Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wars and (not) rumors of wars

So PHC* wants to be seen as some kind of peacemaker ("The tide of war is receding.") because a little over a year from now there will be only twice the number of US troops in Afghanistan as there were when he entered office.

Personally, I think it's time the Nobel Prize committee looked into the possibility of revoking his Peace Prize. The US is today engaged in military action in five countries that we know of: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Libya. A quick rundown:

Iraq - Although the formally-declared "combat role" of US forces in Iraq ended last August, there are still close to 50,000 US troops there, plus tens of thousands of private contractors (also known as mercinaries). Those troops are supposed to be out by the end of the year, but there are two points to bear in mind: One, the schedule of withdrawal was not due to Obama; it is based on an agreement reached by the Bush administration, which really was forced into it by the Iraqis, in the fall of 2008. All Obama has been doing is carrying that agreement out.

The other point is much more important. Ever since that agreement was reached, the US has repeatedly said that troops will stay longer "if the Iraqis ask," which is exactly what we have been pressuring them to do. It's all been "Hey, Iraq. All ya gotta do is ask. Really. Just ask. That's all you hafta do. Ask. Really. We mean it. Ask." For a recent example, during his June 9 confirmation hearings as DOD chief, Leon Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee that
it is up to Iraqi leaders to lay out what support they need, and for how long, in order to make sure security gains there are not lost.

He says he has every confidence that a request will be forthcoming.
Every confidence, that is, that the Iraqis will eventually submit to US pressure, a pressure arising from the on-going US desire to have long-term bases in Iraq.

Speaking of bases and wars, the big one now, of course, is...

Afghanistan - After 10 years of war, people here are just tired of it and even Congress, or at least the House, is getting restive. That was why PHC spent so much of his time talking about domestic concerns in what was supposedly a major foreign policy announcement.

But the fact is that even after the withdrawal of some 30,000 "surge" troops to - supposedly - be completed by next summer, there will still be nearly 70,000 US troops in Afghanistan and they are going to be there at least through 2014 with an as-yet unspecified number to remain indefinitely after that for "support" and "training." In a display of bullshit that leaves one blinking in wonder that he really thought someone would fall for it, outgoing DOD secretary Robert Gates denied to TOLONews (Afghanistan) that the US wants permanent military bases in Afghanistan, saying we merely want to be a "tenant" on Afghan bases. Very long term tenants, it seems.

Why the desire for such bases? As places from which to launch attacks, on, for example...

Pakistan - The drone war there is intensifying. According to the New America Foundation, which tracks drone strikes in Pakistan through local media reports, under Shrub, there were 42 such strikes. As of June 23, under Obama there have been 213.

These drone strikes, for us nice and clean and safe, are thought to have worked so well - never mind the civilians killed and the anger roused and all that silly stuff - that the premise is being exported to...

Yemen - AP is reporting that the US is building a new CIA air base in the Persian Gulf region so that the spooks can launch drone strikes against suspected al-Qaeda types in northern Yemen. These would
augment a clandestine effort by U.S. special operations forces, which have been conducting manned airstrikes, drone strikes and small raids in Yemen, [US] officials said [last week].
Ali Abdullah Saleh recently left for Saudi Arabia to recover from wounds suffered in a rebel attack on June 3, perhaps never to return. That has lead to something a power vacuum, which the US is "exploiting" to intensify the "secret" war, a war which, contrary to the anonymous "official" assertions, may not be so much about al-Qaeda after all, at least not in the short run.

According to a a senior Yemeni defense ministry official quoted in The National (United Arab Emirates) on Tuesday,
US drone attacks in Yemen are focusing on Islamic militant targets in Abyan province, ignoring the more dangerous Al Qaeda stronghold of Shabwa province....

"More than 85 per cent of the fighters killed in Abyan over the last three weeks have not been Al Qaeda members. Militants in Abyan and other areas in the south are well-known Jihadists, but we cannot prove their links to Al Qaeda," said the official.
That is, most of the recent focus has not been on the group calling itself Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, now the supposed "#1 terrorist threat" to the US, but on other militants fighting the central government. Which does raise questions about if the US actually believes that, in the words of "a senior U.S. diplomat,"
whichever side emerges from the four-month political crisis to lead the nation will cooperate with Washington in battling Yemen's al-Qaida branch
or if the US actually is more committed to preserving a "reliable partner" government than to the future of the people of Yemen.

Which just leaves...

Libya - This is where PHC turned into GHC**, openly asserting by his actions even if not in so many words that the US military is his to use as he sees fit and Congress can go suck an onion. Initially, he asserted authority under the War Powers Act - falsely, because that law requires a direct attack on the US or its armed forces - but after the 60-day window it allows, the engagement continued unchanged even though the administration could give no reason why that would be lawful.

A full month later, they finally came up with an argument, one I'm sure you've heard: GHC don't need no stinkin' authorization because we are not engaged in "hostilities." A report to House Speaker John Boner argues that
U.S. operations [in Libya] do not involve sustained fighting or active exchanges of fire with hostile forces, nor do they involve the presence of U.S. ground troops, U.S. casualties or a serious threat thereof, or any significant chance of escalation into a conflict characterized by those factors.
That bizarre, not to say inhumane, argument amounts to saying that NATO is not involved in hostilities in Libya because the Libyan military is essentially unable to shoot back. It's an argument which would mean that Obama - or any future president relying on this precedent - could, for example, launch a full-scale drone, cruise missile, and B-52 attack on Costa Rica, Panama, Iceland, and more than a dozen other places while claiming straight-faced that there are no "hostilities" involved. In making the claim about Libya, Obama ignored the advice and legal opinions of the general counsel for the Pentagon, Attorney General Eric Holder, and most importantly, the Office of Legal Counsel, whose job it is to make such interpretations and whose advice typically is regarded as the controlling one. Instead, he lawyer-shopped and just like Shrub in the case of "torture," found someone who would interpret the word "hostilities" the way he wanted.

As in Afghanistan, the public and members of the House are getting restive; the House is expected to vote to cut off funding for the Libyan adventure. Unfortunately, it will then go nowhere: The Senate is unlikely to take up the related bill for months and when it does, there will be strong voices against the move, including those of GOPpers John McCain and Lindsey Graham and Dimcrat and Obama-sycophant John Kerry.

So do not look for any near-term end to a US-financed, US-supplied, NATO air war in Libya. And more importantly, do not look for Libya to be the last example.

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey
**GHC = Generalissimo Hopey-Changey

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