January 2013, Week 3


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Tue, 15 Jan 2013 23:10:27 -0500
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Has America's Commitment to a Global Reign Deepened?

By Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick

 January 13, 2013 
 USA Today


 In January 2003, headlines such as "American Empire: Get
 used to it" seemed commonplace. In the wake of 9/11, the
 United States had already invaded Afghanistan, was weeks
 away from invading Iraq and in the middle of a "global war
 on terror." Since then, many Americans have indeed gotten
 used to American Empire. The most disappointing among them
 is President Obama, who once railed against the empire's
 blackest outrages - from torture to perpetual imprisonment
 without trial. Instead, Obama is about to enter his second
 term as heir of George W. Bush's imperial strategy unless
 his latest foreign policy appointments signal significant

 While following through on some key promises, such as
 withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq, Obama has often
 simultaneously deepened his commitment to the empire. In
 some cases, he pursued his promises, proposing to close
 Guantanamo and launching a plan to give terrorist
 "detainees" civilian trials, and then quickly backed away as
 his political foes attacked.

 Ignored warnings

 When in office, Obama ignored warnings about getting trapped
 in the Afghan quagmire. Pushed by his handpicked advisers,
 including Hillary Clinton and Republican holdover Robert
 Gates, and generals David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal,
 he tripled the number of U.S. troops there. By 2011, the
 United States was spending $110 billion on military
 operations. Even as the president announced a slight
 acceleration of the planned 2014 pullout, it is unclear what
 long-term impact Obama's Afghan "surge" will have.

 Elsewhere, Obama quickly became the world's leading drone
 warrior, employing more predator drones in his first nine-
 and- a-half months in office than Bush had in the previous
 three years. The results are mixed. He managed to decapitate
 much of al-Qaeda's leadership, but these attacks fueled
 jihadist recruitment. In Yemen, al-Qaeda had up to 300
 members when Obama's drone campaign began. It now has 1,000.
 When the judge asked Pakistani-born "Times Square Bomber"
 Faisal Shahzad how he could target innocent women and
 children, he countered that U.S. drone strikes "kill women,
 children; they kill everybody." To Shahzad, the victims were
 human beings. Drone operators referred to them as "bug

 Unrestrained power

 Obama claimed the right to murder, without judicial review,
 anyone he deemed a threat to U.S. interests, making him
 judge, jury and executioner, and far exceeding Bush's
 surveillance without judicial review (which also seems to
 have expanded under Obama). He personally selected the
 individuals to be targeted who were put on "kill lists."
 Before 9/11, the U.S. had condemned targeted assassinations.
 Now, they are Obama's signature foreign policy initiative,
 one that many other nations have prepared to emulate.

 Often, Obama's efforts to expand America's imperial role are
 obscured by Republican demands that he go further. Obama has
 been hard on Iran, tightening sanctions and threatening
 military action if it pursues a nuclear weapons program that
 the intelligence community has consistently said it
 abandoned in 2003, and soft on Israel, whose government's
 recalcitrance and expansion of settlements undermine the
 prospects for a two-state solution.

 In Asia, the U.S. is transitioning to a more confrontational
 role, dubbed the "pivot" as outlined in Secretary of State
 Clinton's November 2011 Foreign Policy magazine article
 titled "America's Pacific Century."

 China Cold War

 The U.S. has followed up with moves intended to encircle and
 contain China, disturbingly reminiscent of its Cold War
 efforts to contain the Soviet Union. Rather than
 constructively engage China, the U.S. has been militarizing
 the region with arms sales, joint naval operations,
 strengthened military alliances, deployment of troops to
 Australia, and a growing naval presence.

 Even Obama's rhetoric has been disconcerting. Though he has
 not gone as far as Bush in announcing a crusade to wipe out
 "evil" in the world, he has echoed Woodrow Wilson's post-
 World War I description of "America as the savior of the
 world." "Unlike the old empires, we don't make these
 sacrifices for territory or for resources. We do it because
 it's right," Obama told troops returning from Iraq. He might
 better recall the words of long-serving Federal Reserve
 chairman Alan Greenspan, who wrote, "Everyone knows: The
 Iraq War is largely about oil."

 For all the credit Obama receives for withdrawing from Iraq
 and his plans to vastly reduce the U.S. presence in
 Afghanistan, he has not challenged U.S. perpetuation of the
 most powerful and far-reaching empire in human history with
 an estimated 700 to 1,000 foreign bases and a military
 presence in 2008, according to scholar Chalmers Johnson, in
 151 of the 192 U.N. member states.

 Nor has he repudiated the attempt to achieve full spectrum
 dominance, including weaponization of space and
 militarization of cyberspace.

 There are, however, a few signs of hope that Obama's
 approach is changing. Nominating Chuck Hagel as secretary of
 Defense - with his criticism of the Israel lobby, sensible
 approach toward Iran, opposition to the surge in Iraq and
 repudiation of nuclear weapons - and John Kerry as secretary
 of State represents a major break with the hawks who
 populated Obama's first administration.

 Reversing course and embracing progressive ideals would help
 restore the faith of his most fervent supporters, who saw
 his first election as a transformational moment.

 [Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick are authors of The Untold
 History of the United States. The Showtime series' final
 episode airs tonight.]

 ]In addition to its own editorials, USA TODAY publishes
 diverse opinions from outside writers, including our Board
 of Contributors.]

 [Thanks to Peter Kuznick for sending his opinion piece to


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