Web Only / Features » January 25, 2013
The President of Perpetual War
Obama’s dovish rhetoric doesn’t match reality.
Obama insisted that he "still believe(s) that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war." Few seemed to notice that the words came from the same president who is manufacturing a state of "perpetual war."
Four years into his presidency, Barack Obama's political formula should be obvious. He gives fabulous speeches teeming with popular liberal ideas, often refuses to take the actions necessary to realize those ideas and then banks on most voters, activists, reporters and pundits never bothering to notice—or care about—his sleight of hand.
Whether railing on financial crime and then refusing to prosecute Wall Street executives or berating health insurance companies and then passing a health care bill bailing out those same companies, Obama embodies a cynical ploy—one that relies on a celebrity-entranced electorate focusing more on TV-packaged rhetoric than on legislative reality.
Never was this formula more apparent than when the president discussed military conflicts during his second inaugural address. Declaring that “a decade of war is now ending,” he insisted that he “still believe(s) that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.”
The lines generated uncritical applause, much of it from anti-war liberals who protested against the Bush administration. Living up to Obama's calculation, few seemed to notice that the words came from the same president who is manufacturing a state of “perpetual war.”
Obama, let's remember, is the president who escalated the War in Afghanistan and whose spokesman recently reiterated that U.S. troops are not necessarily leaving that country anytime soon. He is the president who has initiated undeclared wars in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya. He is also the president who, according to data from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, has launched more than 20,000 air strikes—and those assaults show no sign of stopping.
We know that latter point to be the true because just days before Obama's inaugural address declaring an end to war, the Washington Post reported that the administration's new manual establishing “clear rules” for counterterrorism operations specifically creates a “carve-out [that] would allow the CIA to continue” the president's intensifying drone war.
That's the “perpetual war,” you'll recall, in which Obama asserts the extra-constitutional right to compile a “kill list” and then order bombing raids of civilian areas in hopes of killing alleged militants—including U.S. citizens.
According to a study by the New America Foundation, roughly one in 5 of those killed by such strikes are civilians. However, even that troubling number may understate the situation. That's because, as the New York Times previously reported, the Obama administration “counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants” even though, according to a CIA official, Obama aides “are not really sure who they are.”
Obama partisans' typical riposte to these horrifying truths is to first and foremost attack the messenger. As just one example, a confidante of Obama's national security director recently berated war critics as “Cheeto-eating people in the basement working in their underwear.”
These same partisans then typically blurt out two words: national security. But the argument that the president's drone war is protecting America is as flip as it is inaccurate.
That's the conclusion of a new analysis by the Council on Foreign Relations—an establishmentarian group that cannot be dismissed with insults about snack food, subterranean dwelling and tighty-whities. Citing a concurrent increase in drone strikes and terrorists in Yemen, CFR says there is a predictable “blowback” effect whereby bombings result in “heightened anger toward the United States and sympathy with or allegiance to al-Qaida” among local populations.
These facts, of course, are a downer for those mesmerized by the president's soothing inauguration rhetoric. No doubt, he is hoping we simply ignore reality because we so want to believe the anti-war oratory. If we do that, though, we will be aiding and abetting the very state of “perpetual war” that the president has created.
David Sirota, an In These Times senior editor and syndicated columnist, is a staff writer at PandoDaily and a bestselling author whose book Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now—Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything was released in 2011. Sirota, whose previous books include The Uprising and Hostile Takeover, co-hosts "The Rundown" on AM630 KHOW in Colorado. E-mail him at [email protected], follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at www.davidsirota.com.