From war to more war

Originally published January 23, 2017 Al Jazeera/InDepth

From war to more war

Experience tells us it matters little whether a liberal democrat or an autocratic republican sits in the White House.

Well, it’s over … and good riddance. What began with a purchased Nobel Peace Prize and a lecture to the Middle East, under the then omnipotent eyes of Hosni Mubarak, has ended with a parting bang … yet another round of massive US air strikes in Libya and Syria.

Forgive my cynicism, but if history is, in fact, a fair guidepost of what comes to be, Barack Obama’s parting shots at so-called “jihadi” camps most likely did little more than slaughter civilians … thereby enticing 10 times as many others to pick up a gun or a bomb and strike back, however possible, wherever feasible.

Eight years ago the world held its collective breath for what would prove to be an all-too-brief moment with the election of a self-professed anti-war “liberal” to the most powerful and deadly office in the world.

In October 2002, then Senator Obama, an orator of rare talent with keen mind and extraordinary youthful vigour and promise, announced he was “opposed to dumb wars”. He was going to be different. He said so. He lied.

Wartime president

Well … not quite. He was different. After all, he’s the only two-term president in US history who has waged war every single day of his eight years in office. Indeed, not to be outdone by the hawkish George W Bush, Obama conducted air strikes on seven countries: Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Syria. That’s three more than Bush bombed.

During his two terms, our peace president ordered a total of 563 “special” air strikes, largely carried out by drones, that targeted Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen, in particular, compared to “but” 57 such strikes under Bush.

While impossible to know for sure, the total number of those killed by these attacks during attempts to target three dozen or so “terrorists” – including US citizens afforded no due process – apparently resulted in the deaths of almost 1,200 civilians . As a parting peace gesture, Obama left behind “Special Operation Forces” deployed to more than 130 nations; that’s 70 percent of the world’s countries.

On the other hand, let’s give some credit where credit is due. Obama did slap around Benjamin Netanyahu to the tune of $38bn, largely for weapons, before refusing to veto the toothless settlement resolution in the United Nations.

War means profit, and that’s something that brings a huge smile to the face of the new president. The US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan alone have earned the American weapons industry trillions of dollars and counting.

Saudi Arabia, which has obtained more than $100bn worth of weapons during the Obama administration, heard its “concerns” about how US-made weapons were being used in Yemen before proceeding to purchase another 153 tanks, and hundreds of machine guns in a deal worth $1.15bn.

Egypt also felt the pinch of Obama’s pacifist hand when he required that it make “credible progress towards democracy” before releasing billions in military aid frozen since Abdel Fattah el-Sisi came to power after the military coup that toppled the elected government of President Mohamed Morsi. We all know how well Egypt has been progressing in its steady slither towards democracy.

Perpetual warfare?

Perhaps, in a strange sort of way, the election of Donald Trump, consumed by the chase of money and women in that order, may at day’s end be the best thing in years that has happened for the prospects of peace in the Middle East.

Unlike Obama – who has spent his lifetime wanting to be loved and who figured the best way to earn it was by proving just how tough he could be – Trump has spent his life proudly ensuring there’s just nothing there to love and, seemingly, could not care less about it.

Maybe, when it comes to war, the shrinks are right: those who need to prove just how tough they can be are far more dangerous than those who just don’t give a damn. Hope surely springs eternal.

But wait a minute; these guys in the Trump cabinet seem awfully familiar, don’t they? Isn’t that retired General James “Mad Dog” Mattis wearing an Armani suit? Wasn’t he the general who lost his tour of duty because Obama found him too hawkish on Iran as he pushed the military to punish it and its allies through more covert actions to capture and kill Iranian operatives and interdict its warships? Didn’t he only recently oversee combat operations throughout the Middle East?

And that other guy in the corner – the one looking awfully nervous sitting there without his chest full of medals – can that be retired Marine General John Kelly? Wasn’t he in charge of Guantanamo; you, know, the guy that challenged Obama any time the president had the temerity to bring up the subject of closing it? Didn’t he lose a son to combat in Afghanistan against the Taliban?

How about that third guy? He looks an awful lot like retired Army Lieutenant-General Michael Flynn, whom Obama forced out of the Defense Intelligence Agency (the Pentagon’s version of the CIA) because of his description of Islam as a “cancer” and saying “fear of Muslims is rational”. What’s the worry with him as National Security Adviser? No problem.

Does anyone really think that Trump can – or cares to – reign in a collection of misanthrope generals with likely a century or more of battle scars … those warriors that see peace as very much a pastime of the meek … who see moderation as soft, quiet as weak, and talk but prelude to attack ? Of course not.

Profits and more

What of Trump himself? Though he’s gone on record as being opposed to regime change and committed to allies assuming more of their own military costs, he’s often expressed a hawkish stand on the Middle East, specifically with regard to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and sees other threats, real and imagined, against the US almost everywhere.

That translates to money – big money. Indeed, Trump has called for tens of thousands of additional troops; a Navy of 350 ships; a significantly larger Air Force; an anti-missile, space-based Star Wars-style programme; and an acceleration of the Pentagon’s $1 trillion “modernisation” programme for its nuclear arsenal.

War means profit, and that’s something that brings a huge smile to the face of the new president. The US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan alone have earned the American weapons industry trillions of dollars and counting.

It’s not by accident that in the days following Trump’s election, stock values for military contractors soared: Lockheed Martin – up 4.8 percent; Northrop Grumman – up 5.1 percent; Raytheon – up 6.2 percent; General Dynamics – up 4.1 percent; L-3 Communications – up 5.4 percent; Textron – up 2.2 percent; Boeing – up 0.76 percent; Huntington Ingalls – up 6.5 percent.

While hope may spring eternal, reality flows from bitter experience. Here, that experience should tell us that it matters little whether a liberal democrat or an autocratic republican sits in the White House.

In the history of the US, colonialism has always found a “welcome” host in the Middle East, with or without its age old network of surrogates. It knows of no such restraint as political party or allegiance.

Profit and military madness make for a bad combination indeed. That marriage will continue as eight years of unabated war will surely grow to 12.

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