EYE The illusory state of the
Empire By Pepe Escobar
Barack Obama would never be so crass as to
use a State of the Union (SOTU) address to
announce an "axis of evil".
No. Double O
Bama, equipped with his exclusive license to kill
(list), is way slicker. As much as he
self-confidently pitched a blueprint for a "smart"
- not bigger - US government, he kept his foreign
policy cards very close to his chest.
eyebrows were raised on the promise that "by the
end of next year our war in Afghanistan will be
over"; it won't be, of
course, because Washington
will fight to the finish to keep sizeable
counterinsurgency boots on the ground - ostensibly
to fight, in Obama's words, those evil "remnants
Obama promised to "help"
Libya, Yemen and Somalia, not to mention Mali. He
promised to "engage" Russia. He promised to seduce
Asia with the Trans-Pacific Partnership -
essentially a collection of corporate-friendly
free-trade agreements. On the Middle East, he
promised to "stand" with those who want freedom;
that presumably does not include people from
As this was Capitol Hill, he
could not help but include the token "preventing
Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons"; putting more
"pressure" on Syria - whose "regime kills its own
people"; and to remain "steadfast" with Israel.
North Korea was mentioned. Always knowing
what to expect from the horse's mouth, the foreign
ministry in Pyongyang even issued a preemptive
attack, stressing that this week's nuclear test
was just a "first response" to US threats; "second
and third measures of greater intensity" would be
unleashed if Washington continued to be hostile.
Obama didn't even bother to answer
criticism of his shadow wars, the Drone Empire and
the legal justification for unleashing target
practice on US citizens; he mentioned, in passing,
that all these operations would be conducted in a
"transparent" way. Is that all there is? Oh no,
there's way more.
Double O's game Since 9/11, Washington's strategy during the
George W Bush years - penned by the neo-cons -
read like a modified return to land war. But then,
after the Iraq quagmire, came a late strategic
adjustment, which could be defined as the Petraeus
vs Rumsfeld match. The Petraeus "victory" myth,
based on his Mesopotamian surge, in fact provided
Obama with an opening for leaving Iraq with the
illusion of a relative success (a myth
comprehensively bought and sold by US corporate
Then came the Lisbon summit in
late 2010, which was set up to turn the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) into a clone
of the UN Security Council in a purely Western
format, capable of deploying autonomous military
interventions - preemption included - all over the
world. This was nothing less than classic
NATO's Lisbon summit
seemed to have enthroned a Neoliberal Paradise
vision of the complex relations between war and
the economy; between the military and police
operations; and between perennial military
hardware upgrading and the political design of
preemptive global intervention. Everything, once
again, under Obama's supervision.
in Afghanistan, for its part, was quite useful to
promote NATO as much as NATO was useful to promote
the war in Afghanistan - even if NATO did not
succeed in becoming the Security Council of the
global American Empire, always bent on dominating,
or circumventing, the UN.
NATO is involved in, command and control is always
Washington's. Only the Pentagon is able to come up
with the logistics for a transcontinental, global
military operation. Libya 2011 is another prime
example. At the start, the French and the Brits
were coordinating with the Americans. But then
Stuttgart-based AFRICOM took over the command and
control of Libyan skies. Everything NATO did
afterwards in Libya, the virtual commander in
chief was Barack Obama.
So Obama owns
Libya. As much as Obama owns the Benghazi blowback
Libya seemed to announce the
arrival of NATO as a coalition assembly line on a
global scale, capable of organizing wars all
across the world by creating the appearance of a
political and military consensus, unified by an
all-American doctrine of global order pompously
titled "NATO's strategic concept".
may have been "won" by the NATO-AFRICOM combo. But
then came the Syria red line, duly imposed by
Russia and China. And in Mali - which is blowback
from Libya - NATO is not even part of the picture;
the French may believe they will secure all the
gold and uranium they need in the Sahel - but it's
AFRICOM who stands to benefit in the long term,
boosting its military surge against Chinese
interests in Africa.
What is certain is
that throughout this convoluted process Obama has
been totally embedded in the logic of what
sterling French geopolitical analyst Alain Joxe
described as "war neoliberalism", inherited from
the Bush years; one may see it as a champagne
definition of the Pentagon's long, or infinite,
Double O's legacy Obama's
legacy may be in the process of being forged. We
might call it Shadow War Forever - coupled with
the noxious permanence of Guantanamo. The Pentagon
for its part will never abandon its "full
spectrum" dream of military hegemony, ideally
controlling the future of the world in all those
shades of grey zones between Russia and China, the
lands of Islam and India, and Africa and Asia.
Were lessons learned? Of course not.
Double O Bama may have hardly read Nick Turse's
exceptional book Kill
Anything that Moves: The Real American War in
Vietnam, where he painstakingly documents
how the Pentagon produced "a veritable system of
suffering". Similar analysis of the long war on
Iraq might only be published by 2040.
Obama can afford to be self-confident
because the Drone Empire is safe.  Most
Americans seem to absent-mindedly endorse it - as
long as "the terrorists" are alien, not US
citizens. And in the minor netherworlds of the
global war on terror (GWOT), myriad profiteers
A former Navy SEAL and a
former Green Beret have published a book this
the Definitive Report, where they actually
admit Benghazi was blowback for the shadow war
conducted by John Brennan, later rewarded by Obama
as the new head of the CIA.
claims that Petraeus was done in by an internal
CIA coup, with senior officers forcing the FBI to
launch an investigation of his affair with foxy
biographer Paula Broadwell. The motive: these CIA
insiders were furious because Petraeus turned the
agency into a paramilitary force. Yet that's
exactly what Brennan will keep on doing: Drone
Empire, shadow wars, kill list, it's all there.
Petraeus-Brennan is also classic continuum.
Then there's Esquire milking for all it's
worth the story of an anonymous former SEAL Team 6
member, the man who shot Geronimo, aka Osama bin
Laden.  This is familiar territory, the
hagiography of a Great American Killer, whose
"three shots changed history", now abandoned by a
couldn't-care-less government machinery but
certainly not by those who can get profitable
kicks from his saga way beyond the technically
proficient torture-enabling flick - and Oscar
contender - Zero Dark Thirty.
Meanwhile, this is what's happening in the
real world. China has surpassed the US and is now
the biggest trading nation in the world - and
counting.  This is just the first step towards
the establishment of the yuan as a globally traded
currency; then will come the yuan as the new
global reserve currency, connected to the end of
the primacy of the petrodollar... Well, we all
know the drill.
So that would lead us to
reflect on the real political role of the US in
the Obama era. Defeated (by Iraqi nationalism) -
and in retreat - in Iraq. Defeated (by Pashtun
nationalism) - and in retreat - in Afghanistan.
Forever cozy with the medieval House of Saud -
"secret" drone bases included (something that was
widely known as early as July 2011). 
"Pivoting" to the Indian Ocean and the South China
Sea, and pivoting to a whole bunch of African
latitudes; all that to try to "contain" China.
Thus the question Obama would never dare
to ask in a SOTU address (much less in a SOTE -
State of the Empire - address). Does the US remain
a global imperial power? Or are the Pentagon's -
and the shadow CIA's - armies nothing more than
mercenaries of a global neoliberal system the US
still entertains the illusion of controlling?