Over the course of the last decade, the political-economic power of U.S. imperialism has receded due to the continuing economic decline of the imperial power itself. This decline has been compounded by the increasing costs of global policing and by the current global recession. Instead of launching costly large scale invasions that have proved their futility in furthering U.S. strategic interests in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States is now depending on selective killings, drone warfare, and special operations. In Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Honduras, Mexico, Syria and Colombia, a "cowboy" foreign policy is replacing the strategy of large scale military invasions. Any attempt to fully evaluate this shift would be premature, but the writing is on the wall: this shift is generating more conflict than it can solve. This is because the United States keeps fighting the ghosts that its own past policies have created without looking into the socioeconomic and political conditions that breed violence in the expanding "grey" areas of the global system.
Examples of this emerging cowboy policy include the U.S. special operation snatching of an alleged Al-Qaeda leader from Libya’s capital, Tripoli; the attempting killing in Somalia of a leader of the Al-Shabab movement; and last but not least, a U.S. military operation that went bad in Choco, Colombia, in which three Americans were killed. All this happened in a span of less than a week, evidencing Washington's increasing reliance on a cowboy imperialist policy adjusted more to its declining economic power than to a tactical change. Students of international politics have long realized the limitations of military power, the dilemma of overstretching capacities/capabilities, and the diminishing returns of violence, particularly if used as the main instrument in foreign policy.
A cowboy policy is obviously much cheaper than a policy of large scale invasions, but both are exercises in futility. They are generating a system of global violence into which the United States and non-state actors have become locked into a dynamic with its own political economy. Both leave innocent blood to be shed in shopping malls, fields, schools, and cities. This cowboy policy is not only ineffective but lethal. It encourages the Al-Qaeda types by legitimizing them to their followers, opening their ranks to more recruits. This is happening in Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Kenya, Central African Republic, Nigeria, Mali, Iraq and Syria. As a result, the spectacle of killings continues.
In Colombia the United States is not fighting Al-Qaeda, but is employing the same cowboy policy against narcotrafickers and the leftist insurgency. In addition to the three American subcontractors killed last week, one was killed and another seriously injured when their planes crashed in the department of Caquetá in September 27. This is to say that four Pentagon subcontractors have died in less than a month in an undeclared war in Colombia. This is showing no change in the U.S. cowboy mind set in Colombia, a country that is attempting to negotiate a peaceful end to its almost 50 years of civil war.
Violence begets more violence and the system continues.
Nazih Richani is the Director of Latin American studies at Kean University. He blogs at nacla.org/blog/cuadernos-colombianos.