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Obama, NATO, and Restoration of US 'Leadership'

Enjoying an enormous sense of relief that the disastrous Bush-Cheney era is now history, too many have forgotten that Barack Obama is a politician, not Martin Luther King, Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi. He has emerged to serve as a restorationist president, to restore the U.S. economy, to redeem the "American Dream", and to reconsolidate what can be salvaged of the U.S. Empire and the "legitimacy" of U.S. "global leadership."

Obama is a political liberal, whose election testifies to the progress the U.S. has made in dealing with deeply embedded racism, whose foreign policy priorities are addressing the global economic crisis and climate change, who says that he respects international law and treaties, and who has said that he "intends" to bring all U.S. troops home from Iraq in 2011.

Yet, amidst rising unemployment, millions of families losing their homes to foreclosure, and the national debt swelling to unimaginable heights, President Obama plans to increase both the size of the U.S. military and the Pentagon's budget, which already equals the rest of the world's military spending combined. Even before completing his Administration's Afghanistan policy review, he dispatched 17,000 more warriors to that graveyard of foreign armies, and he pressed NATO to send more fighters as well.

Obama's victory demonstrates that under particular circumstances a knowledgeable and skilled person of color can now rise to the top of the U.S. system, but despite the rhetoric of "change," Obama's rise has not fundamentally changed the system itself. There is change, but there is at least as much continuity.  A prime example is Obama's retention of Bush's Secretary of War Bob Gates, and at Gates' insistence, the appointment of General Jones, the former NATO Commander, as National Security Advisor.

Even as Obama and Hillary Clinton pledge to reboot U.S.-Russian relations and to negotiate reductions in their genocidal nuclear arsenals, the U.S. has yet to withdraw its estimated 400 nuclear warheads from Europe or to renounce plans for offensive "missile defense" (shields to reinforce U.S. first strike swords) bases in the Czech Republic and Poland. They continue to build more military bases in NATO's new nations along Russia's periphery, and perhaps as a negotiating ploy, they have not given up on bringing Georgia and Ukraine into the military alliance.

With the failed Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the implosion of casino capitalism, the still rising twin towers of debt (national budget and imbalance of trade,) and the "rise of the rest" - especially China - the U.S. empire has passed its zenith. Powerful sectors of the U.S. elite backed Obama because they believe he can consolidate what remains of U.S. hegemony and relegitimate U.S. "leadership."

The intellectual foundations for this agenda were laid during the Bush years by outraged members of the U.S. elite, foremost among them Zbigniew Brzezinski, the Trilateral Commission's first Director and President Carter's National Security Advisor.. He has written about the imperative of the U.S. retaining geopolitical footholds in Western Europe, southern Eurasia, and East Asia if it is to remain the world's dominant power, which explains Washington's obsession about maintaining NATO after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the tacit U.S. alliance with India, and the U.S.-NATO war in what the Obama Administration also calls "Afpak" - Afghanistan and Pakistan. In recent years Brzezinski has argued that despite the failures of the first three U.S. Post Cold War presidents, Washington still has a "second chance" to restore its "global leadership, a vision and rhetoric reiterated by Barack Obama throughout his election campaign and in his inaugural address."


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The other conceptual pillar of the restorationist project is the work of Joseph Nye, Bill Clinton's first Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, who early on complained that Bush's wars were undermining Washington's global power and influence, and who urged that the U.S. rely on the "soft power" of diplomacy and its culture at least as much as on military terror and coercion. Throughout their years of electioneering, both Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton emphasized the use of "soft power," which we now see in their approaches to Russia, Iran and China. Nye also coined the term "smart power" that has been repeatedly used by Obama and Clinton to prepare U.S. and other nations for the use "hard" as well as "soft" power.

How does NATO fit into this picture? Sixty years ago NATO was about more than the Soviet Union, which at the time lay in ruins and hardly posed a serious military threat to Western Europe or the United States. Much like the transformation of defeated and militarily occupied Japan into a U.S. client state and unsinkable aircraft carrier through the imposition of the Mutual Security Treaty, NATO was created not only to ensure Moscow's military containment, but also capped the military potential of a former enemy nation and secured itself a legitimated foothold on the periphery of the geopolitical heartland of global power: Eurasia.

Assets are to be used and not squandered. Thus, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European Empire, instead of disbanding the outdated alliance whose raison d'etre had evaporated, Washington and its European clients with vested interests in the alliance sought to provide it with new rationales. Moscow's approval of German reunification and East Germany's integration into the hostile NATO alliance was won with the elder President Bush's promise that the U.S. would not expand NATO eastward toward reeling Russia's borders. Yet, much as they disregarded the U.N. Charter when they launched NATO's "Kosovo" war against Serbia, President Clinton and his Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot opted for triumphalism, quickly broke Bush's promise, expanded NATO to Russia's borders, and thus ensured the revival of militarized Russian nationalism that today is causing anxiety across its former realm and elsewhere.

Post Cold War NATO was to have other non-defensive functions: providing ostensible legitimacy for U.S. aggressions by providing diplomatic and other support, as well as ensuring Washington a supply of mercenaries to help fight its wars. Afghanistan is the classical example of this "out of area operations" doctrine. Less well known is the cover NATO provides for AFRICOM, the Pentagon's Africa Command, based in Stuttgart, which in ways analogous to the Central Command was created to ensure the U.S. continued privileged access to Africa's oil (now 24% of U.S. oil imports) and other resources. To sooth public opinion, AFRICOM's public relations focuses on the humanitarian services it provides, but at least one senior AFRICOM officer has privately confessed that its operatives are already murdering "scumbags" who make things difficult for the U.S. and its clients.

Then there is Afghanistan. Obama is ramping up both hard and soft power as he escalates what are now his Central and South Asian wars. While moving to play divide and conquer by exploring negotiations with the fragmented Taliban, and while highlighting limited U.S. and NATO humanitarian assistance, the thousands of additional troops, additional Predators, bombs and bullets are pouring into these long beleaguered countries will only further alienate the Afghan and Pakistani people. To little avail, leaders in both countries are warning that more troops and Predators making things worse. And, while the Karzai regime with its deep corruption and many failures has only minority support in Afghanistan, "liberating" U.S. and NATO troops are held in still lower esteem.

Yet, as John McCain argued more than a year ago, and as Barack Obama has repeatedly implied, NATO's support for the Afghan War has become the litmus test and thus the primary fault line of the NATO alliance. When Denmark's former Prime Minister Rasmussen auditioned before General Jones for the role of leader of the NATO alliance, we can assume that support for increasing NATO forces in Afghanistan was one of the songs the Dane had to sing.

Is there an alternative to NATO? Of course, there is. In the darkest and most dangerous days of the Cold War, Sweden's Prime Minister Olaf Palme brought forward the concept of Common Security, the understanding that nations cannot be secure if their actions inspire insecurity in rival nations. Instead, as we face the existential crises of the global economic melt down and climate change, it is long past time to set aside our nations' reliance on militarism, to clearly identify our common national needs and interests, and to invest our all too limited human and material resources in creating real, common, and sustainable security.

Joseph Gerson

Joseph Gerson

Dr. Joseph Gerson is Executive Director of the Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security and Vice-President of the International Peace Bureau. His most recent book is Empire and the Bomb: How the US Uses Nuclear Weapons to Dominate the World. His previous books include The Sun Never Sets and With Hiroshima Eyes.

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