Monday, June 20, 2011

What Is War Good For? That Depends On The Political Party In Pow-Pow-Power

The Republican Party has long been the party of war, and one has to go all the way back to Herbert Hoover, a committed pacifist, to find a Republican president who was not a hawk. Dwight Eisenhower gets a slide both because he inherited the Korean conflict and probably understood the horrors of war better than any president since George Washington.

So it is no surprise that war fits comfortably with the contemporary Republican embrace of American exceptionalism, neocon saber rattling trumping diplomacy, and rewarding rapacious defense contractors for their profit-making death machines and lavish campaign contributions.

So recent statements from House Majority Leader John Boehner, among other Republican bigs, questioning President Obama's embrace of the NATO-led mission against Moammar Quadaffi in Libya, as well as more muted criticism of the war in Afghanistan might appear to be a break with the party's bloody past.

It is not, of course, and is merely yet another manifestation of criticizing everything that Obama says and does.

As painful as the thought is, consider what the Republican response would be if John "One Hundred Year War" McCain had been elected president. Lock-step support for any military mission anywhere anytime for any reason.

That, of course, was the case during the Bush interregnum, and the greatest foreign policy blunder in American history: The wrong war at the wrong time in the wrong place, a conflict that has taken 4,400 American lives and was so expensive that in tandem with tax cuts for the rich drained the federal treasury and was an underlying cause of the worst recession since the Great Depression.

The come-lately views of Boehner over the war thing are balancing acts. This as noted is because these guys aren't against war in principle, only against wars that Obama is for.

Nevertheless, an argument can be made that the president's decision to commit the U.S. to a major role in Libya is troubling because he has all but ignored the War Powers Act while embracing the dubious legality of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, a law enacted in the legislative frenzy after the 9/11 attacks

Never mind that there would not have been a peep out of Republicans had Bush or McCain done the same thing.

No less troubling is the CIA's involvement in strikes against terrorists in Yemen, Pakistan and elsewhere, but here Obama again has used the legal cover AUFT to argue, again with dubious legality, that the CIA can be considered a military force when it suits the president.

There is an arrogance about this that does not become Obama and is sadly reminiscent of his predecessor and his predecessor's vice president and defense secretary.

When Robert Gates retires at the end of the month, he will have been the fourth longest serving secretary of defense. And without question the most competent of the modern era. (Ironically, Robert McNamara and Donald Rumsfeld, who were the longest serving, were among the worst.)

Appointed by President Bush after the unceremonious departure of Rumsfeld in December 2006, Gates has not been afraid to ax big shots, including the secretary of the Army and Army surgeon general over the Walter Reed Army Hospital Scandal, and the secretary of the Air Force and Air Force chief of staff over misshipments of nuclear weapons.

Gates became the first defense secretary to serve under two presidents when he was reappointed by Obama. He formed a formidable relationship with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld had marginalized Colin Powell and then Condoleeza Rice), presided over an enormous shift back toward conventional warfare from the slavish embrace of immensely expensive weapons system, backed Don't Ask Don't Tell and lifted the ban on women serving on submarines.

In a parting shot this month, Gates spoke a truth that has been evident for years: NATO hasn't pulled its weight practically from its inception in 1949 and the U.S. is tired of carrying the load, including three quarters of the cost of funding it.

And in a recent interview he acknowledged that the human costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had made him far more wary about unleashing the might of the American armed forces.

"When I took this job, the United States was fighting two very difficult, very costly wars," Gates told The New York Times. "And it has seemed to me: Let’s get this business wrapped up before we go looking for more opportunities."

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