President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address contained very few surprises in the realm of national security and merely marked the continuation of the Bush-era war on terror policies despite their extraordinary fiscal toll, even as the American economy faces incredible duress under the deficit and the threat of congressionally-imposed sequestration.
Despite the fact that the U.S. spends almost as much on its military as every other country in the world combined, Obama stated that the cuts would “jeopardize our military readiness.” In fact, U.S. military spending has never been higher than in the post-9/11 era, which saw rises in spending greater than Vietnam and the entirety of the Cold War. Furthermore, the 31% in defense cuts would be less than the 43%, 36%, and 33% cuts that came with the end of the Korean, Cold, and Vietnam wars respectively. In this light, the defense sequestration cuts are perfectly reasonable, and indeed necessary to alleviate our country’s economic crisis.
Obama’s endorsement of the “Gang of Eight” compromise, which would see an increase in wasteful U.S.-Mexico border security in the form of more boots on the ground, threatens to further increase military spending. The U.S. cannot and should not augment military spending when it can’t even afford to provide vital, essential services that actually benefit its domestic population.
None of this should come as a surprise as Obama’s first term saw the continuation and expansion of Bush’s trademark War on Terror, even if the current president no longer uses the same terminology. As per Tuesday night’s speech, Obama’s second term promises to deliver more of the same immoral and unconstitutional policies that take away our rights in the name of “national security.” In feel good rhetoric meant to put a velvet glove on his neoconservative intentions, the president said that fighting Al-Qaeda affiliates in the Middle East and Africa would not involve putting American troops on the ground in harm’s way, but rather utilize an unspecified “range of capabilities.” Although the president did not have the courage to transparently acknowledge the program publicly, this is obviously a sugar coated reference to the drone program, which kills more civilians than terrorists.
Similarly, Obama’s outlined plans for the Afghanistan withdrawal — plans that have been under way since last year — not only include training and equipping Afghan security forces, but also other “counter-terrorism efforts,” which he did not deign to specify. As such, it appears likely that we will see a continuation of reckless drone warfare and other covert operations in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of conventional U.S. forces.
The drone program has recently come under heightened scrutiny thanks to the recent white paper leak which details the administration’s loose, unconstitutional guidelines for issuing drone strikes, even on American citizens. Despite the lack of transparency in his speech and dubious legal logic outlined in the white paper on extrajudicial killings, the president ironically said that “we must enlist our values in the fight” and that his administration has worked tirelessly to develop “durable legal and policy framework to guide our counter-terrorism efforts” in congruence with our system of checks and balances. The truth of the matter is that the Obama administration repeatedly denied congressional requests to access his policies on drone warfare until the white paper forced its hand.
Above all, the president’s address indicates that the operating “national security” principles behind the PATRIOT Act, the NDAA and the drone war will soon translate into the cyber realm. In light of recent cyber attacks on the New York Times, the U.S. Federal Reserve, and various government agencies, Obama promised to issue an executive to increase the sharing of information and develop cyber security standards between various government agencies, while calling on Congress to legislate protective cyber measures.
The president is correct that strengthening our cyber defenses is an indisputable necessity in the information age and his concerns are necessary and justified. However, in an uncanny similarity to the cloak and dagger drone program, the Obama administration has very recently issued a unilateral, secret legal review that gives it broad, overarching powers to issue cyber attacks on other countries, even in the absence of a declared war. In fact, the administration already did this when it launched the Stuxnet virus against Iranian nuclear facilities. Despite Obama’s pledges for greater transparency, the guidelines on cyber warfare will be just as classified as the drone program guideline. As such, neither Congress, nor the American public, will have access to them barring another leak from the White House.