By Jerry D. Rose
On March 25, the Washington Post reported on a leaked memo from the Pentagon in which an official conveyed that it was the “intention” of the Obama administration that no longer were the nation’s foreign conflicts be designated as part of a “global war on terror” but rather as “overseas contingency operations.” (OCO) Following this revelation there have been denials and attempted retractions as a statement of this as administration policy and it has raised perhaps as much derision and hostility as happened when the Truman administration attempted to style the Korean conflict as a “police action,” not a war. Jon Stewart, for example, ridiculed this as an exercise in Redefinition Accomplished as the country’s “success” in its GWOT operations in Iraq and Afghanistan continues to falter. It’s not that the President and Secretary of Defense are quite ready to “declare victory and go home” which Senator Aiken long suggested was the way to end the Viet Nam war. It seems, instead, that the public is being prepared to accept a long and open-ended (no exit) war against terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the light of the exciting drama of the “hostage rescue” from Somalia pirates of an American ship captain, it may be that a popularity-crazed administration like that of Barack Obama means to use such “operations” as a way of rescuing HIS OWN reputation as a leader with the “balls” to undertake decisive action against an “enemy.” Reports on administration action leading up the sniper shooting of three Somali pirates emphasized the apparent desire that the public be made to believe that Obama himself ordered the shootings.
Are such OCO actions the wave of the future for American military operations? There are signs of this in Secretary Gates’ “new style” armed forces unveiled in his latest military budget: the shift from “big battle” weaponry like F-22 fighter planes toward lighter planes, including a doubling of the number of Predator drones, that are more adaptable to quick use against pockets of counter-insurgency operations wherever in the American Empire any “insurgency” (i.e. opposition to American imperial intentions) “breaks out.”
The political advantages of OCOs, whether they are so labeled or not, have been apparent to the leaders of the American imperium for quite some time. The rule seems to be: when in a political doldrum of domestic unpopularity, find a reason to engage in an OCO that will bring the “glory” to our leaders that has eluded us in every extended conflict—Korean War, Viet Nam War, Gulf War, operations against Iraq and Afghanistan (and now Pakistan)—since a “real” war, World War lI. Thus Jimmy Carter’s desperate attempt to rescue his discredited administration through an aborted effort to rescue Americans who were Iranian hostages, Reagan’s quirky invasion of Grenada in the aftermath of a massacre of our occupation forces in Lebanon. OCOs are not the relatively “benign” manifestation of world imperialism that some commentators on this and other “soft power” changes in the Obama administration have pretended to see. Empire is empire, no less destructive and inhumane when pursued far outside the umbrella of congressional declarations of war or authorizations for invasion. If anything, they are more insidious and dangerous to world peace than the well-defined “coalitions of the willing” that have characterized operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. If we needed convincing of this, last weekend’s episode of “piracy” combating off the coast of Somalia should show us how a “contingency,” if mishandled and overly militarized, can create situations in which a relatively localized “operation” can grow into something resembling a full-fledged war.
Jerry D. Rose – Editor, The Sun State Activist