Sunday, May 15, 2016

Obama's eight years of war

Nobel Peace Prize winner and war president.

President Obama came into office seven years ago pledging to end the wars of his predecessor, George W. Bush. On May 6, with eight months left before he vacates the White House, Mr. Obama passed a somber, little-noticed milestone: He has now been at war longer than Mr. Bush, or any other American president.

If the United States remains in combat in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria until the end of Mr. Obama’s term — a near-certainty given the president’s recent announcement that he will send 250 additional Special Operations forces to Syria — he will leave behind an improbable legacy as the only president in American history to serve two complete terms with the nation at war.

Mr. Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 and spent his years in the White House trying to fulfill the promises he made as an antiwar candidate, would have a longer tour of duty as a wartime president than Franklin D. Roosevelt, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon or his hero Abraham Lincoln.

The greatest fear every future president will continue to have in the post 9/11 period, at least for the next 25 years or more, is being held accountable -- politically or otherwise -- for not "keeping Americans safe" from terrorists.

'My primary job is to keep our country safe' is a line repeated in various iterations often by this president.  It has translated into the extrajudicial killing of American citizens via drone for the crime of posting inflammatory YouTube videos, the crafting of so-called heroes like Chris Kyle who shoot down women and children with Oswald-ish precision via long-range sniper rifle, and by responding to theocratic guerilla warriors in five separate countries -- not counting whatever we're doing in Syria -- with an Israeli-like hamhandedness that only breeds more of the same.

America's former top diplomat under this president -- the person whose mission is to avoid war and bombings and such -- has already promised to unilaterally strike Iran if she is elected president.  She wanted to "big-stick" China, and that was too much for Obama.

(Former SecDef Robert) Gates laid out the case for diverting the (aircraft carrier) George Washington to the Yellow Sea: that the United States should not look as if it was yielding to China. Clinton strongly seconded it. “We’ve got to run it up the gut!” she had said to her aides a few days earlier. The Vince Lombardi imitation drew giggles from her staff, who, even 18 months into her tenure, still marveled at her pugnacity.

Obama, though, was not persuaded. The George Washington was already underway; changing its course was not a decision to make on the fly.

“I don’t call audibles with aircraft carriers,” he said — unwittingly one-upping Clinton on her football metaphor.

When I read people writing about Hillary's strength in foreign policy, I wince.  (That's a cringing liberal admission for my friend J. R. Behrman.)  'Foreign policy' these days -- if you're not including global trade pacts that hollow out the middle-class -- means more war: more drone killings, more long-range jets bombing more places, more special forces boots on the ground infiltrating, patrolling, shooting and dying.  A more technological and precise imperialism beyond longbows, or blankets laced with smallpox, or mustard gas, or P-51 Mustangs and B-29 Superfortresses, or even Fat Men and Little Boys, but psychopathic imperialism nonetheless.

His managing continuous war over the course of his time in office has occasionally replaced the failure to use his political capital to get universal single-payer done, in terms of my greatest objection with this administration -- and the next one -- but at the moment it's the perpetuity of this most exceptional American legacy I dread the most.

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