‘Liberal Global Order’: How Bush’s Neocons Crafted Obama’s Policy Of Endless War


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By MintPress News Desk

 

Foreign policy analysts at the Brookings Institution urged Obama to begin ‘the provision of lethal assistance by an American-led coalition’ to Syrian rebels, while acknowledging the presence of al-Qaida fighters among their ranks.

Robert Kagan (center). speaks at the "Reagan in a World Transformed," event in February, 2011, at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. (Photo: flickr/cc/Miller Center)

Robert Kagan (center). speaks at the “Reagan in a World Transformed,” event in February, 2011, at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. (Photo: Flickr/CC/Miller Center)

Despite campaign promises to draw down U.S. involvement in wars in the Middle East in an atmosphere of fear and anti-war sentiment inspired by President George W. Bush’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, Barack Obama’s legacy has been one of widespread military intervention and empire-building.

Under the influence of neoliberal policy advisors, the Obama administration has bombed seven countries. In less than six years, President Obama had bombed twice as many countries as Bush did in eight. Meanwhile, under Obama’s watch, U.S. troops or special forces are now present in over 135 countries, on almost every continent.

Big Bets and Black Swans: A Presidential Briefing Book,” a report published in January 2013 by the Brookings Institution, one of the most influential Washington think tanks, was intended to guide Obama in his second term. Since the report’s scope is global, and its authors are neoliberal thought leaders, the document provides an intriguing glimpse into the neoliberal philosophies that shaped Obama’s entire presidency and his foreign policy choices from the Middle East to Eastern Europe.

Many of the writers also served as advisors to Bush, helping to craft the foreign policy that led to the Iraq War and the seemingly endless — and highly profitable — instability in the Middle East.

“A Plastic Moment to Mold a Liberal Global Order,” a memorandum included in the briefing book as a “Big Bet,” offers a handy definition of neoliberalism and its origins — all from the perspective of neoliberals themselves.

The memo’s authors, Martin Indyk and Robert Kagan, pinpoint the rise of neoliberalism and the liberal global order to the aftermath of World War II. “The liberal world order established after the Second World War — characterized by a free, open international economy, the spread of liberal democracy, and the deepening of liberal, peaceful norms of international behavior — is fraying at the edges,” they wrote.

After World War II, neoliberals within the Pentagon and the U.S. government saw an opportunity for the United States to dominate a “grand area” of the globe through economic policy and military might. U.S. foreign policy led to conflict with other world superpowers as the United States engaged in proxy conflicts in countries like Vietnam and Syria and used trade deals like NAFTA or the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership to eliminate barriers to the global flow of finances. Under the guise of “spreading democracy,” the United States and its Western allies have installed governments that promote Washington’s global agenda while also supporting the overthrow of governments that don’t.

Kagan and Indyk continued, comparing the post-war period to the modern era:

“Today, we are at another ‘plastic juncture.’ Will America turn inward and away from an increasingly messy world? Or will we launch a new effort to strengthen and extend, both geographically and temporally, the liberal world order from which Americans and so many others around the world have benefited?”

This piece of guidance directed at Obama can also be found in the archive of Hillary Clinton’s emails taken from her private server, and indexed by WikiLeaks. It’s likely that the report was widely circulated in the White House and even influenced Clinton’s foreign policy platform during her unsuccessful bid for president in 2016.

Obama and Clinton, Obama’s secretary of state and would-be successor, consistently sought to “strengthen and extend” U.S. power and empire. But, from the victory of President-elect Donald Trump to the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and the election of Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, there are signs the world is beginning to reject neoliberalism and Western domination.

A report like “Big Bets and Black Swans” can not only provide insight into Obama’s foreign policy decisions, but also illuminate the forces that led to the rejection of neoliberalism by so many voters.

 

Indyk and Kagan and their ‘plastic moment’

Secretary of State John Kerry stands with former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk at the State Department as he announces that Indyk will shepherd the Israeli Palestinian peace talks beginning in Washington, Monday, July 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Secretary of State John Kerry stands with former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk at the State Department as he announces that Indyk will shepherd the Israeli Palestinian peace talks beginning in Washington, Monday, July 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

“It is a time of uncertainty and instability for the world, and for the United States; but it is also a moment of opportunity,” Martin Indyk and Robert Kagan wrote.

The authors, two of the most influential neoliberal policymakers, bear a closer look.

Kagan, a U.S. foreign policy adviser with decades of accumulated influence in Washington, is a senior fellow at Brookings, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century. Working with PNAC, an immensely influential neoconservative Washington think tank, Kagan helped to craft President George W. Bush’s foreign policy plans, including the Iraq War, which left 1 million or more people dead and created a massive refugee crisis.

Indyk is the vice president and director for foreign policy at Brookings, but he began his career as a deputy research director at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group with a massive bipartisan influence on U.S. politics. He later served as a U.S. ambassador to Israel, and as assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs under President Bill Clinton. In 1993, as executive director and founder of the Washington Institute For Near East Policy, he also proposed a policy of “dual containment,” under which the United States would simultaneously push for regime change in Iraq and Iran through a variety of methods, including military and economic means. This policy would influence decades of American foreign policy and lead to further destabilization of the Middle East.

Indyk and Kagan emphasized the importance of continuous U.S. intervention in foreign affairs during a time of widespread unrest, writing:

“Today, we are at another ‘plastic juncture.’ Will America turn inward and away from an increasingly messy world? Or will we launch a new effort to strengthen and extend, both geographically and temporally, the liberal world order from which Americans and so many others around the world have benefited?”

“How then to take advantage of this plastic moment to mold the changing global order to best serve the United States and humankind?” the authors asked as a segue to introducing their recommendations to the president.

Those recommendations closely align with U.S. foreign policy of the past four years. The authors call for U.S. intervention in the Iran nuclear program, urge Washington to promote global free trade deals, and recommend that the United States continues its pivot to Asia in order to limit China’s influence on world affairs.

“This will mean continuing to deepen America’s Asian alliances, especially with the new leaderships in Tokyo and Seoul; building new partnerships with the nations of the region; and playing a major role in supporting regional cooperation,” they wrote.

Under Obama, the United States deepened its influence throughout Asia through its pivot to the region, which focuses on China, in particular, and supported trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership despite international protest. The United States funded “color revolutions” in Brazil and Hong Kong, while supporting similar instability and neo-fascist regime change operations in Ukraine as a way counter Russia’s influence on European markets. Throughout Obama’s two terms, the United States sought to undermine the economic influence of Russia and China, two of the biggest economic rivals to neoliberalism and U.S. empire, often by targeting their allies in BRICS, the bloc of emerging economies including Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

While praising Obama for his increased involvement in Asia, Indyk and Kagan also urged continued U.S. domination of Europe and especially the Middle East. They wrote:

“Since the end of the Second World War, the United States has played the key security role in all three regions at once; there is no safe alternative to that. This is particularly true in the Middle East, where many nations look to the United States for both protection and assistance.”

Neoliberals ‘shaping Syria’s future’

Syrian rebels attend a training session in Maaret Ikhwan near Idlib, Syria.

US backed Syrian rebels attend a training session in Maaret Ikhwan near Idlib, Syria.

Far from rolling back U.S. involvement in the Middle East, the United States continued to fight wars, including in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, during the Obama administration. In the Syrian civil war, Washington continued to push for the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar Assad by supplying weapons to the “so-called” moderate rebels, many of whom are actually members of al-Qaida and other extremist organizations.

“The Road Beyond Damascus,” a memorandum included in “Big Bets” written by Michael Doran and Salman Sheikh, reflects the influence of Washington’s neoliberals on U.S. policy in Syria, and the continuous pressure on Obama to increase the U.S. military involvement in the Syrian conflict.

In 2013, Sheikh was the director of the Brookings Doha Center, which provides neoliberal analysis on Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and other Gulf countries.

Until 2014, Doran had served as senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East politics, a part of the Brookings Institution originally established by a grant from Haim Saban, a billionaire media mogul and political mega-donor who has spent millions to advance Israel’s agenda in the United States.

The WikiLeaks archive of diplomatic cables shows that Israel, together with its allies in the United States and Saudi Arabia, planned to overthrow the Syrian government as far back as 2006. More recently, Israel has used the unrest in Syria to expand its illegal settlements and oil drilling in the occupied Golan Heights, which Israel annexed from Syria in 1981 despite international opposition.

Given Doran’s involvement and Indyk’s influence, it should come as no surprise that the memoranda urge Obama to take a more militaristic approach to Syria. Sheikh and Doran openly call for Assad’s overthrow and for the United States to take a leading role in establishing a successor government more amenable to Western interests.

“Through active intervention you can help ensure a more stable transition to a post-Assad order that will provide a better future for the Syrian people and a strategic gain for the United States and its regional friends,” Doran and Sheikh advised, warning that if the United States failed to take on “a more active leadership role,” “the trend toward warlordism and sectarian fragmentation will likely prove inexorable.”

Key to Doran and Sheikh’s recommendations is that Obama arm the so-called “moderate” rebels. They wrote:

“To stave off disaster and play a leadership role in shaping Syria’s future, the United States should provide lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition, forge a genuine national dialogue that includes Alawis and Christians, and create an International Steering Group (ISG) to oversee and lend support to the transitional process, including the creation of an international stabilization force to provide protection to Syrian civilians.”

Signs of that “stabilization force” can be seen in the presence of the “White Helmets,” a purportedly all-volunteer team that rescues Syrian victims of war. The group is actually funded by Western interests, including USAID and British mercenaries, and helps to promote a pro-intervention agenda.

Doran and Sheikh openly acknowledge al-Qaida’s presence amid the rebel forces, but urge Obama to arm these groups. They wrote:

“To be sure, the fragmentation of the rebels and the presence among them of al-Qaeda fighters present daunting challenges. There is no guarantee, for instance, that some weapons will not find their way to al-Qaeda. Nor will the internal divisions within the FSA be overcome without internecine bloodletting.”

Under Obama, the United States made repeated attempts to train Syrian forces, all of which ended in failure. Extremists had such easy access to weapons and other materiel supplied by the West to “moderate” rebels that a February 2016 report from the BBC described it as a “Wal-Mart” for extremists. Rebel forces armed by the Pentagon and groups armed by the CIA even engaged in direct conflict in March.

 

‘No-fly zones’ and the future of US involvement in Syria

In this photo taken on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Syria President Bashar Assad arrive for their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia. President Bashar Assad was in Moscow, in his first known trip abroad since the war broke out in Syria in 2011, to meet his strongest ally Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The two leaders stressed that the military operations in Syria_ in which Moscow is the latest and most powerful addition_ must lead to a political process. (Alexei Druzhinin, RIA-Novosti, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Syria President Bashar Assad arrive for their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia. Experts warn that Russia may react militarily to attempts at creating a no-fly zone in Syria. Oct. 20, 2015. (Alexei Druzhinin/AP)

One policy recommendation from “The Road Beyond Damascus” which Obama did not implement was the use of a no-fly zone in Syria to help rebels and their Western allies overthrow Assad.

Sheikh and Doran wrote:

“[W]e encourage you to communicate to Assad and his allies that the United States is willing to intervene to establish a no-fly zone with its European and regional allies to protect civilians in Syria. We believe this would hasten Assad’s demise, hearten the opposition, and significantly enhance American credibility in the region.”

Although foreign policy analysts and neoliberal NGOs have frequently called for a “humanitarian” no-fly zone in Syria, a no-fly zone is actually a deliberate act of war that could not only further destabilize the region, but potentially provoke a war with Russia. Spencer Ackerman, national security editor for The Guardian, explained the risks in an Oct. 25 analysis:

“The proposal of no-fly zones has been fiercely debated in Washington for the past five years, but has never attracted significant enthusiasm from the military because of the risk to pilots from Syrian air defenses and the presence of Russian warplanes.

Many in US national security circles consider the risk of an aerial confrontation with the Russians to be severe.”

Obama was resistant to the idea of a no-fly zone in Syria during both of his terms in office, but Hillary Clinton and Vice President-elect Mike Pence have called for a no-fly zone in Syria.

However, President-elect Trump had previously expressed his opposition to the idea of a no-fly zone, and has indicated that his administration will seek to normalize relations with Russia.

While Trump’s victory could be a sign of an American rejection of neoliberalism, his policy on Syria puts him in conflict with not just his own vice president, but numerous powerful voices in the military-industrial complex. And despite his repeated promises to “drain the swamp” of Washington insiders, Trump’s already begun to fill his administration with many of the same figures who shaped an expansive and militaristic foreign policy under George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

As with so many other statements the unpredictable and erratic president-elect made on the campaign trail, it remains to be seen how Trump will guide the future of American involvement in the Syrian civil war.

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