By David Swanson, Telesur
Former Israeli prison guard Jeffrey Goldberg’s “The Obama Doctrine” in The Atlantic presents President Barack Obama’s view of his own foreign policy (with input from a few of his close subordinates). Obama views himself as a radical leader in military restraint, in brave resistance to war mongers, and in scaling back excessive fear mongering in U.S. culture.
The U.S. President who has overseen the highest Pentagon budget in history, created drone wars, launched wars against the will of Congress, dramatically expanded foreign arms sales and special operations and the arming of proxies, claimed to be “really good at killing people,” and openly bragged about having bombed seven nations that are inhabited largely by dark-skinned Muslims, bolsters his “doctrine” by offering accurate antiwar assessments of Nixon, Reagan, and George W. Bush’s wars. (He essentially admits to Reagan’s October Surprise negotiations with Iran that sabotaged the 1980 U.S. elections.) Obama’s and Goldberg’s discussion of Obama’s own wars does not display the same accuracy or wisdom.
The Goldberg / Obama portrait is shaped largely by the choice of what to include. The primary focus is on Obama’s 2013 reversal of his plan to bomb Syria, with a minor emphasis on his negotiation of the Iran nuclear agreement. Much of his more militaristic behavior is completely ignored or brushed aside in passing reference. And even in those cases that come into focus, myths go unquestioned — even when they are debunked later in this same book-length article.
Goldberg writes as unquestioned fact that “Assad’s army had murdered more than 1,400 civilians with Sarin gas” many paragraphs prior to stating that one of Obama’s reasons for reversing course on bombing Syria was the CIA’s warning that this claim was “not a slam dunk.” Goldberg writes that “the strong sentiment inside the Obama administration was that Assad had earned dire punishment.” Thus a proposal to drop 500-pound bombs all over Syria, killing countless people, is made respectable in Washington by depicting it as revenge, and nowhere does Goldberg mention oil pipelines, a Russian rivalry, the overthrow of Assad as a step toward Iranian overthrow, or other factors actually at work for which the dubious chemical weapons claims served as an excuse to bomb.
Of course, not bombing was the right thing to do, and Obama deserves praise for it, while Hillary Clinton’s publicly stated belief that this was the wrong decision, and John Kerry’s continued private advocacy for bombing, are reprehensible. It’s also quite valuable that Obama does something rare in this article when he admits that public and Congressional and British opposition to bombing Syria helped prevent him from committing that crime. This is clearly not a false claim but the admission of what is generally denied by U.S. politicians whom even the public cheers for their usual pretense of ignoring polls and protests.
But the public was even more opposed in polls (if less engaged as activists) to arming proxies in Syria. Obama commissioned a CIA report on the past success or failure of such operations, and the CIA admitted there had been no successes (except in 1980s Afghanistan, which involved a bit of well-known blowback). So, Obama chose not, as he puts it, to “do stupid shit,” opting instead to do halfway stupid shit, which proved quite predictably to make matters worse, and to make cries for even stupider shit shriller.
In a similar manner, though it goes virtually unmentioned in Goldberg’s tome, Obama has launched wars with drones that he has viewed as the exercise of great restraint in comparison to the launching of ground wars. But the drone wars kill large numbers and do so just as indiscriminately, and they contribute to the destabilization of nations just as disastrously. When Obama was holding up Yemen as a model success, some of us were pointing out that the drone war had not replaced some other kind of war but would probably lead to one. Now, Obama, whose “doctrine” claims to have discovered the unimportance of the Middle East (in comparison with the supposed need to build up for wars in the Far East), is dealing unprecedented levels of weapons to Middle Eastern nations, first and foremost to Saudi Arabia. And Obama’s military is collaborating in the Saudi bombing of Yemen, which is killing thousands and fueling al Qaeda. Obama, through Goldberg, blames his Saudi policy on “foreign-policy orthodoxy,” which somehow “compels” him to do this particular stupid shit — if that’s a sufficiently harsh term for mass murder.
Obama’s Only-Do-Halfway-Stupid-Shit doctrine has proven most disastrous where it has succeeded in overthrowing governments, as in Libya. Obama now says that illegally overthrowing the Libyan government “didn’t work.” But the President pretends, and Goldberg lets him, that the United Nations authorized that action, that the best laid plans were made for after the regime change (in fact, none were), and that Gadaffi was threatening to slaughter civilians in Benghazi. Obama even seems to claim that things would have been even worse somehow without his criminal action. That he’s resumed bombing Libya in an effort to fix what he broke by bombing Libya gets the barest mention.
Obama’s doctrine has also included tripling down on the stupidest of stupid shit. Through Goldberg he blames the Pentagon for imposing an escalation of troops in Afghanistan on him, though the escalation he has in mind is clearly the second one he oversaw, not the first, the one that tripled the war he’d inherited, not the one that doubled it and which he’d promised as a candidate for the presidency. When military commanders publicly insisted on that escalation, Obama said nothing. When one of them made some minor rude comments to Rolling Stone, in contrast, Obama fired him.
Obama laughably claims to be an internationalist (in part, he brags, because he’s forced other countries to buy more weapons). This is the same Obama whose abuse of the U.N. in attacking Libya finally moved China and Russia to block a similar attempt on Syria. Obama even claims that he backed off bombing Syria in 2013 because the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the power of war. This is the same Obama who has since been bombing Syria and who told Congress in his final State of the Union speech that he’d wage wars with or without them — as he’s done in Libya, Somalia, Pakistan, Iraq, etc. Goldberg even quotes an “expert” characterizing the Obama doctrine as “spending less” despite Obama’s increases in military spending.
Goldberg’s Obama uses the military primarily for human rights, supported the uprising of the Arab Spring, and has developed a very sage and serious approach to ISIS based on his analysis of a Batman movie. ISIS, in Goldberg’s telling, was created by the Saudis and Gulf states plus Assad, with no mention of the U.S. role in destroying Iraq or arming Syrian rebels. In fact, Obama, through Goldberg, restates the imperial view that backward Middle Easterners suffer from millennia-old tribalism, while the United States brings humanitarian services to all it touches. In Obama-Goldberg history, Russia invaded Crimea, only the threat of war made Syria give up its chemical weapons, and Rwanda was a missed opportunity for war, not the result of U.S.-backed war and assassination.
“Sometimes you have to take a life to save even more lives,” says Obama confidant John Brennan, pushing the drone propaganda also found in the film, Eye in the Sky. Facts are apparently irrelevant to a portrait of a president. Obama, who signed an executive order last year ridiculously declaring Venezuela to be a national security threat tells Goldberg that he wisely came into office in 2009 and squashed any silly idea that Venezuela was any kind of threat. Goldberg’s Obama is a peacemaker with Russia whose weapons build-up on Russia’s border goes unmentioned, as does the coup in Ukraine, even as Obama packs insults of Vladimir Putin into this article.
The fact is that Barack Obama has slaughtered human beings with missiles and bombs in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia — and every one of those places is worse off for it. He’s passing his successor greater war-making powers than ever possessed by any previous member of the human species. The unquestioned assumptions of his doctrine look more like a disease. There’s little an American president could do to make things better in the Middle East, he says, never stopping to consider the possibility of halting arms shipments, stopping the bombings, grounding the drones, ceasing the overthrows, dropping support for dictators, withdrawing troops, paying reparations, giving aid, shifting to green energy, and treating others with respectful cooperation. Those sorts of things just don’t qualify as a doctrine in Washington, D.C.