This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
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If you ever needed convincing that the world of American "national security" is well along the road to profligate lunacy, read the striking three-part "Top Secret America" series by Dana Priest and William Arkin that the Washington Post published last week. When it comes to the expansion of the U.S. Intelligence Community(IC), which claims 17 major agencies and organizations, the figures are staggering. Here's just a taste: "Twenty-four [new intelligence] organizations were created by the end of 2001, including the Office of Homeland Security and the Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Task Force. In 2002, 37 more were created to track weapons of mass destruction, collect threat tips, and coordinate the new focus on counterterrorism. That was followed the next year by 36 new organizations; and 26 after that; and 31 more; and 32 more; and 20 or more each in 2007, 2008, and 2009. In all, at least 263 organizations have been created or reorganized as a response to 9/11."
More striking yet, the articles make clear (admittedly a few years late) that no one has a complete picture of the extent of the American intelligence quagmire -- from its finances (announced at $75 billion but, the authors assure us, significantly higher) to its geography, its output (the 50,000 top-secret reports it churns out yearly that no one has time to read or track), its composition, or even its office space. ("In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001.") And keep in mind that all of this and more was created not to keep track of or fight a series of covert wars with another major imperial power like the Soviet Union, but to track and hunt down a rag-tag terrorist outfit with a couple of thousand members, including modest-sized groups in countries like Yemen and small numbers of individual wannabe terrorists like the "underwear bomber." In much of this, as anyone who bothers to scan front-page headlines knows, the IC has been remarkably unsuccessful. Such staggeringly out-of-control expansion should, of course, be a major scandal, but along with our constant wars, it's already so much a part of the new national security norm that the publication of the Post series is unlikely to have any significant effect.
All this has, in turn, been driven by Fear Inc. To fuel its profitable if cancerous growth, it has vastly exaggerated the relatively minor and largely manageable danger of Islamic terrorism -- since 9/11, above shark attacks but way below drunken-driving accidents -- among the many far more serious dangers this country faces. If the IC actually worked as an effective intelligence delivery system, we would be a Mensa among states. But how could such a proliferation of overlapping agencies and outfits, aided and abetted by a burgeoning privatized, mercenary version of the same, provide "intelligence"? With more than two-thirds of all intelligence programs militarized and overseen by the Pentagon, itself driven to paroxysms of spending and expansion since 2001 (despite the fact that all major military challengers to the U.S. are long gone), labeling this morass "intelligence" should be considered a joke. However absurd, though, don't expect any of those organizations or agencies to disappear any time soon. They're ours for the duration.
It's into such national security institutional madness that Andrew Bacevich, author of the bestselling The Limits of Power, strides in his latest work, to be published this week,Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War. It is the single best source for understanding how Washington came to garrison the planet, intervene regularly in distant lands, and turn war-making -- and not even successful war-making at that -- into an American norm. It's simply a must-read. Think of today's TomDispatch post as a little introduction to just a few of that book's themes. (And while you're at it, catch Timothy MacBain's latest TomCast audio interview in which Bacevich discusses his new book by clicking here, or to download it to your iPod,here). Tom
The End of (Military) History?
The United States, Israel, and the Failure of the Western Way of War
By Andrew J. Bacevich- Advertisement -
"In watching the flow of events over the past decade or so, it is hard to avoid the feeling that something very fundamental has happened in world history." This sentiment, introducing the essay that made Francis Fukuyama a household name, commands renewed attention today, albeit from a different perspective.
Developments during the 1980s, above all the winding down of the Cold War, had convinced Fukuyama that the "end of history" was at hand. "The triumph of the West, of the Western idea," he wrote in 1989, "is evident" in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism."
Today the West no longer looks quite so triumphant. Yet events during the first decade of the present century have delivered history to another endpoint of sorts. Although Western liberalism may retain considerable appeal, the Western way of war has run its course.
For Fukuyama, history implied ideological competition, a contest pitting democratic capitalism against fascism and communism. When he wrote his famous essay, that contest was reaching an apparently definitive conclusion.
Yet from start to finish, military might had determined that competition's course as much as ideology. Throughout much of the twentieth century, great powers had vied with one another to create new, or more effective, instruments of coercion. Military innovation assumed many forms. Most obviously, there were the weapons:dreadnoughts and aircraft carriers, rockets and missiles,poison gas, and atomic bombs -- the list is a long one. In their effort to gain an edge, however, nations devoted equal attention to other factors:doctrine and organization, training systems and mobilization schemes, intelligence collection and war plans.
All of this furious activity, whether undertaken by France or Great Britain, Russia or Germany, Japan or the United States, derived from a common belief in the plausibility of victory. Expressed in simplest terms, the Western military tradition could be reduced to this proposition: war remains a viable instrument of statecraft, the accoutrements of modernity serving, if anything, to enhance its utility.- Advertisement -
That was theory. Reality, above all the two world wars of the last century, told a decidedly different story. Armed conflict in the industrial age reached new heights of lethality and destructiveness. Once begun, wars devoured everything, inflicting staggering material, psychological, and moral damage. Pain vastly exceeded gain. In that regard, the war of 1914-1918 became emblematic: even the winners ended up losers. When fighting eventually stopped, the victors were left not to celebrate but to mourn. As a consequence, well before Fukuyama penned his essay, faith in war's problem-solving capacity had begun to erode. As early as 1945, among several great powers -- thanks to war, now great in name only -- that faith disappeared altogether.
Among nations classified as liberal democracies, only two resisted this trend. One was the United States, the sole major belligerent to emerge from the Second World War stronger, richer, and more confident. The second was Israel, created as a direct consequence of the horrors unleashed by that cataclysm. By the 1950s, both countries subscribed to this common conviction: national security (and, arguably, national survival) demanded unambiguous military superiority. In the lexicon of American and Israeli politics, "peace" was a codeword. The essential prerequisite for peace was for any and all adversaries, real or potential, to accept a condition of permanent inferiority. In this regard, the two nations -- not yet intimate allies -- stood apart from the rest of the Western world.