Every few weeks, we hear another story on the great danger posed to
the security of the Republic if there is even a miniscule reduction in
the rate of growth in the Pentagon budget. With wringing hands and
furrowed brow and tones of stern alarum, they say the spigot must remain
at full spate -- must even be increased -- if the shining city on the
hill is to have the slightest chance to hold off the Yellow Peril, the
Persian Menace, the Muslim Horde and all the other unknown unknowns that
threaten our sacred way of life.
But still they cry, and still they are given, and still they spend, then cry for more. No one challenges them. The microscopic "cuts" (again, never in the actual military budget but only in its galloping growth rate) that are sometimes offered, meekly, are painfully absurd: even if enacted, they would amount to no more than throwing a sponge at Hurricane Katrina as it drove in the waters to drown New Orleans.
Five years ago -- yes, before the financial crash and the budget crisis -- I wrote a piece on this same theme, after the generals had gone to Congress, yet again, with their alarm bells and their bluster. The post focused not so much on their insatiable need for cash but on the undisguised imperial mindset behind it all: the begging brass, their Congressional enablers, and the media establishment that never questioned the hideous system these rituals exemplified.
And although the dramatis personae have changed slightly since that time, the mindset is even more pervasive, more entrenched, more brazen than before. So I thought it might be worth a second look. Here it is:
Hubris and Obscenity: Imperial Ambition on Naked Display
Rarely has the imperial hubris that lies at the basis of U.S. foreign policy -- the unspoken, unquestioned assumption of America's right to global domination by force -- been so nakedly revealed than in the recent Washington Post story decrying the degraded state of the Pentagon's military preparedness. ("Military is Ill-Prepared for Other Conflicts") What makes the story so remarkable, and so valuable as a diagnostic tool for the health of the Republic (which could perhaps be most accurately described as "the sickness unto death") is that none of the generals or politicians quoted in the story -- nor the writer herself -- betray the slightest awareness of the moral obscenity upon which all their earnest concerns and diligent fact-finding are based.
On its surface, at the level of meaning it intends to convey to readers, the story is disturbing enough. The upshot is that Bush's reckless and stupid war of aggression in Iraq has plunged American military stocks and manpower reserves into a "death spiral" of depletion that will take years -- and untold billions of dollars -- to replenish. This in turn has put the United States in a horribly exposed strategic position, with the Pentagon incapable of responding "quickly and decisively to potential foreign crises," as the Post puts it. For example, the Army no longer has even a single brigade "ready to deploy within hours to an overseas hot spot," we're told. The highest brass -- Joint Chief Chairman Gen. Peter Pace, Army chief of staff Gen. Peter Schoomaker, and his vice chief, Gen. Richard Cody -- attest, under oath, to the woeful state of unreadiness. Anonymous "senior officers" interviewed by the reporter then make clear the implications of their bosses' plaintive but coded warnings: the Iraq War is bleeding us dry.
On the second level of meaning -- which the reporter may or may not have consciously intended to put across -- we find something equally disturbing. Note well what the nation's top military officer, General Pace, has to say about this state of unreadiness:
"In earlier House testimony, Pace said the military, using the Navy, Air Force and reserves, could handle one of three major contingencies, involving North Korea or -- although he did not name them -- Iran or China. But, he said, 'It will not be as precise as we would like, nor will it be on the timelines that we would prefer, because we would then, while engaged in one fight, have to reallocate resources and remobilize the Guard and reserves.'"
The true import here is not so much the casualness with which these
Beltway players -- the generals, the legislators and the reporters --
regard the prospect of war with North Korea, Iran and China as an
unavoidable natural fact, something that is bound to happen sooner or
later, and for which we must be massively steeled. This attitude is
troubling, of course, but it's hardly news. No, what gives cause for the
greatest immediate concern in Pace's remarks is his observation that in
a coming "major contingency" -- such as the all-but-inevitable attack on
Iran -- the Pentagon's campaign "will not be as precise as we would
like." What is this but a tacit admission that when push comes to shove
with Tehran, the United States will have to go in with a sledgehammer,
lashing out left and right -- no "surgical strike" against alleged
nuclear facilities, but a blunderbuss assault, with the attendant
"collateral damage" and destruction of civilian infrastructure that we
have seen in Iraq (twice), Kosovo, Panama, Vietnam and other
Again, all of this is bad enough in itself. But it is the third level of meaning -- never expressed either directly or indirectly but embodied by the story as a whole -- that is the most profoundly disturbing. The present state of affairs leaves the nation at grave risk, we are told. Why? Because it leaves the United States somewhat hobbled in its ability to impose its will military on any nation or region it so chooses. Again, attend to General Pace as he tells Congress that he is "not comfortable" with the Army's readiness. Pace warned in his testimony...
"You take a lap around the globe -- you could start any place: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Venezuela, Colombia, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, North Korea, back around to Pakistan, and I probably missed a few. There's no dearth of challenges out there for our armed forces,"
This is not the statement of a military officer serving in the armed
forces of a democratic republic devoted to the life, liberty and pursuit
of happiness of its citizens. This is the action list of a Roman
general seeking more funds so that he might fulfill Caesar's commands
for further conquests and punitive raids beyond the frontiers of the
Empire. Nation after nation, in every corner of the globe, is laid out
for possible military intervention -- "and I probably missed a few." And
the legislators -- of both parties -- who heard these dire warnings merely
nodded their heads in solemn agreement: the United States must be ready
at all times to strike with massive force at short notice anywhere and
everywhere in the world.
Not as single Congressional official -- or the reporter -- ever asked the simple question: Why? Why must we be prepared to invade or intervene in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, Venezuela, Colombia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan at the drop of a hat, with at least an Army brigade's worth of troops backed up by air and naval power? In what way does the maintenance and expansion of a military establishment that has, as Chalmers Johnson notes, some "737 bases in more than 130 countries around the world" and the capacity for assaulting every other nation on earth advance the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of the American people? Because it "combats terrorism"? But the vast majority of the Pentagon's international empire was constructed long before this most elastic abstract noun became the bogeyman of America's night-mind. Most of it was built in the name of "fighting communism," that former all-devouring bogeyman who has now retired to shabby pensioner's digs in Havana.
But of course, these earlier outposts of empire were actually devoted to the same aim as the new imperial fortresses going up in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa: to assert American dominance of global political and economic affairs, to enrich politically connected American contractors (and the pols who grease them so diligently with public money), and to prevent the rise of any possible alternative systems in foreign countries that might adversely affect the power, privilege and profits of the American elite and their local collaborators. (And any such system, whether it was based on Marxism or -- as was most often the case -- not, was reflexively labeled "communism" and its adherents dehumanized, dispossessed, incarcerated or simply killed. The history of El Salvador during the Reagan-Bush administrations is but one example. And this demonization was the case even with the "liberation theology" advanced by anti-communist Catholic churchmen in Latin America -- a movement so dangerous to the corrupt status quo that it is still being actively quashed today by the former head of the Inquisition, Pope Benedict.)