Empire Under Obama
Obama’s global terror campaign is not only dependent upon his drone assassination program, but increasingly it has come to rely on the deployment of Special Operations forces in countries all over the world—reportedly between 70 and 120 countries at any one time. As Obama has sought to draw down the large-scale ground invasions of countries (as Bush pursued in Afghanistan and Iraq), he has escalated the world of covert warfare, largely outside the oversight of Congress and the public. One of the most important agencies in this global secret war is the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
JSOC was established in 1980 following the failed rescue of American hostages at the U.S. Embassy in Iran as “an obscure and secretive corner of the military’s hierarchy,” noted the Atlantic. It experienced a “rapid expansion” under the Bush administration and, since Obama came to power, “appears to be playing an increasingly prominent role in national security” and “counter-terrorism,” in areas which were “traditionally covered by the CIA.” One of the most important differences between these covert warfare operations being conducted by JSOC instead of the CIA is that the CIA has to report to Congress, whereas JSOC only reports its most important activities to the President’s National Security Council.
During the Bush administration, JSOC “reported directly” to Vice President Dick Cheney, according to award-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh (of the New Yorker), who explained that, “It’s an executive assassination ring essentially and it’s been going on and on and on…. Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on in the name of all of us.”
In 2005, Dick Cheney referred to U.S. Special Forces as “the silent professionals” representing “the kind of force we want to build for the future…a force that is lighter, more adaptable, more agile, and more lethal in action.” And without a hint of irony, Cheney stated: “None of us wants to turn over the future of mankind to tiny groups of fanatics committing indiscriminate murder and plotting large-scale terror.” Not unless those “fanatics” happen to be wearing U.S. military uniforms, of course, in which case “committing indiscriminate murder and plotting large-scale terror” is not an issue.
The commander of JSOC during the Bush administration—when it served as Cheney’s “executive assassination ring”—was General Stanley McChrystal, whom Obama appointed as the top military commander in Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, JSOC began to play a much larger role in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. In early 2009, the new head of JSOC, Vice Admiral William H. McRaven, ordered a two- week halt to Special Operations missions inside Afghanistan, after several JSOC raids in previous months killed several women and children, adding to the growing “outrage” within Afghanistan about civilian deaths caused by U.S. raids and airstrikes, which contributed to a surge in civilian deaths over 2008.
JSOC has also been involved in running a secret war inside of Pakistan, beginning in 2006, but accelerating rapidly under the Obama administration. The secret war was waged in cooperation with the CIA and the infamous private military contractor, Blackwater, made infamous for its massacre of Iraqi civilians—after which it was banned from operating in the country.
Blackwater’s founder, Erik Prince, was recruited as a CIA asset in 2004 and, in subsequent years, acquired over $1.5 billion in contracts from the Pentagon and CIA. Included among its leadership several former top-level CIA officials. Blackwater, which primarily hires former Special Forces soldiers, has largely functioned “as an overseas Praetorian guard for CIA and State Department officials,” who were also “helping to craft, fund, and execute operations,” including “assembling hit teams,” all outside of any Congressional or public oversight (it was technically a private corporation).
The CIA hired Blackwater to aid in a secret assassination program, which was hidden from Congress for seven years. These operations would be overseen by the CIA or Special Forces personnel. Blackwater has also been contracted to arm drones at secret bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan for Obama’s assassination program, overseen by the CIA. The lines dividing the military, the CIA, and Blackwater had become “blurred.” As one former CIA official commented, “It became a very brotherly relationship…. There was a feeling that Blackwater become an extension of the agency.”
The secret war in Pakistan may have begun under Bush, but it had expanded rapidly in the following years of the Obama administration. Wikileaks cables confirmed the operation of JSOC forces inside of Pakistan, with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani telling the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson (who would later be appointed ambassador to Egypt), that, “I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.”
Within the first five months of Obama’s presidency in 2009, he authorized “a massive expansion of clandestine military and intelligence operations worldwide,” granting the Pentagon’s regional combatant commanders “significant new authority” over such covert operations. The directive came from General Petraeus, commander of CENTCOM, authorizing Special Forces soldiers to be sent into “both friendly and hostile nations in the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Horn of Africa.” The deployment of highly trained killers into dozens of countries was to become “systemic and long term,” designed to “penetrate, disrupt, defeat, or destroy” enemies of the state, beyond the rule of law, no trial or pretenses of accountability. They also “prepare the environment” for larger attacks that the U.S. or NATO countries may have planned. Unlike with the CIA, these operations do not report to Congress or even need “the President’s approval.” But for the big operations, they get the approval of the National Security Council (NSC), which includes the president, as well as most other major cabinet heads of the Pentagon, CIA, State Department, etc.
The new orders gave regional commanders—such as Petraeus who headed CENTCOM, or General Ward of the newly-created AFRICOM—authority over special operations forces in the area of their commands, institutionalizing the authority to send trained killers into dozens of countries around the world to conduct secret operations with no oversight whatsoever. This new authority is given to multiple top military officials, who have risen to the top of an institution with no democratic pretenses. Regardless of who is president, this “authority” remains institutionalized in the “combatant commands,” which include:
· AFRICOM over Africa (est. 2007)
· CENTCOM over the Middle East and Central Asia (est. 1983)
· EUCOM over Europe (est. 1947)
· NORTHCOM over North America (est. 2002)
· PACOM over the Pacific rim and Asia (est. 1947)
· SOUTHCOM over Central and South America and the Caribbean (est. 1963)
· SOCOM as Special Operations Command (est. 1987)
· STRATCOM as Strategic Command over military operations to do with outer space, intelligence, and weapons (est. 1992)
· TRANSCOM handling all transportation for the Department of Defense
The State Department was given “oversight” to clear the operations from each embassy, just to make sure everyone was “in the loop,” unlike during the Bush years when it was run out of Cheney’s office without telling anyone else
In 2010, it was reported by the Washington Post that the U.S. has expanded the operations of its Special Forces around the world, from being deployed in roughly 60 countries under Bush to about 75 countries in 2010 under Obama, operating in notable spots such as the Philippines and Colombia, as well as Yemen, across the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia. The global deployment of Special Forces—alongside the CIA’s global drone warfare program—were two facets of Obama’s “national security doctrine of global engagement and domestic values,” in the words of the Washington Post, though the article was unclear on which aspect of waging secret wars in 75 countries constituted Obama’s “values.” Commanders for Special Operations forces have become “a far more regular presence at the White House” under Obama than George Bush, with one such commander commenting, “We have a lot more access…. They are talking publicly much less but they are acting more. They are willing to get aggressive much more quickly.” Such Special Operations forces deployments “go beyond unilateral strikes and include the training of local counterterrorism forces and joint operations with them.”
So not only are U.S. forces conducting secret wars within dozens of countries around the world, but they are training the domestic military forces of many of these countries to undertake secret wars internally, and in the interests of the United States Mafia empire.
One military official even set up a network of private military corporations that hired former Special Forces and CIA operations to gather intelligence and conduct secret operations in foreign countries to support “lethal action”: publicly subsidized, privatized accountability. Such a network was “generally considered illegal” and was “improperly financed.” When the news of these networks emerged, the Pentagon said it shut them down and opened a “criminal investigation.” Turns out, they found nothing “criminal,” because two months later, the operations were continuing and had “become an important source of intelligence.” The networks of covert-ops corporations were being “managed” by Lockheed Martin, one of the largest military contractors in the world, while being “supervised” by the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command.
Admiral Eric T. Olson had been the head of Special Operations Command from 2007 to 2011 and, in that year, Olson led a successful initiative—endorsed by the Chair of the Joint Chiefs Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates—to encourage the promotion of top special operations officials to higher positions in the whole military command structure. The “trend” was to continue under the following Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who headed the CIA from 2009 to 2011. When Olson left his position as head of Special Operations Command, he was replaced with Admiral William McRaven, who served as the head of JSOC from 2008 to 2011, having followed Stanley McChrystal.
By January 2012, Obama was seeking to move further away from large-scale ground wars such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, and refocus on “a smaller, more agile force across Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East.” Surrounded by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in full uniforms adorned with medals, along with other top Pentagon officials, President Obama delivered a rare press briefing at the Pentagon where he said that, “our military will be leaner, but the world must know the United States is going to maintain our military superiority.” The priorities in this strategy would be “financing for defense and offense in cyberspace, for Special Operations forces and for the broad area of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.”
In February 2012, Admiral William H. McRaven, the head of the Special Operations Command, was “pushing for a larger role for his elite units who have traditionally operated in the dark corners of American foreign policy,” advocating a plan that “would give him more autonomy to position his forces and their war-fighting equipment where intelligence and global events indicate they are most needed,” notably with expansions in mind for Asia, Africa, and Latin America. McRaven stated that, “It’s not really about Socom [Special Operations Command] running the global war on terrorism…. I don’t think we’re ready to do that. What it’s about is how do I better support” the major regional military command structures.
In the previous decade, roughly 80 percent of U.S. Special Operations forces were deployed in the Middle East, but McRaven wanted them to spread to other regions, as well as to be able to “quickly move his units to potential hot spots without going through the standard Pentagon process governing overseas deployments.” The Special Operations Command numbered around 66,000 people, double the number since 2001, and its budget had reached $10.5 billion, from $4.2 billion in 2001.
In March 2012, McRaven developed plans to expand special operations units, making them “the force of choice” against “emerging threats” over the following decade. McRaven’s Special Operations Command oversees more than 60,000 military personnel and civilians, saying in a draft paper circulated at the Pentagon that: “We are in a generational struggle…. For the foreseeable future, the United States will have to deal with various manifestations of inflamed violent extremism. In order to conduct sustained operations around the globe, our special operations must adapt.” McRaven stated that Special Forces were operating in over 71 countries around the world.
The expansion of global special forces operations was largely in reaction to the increasingly difficult challenge of positioning large military forces around the world and carrying out large scale wars and occupations, for which there is very little public support at home or abroad. In 2013, the Special Operations Command had forces operating in 92 different countries around the world, with one Congressional critic accusing McRaven of engaging in “empire building.” The expanded presence of these operations is a major factor contributing to “destabilization” around the world, especially in major war zones like Pakistan.
In 2013, McRaven’s Special Operations Command gained new authorities and an expanded budget with McRaven testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee that, “On any day of the year you will find special operations forces [in] somewhere between 70 and 90 countries around the world.” In 2012, it was reported that such forces would be operating in 120 different countries by the end of the year.
In December 2012, it was announced that the U.S. was sending 4,000 soldiers to 35 different African countries as “part of an intensifying Pentagon effort to train countries to battle extremists and give the U.S. a ready and trained force to dispatch to Africa if crises requiring the U.S. military emerge,” operating under the Pentagon’s newest regional command, AFRICOM.
By September 2013, the U.S. military had been involved in various activities in Algeria, Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde Islands, Senegal, Seychelles, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zambia, among others, constructing bases, undertaking “security cooperation engagements, training exercises, advisory deployments, special operations missions, and a growing logistics network.”
In short, Obama’s global war of terror has expanded to roughly 100 countries around the world, winding down the large-scale military invasions and occupations such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq, and increasing the “small-scale” warfare operations of Special Forces, beyond the rule of law, outside Congressional and public oversight, conducting “snatch and grab” operations, training domestic repressive military forces in nations largely run by dictatorships to undertake their own operations on behalf of the “Global Godfather.”
Make no mistake: this is global warfare. Imagine for a moment the international outcry that would result from news of China or Russia conducting secret warfare operations in roughly 100 countries around the world. But when America does it, there’s barely a mention, save for the passing comments in the New York Times or the Washington Post portraying an unprecedented global campaign of terror as representative of Obama’s “values.” Indeed, America has long been the Global Godfather applying the Mafia Principle of international relations in lock-step with its Western lackey organized crime “Capo” states such as Great Britain and France. Yet, under Obama, the president who had won public relations industry awards for his well-managed presidential advertising campaign promising “hope” and “change,” the empire has found itself waging war in roughly 100 nations, conducting an unprecedented global terror campaign, increasing its abuses of human rights, war crimes and crimes against humanity, all under the aegis of the Nobel Peace Prize-winner Barack Obama.
Whether the president is Clinton, Bush, or Obama, the empire of terror wages on its global campaign of domination and subjugation, to the detriment of all humanity, save those interests that sit atop the constructed global hierarchy. It is in the interests of the ruling elite that America protects and projects its global imperial designs. It is in the interests of all humanity, then, that the empire be opposed—and ultimately, deconstructed. It is the empire that rules and the empire that destroys and the empire that must, in turn, be demolished.
The world at large suffers the greatest hardships of the Western Mafia imperial system: entrenched poverty, exploitation, environmental degradation, war and destruction. The struggle against the empire cannot be waged and won from the outside alone. The rest of the world has been struggling to survive against the Western Empire for decades and, in truth, hundreds of years. For the struggle to succeed (and it can succeed), a strong anti-empire movement must develop within the imperial powers themselves and especially within the United States. The future of humanity depends on it.
Or…we could all just keep shopping and watching TV, blissfully blind to the global campaign of terror and war being waged in our names around the world. Certainly, such an option may be appealing, but ultimately, wars abroad come home to roost. As George Orwell once wrote: “The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. Hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance. This new version is the past and no different past can ever have existed. In principle the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or East Asia, but to keep the very structure of society intact.”
Andrew Gavin Marshall is a researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is project manager of The People’s Book Project, chair of the Geopolitics Division of The Hampton Institute, research director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project, and host of a weekly podcast with Boiling FrogsPost.