Let’s face it, folks: We have another War President on our hands. And, if Hillary or Marco or anybody but Bernie is elected this year, we’ll have another one on our hands come November. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t bet on Bernie Sanders either. He doesn’t seem to know how many dictators North Korea has, and he just might be tempted to take them all out. It seems to be the one issue that unites all the candidates in the current presidential follies. Dictators, whether one or many, must go, wherever they are. Because there’s only room for one emperor in the world, and he lives in the big white house in Washington, D.C. You know, that’s the city named after the fellow who was offered a crown after leading his fellow citizens to independence, but decided he’d rather remain just plain folks.
How long ago that humble fellow lived — well, around 230 years ago. And, what has become of the office he decided he could accept from a grateful nation. True, we don’t call our presidents emperors, or even kings. But Augustus Caesar, the first Roman emperor, never took the title either. Just call me First Citizen, he told the folks back then. Same difference.
But, we digress.
Barack Obama came to power in 2009 as the candidate of Change You Can Believe In. Yes, he actually did campaign on that slogan, sort of the way Bernie Madoff promised you immediate profits from an investment you just had to trust him to make. But there were two very specific promises he did make: he would bring our ruinous and ruining wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to an end, and he would close down Guantanamo Bay, the symbol (and the actuality) of our national shame. Still counting, of course.
Obama wants us to believe that he really, really wants to close the prison he’s spent many millions to modernize on the soil Cuba rightfully claims as its own, but that Congress just won’t let him. Actually, he has all the power he needs to do this in his mere presidential, not imperial capacity. All he has to do is follow the law of the land — you know, the one about a fair and speedy trial for people kept in lockup for going on fifteen years — or basic international law. But sometimes emperors decide they can’t even act as presidents. That’s why Augustus kept the Roman Senate around. It’s a wise ruler who can always blame someone else for something he doesn’t want to do.
Obama was also specific about when he would get us out of Iraq — in August 2011, on the very date that his predecessor, George W. Bush, had promised to leave. Emperors can really be sticklers for agreements when they want to be. And, just to make sure we would take him at his word, he kept the very secretary of defense, Robert Gates, who had devised the date for Bush. I can still remember the thrilling ring of it: My fellow folks, I will get you out of the war I made my bones opposing way back when I was an obscure Illinois state senator, on exactly the date the man who got us into it promised. Not a day, not a minute sooner!
Well, there was one promise Barack Obama actually kept … sort of.
Yes, regular American combat forces did leave Iraq after August of 2011, at least as far as we know. But “training” forces remained to help the fledgling Iraqi army stand on its feet — you know, the army that, shaped up by our best and with no expense to the American taxpayer spared, fled before a few ragtag guerrilla units of ISIS, abandoning the country’s second largest city without firing a shot. That same army that, as our current defense secretary Ashton Carter confidently informs us, will soon retake the city with our loyal Kurdish allies, who just happen to hate the Iraqis’ guts.
Well, we may have left behind some of those mysterious “special forces” we like to make as a gift to any country we’ve once occupied, plus any number of the mercenaries we subcontract our wars to. But, the president assured us, we were really, finally out of Iraq as we turned our just and noble mission over to our fast Iraqi friends: the mission State Senator Obama had warned us would be neither just nor noble, and that in the nature of these things might never end.
Boy, did the young State Senator get that one right.
The regime in Baghdad we’d set up and that Iran has now inherited promptly let the northern and western provinces of Iraq become part of the new ISIS caliphate. No one seemed terribly to care, except for the populations left to ISIS’ tender mercies. It seemed an embarrassment, though, that our Enemy Number One was now in possession not only of Mosul but of a city, Ramadi, that our marines had fought and died twice to hold. Baghdad did finally have to pay attention too, because Ramadi is only eighty miles from it, and that threatened the interest of its new Iranian protectors too. So, a battle was joined to take it yet again, with the U.S. lending its air force to the fray. The city is now ours again, or theirs, Iraq’s and Iran’s, or its ruins are, since no stone there is left standing on another. Mosul can presumably look forward to the same fate, joining the historic cities of Syria and Yemen that are also no more.
Bottom line: we never did leave Iraq. And now we’re back. No one can say exactly why, or on whose presumed behalf, and with what ultimate objective. At least George W. Bush knew what he wanted out of Iraq, namely a gas station. But imperial wars are like that. You fight ‘em because you fight ‘em, and you’re there because you’re there.
Afghanistan seemed a little trickier, but, said the president, 2014 looked like a good date to be sort of, pretty much out of there too. Alas, that year has come and gone, and Regular Army is still on the ground, dug in for the long haul. No one speaks any longer of an exit date, but rather of permanent occupation, as in Japan and Korea. Our few ten thousands of soldiers and mercenaries can’t do anything but keep the Taliban from retaking Kabul, if that. The rest of the country is Anarchy Central. Stay tuned for much more of the same, with an or suicide bomber improvised explosive device blowing up an American platoon every now and then, or the occasional bombing of a hospital. Accidentally, of course.
Two and a half years ago, Barack Obama wanted to bomb Syria, but, in a humiliating debacle, couldn’t find any co-sponsors, even in Congress. Now that Russia has entered the country with its own objectives, we’ve begun dropping ordnance under cover of joining the block party that already includes units from Iran, Lebanon, Turkey and wherever else. We fight alongside Al Qaeda, yesterday’s Enemy Number One, on behalf of a phantom ally that gives no sign of actually existing except when it turns up to collect checks. The endgame, I guess, is that twenty million Syrians take up residence in Berlin, and start a new caliphate there.
Then there’s Libya. Five years ago, having clearly failed to learn his own lesson about not removing dictators without knowing who would take their place, Obama launched an unprovoked air war in the teeth of a surprisingly resistant Congress, which opposed before supinely funding it. That gave us the merry spectacle of Libya’s ruler of 42 years, Moammar Qaddafi, being publicly butchered to death, and turning the country into another branch office for ISIS. Now, with all of North Africa and the Sahel a jihadist playground, Obama speaks of putting troops into Libya, giving the African Command another country to play war in. (Oh, you didn’t know the Pentagon had its own Afrikakorps? Go ask Somalia, Nigeria, Niger, Uganda and Chad.)
One could go on, about the new military buildup in Eastern Europe, or how keeping China out of the Spratly islands will determine the course of human freedom. The point should be clear enough. Barack Obama, too, has never yet met a war he failed to embrace. We know that superhawk Hillary Clinton, the shrillest voice in the administration for bombing Syria and destroying Libya, would only up the ante, while the Republican candidates all vie for bragging rights about who would bomb ISIS back into the Stone Age faster. Even Bernie Sanders has toed the two-party line here, giving no indication that he would scale back our imperial deployment or end even one of our wars. It’s a point someone should take him up on. I know he voted against the Iraq War in 2002, as he reminds us ad nauseam. The question is, would he get us out of it now? Because you can bet the house that no one else will.