Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Is "Overseas Contingency Operations" a case of doublespeak?

One possible (though not certain) sign that President Obama may be on the right track is the way that he’s attracting fire from dingbats on all sides, and not just the far-right.  One case in point that I feel compelled to comment on, off-schedule, was a load of tomfoolery offered on the Huffington Post by Ira Chernus, professor of religious studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder.  

In “Requiem for the War on Terror,” Chernus first  rightfully critiques some of the duplicity and malignity that were rife during the Bush Administration, whose bellicose terminology trumped-up an exaggerated state of emergency as an excuse for irrationality, theft and horrific national management.  

Only then, Chernus takes Obama to task for replacing  the "war on terror" (WoT) with an admittedly clumsy phrase -- “Overseas Contingency Operations.”    Granted, it is an  infelicitous choice, but Chernus sees this as just verbal legerdemain, replacing one excuse for imperialism with another.   Alas, here  he gets it all completely wrong.

But lets briefly revisit where Chernus was on-target.  Bush’s “War on Terror”  (WOT) was, indeed, a farcical Orwellian distraction, aimed at helping to rationalize imperialism, oligarchy and outright fraud.  But the worst crime inherent in the WOT is something so ironic -- and so offset from the standard political axis -- that it goes almost unremarked.  For you see, the "war on terror" was perpetrated by men who styled themselves as realpolitik pragmatists, but who were in fact totally idealistic and ideologically-driven fools.    If these fellows were imperialists, they were profoundly incompetent ones, who completely mangled all the goals that they cynically proclaimed.

The proof is right in front of us, in real world outcomes from the last two decades.  Pax Americana was at its very peak when they entered office.  Under Bill Clinton, we achieved the triple play sought by all previous top-nations, to be respected, liked and feared, in all of the best ways.   After the stunningly efficient Balkans Operation delivered Europe its first peace in 4,000 years, our alliances were firm, popularity high (even among most muslims), military readiness scored at maximum, science, economy and finances were all at peak health.  Above all, our twin reputations for both moral international behavior and rare-but-ferociously effective use of force meant that only suicidally determined maniacs would choose to challenge  the unipolar American Peace.

Sadly, such maniacs existed and made their enmity known.  Their extreme good luck coincided with a perfect storm of ill-fortune and bad moves on our part.  But the subsequent, rapid toppling of the Taliban only maintained and fostered the impression of invincibility that the skilled men and women of our security services spent decades building...

...only to see it all frittered away by the top political leadership casts.  By the very same neocons who uttered the language of force with their every breath.  There is the stunning irony!  American pre-eminence, the purported neocon goal, was virtually destroyed by the neocons.  Our alliances, military readiness, science, economic and social health were all savaged, as fully and effectively as if it had been done on deliberate purpose.

Can no one stare, agape, as I do, at the bizarre juxtaposition.  The liberals who claim to despise imperialism, are good at managing a (light-handed and generally beneficent) empire, while the imperialists prove calamitously bad at it?  If this causes cognitive dissonance, get over it.  There are literally dozens of other strange chords... like the fact that Democrats always guard our borders better, or that small businesses and stocks and budgets all do better under those supposed “free spenders.”  Live with it.

The crux.  There is absolutely nothing inconsistent about Barack Obama wanting to reverse the worst damage done to our world stature by the Bushite neocon gang.  That reversal can and must include restoring alliances, our science, our economic health... and yes, the military readiness and respect for American power that gave the world its longest and best peace since Roman times.  

Reflex liberals like Ira Chernus need to grow up. Just because the neocons stood for addle-pated, moronic, schoolyard imperialism, that does NOT mean abandoning Pax Americana is the logical response. (Recall that the American Peace was the brainchild of Democrats Truman, Marshall and Acheson.  After WWII, the GOP leaders wanted either isolationism or a spasm confrontation with Communism. This gentle imperium was a Democratic construct.)

Furthermore, just because the "war on terror" was trumped-up does not mean we aren't in a memic struggle of cultures!  One that confronts us with determined foes who wish to see us toppled, threatening our fragile Enlightenment with destruction and pain, unless we are willing to defend it.  Hopefully with skill and competence and courage and goodwill, as we did so effectively in the Balkans.  Indeed, that is the ONLY way it can be done, nowadays.

Just listen to the men and women of the US Officer Corps.  Obama is (tentatively) their dream come true.  It is time for democrats to get over the Vietnam war, at long last, and embrace the skilled people who were the worst victims of the Bush era.  Doing so (for one thing) would further isolate the neocons, politically.  It is also the right thing to do.

Alas, Chernus ignores all this, showing that he is a left-wing version of the same kind of doofus we had to suffer under on the right. For example, by failing utterly to distinguish between wars of emergency and wars of national policy.    And here is where we see the point behind Obama’s use of  the contorted term “Overseas Contingency Operations.”

George Bush couched all his overseas adventures in terms of an "emergency" for many reasons, above all so he could bypass contracting rules and award lavish deals to friends, thus helping them to steal billions.  But that hysterical word  "emergency" also covered many other sins, e.g. budget deceits and torture. It was also an excuse for calling up and abusing the reserves and national guard.  

Obama is firmly ending that betrayal.  His "Overseas Contingency Operations" terminology clearly and rightfully reclassifies our engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq as the other kind of war... wars of national policy, in which our armed forces will be used judiciously, carefully, efficiently to pursue rational goals, without using the crutch of a false "emergency" to excuse waste and fraud and concealment of pain. Above all, lacking the frantic justification of the “E-word,” operations that deal with international contingencies must be performed with careful attention to whether each step actually serves the long-term interests of both nation and civilization.  In other words, they have to be much more than worth the cost.

Should we EVER have wars of national policy?  The reflex of the left would be to shout "never!" Same with libertarians.  Americans are uncomfortable with outright imperial enforcement of policy goals by use of force. We don't like to view ourselves as being like Romans, nor should we!

 But until Pax Americana has a reasonable alternative, we should keep to George Marshall's plan, which worked pretty well, so far. Till some kind of wise law envelopes the planet, we have to be willing, at times, to police a dangerous and unruly world.  As the Balkans mission showed, it can be done sagaciously and well, triggering vast international acceptance and goodwill.  The crux is whether the Pax is being led by wise and good pragmatists, not vile and corrupt idealogues.

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