The opening of Barack Obama’s second term made it clear that, despite all talk of ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there is to be no end to the state of permanent war either abroad or at home.
President Obama promises to end the war in Afghanistan after 13 years. But the Afghan people have every right to fear a repeat of what happened after Russia’s withdrawal in the early 1990s: no end to war, but an internecine struggle for power among multiple warlords, including the Taliban; and continued exploitation and violence directed at women, youth, workers, and national minorities.
Iraq, where Obama officially declared the war over in 2011, is still suffering from the sectarian and ethnic violence stimulated by the U.S. invasion and occupation. Iraq’s chaos and violence provides an example of the kind of “peace and stability” that imperialism could live with in Afghanistan and Syria, rather than self-determination of the masses.
The administration long ago made clear that it would use the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, not to reduce the size of the military, but to “pivot” to East Asia, pressuring China. Marines have been deployed in Australia, and 60% of U.S. warships are to be deployed in the Pacific by 2020, further militarizing an already tense region.
China has been increasingly forceful in territorial disputes with several other Asian nations over resource-rich uninhabited islands. Last year its warships confronted warships from both The Philippines and Japan. The latter even scrambled fighter jets. North Korea’s resumed nuclear weapons testing added fuel to the regional tinderbox.
Obama’s State of the Union address contained thinly veiled military threats against both North Korea and Iran. He did not mention the growing U.S. military presence across Africa. The new war in Mali accelerated its spread, with a drone base opening in Niger. Drone installations had already been established in Ethiopia and the Seychelles, and a base for special operations forces in Kenya. The steadily expanding permanent U.S. base in Djibouti serves as a hub for drone missions in the Horn of Africa and Yemen, and hosts other military aircraft and special ops forces.
The fact is that, while Obama boasted in the State of the Union “that America will complete its mission in Afghanistan and achieve our objective of defeating the core of al Qaeda,” his administration still claims war powers based on the 2001 authorization of force by Congress–essentially the declaration of a never-ending “war on terror.”
Those war powers apply in every country, including at home. They range from indefinite detention by the military to carrying out executions by drone; U.S. citizens and others can be designated as “enemies” and dispatched without charge or trial. In this sense, Guantanamo and Bagram show us our future.
The state’s ever-growing arsenal of surveillance and repression shows how seriously the rulers take the threat of revolt from below. They have not forgotten that the global economic crisis of capitalism is not over, nor have they forgotten that the Arab Spring’s revolutions opened up a new period of mass self-activity that spread to all continents.
THE WAR AT HOME
For over a decade, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks have been exploited to justify greater restrictions on dissent and on any kind of social movement. One area of almost seamless continuity between the Bush and Obama administrations is the use of the label “terrorist” to justify infiltrating and disrupting movements like Occupy and entrapping activists in violent plots hatched or fabricated by police spies. Barriers to warrantless wiretapping, to ever-expanding surveillance, to tracking our every phone call and email, are crumbling.
Gun-toting Tea Partiers are given more leeway than sign-carrying Occupiers; nonviolent peace groups are more likely to be listed as possible terrorist organizations than are abortion clinic bombers and “white nationalist” groups calling for the President’s assassination.
Where Obama has exceeded Bush and all other Presidents is in silencing whistleblowers. After taking office, he announced there would be no investigation or punishment of those who tortured detainees, of officials high and low who oversaw the torture, of lawyers who wrote the memos justifying torture–even of the CIA officers who destroyed videotapes of torture after the White House ordered their preservation.
The one person who was prosecuted was the whistleblower John Kiriakou, who confirmed to reporters the use of waterboarding. In January he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.
Whistleblower Donald Vance gave the FBI evidence that his employer, a private security firm in Iraq, was conducting illegal weapons trading. Vance and co-worker Nathan Erthel were arrested and tortured by U.S. troops. The Obama administration convinced a federal appeals court to dismiss their lawsuit against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Again, the torturer is exonerated and the torture victims are kicked to the curb!
Targeted for destruction is Wikileaks. A sealed indictment has been prepared for its founder, Julian Assange, according to a leaked memo. Jeremy Hammond has been jailed awaiting trial for nearly a year, charged with leaking documents from private security firm Stratfor, which spies on activists.
Army intelligence analyst Bradley Manning–the biggest source of leaked information, which exposed killings of Iraqi civilians and what the Guardian newspaper in England called a “portrait of a chaotic and failing war” in Afghanistan–languished in prison for nearly three years without trial, much of that time in degrading, inhumane conditions that could be called torture.
On Feb. 23, 70 demonstrations were held in several countries to mark 1,000 days of Manning’s confinement without trial. Like Manning himself, his supporters are fighting against repression at home at the same time they are fighting against the wars being waged abroad to maintain a global system of exploitation.
There are two worlds in every country, of the rulers and the ruled. The rulers’ permanent war is aimed at crushing challenges from below here as much as it is aimed at challenges from abroad. The only alternative to that state of war is tearing up this degenerate society root and branch and building a new one, abroad as well as at home.