of rivals" is how the Obama administration is being portrayed by the
head-over-heels media, which started out by likening the new president to Lincoln
and may end up comparing him – favorably – to God. A more appropriate phrase
would be "team of retreads": Hillary
at State, Gates
still at Defense, and all the usual suspects lording it over their regional
The appointment of George
Mitchell, whose success at helping
settle the Irish imbroglio suggests some skill at managing impossible situations,
has evoked hope in those
who pine for a more open-mined – and evenhanded – approach to the problem of
Palestine. It is a hope I share.
Yet I'm not optimistic, for two very good reasons: Dennis
Ross, whose appointment as plenipotentiary for Middle Eastern affairs seems
to undercut what is likely to be the Mitchell approach, and Richard
Holbrooke, whose dual
domain of Afghanistan and Pakistan will be the focus of U.S. military action
in the coming years. Specifically, more than 14 years – at least, that's what
us in a pre-election piece in Foreign Affairs magazine:
"The situation in Afghanistan is far from hopeless. But as the war
enters its eighth year, Americans should be told the truth: it will last a
long time – longer than the United States' longest war to date, the 14-year
conflict (1961-75) in Vietnam."
Which raises the question: why weren't we told the truth in the first place?
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall Obama ever "promising"
to keep fighting in Afghanistan for over 14 years – do
It's true he emphasized the "neglect"
of the Afghan front, which has supposedly suffered on account of the Bushian
obsession with Iraq – but a war longer than the Vietnam
conflict? No one ever voted for Obama in gleeful anticipation of such a prospect,
yet, if Holbrooke is right, that is going to be the signature issue that defines
Obama plans on doubling
U.S. forces in Afghanistan, bringing the total up to some 70,000 – and with
more, you can be sure, on the way. We are told that Obama's magical diplomatic
skills will compel the Europeans to do their part, with NATO
taking the lead. Yet Afghanistan is not the former Yugoslavia, and if Holbrooke
thinks he can impose a new Dayton on the rebel Afghans and the increasingly
resentful Pakistanis, he is apt to run up against the same brick wall that has
stymied would-be conquerors for 2,000 years, including the Soviets,
and Genghis Khan's Golden
Horde. The Europeans know this, and they won't be too eager to jump into
A Vietnam-style counterinsurgency conflict spreading across the Afghan-Pakistan
border and reaching into the wilds of Central Asia would dwarf the present quagmire
in Iraq by several degrees of magnitude. Yet Obama was and still is touted
as a peacemaker and an agent of "change." Unfortunately, it's a change
for the worse.
I mean this in the narrow sense, in terms of his foreign policy, but domestic
and foreign policy are indistinguishable when you're an empire, as Garet
Garrett trenchantly observed more than half a century ago. You can be sure
domestic politics – and not any real "crisis" – is what's pushing
us further down the path to perpetual war and unrestrained militarism. In spite
of the hopes of millions, three political imperatives militate against a peaceful
U.S. foreign policy in the age of Obama.
The first is a need for Obama to prove his "toughness" – that test
Joe Biden predicted,
shortly after the election, is sure to come, and there's no doubt about what
the new president has to prove, and to whom. In spite of their straitened circumstances,
the political and financial elites that run this country still like to think
of themselves as the keepers of world order, and Washington the center of an
empire on which the sun will never set. Failure to act "tough" would
bring down a firestorm of criticism on his head and lose him the support of
key constituencies, e.g., the mainstream media and the hawks in his own party.
The second is a perceived
need to increase government spending on anything and everything. When they run
out of pork-barrel projects to fund – or when the corruption gets too obvious,
whichever comes first – they'll turn to military spending. Obama has already
pledged to increase the military budget, and you can bet that, with the costs
of the coming Afghan-Pakistani-Central Asian conflagration, "defense"
appropriations are bound to go through the roof. Military
Keynesianism will unite Democrats and Republicans, liberals and neoconservatives,
in a happy orgy of spending and borrowing that will, ultimately,
lead to bankruptcy.
What our ruling elites are counting on is that the foreigners who hold our
debt will never call it in and demand payment – they'll be content with 3 percent
interest without ever getting back a bit of their principal. This seems an unwarranted
assumption, unless you're the most militarily powerful nation on earth, in which
case special consideration will be given. Yet economic laws cannot be violated
indefinitely and with impunity: the drain
of resources occasioned by our Iraqi adventure did much to suck the lifeblood
from our already overtaxed economy. Just think what a decades-long conflict
in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and god-knows-where-else will do to our finances.
Yet according to the Keynesian
militarists, any kind of government spending is good, so war is a boost
for the economy. Why, it's just another sort of jobs program. This, of course,
is nonsense: war destroys resources, both material and human, and produces nothing
but horror and evil. The war-is-good-for-business fallacy is just a morally
deranged variant of the broken-window fallacy so skillfully demolished
by Henry Hazlitt. However, with free-market economics of the sort espoused by
Hazlitt so unfashionable these days, it's highly unlikely that this particular
delusion will be easily dispelled.
The third major factor tending toward militarism is that wartime atmospherics
fit Obama's domestic program to a tee. Already we are hearing the rhetoric of
war applied to the economic front, in the hopes that the same sense of obligatory
will be imposed on potential critics and soften, if not silence, naysayers.
As the "war on recession" enlists an army of cheerleaders and would-be
block captains, the scapegoat of a foreign enemy is a welcome diversion from
deteriorating conditions on the home front.
If Holbrooke is right and we are headed for a major war that will make Iraq
pale in comparison, then he may be wrong about how long it'll last. Because
the war he envisions will amount to a final spasm of unrestrained violence,
a wholly destructive – and futile – assertion of our rapidly failing imperial
pretensions. Longer than Vietnam? I give it five years, at the most, at the
end of which we'll be licking our wounds and frantically signaling an "exit