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Obama, Gates And The Future Of
The U.S. Military

By Thomas Riggins

03 January, 2009

This is the winner of our discontent, Barack Obama, and he is supposed to end the US attack on Iraq and its people and withdraw our invading forces and end the occupation of that country. Keeping Robert Gates, a Bush loyalist to the core, as his war secretary is not a promising sign. In this article I will outline what Gates thinks about the US mission in the world and the role of the U.S. military.

Anyone who wants to know in more detail what Gates is all about can read his article in Foreign Affairs for January/February 2009 ("A Balanced Strategy: Reprogramming the Pentagon for a New Age”).

The first thing we are told is that we can forget about getting out of Iraq. We may have a reduced level of troops but "there will continue to be some kind of U.S. advisory and counterterrorism effort for years to come.”

This should not be a shocking statement except for those who thought we might actually pack up and leave Iraq to the Iraqis. We should know our history. "Ever since General Winfield Scott led his army into Mexico in the 1840s." Gates says, "every major deployment of U.S. forces has led to a longer subsequent military presence to maintain stability." One way to do this is to "prop up local governments." The implication being that Iraq will never be stable and pro American without our troops there. This is the subtext of McCain's 100 years in Iraq comment.

But the U.S. military is facing a big problem according to Gates. It can't properly do its follow up mission if other areas of the government are not up to the task.

He says that since the 1990s (i.e., the Clinton years), "with the complicity of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, key instruments of U.S. power abroad were reduced or allowed to wither on the vine." He means the State Department in general, the Agency for International Development, and the U.S. Information Agency.

He credits the Bush administration with trying to reverse this: "through the efforts first of Secretary of State Colin Powell [who was dumped] and now of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the State Department has made a comeback."

The subtext here is that Obama's pledge to promote diplomacy over knee jerk military responses is just a carry over from what Bush has done and that Ms. Clinton will continue the good works of Powell and Rice.

There are still many conventional military threats ahead as we were reminded by the "images of Russian tanks rolling into George last August."

He can say this despite all the evidence showing that it was Georgia, not Russia, that started the brief war between the two countries last year. There are still rogue states to worry about-- i.e., the DPKR and Iran.

Currently the U.S. is militarily dominant and we must keep it that way. Actually, I don't understand how dominant we are if after six or more years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan we are bogged down with no end in sight.

There is going to be a lot of money lavished on the military industrial complex if Gates has his way. Because of the rise of China our Pacific rim bases and supply networks are at risk.

Therefore the U.S. must have the "ability to strike from over the horizon and employ missile defenses and will require shifts from short-range to longer-range systems, such as the next-generation bomber." And don't forget nuclear weapons.

"Congress needs to do its part by funding the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program-- for safety, for security, and for a more reliable deterrent." All the bombs we have now are not reliable enough?

What else does the future hold? Think about where our armed forces have had to go just in the last 40 or so years: "Vietnam, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Horn of Africa, and more."

Therefore we must spend more money on "capabilities necessary to wage asymmetric or irregular conflict." What I find notable about this list is that not one of the places mentioned posed any real threat to the U.S. and we had no business sticking our noses into their affairs.

Also, except for Panama and Grenada, our military hasn't been particularly effective. Oh, I forgot, we did overthrow the democratically elected government of Haiti-- a big victory for our security .

Not to worry about civilians being killed all that often in the future. "A bomb dropped from the sky can destroy a targeted house while leaving the one next to it intact." Don't you believe it.

Looking at this sorry record of imperialist engagement, Gates concludes that: "The power and global reach of [the U.S.] military have been an indispensable contributor to world peace [he calls attacking countries and peoples all over the planet for 40 years 'world peace'] and must remain so."

I hope Obama doesn't buy into this. I want some change I can believe in. I want Denis Kucinich for Secretary of Defense.

Thomas Riggins is the associate editor of Political Affairs online.

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