Obama's seventh year: a World War 4 Report scorecard
World War 4 Report has been keeping a dispassionate record of Barack Obama's moves in dismantling, continuing and escalating (he has done all three) the oppressive apparatus of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) established by the Bush White House. This year, the stakes got much higher, with multiple foreign interventions in Syria and ISIS striking in Europe. On the night of Obama's 2016 State of the Union address, we offer the following annotated assessment of which moves over the past year have been on balance positive, neutral and negative, and arrive at an overall score:
Iraq: back to the quagmire
A new group of 450 military advisors was dispatched to Iraq last year, bringing the total of US troops in the country to 3,500. Many of these are fighting alongside the Kurds. We have no love for the entrenched political bosses that rule Iraqi Kurdistan, but at least the Kurdish forces are secular. Far worse are the sectarian Shi'ite militias that are eclipsing the increasingly fictional Iraqi national army. These sectarian militias are hardly less bloody than ISIS. The Pentagon may not be directly working with these militias, but it is indirectly backing them (at least) by backing their sponsor, the Shi'ite-supremacist regime of Haider al-Abadi. When Abadi took over as prime minister from Nouri al-Maliki in 2014, it was supposed to be a tilt away from Shi'ite supremacism. But the ultra-ugly Maliki remains vice president, and a significant behind-the-scenes power. Leaving Maliki in power with the supposed US "withdrawal" from Iraq in 2011 was a part of what gave rise to ISIS, driving Sunnis into their hands. Now the Shi'ite militias are continuing the work of enflaming sectarian war—again playing into the hands of the "Islamic State." Worse still, Obama is de-emphasizing the role of the Kurds in his public statements on Iraq so as not to offend Baghdad. This is a betrayal of the only effective and pro-secular anti-ISIS forces in the country. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has broached greater direct ground operations by US forces. American troops fighting alongside sectarian Shi'ite militias will make excellent propaganda for ISIS. Negative
Conniving with Assad and Erdogan—simultaneously!
It has been called a "strategy of equivocation," but you almost have to wonder how Obama squares it. The White House has now explicitly disavowed that it is seeking "regime change" in Syria—making the US tilt to Assad clearer than ever. Washington clearly now views Bashar Assad as a bulwark against the jihadists—even as his brutal reign continues to fuel their growth. Amazingly cynical and counter-productive. Meanwhile, Assad's bitter enemy, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, continues to enjoy US support. This even as Ankara has been conniving with ISIS and is continuing to bomb Kurdish anti-ISIS forces in Iraq! Erdogan is also waging a bloody counterinsurgency against Kurds in Turkey's own east. For a while it looked like the White House was giving Turkey a "green light" to attack the Kurdish anti-ISIS forces in Syria as well, but this has not come to pass—mostly. Turkish forces are harassing Kurdish militia at the border town of Tal Abyad. But Turkey has not been able to establish its desired "buffer zone" in what is now the autonomous Kurdish region. We give Obama credit for restraining Erdogan's most bellicose ambitions—and for backing the Kurdish-led Syrian Defense Forces (SDF), the most progressive and effective anti-ISIS force, in defiance of Erdogan. This somewhat mitigates our "negative" assessment. But Obama will not call out Erdogan publicly—much less threaten any censure or sanctions. And the US has imposed condescending conditions on aid to the Syrian rebels that they only use it to fight ISIS and not Assad. White House equivocation makes all too clear that the Kurds and their secular Arab allies could be thrown overboard tomorrow as Obama acquiesces in a carve-up by rival despots, and their allies like Putin and the Saudis. So: Negative
Nuclear deal with Iran
We are frankly not sure how to call this one. Most progressives are applauding it as a step towards peace—and maybe it does deprive Beltway hardliners seeking war on Iran of a justification. But the deal is cheering Bashar Assad, who anticipates more Iranian aid for his genocidal regime once sanctions are lifted against the Islamic Republic. And it deepens the paranoia of Saudi Arabia, fueling its brutal war in Yemen (about which more below). It is certainly telling that the nuclear deal comes as the US has embraced Iran as a (very ironic) "peace" partner in the UN-brokered talks on Syria. Even if you support the deal, you have to acknowledge the cynical political context. We're going to split the difference and call this one Neutral.
Blank check for Saudi war in Yemen
The White House has continued to approve arms sales to Saudi Arabia as it carries out its horrific aerial campaign in Yemen. Saudi Arabia is now accused of war crimes in Yemen, and the war is deepening sectarian hatred throughout the region—again playing into the hands of ISIS. The White House at least scolded Saudi Arabia over its execution of a Shi'ite dissident cleric earlier this month, which also enflamed the sectarian divide and tensions with Iran. But such scolding means little as the US provides fire-power for Riyadh's destructive war. Every day this goes on, the hole gets deeper. Very, very Negative.
Blank check for Egyptian dictatorship
The administration sent a report to Congress in June criticizing the Egyptian government for its human rights abuses and lack of progress toward democracy—but still supporting $1.3 billion to Cairo in mostly military aid! We noted last year that the White House had "unlocked" $575 million in military aid to Egypt that had been held up due human rights concerns. Empty finger-wagging, as the US underwrites the ongoing repression. We understand the reasoning here—the threat of ISIS, which is waging a vigorous insurgency in the Sinai peninsula. But again: brutal US-backed regimes like that of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi merely provide good propaganda for the "Islamic State." Negative
Blank check for Israel (of course)
Once again, despite the much-hyped mutual distaste between Obama and Bibi Netanyahu, there is (of course) not the slightest hint of a threat of withholding US aid to Israel—even as leaders of the Jewish state are openly broaching a genocidal solution to the Palestinian question: forced expulsions (euphemized as "transfer" or "banishments"), bombing explicitly aimed at massive civilian casualties, annexation of the occupied territories. We will note one faint and seemingly esoteric glimmer of principle: the Obama administration (like that of Bush before him) did fight in the courts for the power to list just "Jerusalem" and not "Jerusalem, Israel" as place of birth on a passport. The case was Zivotofsky v. Kerry, decided for the government by the Supreme Court last year. This is an implicit acknowledgement that Jerusalem is not part of Israel under international law. If this acknowledgement would be reflected in policy, it could put pressure on Israel and help establish Jerusalem (at least) as a model for equal co-existence between Palestinians and Israelis. Instead, under Israel's ongoing institutional land theft—both sides of the Green Line—Jerusalem has become ground zero for the orgy of mutual hatred. This is a notoriously tough nut to crack, but the US stance is a very big part of the problem. Negative
Afghanistan: non-withdrawal fuels Taliban resurgence
October's US air-strike on a hospital in Kunduz highlighted the horror of the ongoing war in Afghanistan. We noted last year that Obama's supposed "withdrawal" from Afghanistan was fictional, with air-strikes to continue and thousands of ground troops to stay behind—officially as "advisors." In addition to the Taliban resurgence we now see, ISIS has gained a foothold in Afghanistan over the past year. Over that same year, civilian casualties have soared—mostly at the hands of the insurgents, but a sign of the conflict's growing brutality. We must caution that US withdrawal is hardly a panacea for Afghanistan's ills—no more than the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 was. But at least some of the US air-strikes in Iraq and Syria are in support of secular indigenous ground forces. Even that can't be remotely claimed in Afghanistan. We take heart from the emergence of civil society voices in Afghanistan that reject both the jihadist insurgents and the reactionary warlord-dominated government. Every hospital or wedding party wiped out by US air-strikes serves up propaganda ammo to the jihadis, and weakens the position of this nascent civil opposition. Negative
Drone wars drone on ...and on
According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the CIA carried out 13 drone strikes last year in Pakistan, claiming up to 85 lives. (No figure is given for Pentagon strikes, and the CIA remains largely responsible for the drone program, despite proposals to transfer authority, as reported by CNN, Politico, CFR and other sources last year.) This is actually a decrease from the 2014 figures. But it brings total drone strikes under Obama in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen to upwards of 490, claiming over 1,000 lives. (In contrast, there were only 52 under Bush, killing 416.) The administration is even fighting in court to keep secret memoranda related to legal justifications for the use of drones. Some survivors of the strikes are suing the US. We wish them the best. This normalization of mechanized aerial terror is a profound Negative.
Japan's Diet last year approved legislation instating an expanded role for the nation's Self-Defense Forces, allowing foreign troop deployments for combat missions for the first time since World War II. The vote came amid massive protests, and was boycotted by the opposition. The new policy is on very dubious constitutional grounds, and enflames the renewed Sino-Japanese rivalry. The Obama administration is backing it to the hilt. Negative
Nobel Peace laureate Obama is carrying out a "modernization" of the US nuclear arsenal, making bombs smaller and more precise—thereby lowering the threshold for making the "unthinkable" thinkable. An "upgrading" of the nuclear bombs stationed in Europe is also part of this program. This is all being done quietly, and urgently demands greater attention. Negative
Normalizing relations with Cuba
The State Department last May removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terrorism as a step toward restoring diplomatic relations. In August, the US flag was raised over the re-opened embassy in Havana (see video at BBC). We must acknowledge the irony of lefties cheering the hoisting of the Stars and Stripes. As last year, we warn that corporate America seeks a recolonization of the island in the après-Castro—while the regime has no intention of lifting the pressure on civil society. Nor has Congress yet lifted the sanctions, despite support for the idea from the likes of the New York Times. So we must go into this with eyes open. Nonetheless, this is what we've been demanding for years—and here it is. Positive
Gitmo is still open—surprise!
The Obama administration continues to draw down the number of detainees at Guantánamo Bay by repatriating or resettling them abroad. The number now stands at 104—down from 132 a year ago. But despite his repeated pledges to close the prison camp, Obama continues to sign National Defense Authorization Acts with language barring the transfer of detainees to US soil. So the clock is ticking on whether he will be able to follow through on his promise. In September, a federal judge ordered the release of eight (redacted) videos showing forced feedings at Gitmo—over the protests of the government. The government also continues to resist legal challenges brought by detainees who say their internment at the facility was illegal. We must acknowledge Obama's efforts to close the facility in the face of Republican intransigence—but they are way too weak and cautious. We can't call this anything but a Negative.
Capitulating to the xenophobes
Obama has spoken out in forthright terms against the current paroxysm of xenophobia (including in his State of the Union), and did call for taking in 10,000 Syrian refugees—a substantial increase over the shamefully low number yet resettled in the US. But over the Christmas holiday, he ordered a new wave of deportations of Central American migrants. This makes a mockery of his 2012 move to instate elements of the DREAM Act even in the face of ugly Republican opposition. It smells of rank capitulation. What the fuck, Obama? Negative
Blocking Keystone XL... while pushing TPP
Here we have a positive that is arguably canceled out by a negative. Obama turned down the Keystone XL pipeline—at the same time that he is aggressively pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP will expand the power of corporations to challenge the cancellation of environmentally destructive projects through "Investor-State Dispute Settlement" mechanisms. Indeed, TransCanada is already suing the US over the Keystone cancellation under NAFTA provisions. We are going to be very generous and call this a Neutral.
Reversal on Arctic drilling —at least
Last year saw the rise and fall of Shell Oil's plan to begin offshore Arcitc drilling in Alaskan waters. They were dealt a definitive blow in October when the Interior Department cancelled pending Arctic offshore leases. We acknowledge that the idea here may be "banking" the oil under the sea, until currently depressed prices start to rise again. And we also must note that the administration is generally giving a free hand to resource industries operating on public lands. Nonetheless, we are going to be generous and call this a Positive.
"Fraudulent" climate deal
Here we must acknowledge that activist opinion is divided on the climate deal signed in Paris last month. Greenpeace hailed it as a breakthrough. But the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice points out that the 1.5 degree increase cap is "devastating" when you consider that we are already at a 0.8 degree increase over pre-industrial levels—to grimly foreboding effects. We're going to go with the assessment of James E. Hansen that this deal is a "total fraud," and call this a Negative.
Overall score: 75% Negative
Last year's score was 81.8% Negative