What America Knows How to Do Best
By Tom Engelhardt
It's pop-quiz time when it comes to the American way of war: three questions, torn from the latest news, just for you. Here's the first of them, and good luck!
Two weeks ago, 200 U.S. Marines began armed operations in"?:
g) Northern Mali
If you opted for any answer, "a" through "h," you took a reasonable shot at it. After all, there's an ongoing American war in Afghanistan and somewhere in the southern part of that country, 200 armed U.S. Marines could well have been involved in an operation. In Pakistan, an undeclared, CIA-run air war has long been underway, and in the past there have been armed border crossings by U.S. special operations forces as well as U.S. piloted cross-border air strikes, but no Marines.
When it comes to Iran, Washington's regional preparations for war are staggering. The continual build-up of U.S. naval power in the Persian Gulf, of land forces on bases around that country, of air power (and anti-missile defense s) in the region should leave any observer breathless. There are U.S. special operations forces near the Iranian border and CIA drones regularly over that country. In conjunction with the Israelis, Washington has launched a cyberwar against Iran's nuclear program and computer systems. It has also established fierce oil and banking sanctions, and there seem to have been at least some U.S. cross-border operations into Iran going back to at least 2007. In addition, a recent front-page New York Times story on Obama administration attempts to mollify Israel over its Iran policy included this ominous line: "The administration is also considering... covert activities that have been previously considered and rejected." So 200 armed Marines in action in Iran -- not yet, but don't get down on yourself, it was a good guess.
In Somalia, according to Wired magazine's Danger Room blog, there have been far more U.S. drone flights and strikes against the Islamic extremist al-Shabaab movement and al-Qaeda elements than anyone previously knew. In addition, the U.S. has at least partially funded, supported, equipped, advised, and promoted proxy wars there, involving Ethiopian troops back in 2007 and more recently Ugandan and Burundi troops (as well as an invading Kenyan army). In addition, CIA operatives and possibly other irregulars and hired guns are well established in Mogadishu, the capital.
In Yemen, as in Somalia, the combination has been proxy war and strikes by drones (as well as piloted planes), with some U.S. special forces advisors on the ground, and civilian casualties (and anger at the U.S.) rising in the southern part of the country -- but also, as in Somalia, no Marines. Central Africa? Now, there's a thought. After all, at least 100 Green Berets were sent in there this year as part of a campaign against Joseph Kony's Ugandan-based Lord's Resistance Army. As for Northern Mali, taken over by Islamic extremists (including an al-Qaeda-affiliated group), it certainly presents a target for future U.S. intervention -- and we still don't know what those three U.S. Army commandos who skidded off a bridge to their deaths in their Toyota Land Rover with three "Moroccan prostitutes" were doing in a country with which the U.S. military had officially cut its ties after a democratically elected government was overthrown. But 200 Marines operating in war-torn areas of Africa? Not yet. When it comes to the Philippines, again no Marines, even though U.S. special forces and drones have been aiding the government in a low-level conflict with Islamic militants in Mindanao.
As it happens, the correct, if surprising, answer is "i." And if you chose it, congratulations!
On August 29th, the Associated Press reported that a "team of 200 U.S. Marines began patrolling Guatemala's western coast this week in an unprecedented operation to beat drug traffickers in the Central America region, a U.S. military spokesman said Wednesday." This could have been big news. It's a sizeable enough intervention: 200 Marines sent into action in a country where we last had a military presence in 1978. If this wasn't the beginning of something bigger and wider, it would be surprising, given that commando-style operatives from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration have been firing weapons and killing locals in a similar effort in Honduras, and that, along with U.S. drones, the CIA is evidently moving ever deeper into the drug war in Mexico.
In addition, there's a history here. After all, in the early part of the previous century, sending in the Marines -- in Nicaragua, Haiti, the Dominican Repubic, and elsewhere -- was the way Washington demonstrated its power in its own "backyard." And yet other than a few straightforward news reports on the Guatemalan intervention, there has been no significant media discussion, no storm of criticism or commentary, no mention at either political convention, and no debate or discussion about the wisdom of such a step in this country. Odds are that you didn't even notice that it had happened.
Think of it another way: in the post-2001 era, along with two disastrous wars on the Eurasian mainland, we've been regularly sending in the Marines or special operations forces, as well as naval, air, and robotic power. Such acts are, by now, so ordinary that they are seldom considered worthy of much discussion here, even though no other country acts (or even has the capacity to act) this way. This is simply what Washington's National Security Complex does for a living.
At the moment, it seems, a historical circle is being closed with the Marines once again heading back into Latin America as the "drug war" Washington proclaimed years ago becomes an actual drug war. It's a demonstration that, these days, when Washington sees a problem anywhere on the planet, its version of a "foreign policy" is most likely to call on the U.S. military. Force is increasingly not our option of last resort, but our first choice.
Now, consider question two in our little snap quiz of recent war news:
In 2011, what percentage of the global arms market did the U.S. control?