and the American nation of which it formed the legally constituted representation, used to recognize something known as the 'common good', something that began to disappear as a significant notion to be used in political argument in the course of Ronald Reagan's presidency. It fell victim to a version of American ideology that worshipped a mythology of individualism, self-reliance, and an abstraction known as the Market, which was believed to be the best arbiter of desirable social order.
The common good, or public good, is about benefits that are shared by the citizens of a state, and exists in contrast to private goods, unevenly distributed in a hierarchy of privilege and class. Class is not a polite word in American political conversation, which makes recognition of all this a problem, and helps keep the fiction alive that if Americans try hard enough they can all share in available private goods, rendering public goods redundant.
The founders of the United States understood very well that their power and that of their successors must be exercised not for self-interested purposes but for public ends. But this understanding does not determine the motives of American governance anymore, because today's most important non-elected centers of American power, the institutions centered on the military (like the large financial firms), mistake their own private purposes for the national interest. And because the elected centers of power have allowed themselves to become almost entirely dependent on these unelected ones, political room for the citizen, who is entitled to public goods, has become suffocatingly small.
And so it is that the American militarism that Obama has just endorsed can continue. A majority of the population does not want this, but its electoral power has become a fiction. Defence of the nation is a public good delivered and controlled by the state. But the American military has, you could say, eaten that part of the state entrusted with guarding it, and legitimizes that rapacious act with a story of security needs that was first written in the Cold War, has gotten bigger all the time, and is now expanded with something that simply cannot exist: the 'war on terrorism'. Nothing else can explain why the United States spends as much on military-related budget items than all the rest of the world put together, even though no government possessing a modicum of sanity would dream of attacking that country. And that, at the cost of whole areas of public goods, like simple infrastructure, like schools, like medical care. In its predatory voracity, the American military no longer defends, but undermines and threatens the safety of the nation.
With Iraq and Afghanistan it has all got much worse. Politicians of both parties have discovered novel forms of mutually beneficial symbiosis, and new founts of election campaign contributions, in the recently created sector of companies carrying out various military functions. These contractor and mercenary companies never had to compete, but are allowed to feed at the trough of tax money that ought to have been spent on public goods. All this in economic circumstances created by the other predators - banks involved in casino operations - in which homelessness and poverty statistics would seem to reach danger levels.
There are additional reasons why it can continue. Through a mixture of gruesome luck and the fact that America's earlier genuine hegemonic position still pays off. The United States can still fight its wars with borrowed money. China and Japan continue to buy its treasury paper, and continue to keep the dollar at a level where, substituting for gold, it does not completely lose credibility as the world's reserve currency.
The luck is that it can still find the 'grunts' who are willing to go out and risk getting killed or being crippled for life. The American army today is radically different from the army that served in the Vietnam War, which, being an army of draftees, represented much more of a cross-section of American society, even though it contained a disproportionately high percentage of blacks and others less capable than the elites to evade the draft. Until recently the professionalized military was having great difficulty in recruiting the number of fresh soldiers required to meet the targets in connection with its ongoing campaigns, and had begun to enlist petty criminals and others who would earlier have been judged unfit to serve. But unemployment caused by the credit crisis and ensuing economic downturn is a godsend for the recruiters. Many young men and women sign up because today roughly one out of five Americans who want to work cannot find jobs.
Obama can still get the benefit of the doubt, and praise for a list of small and pseudo achievements, for a year that continues to appear positive in contrast to the administration of George W. Bush. Many American liberals feel that they have too much invested, emotionally, in the hopes that were introduced along with Obama the candidate and the president-elect, to give up on him now. Besides, the altenative seems so much worse.
Many console themselves with the reasoning that they never expected him to be a true progressive, and that Obama would always govern 'from the center'. This would have some meaning, were it not for the fact that in the United States the 'center' has been anything but stationary. It has moved ever rightward. With Obama's own coddling, bipartisan embracing, and charming of the Republicans, pushing it merrily along. With one of the greatest waves of false populism since the 1940's diverting the attention of a scared, indignant and restless population, it is hard to discern anything politically significant even slightly to the left of that moving center.

* * *

What should this mean for those of us looking at it from the sidelines? One thing appears to me to be crystal clear: The dysfunctional American political system has rendered the United States into an entity not under control. This realization cannot come too soon to other countries. Obama has allowed the slim chance of doing something about control over the military slip from his fingers. In his speech he reiterates the cliches that "more than any other nation the United States of America has underwritten global security for over six decades", that unlike powers in the past it does not seek domination. That its military makes possible that "other people's children can live in freedom and access opportunity". But he is, of course, not truly in charge. Neither are those generals whose plans are carried out.
Iraq and Afghanistan are the most extreme instances that demonstrate the inability of Washington to deal with the world as it is. The provocation of Russia with the drive to expand NATO, the meddling in the attempts of South American countries to liberate themselves from neocolonial political and economic structures, and the constant villification of China by part of the American political elite and the media, are other milder examples. As is the inability to acknowledge the sovereignty of Japan, as its new government prepares to become a presence on the international stage, through childish concentration on Marine bases that - to begin with - do not serve Japan in any way.
We as outsiders should begin to become fully aware of the fact, sometimes intimated but not fully understood by the American populace, that the United States has no longer a controlling center. That it does not protect. That its foreign policy is militarized. That it gradually destroys much of what has been achieved in the way of international law and generally accepted rules. That it is a Frankenstein.
To the governments that are routinely referred to as allies (who, as far as I remember, did not sign on for world dominance) the message should be clearer; you have a different America today (with a different military, purged and refiltered by those who owe their elevation to Rumsfeld) than the America you used to work with.
We must become aware of the fact that mighty countries, unchallenged by others, may lose the capacity to use their reverse gear, and begin to contemplate future strategy with that in mind.

also posted at karelvanwolferen.com