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Washington and the World

Chuck HagelFirst day on the job and Sec Def Chuck Hagel says the U.S. "can't dictate to the world." Whether you like the remark or not, you must admit that it does not sound like the Neo-Cons. It does, on the other hand, "sound" like Obama, but it does not match up too well with U.S. foreign policy during Obama's first term. So, is Hagel just matching Obama's "change" rhetoric, or does he actually have fundamental foreign policy reform in mind?

Iran comes to mind first. The U.S. has been trying to dictate to Iran ever since Iran helped Cheney-Bush put together a post-invasion Afghan government (and the argument could be taken back to 1950 for those who really want to think about the enduring patterns of history). Iran is front and center as a test of the true intentions of Washington, which has--correctly or not--built the U.S.-Iran nuclear dispute into a massive diplomatic time-bomb with all sorts of short-term fuses.

The reasons Washington has worked its way into such a mess are about as straight-forward as a plate of spaghetti, but most central is the confusion (intentional, surely, on the part of some) between a stated goal of nuclear transparency and the passion of many to enforce "Washington Rules" on the world. Will Washington finally put "on the table" the option of offering Iran security plus independence in return for nuclear transparency?

Pakistan comes to mind second. A society desperately challenged by economic difficulties, being ripped apart by terrorist-driven sectarian conflict, with an enormous "Indian territory" of mistreated and marginalized people who "ought" to be part of Afghanistan but are not thanks to the very nasty scheming of the British Empire back in the day when it was the Western power with troops in the Khyber Pass...Pakistan is no place for superficial, short-term, violent "solutions." Will Washington ground its drones and help Pakistan build civil society?

Gunship Archipelago is somewhat less time-sensitive but still serious. When you have a massive offensive military presence in every corner of the globe, especially in areas where the local people will always take offense at the presence of the American military, you make yourself a bull's eye and you are inevitably tempted to use the hammer in your hand, even if all you need to do is wash some diplomatic or cultural windows. Will Washington have the creativity to institute a zero-based review of overseas bases, requiring itself to justify the retention of each and every one?

Military-Industrial Complex Syndrome lies beneath it all. The U.S. maintains a military capability for destruction roughly equivalent to the whole rest of the world combined. Why? Does someone have plans to fight our enemies, our allies, and the neutrals all at the same time?

The core of the problem is not that  but the infinite profitability of the system, which is now so big it runs on momentum without any relationship between the size of the establishment or the expense of the arms and the global security situation. The U.S. has now reached the point where the economy is so unbalanced, the foreign policy so warped, and the rest of the world so frightened by the military-industrial complex that all that destructive power is actually undermining U.S. national security. Does the Obama Administration have the backbone to cut down to size the Military-Industrial Complex?

So, there's an agenda to keep our new Secretary of Defense busy.


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