US policy veers toward war, nuclear arms upgrade

By Satur C. Ocampo
At Ground Level | The Philippine Star

Just as the “daang matuwid” promised to us has been turning out to be a potholed, crooked one, it seems that Americans are finding out how much President Barack Obama has veered away from the policies he had set at the beginning of his term, and for which they had voted him into office.

While originally he had vowed to pursue a “nuclear-free world” and wind down America’s foreign wars, now he is moving ahead to modernize its nuclear arsenals and facilities, and has again involved the US in an expanding war in Syria and Iraq without due authorization and public debate.

The arms-reduction policy was implemented during his first term (capped by a treaty with Russia in 2009), but today eight major nuclear-weapons plants and laboratories are planned for modernizing and rebuilding in America.

These dangerous directions in Obama’s entwined defense and foreign policy have been blasted by the International New York Times.

Featured in the newspaper this week was the inauguration in Kansas City of a “sprawling new plant… bigger than the Pentagon, full of futuristic gear and thousands of workers,” set to “modernize the aging weapons that the United States can fire from missiles, bombers and submarines.”

Huge spending is involved in the superpower project: it is estimated to cost $355 billion over 10 years, or $1 trillion over 30 years.

“After good progress in making nuclear bomb material more secure around the world,” the INYT noted, Obama has reduced his budget requests for that priority (from $700 million this year to $555 million in 2015). “This is a shortsighted and disappointing turn.”

Why disappointing? Obama’s earlier efforts induced 13 countries to dispose of their nuclear materials stockpiles, and 15 others to reduce theirs.

Expressing disappointment was former US Senator Sam Nunn, whose writings on nuclear disarmament reportedly had deeply influenced Obama’s earlier thinking. Unable to explain the shift, Nunn lamented: “The president’s vision was a significant change in direction. But the process has preserved the status quo.”

When he campaigned for the presidency in 2008, Obama called for a nuclear-free world and defined disarmament as the main goal of US defense policy under his administration.

In 2009, he conferred with Dmitri Medvedev, Russia’s president then, and they negotiated and signed a modest arms-reduction treaty, dubbed New Start, and pledged to work towards a nuclear-free world. The agreement calls on both sides to reduce their strategic arms deployments by 30% – from 2,200 to 1,550 on each side – by February 2018.

(Currently there are 16,300 nuclear weapons placed at 98 sites in 14 countries, according to the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. A long way to go yet towards arms control!)

But there was a hitch. To win the Senate’s approval of the treaty in 2010, Obama struck what the editorial called “a Faustian bargain” with the Republicans on the modernizing-rebuilding plan.

That political deal led to the situation where the Obama administration engages in “extensive atomic rebuilding while getting only modest arms reductions in return.” Worse, the rebuilding thrust is liable to re-stoke a nuclear arms race.

On the war in Syria, Thursday’s INYT editorial faults Obama for putting the US “at the center of a widening war” by conducting air strikes against the so-called Islamic State (of Iraq and Syria). This he has done “without allowing the public debate that needs to take place before the nation enters another costly war and potentially lengthy conflict in the Middle East.”

The Obama government lacks a convincing plan and authority to launch the airstrikes, the editorial avers, pointing out that it has failed to ask for or receive congressional authorization for such military action.

The White House office claims Obama “has all the authority he needs” under the 2001 law approving the use of force in Afghanistan and the 2002 law permitting the same in Iraq. He has also notified Congress of the military action in Iraq and Syria, invoking the 1973 War Powers Resolution.

In both instances, the editorial asserts, Obama erred and must secure congressional authorization.

The White House claims, moreover, that the airstrikes are legal under international law because they are done in defense of Iraq, referring to Iraq’s letter to the United Nations last September 20 complaining of the Islamic State attack on its territory and justifying US assistance to repel the attack.

“But the United Nations Security Council should vote on the issue,” counters the editorial.

Turning on the US Congress, the editorial upbraids it for “shamelessly ducking a vote on this critical issue.” Such evasion, it argues, “has deprived the country of a full and comprehensive debate over the mission in Syria and has shielded administration officials and military commanders from tough questions about every aspect of this operation – from its costs to its very obvious risks – that should be asked and answered publicly.”

Obama also must level off with the American people on why the airstrikes targeted two groups, “two enemies now, instead of one,” as the editorial notes: the Islamic State and Khorasan, a small group (“two dozen operatives”) allegedly linked to Al Qaida.

Information on Khorasan was withheld from the public whereas US intelligence “experts” claim – without showing proof – that it’s plotting to directly attack America and its allies.

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Published in The Philippine Star
September 27, 2014

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