Presidents Obama, Trump, and Biden all recognize that ground wars fought by United States soldiers are exceedingly unpopular with the American electorate.
For example, there is evidence that war-weary voters helped Trump win traditionally Democratic states in 2016. Consequently, these administrations all adopted a military strategy that maintained U.S. martial dominance, continued (or even increased) Pentagon budgets and enriched arms-producing corporations, while minimizing the direct use of American combat soldiers.
Professor Jason Brownlee of the University of Texas calls this the Shadow War Strategy.
The Shadow War Strategy involves:
- Heavy reliance upon U.S. air power and automated weaponry (e.g. drones)
- Profuse arming of surrogate military forces
- Use of American military personnel primarily in behind-the-lines training or advisory capacities
- Selective assassination of enemy elites.
While the Shadow War Strategy may reduce U.S. military casualties, it certainly does not reduce the killing or hardships endured by target populations — virtually all of whom live in poor countries.
The U.S. Shadow War Strategy has focused on western Asia and parts of Africa, especially Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. Between 2015 and 2019, these five countries suffered more than 63,000 air strikes by the U.S. or by U.S. surrogates like Israel and Saudi Arabia. Yemen has had more than 100,000 deaths and is described as being in “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”
The financial largesse of the Shadow War Strategy has been enormous. Between 2016 and 2019, American corporations sold more than $100 billion of weapon-related goods to the governments of Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. During the Obama Administration, annual sales by the four largest U.S. arms-producing corporations (Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and General Dynamics) totaled about $160 billion. Under Trump, total annual sales increased to about $210 billion.
Every indication suggests that the Biden Administration will adhere to the Shadow War Strategy. In the past, Biden has sometimes opposed military actions threatening substantial U.S. casualties, but he has repeatedly endorsed walkover-type interventions (e.g. Grenada 1983, Libya 1986, Panama 1989, Yugoslavia 1990s). Biden’s principle foreign policy staff (Anthony Blinken, Jake Sullivan, Avril Haines, Lloyd Austin) all have links to major corporations and appear to support the Shadow War Strategy. Blinken recently wrote that, without U.S. military dominance, “the world will descend into chaos and conflict, and the jungle will overtake us.”
Biden’s approach to Russia and China dovetails with the Shadow War Strategy and is oriented towards preserving U.S. global hegemony. Instead of treating these countries as rival powers to be negotiated with on an equal basis, Biden construes international relations as a primal struggle between liberal democracies (led by America) and repressive autocracies that probably hanker for Communism. Such thinking cannot produce anything resembling global peace.
An important aim of the Shadow War Strategy is keeping drone assassinations, proxy aggressions, Pentagon budgets and war-making profits out of public awareness. Peace and justice advocates must counter this dangerous information elision by energetically proclaiming the lethal realities of the Shadow War Strategy.
For a detailed analysis of the Shadow War Strategy see Jason Brownlee, “Shadow Wars and Corporate Welfare,” Catalyst, Vol. 4, No. 4, pages 94-121.