President Obama’s true priorities were on full display this past week as he attended the NATO Summit in Poland’s capital of Warsaw. For while Obama met with other NATO heads of state to discuss raising troop levels, bringing more military hardware into Eastern Europe and to the doorstep of Russia, and generally heightening tensions with a nuclear power, America found itself in crisis.
After the horrific, criminal murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, and the sniper attack in Dallas, racial tensions were running high; millions of black, brown, and white people, mostly young, poured into the streets of cities across the country to express their indignation at the ceaseless murder of innocent citizens at the hands of the police. And, predictably, the police forcibly suppressed the protests, demonstrating before the world what militarized law enforcement looks like, and what it can do.
So, with state-sanctioned paramilitary storm-troopers roaming the streets and attacking protesters, the First Black PresidentTM couldn’t be bothered to come home and use the power of his position to calm the tensions and speak to issues of mass incarceration and police violence. No, instead Obama remained in Poland where he did everything in his power to heighten international tensions. Such is the reality of the Obama presidency: shed crocodile tears for political expediency while pursuing a belligerent foreign policy that has the potential to escalate out of control.
Obama’s Legacy: Setting the Stage for War in Europe?
Shock, horror, revulsion – these are some of the appropriate reactions to seeing the state-sanctioned murders of innocent black and brown people like Castile, Sterling, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and countless others. But those same reactions are equally appropriate when evaluating the US-NATO policy in Eastern Europe, one which could have far-reaching consequences which for the moment are unimaginable. I mean, war with Russia? Really?
Indeed, the Obama administration has made it a centerpiece of its strategy in Eastern Europe to fully commit to massive militarization rather than negotiation. The NATO Summit in Warsaw saw the signing of a raft of agreements that will undeniably raise the potential for military conflict. Some highlights of the agreements include:
- Stationing four battalions in Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on a rotational basis beginning in 2017
- Development of a tailored forward presence in the south-eastern part of the Alliance
- Declaring Initial Operational Capability of NATO’s Ballistic Missile Defense
- Expanding NATO’s mission to cyberspace and cyber defense
- An agreement to start training and capacity building inside Iraq.
- An expanded maritime presence in the Mediterranean Sea.
- Extending NATO mission in Afghanistan until at least 2020
- A Joint Declaration of new NATO-EU cooperation, including in maritime security and countering hybrid threats
These developments are deeply worrying when you consider that they are, in effect, anti-Russia “defense” measures which will be correctly interpreted by Moscow as a major escalation which will, in turn, necessitate escalation from the Russian side. There was a time in the not so distant past when disarmament and negotiation was the order of the day when it came to US-Soviet relations. Unfortunately, it seems the cooler heads have all retired or passed away, and today it’s just the hotheads and warmongers making policy.
Despite the danger already evident from the new NATO agreements listed above, one must also recall that the US and its NATO allies have engaged in countless military exercises with nearly every country in Southern and Eastern Europe, with Russia providing the necessary villain. Here is just a small sampling of the myriad drills and exercises:
- Rapid Trident 2016 (June 27 – July 8) in Yavoriv, Ukraine. According to U.S. Army Europe’s website, “Participating nations’ forces Ukraine, United States, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Georgia, Great Britain, Moldova, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Romania, Sweden and Turkey. The Rapid Trident exercise comes at the explicit request of the Ukrainian government and military.”
- Noble Partner 2016 (May 11 – May 26) in Vaziani, Georgia. The exercise includes US and Georgian military participants and is designed specifically to increase capabilities to confront Russia. As U.S. Army Europe’s website noted, “The exercise focuses on Unified Land Operations…[and] emphasizes USAREUR’s abilities to quickly move soldiers and equipment throughout Europe and operate together within a coalition in any potential future operation.”
- Trident Joust 2016 (April 12 – April 22) in Poland. Trident Joust is a NATO-sponsored series of exercises that essentially wargames potential Russian invasion.
- Joint Warrior 16-1 (April 12 – April 24) in the North and Baltic Seas. Joint Warrior is a NATO-sponsored series of naval exercises carried out by Standing NATO Maritime Group One (SNMG1) which simulates realistic war scenarios in the Baltic Sea (translation: Russian invasion).
- Anakonda 16 (June 7 – June 17) in Poland. The land, sea, and air exercises involved 31,000 troops from Poland, the US, and 17 other NATO members and five partners. The largest contingent of troops was from the US.
- Flaming Sword (May 1 – May 20) in Lithuania and Latvia. This exercise was to evaluate the US special forces ability to interact with their counterparts in Lithuania and Latvia in preparation for a potential attack from Russia.
- BALTOPS 16 (June 3 – June 26) in the Baltic Sea. This exercise was led by the US and focused on interoperability with partner nations in the maritime, air and land domains. Aside from NATO member participation, BALTOPS 16 also included the partner nations of Finland and Sweden.
It should be noted that these exercises represent only a fraction of the overall military activity US-NATO has been engaged in near Russia’s borders, as these are merely the exercises carried out in the last three months.
Of course, the US military buildup in Eastern Europe has been ongoing for quite a while. Earlier this year the US announced major increases in forces deployed in Eastern Europe. And, rather predictably, Russia responded weeks later by saying that it too would be increasing its troop deployments to the Western border as a counter-measure against the US-led buildup. To say this was expected would be an understatement. And considering how much energy and money was invested in exercises and the movement of military hardware into the region just in 2016, one must shudder to think of a further increase in 2017. One cannot help but fear that this is a prelude to war.
Cui Bono? Who Benefits from Wars at Home and Abroad?
It is not enough to simply point out the vicious brutality meted out by the police on communities of color, or to highlight the warmongering of the political elites around the world. Rather, one must understand the interconnectedness of these two phenomena, and the fact that the same system promotes and profits from both; in short, it is the military-industrial complex that wins.
With an increase in military hardware and troop deployments in Eastern Europe, companies like Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, and Boeing stand to gain more lucrative contracts, adding to their bottom lines as the world teeters perilously close to the edge of the abyss. But it is also all the companies that make body armor, firearms, Humvees, satellite phones and so much more. It is an industry within an industry. And business is booming.
Why? Because the same companies that profit from outfitting US military and NATO are profiting from doing the same for local police departments. This militarization of the police is part and parcel of the creation of a full-fledged police state, with a repressive apparatus aimed especially at poor communities of color that rise up in protest against wanton police murders. And, as with Eastern Europe, President Obama has presided over a massive increase in police militarization.
As the New York Times reported in 2014:
“During the Obama administration, according to Pentagon data, police departments have received tens of thousands of machine guns; nearly 200,000 ammunition magazines; thousands of pieces of camouflage and night-vision equipment; and hundreds of silencers, armored cars and aircraft. The equipment has been added to the armories of police departments that already look and act like military units.”
Clearly, Obama’s rhetorical commitment to social justice, like his commitment to peace as exemplified by his Nobel Peace Prize, is the product of cynical manipulation and public relations, not genuine action. And, in the wake of Ferguson and Baltimore, in 2015 Obama announced that some military-style equipment would no longer be available to police; well, Mr. Hope and Change has already reneged on that in the wake of the Dallas sniper attack.
According to police leaders present at a private meeting with Obama, the President assured them “that his administration would review a prior decision that halted the sale of some surplus military equipment to law enforcement agencies.” So much for even the smallest concession to the communities impacted the most by police violence.
But the larger point that must be addressed is that the same military-industrial complex is driving both US imperialism and state-sponsored police murders. While US military trains Poles and Latvians and Lithuanians and Georgians to kill Russians, so too do security firms in Israel and the US train police officers to act as occupiers and kill citizens in America. In effect, the belligerent foreign policy of Washington has been brought home. Perhaps it could be more accurately said that war and occupation have always been the status quo in communities of color, that the killings and violence are only being highlighted today because they have been brought to the attention of White America.
The lack of respect for peace and human life is evident both on the streets of Ferguson, Baltimore, and Baton Rouge, just as it is on display with US saber-rattling in Eastern Europe. It seems the very notions of peace and justice are as alien to the US as a bowl of borscht.
And while a movement to challenge police murders continues to grow in the US, a movement for peace that seeks to avoid World War III seems conspicuously absent. It seems long past time to mobilize one. And considering how interconnected the problems are, perhaps the movements that rise to challenge them should be as well.