Obama says the US will maintain military spending greater than the next ten countries put together and spending will be larger than it was under George W. Bush.
Obama's defence spending review has been headlined as a retreat from war. This is a misreading that Obama himself was pitching for.
In reality the review is preparing the ground for new wars. One of the most quotable lines in his speech was, 'we're turning the page on a decade of war'. But this came a few paragraphs after the opener:
'The United States of America is the greatest force for freedom and security that the world has ever known. And in no small measure, that’s because we’ve built the best-trained, best-led, best-equipped military in history -- and as Commander-in-Chief, I’m going to keep it that way.'
Obama went on to say that the US would maintain military spending greater than the next ten countries put together and that spending would be larger than it was at the end of George W. Bush's term.
What is more, analysts are pointing out that the $489 billion budget reduction falls far short of the defence cuts envisaged last year by the bi-partisan congressional 'Super-Committee' overseeing budgets. In fact the proposed levels of cuts are such a retreat from previous plans that they will involve having to find huge extra cuts to social programmes. So much for a peace dividend.
As Defence Secretary Leo Panetta pointed out at the Pentagon press conference, spending on cyber and drone technology, special operations and rapid mobilisation forces is actually on the up.
Lauren Thompson, a leading US defense consultant, has pointed out there has always been a big gap between Obama's rhetoric and the reality. “This is the paradox of the Obama presidency, under his administration, the Department of Defense’s actual purchasing power has been higher than at any time during the Cold War.”
What the review really signals is an important recalibration of the US military machine.
Withdrawal from Iraq and scheduled drawdown on Afghanistan has allowed some troop reductions and created a window for a strategy redesign. There are two aspects to this. The first is a greater reliance on hi -tech war systems. The second a geographical refocus. Some troops will be pulled out of Europe in order to concentrate on the areas both the review and Obama's speech prioritized: the Asia Pacific region and the Middle East. More specifically, the review focuses on China's increasing militarization, particularly growing naval power, and the threat of Iran.
'All trends are shifting to the Pacific', said General Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff yesterday, while the review itself says 'US policy will emphasize the Gulf Cooperation Council countries when appropriate, to prevent Iran's development of a nuclear weapon capability and counter its destabilizing policies'.
These two priorities are connected. The review makes explicit something that has been obvious for a long time: US foreign policy is more and more driven by China's challenge to US power around the globe.
While the review signals a more tooled up, confrontational policy towards China in the Pacific, the Middle East remains a crucial theatre for this to play itself out. The Iranian government, as the most ideologically anti American regime in the Middle East, the power that has benefited most from the Iraq disaster and the one with the closest links to China, is thus pretty much automatically Western enemy number one in the region.
The Defence Review has in fact been running in tandem with a strategy of tension against Iran. Any military action by NATO or Israel against Iran or its ally Syria would be catastrophic for the region and beyond, but there are clearly tremendous pressures for it to take place, not least the need for the US to get a grip on the Arab Spring.
Obama will be under huge pressure from the right over defense in the run up to the election. Mitt Romney, current Republican front runner for Presidential candidate has responded to the Defence Review by calling for massive boosts in defence spending. Israel's approach in this situation is unpredictable to say the least. As the Guardian reported towards the end of last year, plans for war with Iran are well advanced in Washington and Whitehall.
In the short term more deeply irresponsible brinkmanship with Iran is certain. But the tone of some of Obama's speech also betrays of the pressure of public opinion against war. The anti war movement needs to build a mighty campaign against an attack on Iran or any further intervention in the Middle East in 2012. We can still make a difference.
Protest • Saturday 28 January 2012 • 2pm-4pm US Embassy London
No western intervention in Iran or Syria. Details...
Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.