Has America's Commitment to a Global Reign Deepened?
By Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick
January 13, 2013
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.
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
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
[Thanks to Peter Kuznick for sending his opinion piece to
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