Obama Says He'll Use Force Unilaterally to Protect "Vital Interests"

By David Swanson

There is much that I can agree with or tolerate in Barack Obama’s new article in Foreign Affairs. On the occupation of Iraq, he does not favor completely ending it, and he does not mention the ownership of oil, but he does say:

“[W]e must make clear that we seek no permanent bases in Iraq. We should leave behind only a minimal over-the-horizon military force in the region to protect American personnel and facilities, continue training Iraqi security forces, and root out al Qaeda.”

Obama is no George W. Bush. But then, neither was candidate Bush what he and Dick Cheney have been in office. And preferability to Bush is far too low a threshold, I think, to merit support as a candidate for president. It is an indication of how far to the right Washington opinions on war and peace have shifted, that a Democratic candidate for president can write the following:

“I will not hesitate to use force, unilaterally if necessary, to protect the American people or our vital interests whenever we are attacked or imminently threatened. We must also consider using military force in circumstances beyond self-defense….”

Elsewhere in the same article, Obama indicates that Iran and North Korea are nations he believes the United States should consider attacking. To his credit, Obama advocates talking first (albeit while imposing deadly sanctions on the Iranian people). But the option of unilaterally attacking in the name of “vital interests” is one he explicitly keeps open. The First Gulf War is a model he holds up. And he goes a step beyond Bush-Cheney doctrine by indicating that he will dispense with the pretense of self-defense.

It may be quaint in this day and age to point out that this is to advocate open criminality, that wars of aggression are crimes under international and US law. Yet, somehow I can’t help thinking this is important. No matter what noble interests a war is justified with, no matter how inclusive the coalition that supports a war, if the war is not fought in self-defense or with UN Security Council authorization it is illegal. And it is illegal for good reason: war is far more horrible than almost any wrong it can be used to right.

Obama would like to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons but says not one word about reducing US nuclear weapons. His concern is other people’s weapons. Obama appears completely oblivious to the fact that the US military is putting our grandchildren into debt and is funded at a rate greater than all of our supposed enemies’ militaries combined. Rather than leading the way toward disarmament, Obama promotes a larger military. And if that leads, as it must, to greater pressure to use that larger military, well that doesn’t seem to be a problem for Senator Obama.

For those who can stomach it, here’s the short section of Obama’s article devoted especially to the wise and generous American makers of weapons:

“To renew American leadership in the world, we must immediately begin working to revitalize our military. A strong military is, more than anything, necessary to sustain peace. Unfortunately, the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps, according to our military leaders, are facing a crisis. The Pentagon cannot certify a single army unit within the United States as fully ready to respond in the event of a new crisis or emergency beyond Iraq; 88 percent of the National Guard is not ready to deploy overseas.

“We must use this moment both to rebuild our military and to prepare it for the missions of the future. We must retain the capacity to swiftly defeat any conventional threat to our country and our vital interests. But we must also become better prepared to put boots on the ground in order to take on foes that fight asymmetrical and highly adaptive campaigns on a global scale.

“We should expand our ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the army and 27,000 marines. Bolstering these forces is about more than meeting quotas. We must recruit the very best and invest in their capacity to succeed. That means providing our servicemen and servicewomen with first-rate equipment, armor, incentives, and training — including in foreign languages and other critical skills. Each major defense program should be reevaluated in light of current needs, gaps in the field, and likely future threat scenarios. Our military will have to rebuild some capabilities and transform others. At the same time, we need to commit sufficient funding to enable the National Guard to regain a state of readiness.

“Enhancing our military will not be enough. As commander in chief, I would also use our armed forces wisely. When we send our men and women into harm’s way, I will clearly define the mission, seek out the advice of our military commanders, objectively evaluate intelligence, and ensure that our troops have the resources and the support they need. I will not hesitate to use force, unilaterally if necessary, to protect the American people or our vital interests whenever we are attacked or imminently threatened.

“We must also consider using military force in circumstances beyond self-defense in order to provide for the common security that underpins global stability — to support friends, participate in stability and reconstruction operations, or confront mass atrocities. But when we do use force in situations other than self-defense, we should make every effort to garner the clear support and participation of others — as President George H. W. Bush did when we led the effort to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991. The consequences of forgetting that lesson in the context of the current conflict in Iraq have been grave.”

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