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Predator Drone: American Foreign Policy Under Obama

Perry Anderson's analysis of Obama's foreign policy was first published in New Left Review in September 2013 and forms a part of American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers

Perry Anderson13 January 2017

Predator Drone: American Foreign Policy Under Obama

Democratic takeover of the White House in 2009 brought little alteration in American imperial policy. Continuity was signalled from the start by the retention or promotion of key personnel in the Republican war on terror: Gates, Brennan, Petraeus, McChrystal. Before entering the Senate, Obama had opposed the war in Iraq; in the Senate, he voted $360 billion for it. Campaigning for the presidency, he criticized the war in the name of another one. Not Iraq, but Afghanistan was where US firepower should be concentrated. Within a year of taking office, US troops had been doubled to 100,000 and Special Forces operations increased sixfold, in a bid to repeat the military success in Iraq, where Obama had merely to stick to his predecessor’s schedule for a subsequent withdrawal. But Afghanistan was not Iraq, and no such laurels were in reach. The country was not only half as large again in size, but much of it mountainous, ideal guerrilla terrain. It abutted onto a still larger neighbour, forced to permit American operations across its soil, but more than willing to provide sub rosa cover and aid to resistance against the occupying forces across the border. Last but not least, American support in the country was confined to minority groups — Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek — while the Afghan resistance was based on the Pathan plurality, extending deep into the Northwest Frontier. Added to all these obstacles was the impact of the war in Iraq itself. In the Hindu Kush it mattered, as in Brussels, Moscow, Beijing, Delhi, it did not. The Iraqi resistance, divided and self-destructive, had been crushed. But it had taken five years and a quarter of a million troops to quell it, and by giving the Taliban breathing space to become fighters for something closer to a national war of liberation, allowed the Afghan guerrilla to regroup and strike back with increasing effect at the occupation.

Desperate to break this resistance, the Democratic administration escalated the war in Pakistan, where its predecessor had already been launching covert attacks with the latest missile-delivery system. The RMA had flourished since Kosovo, now producing unmanned aircraft capable of targeting individuals on the ground from altitudes of up to thirty thousand feet. Under Obama, drones became the weapon of choice for the White House, the Predators of “Task Force Liberty” raining Hellfire missiles on suspect villages in the Northwest Frontier, wiping out women and children along with warriors in the ongoing battle against terrorism: seven times more covert strikes than launched by the Republican administration. Determined to show he could be as tough as Bush, Obama readied for war with Pakistan should it resist the US raid dispatched to kill Bin Laden in Abbottabad, for domestic purposes the leading trophy in his conduct of international affairs.1 Assassinations by drone, initiated under his predecessor, became the Nobel laureate’s trademark. In his first term, Obama ordered one such execution every four days — over ten times the rate under Bush.

The War on Terror, now rebaptized at presidential instruction “Overseas Contingency Operations” — a coinage to rank with the “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” of the Bush period — has proceeded unabated, at home and abroad. Torturers have been awarded impunity, while torture itself, officially disavowed and largely replaced by assassination, could still if necessary be outsourced to other intelligence services, above suspicion of maltreating captives rendered to them.2 Guantánamo, its closure once promised, has continued as before. Within two years of his election in 2008, Obama’s administration had created no less than sixty-three new counterterrorism agencies.3

Over all of this, the presidential mantle of secrecy has been drawn tighter than ever before, with a more relentless harassment and prosecution of anyone daring to break official omertà than its predecessor. War criminals are protected; revelation of war crimes punished — notoriously, in the case of Private Manning, with an unprecedented cruelty, sanctioned by the commander-in-chief himself. The motto of the administration’s campaign of killings has been, in the words of one of its senior officials, “precision, economy and deniability.” 4 Only the last is accurate; collateral damage covers the rest. Since the Second World War, presidential lawlessness has been the rule rather than the exception, and Obama has lived up to it. To get rid of another military regime disliked by the US, he launched missile and air attacks on Libya without congressional authorization, in violation both of the Constitution and the War Powers Resolution of 1973, claiming that this assault did not constitute ‘hostilities’, because no American troops were involved, but merely “kinetic military action.” 5 With this corollary to Nixon’s dictum that “if the President does it, that means it is not illegal,” a new benchmark for the exercise of imperial powers by the presidency has been set. The upshot, if less rousing at home, was more substantial than the raid on Abbottabad. The Libyan campaign, the easy destruction of a weak state at bay to a rising against it, refurbished the credentials of humanitarian intervention dimmed by the war in Iraq, and restored working military cooperation — as in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan — with Europe under the banner of NATO, Germany alone abstaining. An ideological and diplomatic success, Operation Odyssey Dawn offered a template for further defence of human rights in the Arab world, where these were not a domestic matter for friendly states.

A larger task remained. Gratified at the overthrow of two Sunni-based regimes by the US, Iran had colluded with the occupation of Afghanistan and of Iraq. But it had failed to make amends for the taking of the US embassy in Teheran, was not above meddling in Baghdad, and had long represented America as the Great Satan at large. These were ideological irritants. Much more serious was the clerical regime’s commitment to a nuclear programme that could take it within reach of a strategic weapon. Enshrining an oligarchy of powers with sole rights to these, the NPT had been designed to preclude any such development. In practice, so long as a state was sufficiently accommodating to the US, Washington was prepared to overlook breaches in it: nothing was to be gained by punishing India or Pakistan. Iran was another matter. Its possession of a regional weapon would, of course, be no threat to the US itself. But, quite apart from the unsatisfactory nature of the Islamic Republic itself, there was another and overriding reason why it could not be allowed the same. In the Middle East, Israel had long amassed a large nuclear arsenal of two to three hundred bombs, complete with advanced missile delivery systems, while the entire West — the United States in the lead — maintained the polite fiction that it knew nothing of this. An Iranian bomb would break the Israeli nuclear monopoly in the region, which Israel — without, of course, ever admitting its own weapons — made clear it was determined to maintain, if necessary by attacking Iran before it could reach capability.

The American tie to Israel automatically made this an imperative for the US too. But Washington could not simply rely on Tel Aviv to handle the danger, partly because Israel might not be able to knock out all underground installations in Iran, but mainly because such a blitz by the Jewish state risked uproar in the Arab world. If an attack had to be launched, it was safer that it be done by the superpower itself. Much ink had been spilled in the US and its allies over the Republican administration’s grievous departure from the best American traditions in declaring its right to wage preventive war, often identified as the worst single error of its tenure. Pointlessly: the doctrine long predated Bush, and the Democratic administration has continued it, Obama openly threatening preventive war on Iran.6 In the interim, just as Washington hoped to bring down the regime in Iraq by economic blockade and airwar, without having to resort to the ground invasion eventually rolled out, so now it hopes to bring the regime in Iran to its knees by economic blockade and cyber-war, without having to unleash a firestorm over the country. Sanctions have been steadily tightened, with the aim of weakening the social bases of the Islamic Republic by cutting off its trade and forcing up the price of necessities, hitting bazaari and popular classes alike, and confirming a middle-class and urban youth, on whose sympathies the West can count, in deep-rooted opposition to it.

Flanking this attack, while Israel has picked off Iranian scientists with a series of motorcycle and car-bomb assassinations, the administration has launched a massive joint US–Israeli assault on Iranian computer networks to cripple development of its nuclear programme. A blatant violation of what passes for international law, the projection of the Stuxnet virus was personally supervised by Obama — in the words of an admiring portrait, “Perhaps not since Lyndon Johnson had sat in the same room, more than four decades before, had a president of the United States been so intimately involved in the step-by- step escalation of an attack on a foreign nation’s infrastructure.” 7 Against Iraq, the US waged an undeclared conventional war for the better part of a decade, before proceeding to conclusions. Against Iran, an undeclared cyber-war is in train. As in Iraq, the logic of the escalation is clear. It allows for only two outcomes: surrender by Teheran, or shock and awe by Washington. The American calculation that it can force the Iranian regime to abandon its only prospect of a sure deterrent against an Iraqi or Libyan fate is not irrational. If the price of internal survival is to give way, the Islamic Republic will do so. Its factional divisions, and the arrival of an accommodating president, point in that direction. But should it not be endangered to such a point within, how likely is it to cast aside the most obvious protection against dangers without?

Happily for the US, a further lever lies to hand. In Syria, civil war has put Teheran’s sole reliable ally in the region under threat of proximate extinction. There the Baath regime never provoked the US to the degree its counterpart in Iraq had done, even joining Operation Desert Storm as a local ally. But its hostility to Israel, and traditional links with Russia nonetheless made it an unwelcome presence in the region, on and off the list of rogue states to be terminated if the chance ever arose. The rising against the Assad dynasty presented just such an opportunity. Any prompt repetition of the NATO intervention in Libya was blocked by Russia and China, both — but especially Russia — angered by the way the West had manipulated the UN resolution on Libya to which they assented for the uncovenanted barrage of Odyssey Dawn. The regime in Damascus, moreover, was better armed and had more social support than that in Tripoli. There was also now less domestic enthusiasm for overseas adventures. The safer path was a proxy war, at two removes. The US would not intervene directly, nor even itself — for the time being — arm or train the Syrian rebels. It would rely instead on Qatar and Saudi Arabia to funnel weapons and funds to them, and Turkey and Jordan to host and organize them.

That this option was itself not without risks the Democratic administration, divided on the issue, was well aware. As the fighting in Syria wore on, it increasingly assumed the character of a sectarian conflict pitting Sunni against Alawite, in which the most effective warriors against the Assad regime became Salafist jihadis of just the sort that had wrought havoc among Shi’a in Iraq, not to speak of American forces themselves. Once triumphant, might they not turn on the West as the Taliban had done? But was not that a reason for intervening more directly, or at least supplying arms more openly and abundantly to the better elements in the Syrian rebellion, to avert such a prospect? Such tactical considerations are unlikely to affect the outcome. Syria is not Afghanistan: the social base for Sunni rigorism is far smaller, in a more developed, less tribal society, and playing the Islamist card safer for Washington — not least because Turkey, the very model of a staunchly capitalist, pro-Western Islamism, is virtually bound to be the overseeing power in any post-Baath order to emerge in Syria, that will inevitably be much weaker than its predecessor. To date, fierce Alawite loyalties, tepid Russian support, a precarious flow of weapons from Teheran and levies from Hizbollah have kept the Assad regime from falling. But the balance of forces is against it: not only Gulf and Western backing of the rebellion, but a pincer from Turkey and Israel, their longtime collusion in the region renewed at American insistence. For Israel, a golden opportunity looms: the chance of helping to knock out Damascus as a remaining adversary in the region, and neutralize or kill off Hizbollah in the Lebanon. For the US, the prize is a tightening of the noose around Iran.

Elsewhere in the region, the Arab Spring that caught the administration by surprise, stirring some initial disquiet, has so far yielded a crop of equally positive developments for the US. Even had they the will, incompetent Islamist governments in Egypt and Tunisia, stumbling about between repression and recession, were in no position to tinker with the compliant foreign policies of the police regimes they replaced, remaining at the mercy of the IMF and American good offices. Sisi’s assumption of power in Cairo, once the temporary awkwardness of his path to it fades, promises a more congenial partner for Washington, with long-standing ties to the Pentagon. In the Yemen, a smooth succession from the previous tyrant has been engineered, averting the danger of a combustible popular upheaval by preserving much of the power of his family. In the only trouble spot in the Gulf, a timely Saudi intervention has restored order in Bahrain, headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet. For the Palestinians, masterly inactivity has long been taken as the best treatment. The Oslo Accords, written by Norwegian surrogates for Israel at American behest, have lost any credibility.

But time has taken its toll. The will of Palestinians to resist has visibly diminished, Hamas following down the same path of overtures to Qatar as earlier Fatah. With Arab support of any kind fast vanishing, could they not be left to rot more safely than ever before? If not, made to accept Jewish settlements on the West Bank and IDF units along the Jordan in perpetuity? Either way, Washington can reckon, they will eventually have to accept the facts on the ground, and a nominal statelet under Israeli guard.

A decade after the invasion of Iraq, the political landscape of the Middle East has undergone major changes. But though domestic support for its projection has declined, the relative position of American imperial power itself is not greatly altered in the region. One of its most trusted dictators has fallen — Obama thanking him for thirty years of service to his country — without producing any successor regime capable of more independence from Washington. Another, whom it distrusted, has been steadily weakened, sapped by proxy from the US. No strong government is on the horizon in either Egypt or Syria. Nor is Iraq, the Kurdish north virtually a breakaway state, any longer a force to be reckoned with. What the diminution of these populated centres of historic Arab civilization means for the balance of power in the region is a corresponding increase in the weight and influence of the oil-rich dynasties of the Arabian peninsula that have always been the staunchest supports of the American system in the Middle East.

Only where Arabic stops does Washington confront real difficulties. In Afghanistan, the good “war of necessity” Obama upheld against the bad “war of choice” in Iraq is likely to prove the worse of the two for the US, the battlefield where it faces raw defeat rather than bandaged victory.8 Over Iran, the US, wagged by the Israeli tail, has left itself with as little room for manoeuvre as the regime it seeks to corner. Though it has good reason to hope that Teheran will give way, should it fail to suborn or break the will of the Islamic Republic, it risks paying a high price for executing its threat to it. But even with these caveats, the Greater Middle East offers no disastrous quicksand for the United States. Islam, though alien enough to God’s Own Country, was never a monolithic faith, and much of its Salafist current less radical than anxious Westerners believed. The reality, long obvious, is that from the Nile Delta to the Gangetic plain, the Muslim world is divided between Sunni and Shi’a communities, whose antagonism today offers the US the same kind of leverage as the Sino-Soviet dispute in the Communist bloc of yesterday, allowing it to play one off against the other — backing Shi’a against Sunni in Iraq, backing Sunni against Shi’a in Syria — as tactical logic indicates. A united front of Islamic resistance is a dream from which American rulers have nothing to fear.

Strategically speaking, for all practical purposes the United States continues to have the Middle East largely to itself. Russia’s relative economic recovery — till 2013 still growing at a faster clip than America — has not translated into much capacity for effective political initiative outside former Soviet territory, or significant return to a zone where it once rivalled the US in influence. Seeking to “reset” relations with Moscow, Obama cancelled the missile defence system Bush planned to install in Eastern Europe, ostensibly to guard against the Iranian menace.

Perhaps as a quid pro quo, Russia did not oppose the UN resolution authorizing a no-fly zone over Libya, supposedly to protect civilian life, quickly converted by the US and its EU allies into a war with predictable loss of civilian life. Angered at this use of its green light, Putin vetoed a not dissimilar resolution on Syria, without offering notably greater support to the regime in Damascus, and temporizing with the rebels. Weakened by increasing opposition at home, he has since sought to make an impact abroad with a scheme for UN inspection of chemical weapons in Syria to avert an American missile attack on it. Intended to raise Moscow’s status as an interlocuteur valable for Washington, and afford a temporary respite to Damascus, the result is unlikely to be very different from the upshot in Libya. Born of the longing to be treated as a respectable partner by the US, naivety and incompetence have been hallmarks of Russian diplomacy in one episode after another since perestroika. Putin, fooled as easily over Libya as Gorbachev over NATO, now risks playing Yeltsin over Yugoslavia — thinking to offer weak help to Assad, likely to end up sending him the way of Miloševic. Whether Obama, rescued from the embarrassment of a defeat in Congress, will prove as grateful to his St Bernard as Clinton was for escape from the need for a ground war, remains to be seen. In the Security Council, Russia can continue to fumble between collusion and obstruction. Its more significant relationship with the US unfolds elsewhere, along the supply-lines it furnishes for the American war in Afghanistan. A foreign policy as aqueous as this gives little reason for Washington to pay over-much attention to relations with Moscow.

Europe, scarcely a diplomatic heavyweight, has required more. France and Britain, once its leading imperial powers and each anxious to demonstrate its continuing military relevance, took the initiative in pressing for an intervention in Libya whose success depended on American drones and missiles. Paris and London have again been ahead of Washington in publicly urging delivery of Western arms to the rebels in Syria. Anglo-French belligerence in the Mediterranean has so far failed to carry the whole EU behind it, over German caution, and is hampered by lack of domestic support. But the Union has nevertheless played its role as the enforcer of sanctions against all three foes of peace and human rights, Libya, Syria and — crucially — Iran. Though benefiting from a general European wish to make up with Washington after differences over Iraq, and the Anglo-French desire to cut a figure once more on the world stage, the Obama administration can legitimately claim it an accomplishment that Europe is not only beside it in supervising the Arab world, but on occasion even notionally in front of it, providing the best of advertisements for its own moderation in the region.


As under the second Bush, the priorities of Obama’s first term were set by the requirements of policing the less developed world. Lower down came the tasks of advancing the integration of the developed world. Chinese and later Russian entry into the WTO were certainly gains for the organization, but in each case the initiative was local, the negotiation a matter for bureaucratic adjustment, not major diplomacy, with no progress made on the Doha Round. With Obama’s second term, international commerce has moved back up the agenda. To consolidate ties with Europe, a Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement is now an official objective of the presidency. Sincetariffs are already minimal across most goods between the US and EU, the creation of an economic NATO will make little material difference to either bloc — at most, perhaps, a yet greater share of Continental markets for American media companies, and entry of GM products into Europe. Its significance will be more symbolic: a reaffirmation, after passing squalls, of the unity of the West. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, launched by Washington somewhat earlier, is another matter. What it seeks to do is prise open the Japanese economy, protected by a maze of informal barriers that have frustrated decades of American attempts to penetrate local markets in retail, finance and manufactures, not to speak of farm products. Successful integration of Japan into the TPP would be a major US victory, ending the anomaly that its degree of commercial closure, conceded in a Cold War setting, has represented in the years since, and tying Japan, no longer even retaining its mercantilist autonomy, more firmly than ever into the American system of power. The willingness of the Abe government to accept this loss of the country’s historic privilege reflects the fear in the Japanese political and industrial class at the rise of China, generating a more aggressive nationalist outlook that — given the disparity between the size of the two countries — requires US insurance.

Overshadowing these developments is the shift in response to the growing power of the PRC in America itself. While Obama was commanding successive overt and covert wars in the Greater Middle East, China was becoming the world’s largest exporter (2010) and greatest manufacturing economy (2012). In the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008–2009, its stimulus package was proportionately three times larger than Obama’s, at average growth rates nearly four times as fast.

Pulled to attention by the strategic implication of these changes, the administration let it be known that it would henceforward pivot to Asia, to check potential dangers in the ascent of China. The economies of the two powers are so interconnected that any open declaration of intent would be a breach of protocol, but the purpose of such a pivot is plain: to surround the PRC with a necklace of US allies and military installations, and — in particular — to maintain American naval predominance across the Pacific, up to and including the East China Sea. As elsewhere in the world, but more flagrantly, an undisguised asymmetry of pretensions belongs to the prerogatives of empire, the US regarding as natural a claim to rule the seas seven thousand miles from its shores, when it would never permit a foreign fleet in its own waters. Early on, Obama helped to bring down a hapless Hatoyama government in Tokyo for daring to contemplate a change in US bases in Okinawa, and has since added to its seven hundred-plus others in the world with a marine base in northern Australia,9 while stepping up joint naval exercises with a newly complaisant India. The pivot is still in its early days, and its meaning is as much diplomatic as military. The higher US hope is to convert China, in the language of the State Department, into a responsible stakeholder in the international system — that is, not a presumptuous upstart, let alone menacing outsider, but a loyal second in the hierarchy of global capitalist power. Such will be the leading objectives of the grand strategy to come.

How distinct has Obama’s rule been, as a phase in the American empire? Over the course of the Cold War, the US presidency has amassed steadily more unaccountable power. Between the time of Truman and of Reagan, staff in the White House grew tenfold. The NSC today — over two hundred strong — is nearly four times as large as it was under Nixon, Carter, or even the elder Bush. The CIA, whose size remains a secret, though it has grown exponentially since it was established in 1949, and whose budget has increased over tenfold since the days of Kennedy — $4 billion in 1963, $44 billion in 2005 at constant prices — is in effect a private army at the disposal of the president. So-called signing statements now allow the presidency to void legislation passed by Congress, but disliked by the White House. Executive acts in defiance of the law are regularly upheld by the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, which furnished memoranda on the legality of torture, but even its degree of subservience has been insufficient for the Oval Office, which has acquired its own White House Counsel as a still more unconditional rubber stamp for whatever it chooses to do.10 Obama inherited this system of arbitrary power and violence, and like most of his predecessors, has extended it. Odyssey Dawn, Stuxnet, Targeted Killing, Prism have been the coinages of his tenure: war that does not even amount to hostilities, electronic assault by long-distance virus, assassination of US citizens, along with foreign nationals, wholesale surveillance of domestic, along with foreign, communications. The executioner-in-chief has even been reluctant to forego the ability to order the killing without trial of an American on native soil. No one would accuse this incumbent of want of humane feeling: tears for the death of schoolchildren in New England have moved the nation, and appeals for gun control converted not a few. If a great many more children, most without even schools, have died at his own hands in Ghazni or Waziristan, that is no reason for loss of presidential sleep. Predators are more accurate than automatic rifles, and the Pentagon can always express an occasional regret. The logic of empire, not the unction of the ruler, sets the moral standard.

The principal constraint on the exercise of imperial force by the United States has traditionally lain in the volatility of domestic opinion, repeatedly content to start but quick to tire of foreign engagements should these involve significant American casualties, for which public tolerance has dropped over time, despite the abolition of the draft — even the very low loss of American life in Iraq soon becoming unpopular. The main practical adjustments in US policy under Obama have been designed to avert this difficulty. The official term for these in the administration is rebalancing, though rebranding would do as well. What this watchword actually signifies are three changes. To reduce American casualties to an absolute minimum — in principle, and in some cases in practice, zero —  there has been ever increasing reliance on the long-distance technologies of the RMA to obliterate the enemy from afar, without risking any battlefield contact. Where ground combat is unavoidable, proxies equipped with clandestine funds and arms are preferable to American regulars; where US troops have to be employed, the detachments to use are the secretive units of the Joint Special Operations Command, in charge of covert warfare.

Lastly, reputable allies from the First World should be sought, not spurned, for any major, or even minor, undertaking: whatever their military value, necessarily variable, they provide a political buffer against criticism of the wisdom or justice of any overseas action, giving it the ultimate seal of legitimacy — approval by the “international community.” A more multilateral approach to issues of global security is in no way a contradiction of the mission of the nation to govern the world. The immovable lodestone remains US primacy, now little short of an attribute of national identity itself.11 In the words of Obama’s stripling speechwriter Benjamin Rhodes, now deputy national security advisor: “What we’re trying to do is to get America another fifty years as leader.” The president himself is not willing to settle for half a loaf. In over thirty pronouncements, he has explained that all of this, like the last, will be the American Century.12


1. “When confronted with various options during the preparations, Obama personally and repeatedly chose the riskiest ones. As a result, the plan that was carried out included contingencies for direct military conflict with Pakistan”: James Mann, The Obamians: The Struggle Inside the White House to Redefine American Power, New York 2012, p. 303; “There was no American war with Pakistan, but Obama had been willing to chance it in order to get Bin Laden.”

2. For the Obama administration, murder was preferable to torture: “killing by remote control was the antithesis of the dirty, intimate work of interrogation. It somehow seemed cleaner, less personal,” allowing the CIA, under fewer legal constraints than the Pentagon, “to see its future: not as the long-term jailers of America’s enemies but as a military organization that could erase them” — not to speak of anyone within range of them, like a sixteen-year-old American citizen in the Yemen not even regarded as a terrorist, destroyed by a drone launched on presidential instructions: Mark Mazzetti, The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army and a War at the Ends of the Earth, New York 2013, pp. 121, 310–1.

3. Dana Priest and William Arkin, Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State, New York 2011, p. 276.

4. David Sanger, Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power, New York 2012, p. 246.

5. For this escalation in executive lawlessness, see the sober evaluation of Louis Fisher, “Obama, Libya and War Powers,” in The Obama Presidency: A Preliminary Assessment, Albany 2012, pp. 310–1, who comments that according to its reasoning, “a nation with superior military force could pulverize another country and there would be neither hostilities nor war.” Or as James Mann puts it, “Those drone and air attacks gave rise to another bizarre rationale: Obama administration officials took the position that since there were no American boots on the ground in Libya, the United States was not involved in the war. By that logic, a nuclear attack would not be a war”: The Obamians, p. 296.

6. For long-standing American traditions of preventive war, see Gaddis’s upbeat account in Surprise, Security and the American Experience. For Obama’s continuance of these, see his declaration to the Israeli lobby AIPAC in the spring of 2011: “My policy is not going to be one of containment. My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. When I say all options on the table, I mean it.”

7. Sanger, Confront and Conceal, p. X.

8. To avert this fate, the agreement signed between the US and the Karzai regime in 2012 ensures American bases, airpower, special forces and advisers in Afghanistan through to at least 2024, over a decade after exit from Iraq.

9. Far the best analytic information on US bases is to be found in Chalmers Johnson’s formidable trilogy: see the chapters on “Okinawa, Asia’s Last Colony” in Blowback, p. 36 ff; “The Empire of Bases” — 725 by an official Pentagon count, with others devoted to surveillance “cloaked in secrecy” — in The Sorrows of Empire, pp. 151–86; and “US Military Bases in Other Peoples’ Countries” in Nemesis, taking the reader through the labyrinth of Main Operating Bases, Forward Location Sites and Cooperative Security Locations (“lily pads,” supposedly pioneered in the Gulf): pp. 137–70. Current revelations of the nature and scale of NSA interception of communications worldwide find their trailer here. Unsurprisingly, given the closeness of cooperation between the two military and surveillance establishments, former British defence official Sandars, in his survey of American bases, concludes with satisfaction that “the United States has emerged with credit and honour from the unique experience of policing the world, not by imposing garrisons on occupied territory, but by agreement with her friends and allies”: America’s Overseas Garrisons, p. 331.

10. For this development, see Bruce Ackerman, The Decline and Fall of the American Republic, Cambridge, MA 2010, pp. 87–115.

11. As David Calleo wrote in 2009: “It is tempting to believe that America’s recent misadventures will discredit and suppress our hegemonic longings and that, following the presidential election of 2008, a new administration will abandon them. But so long as our identity as a nation is intimately bound up with seeing ourselves as the world’s most powerful country, at the heart of a global system, hegemony is likely to remain the recurring obsession of our official imagination, the idée fixe of our foreign policy”: Follies of Power: America’s Unipolar Fantasy, Cambridge 2009, p. 4.

12. Rhodes: The Obamians, p. 72; Obama: Bacevich, ed., The Short American Century, p. 249.


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