The Changing Face of Empire
With ongoing military operations in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, the Obama administration has embraced a six-point program for light-footprint warfare relying heavily on special operations forces, drones, spies, civilian partners, cyber warfare, and proxy fighters. Of all the facets of this new way of war, the training and employment of proxies has generally been the least noticed, even though reliance on foreign forces is considered one of its prime selling points. As the State Department's Andrew Shapiro put it in a speech earlier this year: "[T]he importance of these missions to the security of the United States is often little appreciated" To put it clearly: When these peacekeepers deploy it means that U.S. forces are less likely to be called on to intervene." In other words, to put it even more clearly, more dead locals, fewer dead Americans.
The evidence for this conventional wisdom, however, is lacking. And failures to learn from history in this regard have been ruinous. The training, advising, and outfitting of a proxy force in Vietnam drew the United States deeper and deeper into that doomed conflict, leading to tens of thousands of dead Americans and millions of dead Vietnamese. Support for Afghan proxies during their decade-long battle against the Soviet Union led directly to the current disastrous decade-plus American War in Afghanistan.
Right now, the U.S. is once again training, advising, and conducting joint exercises all over the world with proxy war on its mind and the concept of "unintended consequences" nowhere in sight in Washington. Whether today's proxies end up working for or against Washington's interests or even become tomorrow's enemies remains to be seen. But with so much training going on in so many destabilized regions, and so many proxy forces being armed in so many places, the chances of blowback grow greater by the day.
Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com. An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. He is the author/editor of several books, including the recently published Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050 (with Tom Engelhardt). This piece is the latest article in his new series on the changing face of American empire, which is being underwritten by Lannan Foundation. You can follow him on Tumblr.
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Copyright 2012 Nick Turse