In his Posture Statement [pdf] submitted, in advance of his testimony, to the US Senate Committee on Armed Services hearings [partial transcript] on Thursday 14 May 2009, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Navy Admiral Michael G. Mullen has outlined a strategic vision of perpetual war that may well provide an early glimpse into much of what may come to be called “the Obama Doctrine” (or the Obama-Twist of the Bush Doctrine); and into the Quadrennial Defense Review, expected in a year’s time, which will be a key document that articulates it.
While the Statement notes structural shifts in the environment (like the global economic crisis), it chooses to ignore them and persists in defining US military objectives as:
- “First, we must continue to improve stability and defend our vital national interests in the broader Middle East and South Central Asia.
- Second, we must continue efforts to reset, reconstitute, and revitalize our Armed Forces.
- Third, we must continue to balance global strategic risks in a manner that enables us to deter conflict and be prepared for future conflicts.”
This vision, and the language in which it is expressed, merit a few observations:
- Why “vital”? Why not just “national interests”? In this instance, the adjective “vital” serves not to limit the scope of interests but to widen it, to include, if need be, American imperial ambitions — for we can now argue, as is being argued today, that a handful of ignorant tribesmen in Buner who couldn’t point to the USA on a map threaten the life (vita), or existence of America.
- Acronym Watch: Forget “Af/Pak” and don’t be surprised if “MESCA” (Middle East and South Central Asia) is soon the rage. Acronyms do matter: recall that lacking any legal authority to wage war in Pakistan, the Af/Pak maneuvre was executed to erase a UN recognised international border to facilitate US military aggression. MESCA is an extension of this strategy, needed to legitimise extension of military intervention to Iran, and elsewhere.
- “Reset, reconstitute, and revitalize” includes the shift to unconventional warfare, a coded reference to illegal “black ops” for which over $ 50 billion are sought in the FY 2010 defense budget, but is mainly about keeping up troop morale (which is of growing concern).
- “To balance global strategic risks,” means to balance US responses to the threat to the USA (“Homeland”), deter conflicts and emergent threats (like nuclear threats), and conduct war.
- The key however is the objective “to deter conflict and be prepared for future conflicts” which enables the US not just to wage war on enemies, but also theoretically on friends who may potentially threaten America.
Strategy: Persistent Engagement
The Paper goes on: “The three strategic priorities [listed above] are underpinned by the concept of persistent engagement, which supports allies and partners through programs abroad and at home and which must be led by and conducted hand-in-hand with our interagency partners to achieve sustainable results.” (Emphais added.)
There are two parts to this:
- First, the world consists of “allies” (decode: “white” people, nations of European stock: Europe, and European settlements abroad: in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Israel) and “partners” (the “good” others) neither of whom the US is not going to let alone — friends, through dialogue and cooperation, and partners, more coercively; and
- Second, applying the same dichotomous view to the US bureaucracy, this persistent engagement is to be “led by” the security establishment, and “conducted hand-in-hand with our interagency partners” like the Departments of State, Energy, Treasury, etc. (This does read into the text what is not there, but the text as it stands — conflating “led by” with “hand in hand” (how do you lead hand-in-hand?) — otherwise makes no sense.)
Defend Vital Interests in MESCA
The Paper states: “Given its strategic importance and our vital national interests, the United States will continue to engage in the broader Middle East and South Central Asia – as a commitment to friends and allies, as a catalyst for cooperative action against violent extremism, as a deterrent against state aggression, as an honest broker in conflict resolution, and as a guarantor of access to natural resources.” Clearly, Af/Pak is old hat; this new definition of scope includes Iran, the Arabian peninsula, and the central Asian republics.
Central to this, the Statement holds, will be fighting Al Qaeda; not just militarily, but whose “narrative will increasingly be exposed as corrupt and self-limiting.” The US now seeks to control the stories mothers tell their children in this region! “Afghanistan and Pakistan” (no more Af/Pak) are “central fronts in the fight against al-Qaeda and militant global extremism and must be understood in relation to each other” (the linkage, once again). Insurgency in Afghanistan and “safe havens” in Pakistan will be the target. (At least in this statement Mullen is clear: the insurgency is in Afghanistan, not Pakistan; a fact deliberately confounded in the last few weeks to mislead Congress and the American people.) As for civilian casualties: “We must make every effort to eliminate civilian casualties, not only because this is the right thing to do but also because it deprives the Taliban of a propaganda tool…” Its all about the narrative!
Seemingly like the Strategic Hamlet Program in Vietnam, similar programs will be started in Afghanistan (where money will be provided through the Commanders Emergency Response Program, CERP), and through development assistance in Pakistan. Like Iraq, US troops will supervise the next elections in Afghanistan — perhaps a permanent feature of the Persistent Engagement doctrine, to be applied in all — as we would say in earlier times — occupied countries, including quasi-occupied Pakistan.
In Pakistan, however, the strategy seems to rest mainly on co-opting the military. To this end, the Paper proposes a veritable feast of funding for:
- Pakistan Counterinsurgency Capability Fund (PCCF);
- Coalition Support Funds (CSF);
- Foreign Military Sales (FMS);
- Foreign Military Financing (FMF);
- International Military Education and Training (IMET, “to help reconnect our institutions and forge lasting relationships”); and
- Global Train and Equip Program (GTEP)
In Iraq, “our troops [will] be out of Iraqi cities by June of this year and two more brigades will return to the United States without replacement by the end of September”; but “roughly 35,000 to 50,000 [out of a total of about 140,000] strong transition force … will remain in Iraq after August 31, 2010, to advise and assist the Iraqi Security Forces, conduct counter terrorism operations, and provide force protection to civilian agencies.” (No mention of President Obama’s February 2007 announcement: “I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011” in line with the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement; much less Senator Obama’s January 2007 legislation [S.433, pdf], to remove “all United States combat brigades from Iraq by March 31, 2008“. (Emphasis added.) What is hoped is that “we will successfully transition fully to the advise and assist mission over the next 16 months and lay the groundwork for a continued partnership with Iraq that promotes security in the region.”
On Iran, the paper has a long section, based on the premise that “Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability clearly constitutes a grave threat to U.S. vital national interests in the broader Middle East, and we must use all elements of national power to prevent them from achieving this nuclear capability.” Not surprisingly, it has less to say on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: unlike the rest of the world that found “the violence in Gaza barbaric, the Paper feels that it “continues to cast a pall across the region.”
Reset, Reconstitute, and Revitalise the Armed Forces
This is largely about keping up troop morale, which is showing strains under the burden of the military effort. It is also about institutionalising proficiency in irregular warfare; and in rationalising procurement. The first is by far the most important, where the key metric being employed is “dwell time” (the ratio of deployed to home-time) which remains at 1:1; while the interim target is 1:2; and long-term, 1:3. Meanwhile a number of negative indicators — service member suicides, sexual abuse in the military, etc. — have risen sharply. Also equipment is degraded, and energy supplies are a constraint.
Balancing Global Strategic Risk
This “is aimed at the core functions of our military – to protect the homeland, deter conflict [and threats, like nuclear threats], and be prepared to defeat enemies.” Military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, and partnership with Pakistan is envisaged to help the US fight al-Qaeda. “These campaigns have two functions: first, deterring future conflict, and second, staying prepared by building networks of capable partners who help us see conflict brewing and are ready to stand with us if prevention fails. These functions help to protect and secure the global commons: sea, air, space, and cyberspace.”
The penultimate section, outlining Persisetent Engagement, is reproduced in full (emphasis added):
“Our vital national interests call for a wise, long-term investment in global persistent engagement. For military forces, persistent engagement requires successfully conducting ongoing stability operations and building capacity with allies and partners. These efforts range from advising defense ministries to training host nation forces to conducting joint exercises to sharing intelligence to exchanging professional students. Over time, such actions help to provide the basic level of security from which economic development, representative political institutions, and diplomatic initiatives can take permanent root. Persistent engagement demonstrates enduring U.S. commitment, though, importantly, this commitment must be tempered with humility and a realistic assessment of the limits of our influence. The goal is always to empower partners, who are ultimately the only ones who can achieve lasting results.
During my travels, I’ve developed a more comprehensive appreciation of the value that personal relationships, fostered over time, bring to our security endeavors. At the senior level, these relationships provide insight and alert us to signals we might have otherwise missed, as such, providing us warning of conflict which can then be used to head off a brewing storm in some cases. These relationships should not be limited to just senior leaders. Rather, they should be developed throughout the careers of our officers and their partner nation colleagues. Such sustained cooperation builds a network of military-to-military contacts that ultimately provides avenues to defuse crises, assure access, institutionalize cooperation, and address common threats.
As I [Mullen] noted in particular with Pakistan, the criticality of ‘mil-to-mil’ exchanges, combined exercises, schoolhouse visits, professional education collaboration, and many other programs are all part of the robust outreach we require. In particular, I ask that the Congress fully fund the Department of State’s Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and International Military Education and Training (IMET) programs and Global Train and Equip Programs, which the Departments of State and Defense jointly manage. While many militaries around the world clamor to train with us, we reap far more than the costs of these programs in terms of personal, sustained relationships. These relationships help us bridge difficult political situations by tapping into trust developed over the course of years. I cannot overemphasize the importance of these programs. They require only small amounts of funding and time for long term return on investment that broadly benefits the United States.
I endorse a similar approach for and with our interagency partners, and I fully support the building of a Civilian Response Corps. Achieving the objectives of any campaign requires increased emphasis not only on fully developing and resourcing the capacity of other U.S. agencies (State, USAID, Agriculture, Treasury, and Commerce and so forth), but also on increasing our Nation’s ability to build similar interagency capacities with foreign partners.”
The emerging Obama doctrine embraces all the elements of the Bush doctrine, but with at least three important twists:
- The rhetoric, if not the belief in the real efficacy of democracy is out; as the Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Joseph S. Nye has recently noted: “when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified to Congress earlier this year about the ‘three D’s’ of American foreign policy – defense, diplomacy, and development. The ‘D’ of democracy was noticeable by its absence, suggesting a change in policy by Barack Obama’s administration.”
- Also out, ipso facto, is regime change; instead — and this is a significant Obama contribution — the model seems to be of a persistently managed democracy in which a militarily, diplomatically, and financially “engaged” US administration “makes” governments (à la South Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan I and soon II, and Pakistan). This is the old Mongol system by which large expanses of territory were governed by a small mobile warrior class, by “persuading” local military and civil élites to govern under contract; what ibn Khaldun called the `umara-shurafa system of governance.
- Finally, in this engagement the US seeks to control not only the land, the people, their way of life, but also their beliefs thoughts, and “narratives”! In comparison to these ambitions the mediaeval Inquisition seems tame.
In effect, then, Admiral Mullen’s testimony provides us with an early glimpse into the new American blueprint of total imperial control. If history is any guide life in the new American provinces will become more untolerable than it has been for centuries, and the wages of tyranny will be terrorism. Obama looks set to implement a lose-lose solution upon the world. The Owl of Minerva is fluttering its wings; the New American Century has dawned.
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