Monday, May 11, 2009

Long War, dead-or-alive

From George Stephanopoulos' interview with National Security Advisor James Jones, This Week 05/10/09:

STEPHANOPOULOS: President Karzai also said while he was here that he believes Osama bin Laden is alive. Yet President Zardari of Pakistan says he thinks bin Laden is dead.

What is the best U.S. intelligence right now?

JONES: I think the best intelligence is that we gauge our reaction based on what intelligence we have. And it is inconclusive. Secondly, we wait and see how long it has been before we've seen him actually make a statement, release a video, and make our judgments on that.

The truth is, I don't think anybody knows for sure. [my emphasis]
So, I see a couple of possibilities here. One is that Osama bin Laden is the latest Hitler, heading a powerful and potent worldwide network of terrorists called Al Qa'ida with whom we are fighting a Long War, and who present a military threat comparable to - or probably greater than - either Nazi Germany in alliance with militarist Japan, or the nuclear-armed Soviet Union.

Another possibility is that he could be dead.

And Obama's National Security Advisor isn't really sure which one is the case.

Yet neither case seems to make any difference in the massive military budget that continues as though the Cold War never ended.

More accurate would be Andrew Bacevich's formulation, that the Cold War was part of what we now call the Long War. And a great deal of the perceived threat and constant threat inflation is less a reason than a justification for a military establishment that is largely self-justifying and driven by domestic political ideologies and economic interests.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, let me ask you about that, because we saw some audio tapes from Osama bin Laden in both January and March of this year, and it's my understanding that U.S. intelligence thought that those were authentic.

JONES: Mm-hmm.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what has changed since then to make the intelligence inconclusive?

JONES: Well, as of March, they thought it was authentic, but we don't have any firm information that says that that has changed one way or the other. So I think we'll just continue to press on and we'll see what happens there.

STEPHANOPOULOS: What does your gut tell you?

JONES: I -- my gut -- I would like to know conclusively if that's not the case. And I think we have that evidence.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Does it matter any more if he's dead or alive?

JONES: I think it matters symbolically to the movement, for sure. But it's clear that that movement has been resilient in replacing their leaders as quickly as we are able to capture or eliminate them.

But I think symbolically it would be a very big thing if he weren't.
In that last comment, it's not clear whether he means "it would be a very big thing" if Bin Laden weren't dead or if he weren't alive. And in terms of ideology and military policy, I'm not at all sure it matters. Because, as he said, "that movement has been resilient in replacing their leaders as quickly as we are able to capture or eliminate them". So the Long War must go on.

It's probably worth clarifying here that in saying this, I'm not going all Noam Chomsky or anything. I'm only interested in left purism when the left purists are producing useful ideas. The idea that there is no essential difference between the Republican and Democratic Parties today, or that the larger problems of the Long War make any differences between the parties on foreign policy minor or irrelevant, is not part of my way of looking at the world.

Essentially, that pitch is associated with third parties that hope to win adherents by trying to transcend the politics by which actual decisions are made in the United States on public policy issues. But even promoting a third-party alternative doesn't have to dogmatic and unable to make a distinction between the two dominant parties.

Obama's foreign policy is an enormous improvement over the crudely militarized version practiced by the Cheney-Bush administration. Not only did that administration seem to view foreign policy primarily as a matter of wars and military threats. They also went a long way toward organizationally transferring important elements of foreign policy from the State Department to the Pentagon. The elaborate pretense by President Bush that in his decisions on war policies in Iraq that he was simply executing the recommendations of his generals was a prominent reflection of that. In a healthy democracy with a vigorous independent press - as opposed to our ailing democracy with a broken press - that would have been considered outrageous. Having our Savior-General Petreaus go up the Hill as the primary spokesperson for that administration's Iraq policies is a related and equally outrageous example.

The very fact that Obama himself states clearly that he as the elected President makes the decisions about military strategy in our ongoing wars is an enormous improvement. The fact that is stands out as significant in any way is a measure of how disastrous the previous eight years really were. Since the most important element of US foreign policy is nuclear disarmament, the fact that Obama intends to actively pursue it is the most welcome kind of change from the Cheney-Bush policy of an open-ended nuclear arms race and unconstrained proliferation. Except, of course, when we needed some excuse to attack an oil-rich nation whose government was being insufficiently cooperative.

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