Paul Buhle : An ‘Obama Force’ (Swords into Plowshares)

“Beating Swords into Plowshares.” Photo by I Like.

For an ‘Obama Force’
(Aka a foreign policy note from the Left)

By Paul Buhle / The Rag Blog / January 3, 2009

The blogosphere is now thick with foreign policy discussions about the impending new administration, and on the Left side, sharply divided between those with substantial hope (that is, evidence through appointments), especially Tom Hayden; and those with less than no hope–and a great deal of anticipatory hostility. Among the most hopeful and precise, but without any location that I know of on the political scale is, interestingly, Deepak Chopra.

Let me make a small contribution without presuming that I am doing much but providing food for thought, and to harsh critics, a moving target. We might informally call this orientation: “Demobilize the Empire.”

What I propose is an “Obama Force,” that is a much scaled-down military or peace-converted military with an entirely different purpose than the military-intelligence establishment of the present. I call it the Obama Force because in carrying out peaceful, reconstruction-related activities, it would transform the views of the majority of the world toward the US, realizing a hope that is identified practically everywhere, even in nations like Colombia with popular but severely repressive rightwing rulers, with the three words “Barack Hussein Obama.”

What would the Obama Force look like? Nearly all the bases for US military occupation abroad would be closed or phased into other tasks, done in such a fashion that no future president could easily reverse the direction and restore the occupations constant since, at least, 1945. Most clearly, the signal to be sent to the world is that the reorientation of the military from Western Europe toward the oil lines of the Third World would not continue. It would be made clear that the US presence, if it continued, would not be related to US corporate interests, and would not halt the repatriation of resources from US (or any other) foreign so-called investors.

The military forces would also be democratized, through the formation of an American Servicemen’s Union or some such successor to older unionization efforts. Officers would be forbidden to stop these activities. Also, retiring and retired officers would be forbidden to join the boards of corporations building equipment or offering supplies to tax-funded purchases. This would close down the most bloated sector of the US population apart from crooked investors, and with the same purpose.

As part of the same policy, CIA stations would be mainly closed, or converted in such a way as to signal to each host country that any spying or interference (of the kind now carried on in Bolivia, with the US seeking to overthrown an elected government by support of the traditionally rich and powerful) would be met with expulsion and/or arrest and prosecution by the host country, without protest from the United States.

The purposes of US involvement would be to defend the ecological integrity of societies by aiding those working toward sustainability and recovery; and second, toward aiding real democracy, i.e., the redivision of wealth and power. As Chopra among others has proposed, those in the military, top brass to bottom grunt, would re-engage themselves usefully in rebuilding infrastructure, for starters. (In that context, of course, unions among military rank-and-file will make more obvious sense.) Destroyers and submarines would be abandoned, all future weapons technology research would be abandoned, and brutally destructive technologies now in use, including Depleted Uranium weapons (the battlefield reintroduction of the nuclear weaponry, first used by senior George Bush, then by Bill Clinton and junior Bush, with horrific results), cluster bombs, etc., would be immediately taken out of arsenals and destroyed. Now-unused military bases would be converted into housing for the world’s poor, including the American poor.

Are these proposals utopian? In one sense, yes. Since 1945, militarization of the peacetime economy and society has been accepted by Democrats and Republicans alike, as Military Keynesianism. Before 1940, the abuse of Latin American populations by US military forces were a regular feature of hemispheric life, and plenty of other examples can be found including the Philippines, the rehearsal for the Vietnam War.

Yet the size and presence of the military within US domestic life was small, and most Americans shared the view that it should remain it logically would have returned in 1945 (when broken Russia was no real threat) or 1990 (when the Russian supposed threat disappeared). We can look to an older society not dependent upon military spending as something historically rooted in the disillusionment with the First World War, and now revived through disillusionment with every war, Korea or Vietnam onward.

I have gone on long enough now, but it should be clear that even if Obama were to agree with these general premises and seek to walk back the global full-court-press that has been bipartisan politics for a half century, opposition against him would gather on all sides. Among the most vehement, we may note in closing, are the “Humanitarian Hawks” of the Samantha Power stripe. Even more than their neoconservative counterparts now busy licking wounds, with large salaries, in the think tanks, the liberal hawks urgently need successful wars on any terms so as to restore them and their reputations, their book deals and six figure college salaries, within the changing context of liberalism.

[Paul Buhle is an educator and a historian. He published the New Left journal Radical America during the 1960s and has written or edited many books on radicalism and culture. He now organizes leftwing comic books.]

Also see 9 Steps to Peace for Obama in the New Year / by Deepak Chopra / AlterNet / January 1, 2009

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4 Responses to Paul Buhle : An ‘Obama Force’ (Swords into Plowshares)

  1. Typical of criticism of proposals like this is the assertion that “it wouldn’t work”. My fear, though, is that it would work to well in ways we might not like.

    I see “Guns and Butter”. The prososal is a call for more butter. The demobilization aspects of it will get compromised away in order to win passage of the new spending. That’s the way DC “works”. The Roman Empire neede bread and circuses as a welfare state complement to its militarism and oppression. It stabilized the Empire. We ought to be very wary of doing similar.

    That’s NOT saying the proposal is completely without merit. I, personally, see the notion of unionizing the U.S. military particularly appealing, for example.

    This is why theory matters: Is U.S. imperialism a foreign policy problem or is it a military problem?

    The proposal amounts to an expansion of the military’s role, not its shrinking. The miltary’s defense mission (even to the extent that those of us who are anti-statists see that mission as a fiction of domestic politics) will not go away in any political sense.

    I find an expansion of the military’s role, even (or perhaps especially) with the best of intentions, troubling.

  2. Carl Webb says:

    I glad he mentioned Colombia so that I could point out that just a few months ago Obama aka Obomba actually supported the Colombian’s military intervention onto Venezuela’s territory. And he wants to expand the size of the army. Send more troops to Afghanistan. Promises to attack Iran and to continue the attacks in Pakistan. Supports the new US Africa Command. Proclaimed himself to be a Zionist. And I could go on.

  3. This is satire, right?

  4. Zwarich says:

    With the inauguration now only a bit more than two weeks away, the time for indulging ourselves in our wishful, self-serving fantasies, concerning exactly who and what Barack Obama is, will soon be at an end. But it is surprising that as the late days of Obama’s honeymoon are marked by his complicit silence over the murderous Israeli crimes in Gaza, Professor Buhle would publish this piece over a week after the Israeli attacks began, and not so much as mention them even once. Perhaps Dr. Buhle might try to realize that this relegates his effort here to the level of a self-indulgent fluff-piece.

    An “Obama force” for world peace?? Ahem….Cough….

    Do we all realize that the man whom Obama chose to be his right hand man, as his chief of staff, (widely regarded as the second most powerful office in Washington), is an avowed Zionist whose revered father was an Israeli terrorist, (who personally helped drive the Palestinians off their land in 1948), and that Rahm Emmanuel is widely assumed to have served the Israeli military as an intelligence operative when he volunteered to serve in the Israeli army during the First Gulf War? Apparently it has been lost on Professor Buhle, in the midst of his dreamy beauty pageant like hopes for an “Obama Force” for ‘world peace’, that the stark reality we face under an Obama administration is that we have a likely Israeli intelligence operative sitting at a desk in the White House, reigning as the second most powerful man in Washington?

    Professor Buhle, in his dreamy eagerness to elevate Obama to the status of mythical ambassador for ‘world peace’, not only ignores Obama’s cowardly silence in the face of the murderous attacks on Gaza, but completely ignores the fact that Obama himself chose this avowed Zionist, and likely Israeli intelligence operative, to serve in this capacity. Yet Dr. Buhle insists that should Obama fail to unleash his “Obama Force” for “hope and change”, and world peace, the blame will not accrue to him, but to ‘liberal hawks’.

    The power of the human mind to deceive itself always amazes me. Our facile ability to lay aside all Reason, in deference to our Desire, seems to have no limits. During his campaign President-Elect Obama went out of his way to emphatically assure the military industrial establishment that he is an aggressive hawk himself. He is promising to escalate the war in Central Asia, fer crissakes, (to mention only one of many examples that could be cited). Yet people like Dr. Buhle, and Tom Hayden, (Buhle tells us), as so eager to create a mythical ‘hero’ to represent their hopeful desires that they are entirely willing to blot all inconvenient realities from their own consciousness.

    In two weeks time we will begin to learn who and what Obama is. If President Obama makes good on his many campaign promises to shore up and protect the American Empire, I certainly do hope that people like Dr. Buhle will be prepared to take off their rose-tinted glasses sooner rather than later.


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