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Tomgram: Gregory Foster, A Case for Demilitarizing the Military

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Militarizing America's World -- At Home and Abroad

Added to the foregoing excesses are many examples of what we might call organizational hypertrophy. Institutions like the military are, by nature, self-selecting, self-fulfilling, self-perpetuating constellations of values and practices that generate their own realities and can rarely be disestablished once born. As at Hotel California, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

Of particular note in the post-9/11 world is our bloated intelligence apparatus of 16 separate agencies, nine of which are military organizations (if you count Coast Guard Intelligence). Most notably, there is the National Security Agency (NSA), always commanded by a general or admiral who now also heads up the U.S. Cyber Command. NSA's massive surveillance culture and capabilities foreshadow a totalizing new-age cyber warfare regime guaranteed to completely redefine traditional notions of aggression, self-defense, sovereignty, and territorial integrity in hair-trigger terms.

The military itself has nine combatant commands, six of which are regional and divvy up the planet accordingly. Except for NATO, there are no regional ambassadors, so the face we show to the world, region by region, is military -- and combatant -- not diplomatic. Even the "homeland" now has its own combatant command, the U.S. Northern Command. In tandem with the "civilian" Department of Homeland Security, it has produced the militarization of the domestic front, dispensed with historical border sensitivities vis--vis Canada and Mexico, magnified concerns about civil liberties, and fed a permanent state of paranoia and alarm among the public about both illegal immigration and terrorism.

Special attention also must be given to the massive expansion of U.S. Special Operations Command, once a modest cohort of elite specialists, into a force now larger than the militaries of many countries. Its ostensible raison d'être is waging permanent "war" against terrorism. The growing presence of and preference for using special operations forces globally ought to command the attention of anyone concerned with civil-military relations. Each armed service has a special operations command, as does each combatant command, including Northern Command. Estimates are that special operations personnel already number or are expected to number around 70,000 (roughly the equivalent of four and a half Army divisions). This provides an almost infinite amount of potential space for meddling and "mission creep" abroad and at home due, in part, to the increasingly blurred lines between military, intelligence, police, and internal security functions.

Of the various ways the military could be configured -- for warfighting; peacekeeping, nation-building, humanitarian assistance, and disaster response; or covert special operations -- the last poses by far the greatest threat to effective civilian control of the military. An increasing reliance on and reverence for Special Operations forces (SOFs) only exacerbates already existing civilian deference to military preferences, practices, and mindsets. Conducting a range of operations, from low-profile assignments unknown to most Americans to secret missions beyond the bounds of stringent congressional oversight, the very nature of SOF missions fosters a military culture that is particularly destructive to accountability and proper lines of responsibility. Especially in times of divided government, as at present, when working around Congress is a preferred norm for getting things done, the temptation to employ forces that can circumvent oversight without objection is almost irresistible.

The Failure of Social Responsibility

As an institution, the military is accorded carte blanche authority to possess and wield violence on behalf of the state. It is also a mammoth social institution that reaches deep into American society and many other societies worldwide. It thus is tacitly expected to comport itself in a socially responsible manner and its members to demonstrate professionalism in their conduct. And yet the pervasive, long-term misbehavior of those in uniform is striking, even alarming. This is where civilian subjugation to the military manifests itself most glaringly, and where the lack of a willingly accountable, self-policing military comes most clearly into view.

Each year for at least the past two decades, literally hundreds of incidents have occurred that undermine any claims the military might make to moral superiority: atrocities, corruption and bribery, fraud and waste, sexual misconduct, cover-ups, racial and religious persecution, and acts of cultural intolerance. Moral arrogance is in abundant supply among those in uniform, genuine moral superiority in short supply. To cite just a small sample of such incidents from the recent past:

* The continuing "Fat Leonard" scandal that involved an exchange of bribes, gifts, and prostitutes for classified information on ship movements, implicating at least seven officers and officials and leading to the censure of three rear admirals.

* The ongoing Army National Guard recruiting fraud and kickback scandal involving thousands of soldiers and tens of millions of dollars in illegal payments.

* The four-star former head of U.S. Africa Command, reduced in rank and forced to pay restitution for lavish spending of public funds on private business; the three-star former deputy nuclear force commander who used counterfeit poker chips at a casino; the two-star commander of the ICBM force who went on a drunken binge and insulted Russian counterparts at a joint exercise; the one-star commander of Fort Jackson, South Carolina, relieved of duty for adultery and physically assaulting his mistress; the one-star assistant division commander of the "elite" 82nd Airborne Division, fined $20,000 and reduced in rank for multiple affairs and other sexual misconduct; and the one-star commander of special operations forces in Latin America, relieved of command and reduced in rank for drunken altercations.

* The forced resignation of the under secretary of the Navy over a scandal in which the brother of a naval intelligence official billed the military $1.6 million for weapons silencers that cost only $8,000 to manufacture.

* The proficiency exam cheating scandals that implicated several dozen Air Force and Navy nuclear weapons personnel.

* The Army staff sergeant, sentenced to life imprisonment for murdering 16 civilians and wounding six others in Afghanistan.

* The Army staff sergeant, also sentenced to life imprisonment, and five other soldiers who, as part of a "thrill kill" unit, murdered three Afghan civilians for sport and took their body parts as trophies.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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