Our major post-9/11 wars are goners and the imagery of American war-making is heading downhill. The Iraq War was long ago left in the trash heap of history, while in Afghanistan the talk is now about “the zero option” — that is, about an irritated Obama administration making a lock, stock, and drone departure from that country as 2014 ends. Meanwhile, back in America, headlines indicate that the U.S. military stands trembling at the brink of evisceration, with the U.S. Army soon to return to pre-World War II levels of troop strength and all the services about to go on a diet in an era of belt-tightening. The only new arms being promoted are the ones Republicans are “up in” when it comes to the potential destruction of U.S. military might.
As it happens, the impression this leaves bears only the most minimal relationship to the actual U.S. global military posture of this moment. The Middle Eastern and Persian Gulf buildup around Iran remains massive, even as talks on that country’s nuclear program are underway. Despite the “zero option” media focus on Afghanistan, Obama administration officials seem determined that a residual force of trainers, mentors, and special operations types will remain in that country to anchor a rump war after combat troops leave this year. They clearly expect the successor to the recalcitrant President Hamid Karzai to sign the necessary bilateral security pact — even if at the last moment. As for the axe being taken to the Pentagon budget, it turns out, at worst, to be a penknife.
In the meantime, hardly noticed amid all the hoopla about future cuts to Army strength (which do indicate a genuine no-invasions-no-occupations-on-the-Eurasian-landmass change of strategy initiated in the late Bush years), there has been next to no attention paid to a striking piece of budgetary news: despite speculations about cuts to its fleet of aircraft carriers, the U.S. Navy is expected to keep its full contingent of 11 aircraft carrier strike groups — essentially 11 giant floating bases off the world’s coasts. This fits well with the Obama administration’s much ballyhooed “pivot” to Asia. As Michael Klare recently explained, that pivot is, at heart, a naval strategy (consonant with those 11 carriers) of ensuring ongoing control over the crucial energy sea lanes in the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, and the East and South China Seas through which China is going to have to import staggering amounts of liquid energy in the coming decades.
Finally, on a planet still impressively heavily garrisoned by Washington, hardly noticed by anyone and rarely written about, the U.S. military has for years been quietly moving into Africa in a distinctly below-the-radar fashion. This represents a major new commitment of American power in a world of supposed cutbacks, but you would never know it. If you’re a news jockey, every now and then you can catch a report, like David Cloud’s recently in the Los Angeles Times, which offers a brief snapshot of that process with, for instance, a head’s-up that 50 U.S. Special Operations troops have just been put on the ground at a “remote outpost” in Tunisia. However, only at TomDispatch, thanks to the reporting of Nick Turse, can you find an ongoing account of the U.S. military move into Africa, its planning, its implementation, and the destabilization and blowback that seem to accompany it. The Pentagon’s newest tactic for Africa, as he documents today: refight the colonial wars in partnership with the French. Just tell me: What could possibly go wrong?