(Impact on Policy by Obama’s Presidency)
Prepared by Rey Claro Casambre for the Workshop on US Aggression and Military Intervention, Conference of Lawyers in the Asia-Pacific, September 18, 2010, SMX Convention Center, Manila, Philippines.
Brief Historical Background
From the beginning and up to the present, it has been US monopoly capital that dictates its global imperial thrust and policy, including or especially that in the Asia-Pacific region. It is thus the incessant drive for profit by exporting capital, exploiting cheap labor, and plundering the resources of weaker countries it subjugates and dominates that dictates the US’ global policies from trade to diplomacy to war. Also from the beginning, up to the present, this very same imperial thrust to oppress and exploit other peoples, has been carried out under the glossy mantle of altruism and benevolence, in the name of democracy, world peace, universal freedom and prosperity. Thus, human rights violations, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, have been committed over and over again not just in the name of world peace but even in God’s name.
>>> US aggression and military intervention in Asia-Pacific began at the turn of the 20th century, along with the rise of modern imperialism.
Using the blowing up of the US battleship Maine at the Havana harbor in Cuba as a pretext, the US declared war on Spain in 1898 and sent its invasion and occupation forces across the Pacific to seize the Philippine Islands from Spain and turn it into its colony and strategic military outpost and springboard in Asia,
By the accounts of its own generals, 1/6 of the population of Luzon or 600,000 Filipinos have been killed or died of disease after three years of the Fiipino-American War. This figure would rise to up to a million or around 1/6 of the Filipino population by the end of the pacification campaigns in 1916. The Filipino-American war was a virtual laboratory for US imperialism’s counter-guerrilla and counter-insurgency tactics that it would use and develop further in many more interventions and aggression especially in third world countries.
The emergence of the US from the Second World War in 1945 as the preeminent, most prosperous and most powerful, if most unscathed imperialist power on the globe allowed and thereafter used its military superiority to engage in aggression and intervention to preserve its supremacy and expand and consolidate its global hegemony.
In Asia it ruled over the Philippines and controlled Japan and had the biggest and most powerful military bases in the region. It set up the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), a military or security alliance to prevent socialism from spreading from Russia, China, Mongolia, North Korea and North Vietnam and deter the growth and spread of national liberation movements in the region. The US intervened in Korea to install its own puppet government in the South and prevent unification of North and South by subverting elections which Kim Il Sung of the DPRK would have won handily. In 1954 the US was poised to take over South Vietnam from the French when the latter left after the defeat at Dien Bien Phu.
The second half of the 20th century was marked by the US’ strong military presence in the region with large military bases and stationed troops in Korea, Japan and the Philippines and complete naval supremacy in the whole Pacific and Pacific coasts except the Russian coast on the Pacific. This strong presence was justified by the US and accepted by most countries in the region as a necessary counterfoil to the expansionist designs of China and the USSR. The Cold War was a handy excuse to maintain forces and conduct a host of military activities in the region. Nonetheless, US aggression and intervention in Indochina resulted in their defeat and the victory of national liberation forces in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Wherever there were US military bases,
The US lost its excuse for maintaining a large military force in Asia-Pacific, as elsewhere in the world, with the collapse of the USSR and Eastern European regimes in the early 90s, and with China’s opening up to the world capitalist system with the ascension of Deng Hsiao Peng to power in the late 1970s.
US Presence, Geopolitical Interest and Objectives in Asia-Pacific
The US Pacific Command stands as a symbol and expression of US power and its geopolitical interest in the Asia Pacific. It is the biggest of the US armed forces’ regional or theater commands, with 325,000 troops or 1/5 of the US armed forces. The diagram below, taken from its website, sums it up:
– (covers) 36 nations encompassing about half of the earth’s surface (another US PACOM document counts 48 countries within its area of responsibility)
– home to more than 50% of the world’s population (the population of East Asia is 1/3 of the world population)
– world’s six largest armed forces (China, US, Russia, India, North Korea, South Korea)
– Source of about 1/3 of US trade (USD 1.3 trillion worth or ½ of world trade passes through the waters of Southeast Asia)
– World’s three largest economies (US, China, Japan)
– Five nations allied with the US through mutual defense treaties (Australia, Japan, Philippines, South Korea, Japan)
US PACOM has 325,000 troops, 1/5 of the total US armed forces. One hundred thousand (100,000) of these are based in Japan and Korea alone.
These troops, specially the US Special Forces are also some of the most engaged in actual war or committed to “hot spots” such as in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Long before 9-11, the think tank Rand Corporation, came up with a study stressing the need for a permanent US military base in the Philippines especially for its long-range bombers. (see illustration)
US Aggression and Militarism under the Bush-led “War on Terror”
• The 9/11 attacks on the US became a new and effective pretext for the US to once again employ its military superiority to the hilt to expand and consolidate global hegemony , seize and control strategic resources, prevent the rise of a peer rival and ensure its preeminent position as sole superpower. It employed the combination of deception and force, with coercion and force as the main and decisive instrument.
The Bush regime conjured all sorts of lies (eg WMDs in Iraq), stirred intense fear and terror in the population, and invoked the name of God to justify or get away with wanton human rights violations and violations of international law such as violations of national sovereignty, disregard for UN Charter and General Assembly resolutions, The USA PATRIOT ACT, practice of rendition and detention in secret locations, targeted assassinations, degrading and inhumane treatment of detained suspected terrorists such as in Guantanamo and Abu Graib, etc are only some of the most notorious crimes of terror perpetrated by the US under the Bush regime in the name of “counter terrorism”.
Everyone knows now that the US invaded and occupied Afghanistan in order to install a friendly regime that would allow UNOCAL to lay out oil and natural gas pipelines from the Caspian region to the Indian Ocean. Further, occupying and having US military bases in Afghanistan would tighten US control over the region flanking China to the west. The military plans for invasion and occupation were complete long before 9/11. The US special forces and other troops used in the invasion had been training for years in the nearby Central Asian republics to familiarize with the terrain.
In January 2002, a few months after the invasion of Afghanistan, Bush declared Southeast Asia as the “second front in the war against terror” and promptly increased its forward presence and activities in the Philippines. The pretext was to crush the Abu Sayyaf, a small bandit group of Islamic militants whose leaders had trained and fought with the Al Qaeda in Afghanistan under the US CIA. In the same month, then US Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Nepal, offered the King and Prime Minister of Nepal US military assistance in going after the Nepalese revolutionaries led by the CPN-M, declaring that, “You have a Maoist insurgency that’s trying to overthrow the government, and this is really the kind of thing we are fighting all over the world.”
Numerous documents described the vision and design of the neoconservatives in preserving US supremacy through unilateralism and sheer military might backed by heavy spending for the military, at the same time feeding the military-industrial complex with fat contracts and government funding. But the neoconservatives’ design for global domination through the “war on terror” could not be fully implemented because of financial constraints arising from the global economic crisis, and political difficulties arising from prosecuting a basically unjust war.
US Aggression and Militarism in Asia-Pacific under Obama
The financial elite who decide and dictate US policy and global affairs – those in the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission and/or the Council on Foreign Relations — saw in Obama an effective instrument for “changing the face” of US imperial designs, with Bush’s ‘war on terror” already discredited and having difficulties even in maintaining, much less leading, its alliances.
Candidate Barack Obama campaigned –and won the Presidency – largely on a promise of reversing the Bush policies in pursuing what he called a “dumb war”, as well as allowing the bankers to screw the economy. But President Obama early on conceded that the “war on terror” was necessary to protect the USA and preserve world peace, stability and progress. He had since reversed not Bush’ policies and thrusts in relation to the War on Terror, nor on the US and global economy. but his own word and most of his promises.
In Asia-Pacific, the Obama regime has escalated tension in Northeast Asia with its year-long joint military exercises with South Korea. Using the sinking of a South Korean boat allegedly by the North Korean navy, the US and South Korea have embarked on the biggest military exercises involving 20,000 US and 56,000 US troops, 200
China – and for that matter any thinking person — has every reason to believe that these military exercises are directed more against China than against North Korea, especially with the US’ insistence that they would hold naval exercises on the Yellow Sea, within striking distance of Beijing and other major Chinese cities. China has long been identified by US policymakers as the most likely peer competitor of the US within 10-20 years.
Obama has not rescinded the US’ assertion that never again will it allow a competitor to even come close to challenging its supremacy. Obama has not taken back the US’ assertion of its “right to preemptive strike”— including or especially a nuclear attack – against any threat to its supremacy, and that includes even its allies. In this connection, the Obama regime has stepped up the US anti-ballistic missile program
Neither has Obama made good his promise of closing down the Guantanamo prison and stopping the practice of extraordinary rendition – using Special Forces operatives to grab suspected terrorists wherever they are and secretly whisking them off to secret “terrorist” prisons for interrogation and detention. Worse, the practice of “targeted killings” – a euphemism for assassinations – has increased under the Obama regime, nearly always accompanied by civilian “collateral damage” and destruction of civilian properties and infrastructure.
One of the campaign promises Obama has kept, though, was to increase US military presence and activity in Southeast Asia. Just recently, one of its mightiest war machines, the USS George Washington Carrier Group, docked in Manila ostensibly for rest and recreation. In the US field manual on Stability Operations, this is properly called a “show of force”.
Doubtless, all of these are dictated not so much by what US official documents and even military manuals call “US national interest” but the interest of a small group of financiers – the same parasites who have created the global financial and economic crisis and then used the regimes they control to siphon off trillions of public funds into their pockets. The US government under Bush and Obama have made possible the unprecedented reconcentration of immense wealth into the hands of a few finance capitalists while causing widespread hardship and suffering of billions of people all over the world
Obama continues to use deceit to cover up the real intentions and action of the US. He claims to have kept his promise of ending the combat role of the US and withdrawing US troops from Iraq. But in fact more than 50,000 US troops remain in Iraq, not counting mercenaries or “outsourced” troops under the US command. Obama proudly announces that the only mission of the remaining troops are (1) to train, advise and assist Iraqi security forces, (2) conduct counter-terrorist actions, and (3) protect US personnel and installations. What Obama does not say is that by current US military doctrine, all three missions (which belong to a wide range of military operations euphemistically called “stability operations”) inevitably involve combat operations.
The Obama regime has of late attempted to give a new and more benign face to its wars of aggression by ‘civilianizing” it and stressing the “primacy of non-military means”, even avoiding the use of the phrase “war against terrorism” and preferring to use “war of counter-insurgency” instead. But on the ground, the reality is that coercion and force, not deception, are the main instruments for suppressing resistance and protext, and for perpetuating the status quo.
Conclusion: Impact on Human Rights and Conflict
Peace and Human Rights have been two of the first casualties in the US-led “war on terror”. The sovereignty of nations have been flagrantly trampled upon. US troops are being given free reign to commit gross human rights violations with impunity. However, this is not without resistance.
(In the Philippines, leaders and activists of progressive organizations were systematically assassinated, arrested and tortured, involuntarily disappeared. Many more became victims of gross human rights violations committed with impunity by state security forces.
From the beginning, the intolerable hardships and suffering brought about on the people by the plunder of weaker economies and wars of aggression and intervention have pushed more and more people to protest and fight for their rights. Deception, pretexts, promises and excuses invariably work only at the start. The reality on the ground – the suffering and hardships, injustice, increasing poverty and death, etc. – inevitably reveal the truth. The more the people perceive the truth about the root causes of their misery and hardship. and find that strength is gained through collective action, the more that deception fails and force is increasingly resorted to by those who wish to retain the status quo.
Corollarily, the less the people perceive the truth about the roots of their hardship and miseries, about the role of state terrorism and imperialist aggression and intervention in suppressing their struggles in the name of “peace and security”, the less organized the people are in struggling for their rights, for justice and freedom, then the more that deception can succeed in perpetuating the ruling system that oppresses and exploits them.
The current global financial and economic crisis has wrought further hardships and misery on the peoples of the world. But it also allows more and more people worldwide to see and understand the roots of their suffering and pushes them to unite in common struggles to bring about genuine change.
This underscores the role which progressives – including you, progressive lawyers – can and must play. You can play a unique role in raising the awareness of your clients and strengthening their unity and resolve as you support their legal struggles. Laws, like wars, are basically intended to preserve and perpetuate the ruling system; and the harshness and anti-people bias of law is moderated only by the rights won through hard struggle by the people. Lawyers can serve the people well by defending, standing with and speaking for them in the courts of law. But no amount of arguments in the courts, even by the best and most courageous people’s lawyers, can liberate the people from the oppressive and exploitative system that those courts are designed to preserve. Peace and human rights cannot flourish where there is systemic oppression and exploitation by imperialism and its local reactionary partners. People’s lawyers need to combine their efforts inside the courtroom with the people’s struggles, as well as their own, outside.
Not being a lawyer, it is best that I leave the elaboration on this point, and acting upon it, to you.