U.S. EMPIRE-COM: The Dangerous Evolution of Imperial Grand Strategy
Since World War II the United States government has divided up the world into different war zones. Every corner of the planet was placed under the auspices of some subdivision of the U.S. military and national security state to be utilized in the effort to maintain global hegemony. And Presidents from Truman to Obama have used it in exactly that way, acting as if their legal, territorial, and coercive jurisdiction spans the globe. And this monstrosity is still growing.
The National Security Act of 1947, best known for the creation of the Air Force, the Central Intelligence Agency, and creating the office of the Secretary of Defense, also established the Unified Combatant Command (UCC) system. “The UCC system,” a recent Congressional Research report explains, “signified the recognition by the United States that it would continue to have a world-wide, continuous global military presence.” U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) had responsibility over the Middle East and parts of Asia, U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) over the North Americas, U.S. European Command (USEUCOM) over Europe, etc.
The primary aims were three-fold: to use U.S. dominance to (1) ensure privileged access to key markets, energy supplies, and strategic resources (2) establish proxy military bases for use in any conflict and (3) to prevent any other peer competitor from gaining their own dominance, or independence from this system. As a Top Secret National Security Council briefing put it in 1954, “the Near East is of great strategic, political, and economic importance,” as it “contains the greatest petroleum resources in the world” as well as “essential locations for strategic military bases in any world conflict.”
Obama has dutifully taken over the reigns. Just consider the last two major foreign policy decisions he’s made. The “withdrawal” from Iraq not only left a significant contingency in place to secure an intricate economic and military relationship, but it happened in tandem with a surge in the Gulf. As the New York Times reported in October, the Pentagon is planning “to bolster the American military presence,” including “sending more naval warships through international waters in the region.” To counter Iran – the one country left in USCENTCOM without U.S. military bases and a subservient client state,
the administration is also seeking to expand military ties with the six nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. While the United States has close bilateral military relationships with each, the administration and the military are trying to foster a new “security architecture” for the Persian Gulf that would integrate air and naval patrols and missile defense.
The other example is even more illustrative. Obama has also begun a surge in Asia-Pacific, just recently ordering thousands of U.S. troops and weaponry to be permanently stationed in Australia, accompanying key military bases in South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore, and Guam. The impetus is clear to most observers: countering China’s rising influence. This fits into all three aims of imperial grand strategy that I outlined above.
In Singapore last June, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke at an International Institute for Strategic Studies meeting and argued for “sustaining a robust [U.S.] military presence in Asia.” He spoke of overcoming “anti-access and area denial scenarios” that the U.S. military faces in Asia, which threatens America’s access to strategic markets and resources. Predominantly, Gates explained, U.S. military presence in Asia-Pacific is important in “deterring, and if necessary defeating, potential adversaries.” To curb China’s economic competitiveness in the region, Obama has been making trade deals with Asian nations that would give America’s allies some trading privileges that do not immediately extend to China.
In September 2000, the Washington Post’s Dana Priest published a series of articles on this system of global militarism (cited in the CRS report) exposing how each domain had yielded an inordinate amount of influence in policymaking. She wrote that they “had evolved into the modern-day equivalent of the Roman Empire’s proconsuls—well-funded, semi-autonomous, unconventional centers of U.S. foreign policy.” The CRS report asks “whether or not COCOMs have assumed too much influence overseas, thereby diminishing the roles other U.S. government entities play in foreign and national security policy….The assertion that COCOMs have usurped other U.S. government entities in the foreign policy arena may deserve greater examination.”
The question is a pertinent one, especially since the COCOM system and U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) has not been static since WWII. It is still expanding in dangerous ways. Take U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). In the past, the COCOMs acted as ready-made war plans in case conflict broke out. Now, special forces are provided to each domain and can be sent in absent the approval of Congress and without even notifying the American people.
USSOCOM’s primary mission is to organize, train, and equip special operations forces (SOF) and provides those forces to the Geographic Combatant Commanders under whose operational control they serve. USSOCOM also develops special operations strategy, doctrine, and procedures for the use of SOF and also develops and procures specialized, SOF-unique equipment for its assigned forces. USSOCOM is also responsible for synchronizing DOD planning against terrorists and their networks on a global basis. This particular aspect of USSOCOM’s mission requires working extensively with other non-DOD U.S. Government Agencies, sometimes referred to as the Interagency.
Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) for example “reportedly conduct highly sensitive combat and supporting operations against terrorists on a world-wide basis.” These forces grabbed some fame from the JSOC unit which carried out the bin Laden raid, but they are mostly secret. “Without the knowledge of the American public,” writes historian Nick Turse, “a secret force within the U.S. military is undertaking operations in a majority of the world’s countries. This new Pentagon power elite is waging a global war whose size and scope has never been revealed.”
U.S. policy during the Cold War was focused on maintaining full spectrum dominance and, in part, countering Soviet influence. This manifested in violent overthrows of democratically elected governments, bloody wars, and steady expansions of the military industrial complex. With its end, an even more extreme doctrine for hegemony prevailed, with even more savage manifestations.
In 1992, the Defense Department circulated what came to be known as the Wolfowitz Doctrine, after then Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Paul Wolfowitz. “America’s political and military mission in the post-cold-war era,” the New York Times reported, “will be to ensure that no rival superpower is allowed to emerge in Western Europe, Asia or the territories of the former Soviet Union.” America’s mission, read the DoD document, would be “convincing potential competitors that they need not aspire to a greater role or pursue a more aggressive posture to protect their legitimate interests.” What came next were expansions of the empire and COCOM.
This Imperial Hubris, as former CIA official Michael Scheuer explained, prompted the blowback that was the terrorist attacks on September 11th. Those attacks provided a pretext for perhaps the greatest war crime of the decade: invading a non-threatening Iraq, leading to the deaths of well over 100,000 people by the most conservative estimates, displacing millions more, and installing a government more subservient to U.S. interests.
Since 9/11, our interventions have only become more numerous. Our domains of military authority have become more engrained and independent. The CRS report recommends that Congress be concerned about whether “Geographical COCOMs have made U.S. foreign policy ‘too militarized.'” If not, we can only guess what kinds of impending devastation will surpass 9/11 and the War on Terror.