Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Militarism comes to Obama's America

President Eisenhower, the general who led the D-Day operation in 1944, famously warned Americans in 1961 of the threat to democracy from an emerging “military-industrial complex”. He’d be astonished at what’s going on 50 years later, where a new kind of complex has a seat at the top table.

Its beating heart is a secretive intelligence network which is now reckoned to constitute a fourth arm of government – after the executive (president), judicial and legislative (Congress). According to the Washington Post, this world of smoke and mirrors comprises over 1,200 government agencies and almost 2,000 private companies in more than 10,000 locations across the country. Its annual budget is $80 billion. There are an astonishing 845,000 people with top secret clearance.

This is but one arm of globalised counter-insurgency warfare. Conn Hallinan, a columnist for Foreign Policy In Focus, a progressive US-based think tank, says: “The assassination of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden did more than knock off U.S. Public Enemy Number One. It formalised a new kind of warfare, where sovereignty is irrelevant, armies tangential, and decisions are secret.”

Congress is consigned to the role of spectator while the “situation room” at the White House takes over. Who can forget the photos of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton watching as special forces went into Pakistan to kill Osama Bin Laden. Pakistan’s protests at the violation of its airspace were brushed aside.

Hallinan notes: “Although clandestine warfare is not new, the boldness of the bin Laden hit is. Certainly the people who planned the attack wanted to make a statement: We can get you anywhere you are, and impediments like international law, the Geneva Conventions, and the UN Charter be damned.”

The merging of intelligence and military operations in the US is about to take off in a big way. General David Petraeus, head of international forces in Afghanistan, is tipped to be Obama’s nomination as the new head of the Central Intelligence Agency after the present incumbent is confirmed as the administration’s new defence secretary.

In their analysis of the militarisation of America, William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel and Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, insist:

“Think of all this as a kind of mix-and-match version of war that increasingly integrates civilian branches of the government like the State Department, an ever more warlike CIA (once known as ‘the president’s private army’), the regular Army, Marines, and Air Force, ever-growing drone air power (split between an officially civilian intelligence agency and the military), and a secret combined military force of perhaps 20,000 special operatives.

In his article How the Military and the Civilian Are Blurring in Washington, Astore relates the “fairy tale” of a “fabled land”, a representative democracy whose foundational principles included civilian control of the military and a system of checks and balances. That has disappeared, says Astore:

“Instead, at the highest levels, what’s civilian and what’s military are increasingly difficult to tell apart as the two spheres blur and blend. Today, civilian control of the military is largely a principle without a meaning, while inside Washington’s Beltway, even with a scorecard it’s hard to tell the players apart. In the process, the military has gained a kind of unspoken and distinctly un-American primacy …

“There’s a word for this disease, even if after all these years it remains remarkably foreign to American ears: militarism. When Americans think of that word, they tend to conjure up images of fanatical jackbooted Nazis or suicidal Japanese kamikazes, and so the concept seems eminently dismissible. But militarism also describes a situation in which a country’s civil society and political culture are permeated to the point of dominance by military attitudes and values – an undeniable fact of life, I would argue, in America today.”

What is happening in America is a warning to people everywhere. The state is not just the plaything of the corporations but increasingly the military too. As the crisis of capitalism deepens, and markets become increasingly competitive, the lurch to full-blown militarism/nationalism will become more pronounced.

Paul Feldman

Communications editor

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