More recently Obama opened a new Marine base in western Australia and ordered the majority of the U.S. fleet, from aircraft carriers to nuclear submarines, to move from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  Why does the Obama Administration feel the need to show the flag and its martial trappings, up close, intentionally too close for Beijing’s comfort? To show who’s boss. If Beijing ever dared provoke Washington in such manner, the U.S. would prepare for war.

An article titled “The Problem With The Pivot” appeared in the December 2012 Foreign Affairs, declaring: “Obama’s new Asia policy is unnecessary and counterproductive.” Written by Robert S. Ross of Boston Collage and Harvard’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, the essay stated:

“[T]he Obama Administration’s pivot has not contributed to stability in Asia. Quite the opposite: it has made the region more tense and conflict-prone. Military aircraft and naval ships now crowd the region’s skies and waters. And the United States risks getting involved in hostilities over strategically irrelevant and economically marginal island [in the South China Sea]….

“Washington’s increased activity on China’s periphery has led Beijing to conclude that the United States has abandoned ‘strategic engagement,’ the cornerstone of U.S. policy toward China since the end of the Cold War. In contrast to previous administrations, the Obama Administration has dismissed China’s legitimate security interests in its border regions, including even those that are not vital to U.S. security.

Obama and the Middle East

Now I’ll return to Obama’s May 23 speech “ending: the war on terrorism,” and the “new” U.S. policy in the Middle East. Aside from clearing the way for deeper involvement in Asia, what are we to make of this manipulative and defensive 7,000-word lecture?

Obama sought to convey the impression — in the words of a New York Times article the next day — “that it was time to narrow the scope of the grinding battle against terrorists and begin the transition to a day when the country will no longer be on a war footing…. As part of a realignment of counterterrorism policy, he said he would curtail the use of drones, recommit to closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and seek new limits on his own war power.”

Progressive and left commentators excoriated the speech with a “there he goes again” approach to what they viewed as a deceptive, self-justifying attempt to deflect criticism of his war policies.

President Obama’s pledge to take steps toward removing the U.S. from its “perpetual war footing” was widely questioned.  A May 25 front page article in New York Times noted:

“Nor can Mr. Obama escape his own role in putting the United States on a war footing. He came into office pledging to wind down America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but within a year had ordered 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan and oversaw a significant expansion of the Bush administration’s use of clandestine drone strikes.”

Anthony Romero, ACLU executive director, commented: “President Obama is right to say that we cannot be on a war footing forever — but the time to take our country off the global warpath and fully restore the rule of law is now, not at some indeterminate future point.”

The antiwar Answer Coalition summed up the speech in these words: “While there is much to dissect in his speech, the bottom line is that President Obama is attempting to respond to criticism of his war on terror policies while creating a new framework to institutionalize many of these same policies.”

Answer was convinced that the “speech must be seen as a direct response to the individuals and organizations who have consistently been challenging the actions of the administration on these issues. It is unavoidably clear that the firestorm of criticism around drone strikes, Guantanamo Bay Prison, and the extent of domestic surveillance created a climate in which Obama was forced to defend his policies.”

Other commentators tore apart Obama’s efforts to rationalize his killer drone policy when he declared: “Beyond the Afghan theater, we only target al-Qaeda and its associated forces. And even then, the use of drones is heavily constrained.” (The Afghan theater includes western Pakistan.) Critics also panned the few superficial reforms he promised to introduce into the program.

Progressives refused to accept his justification for not closing Guantanamo concentration camp as he promised five years ago. Some articles pointed out that despite a recalcitrant Congress, Obama could have used the vast authority of the presidency to actually close the prison and release its hapless inmates. When Obama boasted that he “ended torture”, it was pointed out that the forced-feeding of hunger striking Guantanamo prisoners was torture according to the American Medical Association.

Unfinished business: Iran and Syria

The Obama Administration still has much unfinished business in the Middle East that guarantees it will remain indefinitely — though not in “global war on terrorism” rampages as in Iraq. Tens of thousands of U.S. troops will be stationed in or close to the region, on land and at sea. Special forces troops and drones will continue to kill suspected terrorists in the Middle East and now deeper into Africa. In addition, Obama seeks to keep 10,000 U.S. troops and nine bases in Afghanistan to 2024, 10 years after “combat forces” withdraw at the end of 2014.

The White House has many other plans for the Middle East and North Africa. The first task is to insure that Israel, America’s main dependency and factotum in the region, remains the Pentagon’s virtual forward base in the Arab world. America’s second task, at which it has been laboring for many years, is regime change in Iran and Syria — the only two countries in the entire region not within Washington’s hegemonic orbit. Iraq and Libya used to make it four countries, until Bush (2003), then Obama (2012), reduced the number.

Iran, now an Islamic Republic that adheres to the Shia branch of Islam, is the main target because it is a powerful, oil-rich state that will not bend the knee to Washington. The Iranian people have not been forgiven for the last 34 years for the intolerable affront of kicking out the vicious dictatorial monarch, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, installed on the Peacock Throne by American-British imperialism a quarter-century earlier. Were Iran willing to kowtow to the U.S. today, it wouldn’t be suffering extreme sanctions and the constant threat of U.S.-Israeli war.

Iran was greatly strengthened when the U.S. invaded its main enemy, Iraq, bringing down the minority Sunni government in Baghdad led by secularist Saddam Hussein. The majority Shia Iraqi population then elected a government of their own. Now there are Shia regimes in Tehran, Baghdad, and Damascus (secular President Bashar Assad and government leaders are Alawites, a branch of Shia Islam), forming a contiguous Shia region 1,500 miles wide, bordered by Turkey on the west and Afghanistan to the east.

The Sunnis are the great majority in the Middle East and throughout Islam. Certain Sunni Arab countries — such as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf dictatorships, among others — seek to reduce Shia power by supporting the overthrow of the minority Alawite government led by President Assad, weakening Iran with the loss of its main Arab supporter. The moderate Islamist government of NATO member Turkey is a big supporter of the rebels, partly to gain influence in the Sunni Arab world, partly to impress the U.S.