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Foreign policy issues separating romney from obama


Apr 9, 2009
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(Moderator-I'm trying to comply with the statute. Let me know if I err and I will make whatever corrections are needed)


October 12, 2012

Peter Van Buren

When it comes to foreign - that is, military - policy, the gap between Barack and Mitt is slim to the point of non-existent on many issues, however much they may badger each other on the subject. ***without a smidgen of new thinking (guaranteed not to put in an appearance at any of the debates to come), we doom ourselves to more of the same.

*** here are five critical questions that should be explored (even if all of us know that they won't be) in the foreign policy-inclusive presidential debates scheduled for October 16 and 22 - with a sixth, bonus question, thrown in for good measure.

1. Is there an end game for the global war on terror?
The current president, elected on the promise of change, altered very little when it came to George W Bush's Global War on Terror (other than dropping the name). That jewel-in-the-crown of Bush-era offshore imprisonment, Guantanamo, still houses over 160 prisoners held without trial or hope or a plan for what to do with them. While the US pulled its troops out of Iraq - mostly because our Iraqi "allies" flexed their muscles a bit and threw us out - the war in Afghanistan stumbles on. Drone strikes and other forms of conflict continue in the same places Bush tormented: Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan (and it's clear that northern Mali is heading our way).

A huge national security state has been codified in a host of new or expanded intelligence agencies under the Homeland Security umbrella, and Washington seems able to come up with nothing more than a whack-a-mole strategy for ridding itself of the scourge of terror, an endless succession of killings of "al-Qaeda Number 3" guys. Counter-terrorism tsar John Brennan, Obama's drone-meister, has put it this way: "We're not going to rest until al-Qaeda the organization is destroyed and is eliminated from areas in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Africa, and other areas."

***: What's the end game for all this? Even in the worst days of the Cold War, when it seemed impossible to imagine, there was still a goal: the "end" of the Soviet Union. Are we really consigned to the Global War on Terror, under whatever name or no name at all, as an infinite state of existence?***

2. Do today's foreign policy challenges mean that it's time to retire the constitution?
A domestic policy crossover question here. Prior to September 11, 2001, it was generally assumed that our amazing Constitution could be adapted to whatever challenges or problems arose. ***

*** Starting on September 12, 2001, however, challenges, threats, and risks abroad have been used to justify abandoning core beliefs enshrined in the Bill of Rights. That bill, we are told, can't accommodate terror threats to the Homeland. Absent the third rail of the Second Amendment and gun ownership (politicians touch it and die), nearly every other key amendment has since been trodden upon.

The First Amendment was sacrificed to silence whistleblowers and journalists. The Fourth and Fifth Amendments were ignored to spy on Americans at home and kill them with drones abroad. (September 30 was the first anniversary of the Obama administration's first acknowledged murder without due process of an American - and later his teenaged son - abroad. The US has similarly killed two other Americans abroad via drone, albeit "by accident". )

So, candidates, the question is: Have we walked away from the US Constitution? If so, shouldn't we publish some sort of notice or bulletin?

3. What do we want from the Middle East?
Is it all about oil? Israel? Old-fashioned hegemony and containment? *** Are we worried about a nuclear Iran, or just worried about a new nuclear club member in general? Will we continue the 19th century game of supporting thug dictators who support our policies in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Libya (until overwhelmed by events on the ground), and opposing the same actions by other thugs who disagree with us like Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Syria's Bashar al-Assad? ***
Candidates, can you define America's predominant interest in the Middle East and sketch out a series of at least semi-sensical actions in support of it?

4. What is your plan to right-size our military and what about downsizing the global mission?
The decade - and counting - of grinding war in Iraq and Afghanistan has worn the American military down to its lowest point since Vietnam. Though drugs and poor discipline are not tearing out its heart as they did in the 1970s, suicide among soldiers now takes that first chair position. The toll on families of endless deployments is hard to measure but easy to see.

The expanding role of the military abroad (reconstruction, peacekeeping, disaster relief, garrisoning a long necklace of bases from Rota, Spain, to Kadena, Okinawa) seems to require a vast standing army. At the same time, the dramatic increase in the development and use of a new praetorian guard, Joint Special Operations Command, coupled with a militarized CIA and its drones, have given the president previously unheard of personal killing power. Indeed, Obama has underscored his unchecked solo role as the "decider" on exactly who gets obliterated by drone assassins.

So, candidates, here's a two-parter: Given that a huge Occupy Everywhere army is killing more of its own via suicide than any enemy, what will you do to right-size the military and downsize its global mission? Secondly, did this country's founders really intend for the president to have unchecked personal war-making powers?

5. Since no one outside our borders buys American exceptionalism any more, what's next? What is America's point these days?***

***Now, who we are and what we are abroad seems so much grimmer, so much less appealing (as global opinion polls regularly indicate). In light of the Iraq invasion and occupation, and the failure to embrace the Arab Spring, America the Exceptional, has, it seems, run its course.

America the Hegemonic, a tough if unattractive moniker, also seems a goner, given the slo-mo defeat in Afghanistan and the never-ending stalemate that is the Global War on Terror. Resource imperialist? America's failure to either back away from the Greater Middle East and simply pay the price for oil, or successfully grab the oil, adds up to a "policy" that only encourages ever more instability in the region. ***

So candidates, here are a few questions: Who exactly are we in the world and who do you want us to be? *** Without resorting to the usual "shining city on a hill" metaphors, can you tell us your vision for America in the world? ***
6. Bonus Question
***: How do you realistically plan to pay for it? For every school and road built in Iraq and Afghanistan on the taxpayer dollar, why didn't you build two here in the United States? When you insist that we can't pay for crucial needs at home, explain to us why these can be funded abroad. If your response is we had to spend that money to "defend America", tell us why building jobs in this country doesn't do more to defend it than anything done abroad.

Now that might spark a real debate, one that's long, long overdue.

Peter Van Buren, a 24-year veteran Foreign Service Officer at the State Department, spent a year in Iraq***"


And so,
it seems to some,
and I am one of them,
that in America
the establishment sow
devours her pigs and
gives her milk
to the EU and to Israel
and to Big Oil and to petropotentates.

And now, since both candidates are pushing us into the meatgrinder of endless war, the questions I ask myself are

* should I as much as vote for either candidate
when neither candidate bears any of the marks of a patriot
and when neither exhibits any of the attributes of a candidate
who is dedicated to the needs of our environment and our people and other earthlife?

*And, if I do vote for either of the two major presidential candidates,
which candidate's name should I mark on the ballot
in order show that I regard the other candidate to be the greater evil of the two?


Wise ol' monkey
Feb 6, 2011
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Okolona, KY
Granny says, "Dat's right, Obama goin' after dem terrorists wherever dey may be - where's Mali?
Pentagon Weighs US Military Options in Mali
October 23, 2012 — Pentagon officials on Tuesday neither confirmed nor denied reports that secret talks are under way between the United States and France on plans to bring northern Mali back under the control of the country's central government.
U.S. efforts to wrest control of much of northern Mali from Islamist militants have centered on enabling Washington’s partners in the region to win back control of the territory - and not by sending in U.S. troops to do the job. News reports this week say France is sending in drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, to do surveillance missions - something Pentagon officials say the United States has been doing for several months. Their targets are militants, including some with the al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb group, who have taken over large areas of northern Mali and sparked violence that U.S. officials are concerned might spread to other countries.

Thomas Dempsey, an analyst with the U.S. Defense Department’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies, says the violence has been partly a result of turmoil in Libya earlier this year. “There have been several rebellions in the north and that all came to a head earlier this spring, partly because of large numbers of former fighters from the Moammar Gadhafi regime in Libya returning to northern Mali and bringing with them significant numbers of arms,” Dempsay said.

Complicating efforts to regain control of the north is a humanitarian crisis brought on by a drought, and political turmoil in the capital, Bamako, in the south. Mali’s weak central government is under the control of a group of junior military officers who led a coup in March that prompted the United States to suspend direct military cooperation.

More Pentagon Weighs US Military Options in Mali

See also:

More Islamist Fighters Deploy in Northern Mali
October 22, 2012 - Hundreds of additional Islamist fighters have deployed in northern Mali, as neighboring countries make plans to send troops to the troubled nation.
According to witnesses, the fighters began deploying last week, after the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution asking West African bloc ECOWAS to submit its plans for a Mali force. Residents report seeing hundreds of Tunisian and Egyptian militants in the city of Gao, while many other militants went to the central town of Douentza, close to Malian army positions in Mopti.

Mali's interim government has called for help to oust Islamist militants who seized control of the north after a March military coup in the capital, Bamako. In an interview with VOA Monday, a spokesman for Islamist group Ansar Dine said he could not confirm an influx of foreign fighters.

But the spokesman, Sanda Ould Bouamama, said Muslims have an obligation to help the militants in what he called an unjust and illegal war against Islam. On Friday, Mali's interim president called for swift foreign intervention to retake the north.

More http://www.voanews.com/content/mail-fighters-deploy/1531035.html


3,200 African troops needed to fight Mali rebels
Oct 24,`12 -- The African Union on Wednesday pledged to mobilize an African military force to battle al-Qaida-affiliated groups controlling northern Mali.
African foreign ministers meeting at the African Union headquarters in Ethiopia agreed to write a final operational plan for the African-led force by the end of the month, as well as calling for arms and equipment to be provided for Mali's army from members and international partners. Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, the president of the Economic Community of West African States, told The Associated Press after Wednesday's closed-door meeting that roughly 3,200 troops would be needed.

Western officials have said the planned African-led military offensive is unlikely to begin before next year - despite growing concern about the terrorist threat militants there pose to the continent and the rest of the world. The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution earlier this month giving Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon 45 days to help Mali develop a plan to recover the occupied territory. The United States, France and Britain have said they will offer logistical support, but the invasion needs to be led by African troops.

Mali was once considered one of the only stable democracies in West Africa, but it has since plunged into chaos. Islamist groups, including al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, are the de facto rulers of the north. Ramtane Lamamra, the head of the African Union's Peace and Security Council, said the AU is willing to hold talks with armed groups in Mali if they unequivocally denounce links with terrorists and are willing to forgo their separatist agenda.

Separately, the AU council gave Sudan and South Sudan to reach an agreement on the contested region of Abyei and two weeks on the disputed border areas. South Sudan peacefully broke away from Sudan last year.

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