Saturday, January 19, 2013

Where is Washington going?

Obama picks reflect plans for military pullback


President Barack Obama sent Congress a block of nominations to fill openings in his cabinet—for Defense, the State Department and the head of the CIA—as his second term begins this month. The proposals lay the groundwork for a pullback in military involvement abroad—boots on the ground—and deeper cuts in war spending.

This shift is based on Obama’s view that “U.S. interests”—the interests of the propertied rulers’ in the United States to which he is beholden—can be better advanced by a combination of persuasive speeches, and whenever “necessary” killer drones and special forces assassins.

Obama nominated John Kerry, Democratic senator from Massachusetts, as secretary of state, Chuck Hagel, former Republican senator from Nebraska, as secretary of defense, and his White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency. Kerry and Hagel are both veterans and critics of U.S. conduct in the Vietnam War.

Brennan has helped lead the White House campaign of drone bombings and assassinations aimed at alleged terrorists, including U.S. citizens. He served in a similar capacity under the George W. Bush administration.

The three nominees fit the White House’s course well. Like Obama, they are uncomfortable with Washington as the preeminent world imperialist power and use of U.S. military might, apologetic for U.S. “excesses” from Vietnam to Iraq to the Middle East and inclined toward “leading from behind.”

Obama is pulling together “a new national security team deeply suspicious of the wisdom of American military interventions around the world,” the New York Times commented Jan. 9. Washington’s moves in the world will be characterized by “caution, covert action and a modest American military footprint around the world,” specializing in “drones, cyberattacks and Special Operations forces.”

“We’ve got to understand great-power limitations,” Hagel told Foreign Policy magazine in May 2012, commenting on U.S. policy in Syria. “You work through the multilateral institutions that are available, the U.N., the Arab League. The last thing you want is an American-led or Western-led invasion into Syria.”

Hagel has called the war budget “bloated.”

“Fewer boots on the ground,” Ross Douthat, conservative Op-ed writer for the Times, summed it up, “but lots of drones in the air.”

The nominations came as the White House is planning to slash the number of troops in Afghanistan in preparation for the removal of all combat forces no later than 2014. The administration has said it is considering “an option to leave behind no American troops,” the New York Times reported Jan. 11.

The administration’s outlook reflects the meritocratic social layer of bourgeois-minded professionals that Obama comes from and looks to around the world. They believe they can hash out the world’s problems if they can just get in a room to work on them with like-minded diplomats, professors, nongovernmental organization staffers and other “brights” around the globe.

While the propertied rulers don’t share this na├»ve outlook on the world, a section of the ruling class agrees with cutting back on military intervention and spending at this time.

Leading the charge against Hagel’s nomination are a bevy of so-called “neocons,” writers at the Weekly Standard, editorial board members at the Washington Post, staffers at the American Enterprise Institute and their comrades-in-arms.

Dozens of their articles have filled the bourgeois press in recent days criticizing Hagel’s skittishness about military action against Iran, comments he made marking some distance between his views and those of Israeli government figures and his unwillingness to promote U.S. military action in Syria.

This opposition reflects a wing of the capitalist rulers who think U.S. imperialist interests would be better served by a larger, stronger military force and greater willingness to deploy it.

Among the critics of Hagel are the “three amigos”—Republican senators Lindsey Graham and John McCain, joined by “independent” Joseph Lieberman, who have been traveling the world together urging a bigger, more robust U.S. military.

Other political figures in the Republican Party have called for confirming Hagel. “I think he’s ultimately superbly qualified,” Colin Powell, former secretary of state under George W. Bush, said on NBC News “Meet the Press.”

On the other hand, ultrarightists like writers for the American Conservative and former presidential candidate Patrick Buchanan, have their own reasons to favor restraining for now U.S. military action abroad. They oppose the anti-Hagel outcry, forming part of the pink-brown anti-war alliance of left liberalism and ultranationalist rightist politics.

Hagel’s past statements expressing distance from the actions of the Israeli government is one area where questions about his nomination have come from both neocons and Democrats alike.

After his nomination, Charles Schumer and Barbara Boxer, influential Democratic senators from New York and California who are Jewish, both indicated they were not sure they could vote for Hagel. After talking with Hagel, both announced they would back his nomination.

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