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Americanism - Part II, American Militarism

by delicatemonster Wed May 16th, 2007 at 08:49:59 PM EST

Note: I initially planned the Militarism section to be the last portion of the Americanism series, however, the untimely death of Andrew Bacevich's son in Iraq warrants some commentary. I thought his father's own words on the 'New Militarism' which I quote heavily in this essay might be appropriate.

Boston University Professor Andrew J. Bacevich is, in Steven Clemon's words ...

"a brave, thoughtful public intellectual who has tried -- in reserved, serious terms -- to challenge the legitimacy of the Iraq War. He has been one of the most articulate leading thinkers among military-policy dissident conservatives who have exposed the inanity of this war and the damage it has done. He authored the critically-acclaimed book, The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War."

Now his son by the same name who was serving in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom is dead -- announced today by the Department of Defense

Not every American leader claims divine sanction, nor is every U.S. General a holy roller, but the idea persists that the United States is uniquely justified in using its power to expand throughout the world. And the military is necessary to fulfill that particular mission, whether it's a God inspired crusade or merely one more slight expansion with a few discomfiting elbows in the ribs of neighbors either near or far.

In 1945, at the end of World War II, Henry Luce, the owner of a vast chain of media enterprises-Time, Life, Fortune-declared that this would be "the American Century," that victory in the war gave the United States the right "to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit."

As Howard Zinn has noted, this confident prophecy was acted out all through the rest of the 20th century.  The United States penetrated the oil regions of the Middle East by special arrangement with Saudi Arabia, almost immediately after World War II. It established military bases in Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and a number of Pacific islands. In the next decades it orchestrated right-wing coups in Iran, Guatemala, and Chile, and gave military aid to various dictatorships in the Caribbean. In an attempt to establish a foothold in Southeast Asia to avert the 'communist' threat, it invaded Vietnam and bombed Laos and Cambodia. More recently we've invaded Grenada, Panama, Nicaragua, Haiti, Colombia and, of course, Afghanistan and Iraq. All totaled, we've been involved in far more than 50 wars  of varying sizes and lengths since the end of World War II-easily a war for every year since we declared victory in the war to end all wars


Yet if you ask an American if we are a war like people, they will categorically deny it. In part this is an operation of that peculiar American affinity for seeing ourselves as innocent, or perhaps it's because of our self assigned, exceptional, quasi-divine role... we see ourselves as historically burdened to carry out these missions. But in part it's also because we simply have not been told that since 1945 we have set out to conquer most of the world; or at least those parts of it that we find most useful.

In many cases the 'conquering' wears the benign face of IMF loans and economic pacts to neoliberally restructure the local economy, a kind of soft 'economic colonialism'. But there are occasions of course, when resources are strategic and American 'interests' must take precedent over certain individuals/nations who prove recalcitrant.

Andrew J. Bacevich, professor of international relations at Boston University, former director of its Center for International Relations (from 1998 to 2005), and author of several books, including the recently published The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced by War (2005) and American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of US Diplomacy (2002), wrote on Antiwar.com that historically US political leaders gauged the size and capabilities of America's armed services according to the security tasks immediately at hand. A threat to the nation's well-being might require a large and powerful military establishment. In the absence of such a threat, policymakers scaled down that establishment accordingly. With the passing of crisis, the army raised up for the crisis went immediately out of existence. This had been the case in 1865, in 1918, and in 1945.

"Since the end of the Cold War," Bacevich argues there has been a sea change in this policy. We no longer `stand down' after a threat has passed or been resolved. Instead, the United States has "come to value military power for its own sake, [...] and is committed as a matter of policy to maintaining military capabilities far in excess of those of any would-be adversary or combination of adversaries."

Writes Bacevich,

"This commitment finds both a qualitative and quantitative expression, with the U.S. military establishment dwarfing that of even America's closest ally. Thus, whereas the U.S. Navy maintains and operates a total of 12 large attack aircraft carriers, the once-vaunted [British] Royal Navy has none - indeed, in all the battle fleets of the world there is no ship even remotely comparable to a Nimitz-class carrier, weighing in at some 97 thousand tons fully loaded, longer than three football fields, cruising at a speed above thirty knots, and powered by nuclear reactors that give it an essentially infinite radius of action. Today, the U.S. Marine Corps possesses more attack aircraft than does the entire Royal Air Force - and the United States has two other even larger "air forces," one an integral part of the Navy and the other officially designated as the U.S. Air Force. Indeed, in terms of numbers of men and women in uniform, the U.S. Marine Corps is half again as large as the entire British Army - and the Pentagon has a second, even larger "army" actually called the U.S. Army - which in turn also operates its own "air force" of some 5,000 aircraft."

"All of these massive and redundant capabilities cost money, of course. The present-day Pentagon budget, adjusted for inflation, is 12 percent larger than the average defense budget of the Cold War era. In 2002, American defense spending exceeded by a factor of 25 the combined defense budgets of the seven "rogue states" then comprising the roster of U.S. enemies. Indeed, by some calculations, the United States spends more on defense than all other nations in the world together. Projected increases in the defense budget will boost Pentagon spending in real terms to a level higher than it was during the Reagan era. According to the Pentagon's announced long-range plans, by 2009 its budget will exceed the Cold War average by 23 percent. These facts elicit little comment, either from political leaders or the press. They are simply taken for granted. The truth is that there no longer exists any meaningful context within which Americans might consider the question "How much is enough?""

Nor does anyone ask why we continue to build even as our long term adversary, the Soviet Union and its satellites, have, from every reasonable perspective, been utterly vanquished.

The indisputable fact of global U.S. military preeminence also affects the collective mindset of the officer corps. "For the armed services, the concept of dominance constitutes a baseline or a point of departure from which to scale the heights of ever greater military capabilities. Indeed, the services have come to view outright supremacy "as merely adequate and any hesitation in efforts to increase the margin of supremacy as evidence of falling behind. "

As the old saw goes, if you own a really big hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail. Possessing such an enormous and elaborately expensive military means that, among other things, you tend to want to use it.

"The new American militarism also manifests itself through an increased propensity to use force," Bacevich notes, "leading, in effect, to the normalization of war.

There was a time in recent memory, most notably while the so-called Vietnam Syndrome infected the American body politic, when Republican and Democratic administrations alike viewed with real trepidation the prospect of sending U.S. troops into action abroad. Since the advent of the new Wilsonianism [ie., the neocons], however, self-restraint regarding the use of force has all but disappeared.[...] Since the fall of the Berlin Wall...wars have become almost annual events. The brief period extending from 1989's Operation Just Cause (the overthrow of Manuel Noriega) to 2003's Operation Iraqi Freedom (the overthrow of Saddam Hussein) featured nine major military interventions. And that count does not include innumerable lesser actions such as Bill Clinton's signature cruise missile attacks against obscure targets in obscure places, the almost daily bombing of Iraq throughout the late 1990s, or the quasi-combat missions that have seen GIs dispatched to Rwanda, Colombia, East Timor, and the Philippines. Altogether, the tempo of U.S. military interventionism has become nothing short of frenetic. "

As Madelaine Albright-a Democratic appointee! -- once famously observed, "What's the point of having this superb military that you're always talking about," she demanded of General Colin Powell, "if we can't use it?"

Obviously the US is recovering adequately from the so called `Vietnam syndrome', something which, in a saner world view would not constitute the symptoms of an illness but rather would constitute what Hegel had hoped for from our inception: a new relationship with reality. It was not to be. Instead, America looks poised to not just revert to a regrettable belief in the military as the solver of all problems, but to avidly consume the military ethos and aesthetic as never before. In part this is a response to 9/11 but also it's a response to a well organized campaign by the military establishment to reinvent itself for the 21st century. One look at a typical recruiting ad tells the tale, as does the slogan "an army of one."

Questions are personalized and romanticized and (often fictionalized) stories of heroism and adventure are the norm. "What's it like being a soldier?" queries one ad at the GoArmy site. The question is conversational, the answer is carefully pruned and ego swelling:

"To be a U.S. Army Soldier is to be a part of the strongest fighting force in the world. You'll spend your days training, working and serving together to protect America's freedoms. But you'll also have time after work for family, friends and personal interests. From recruitment to retirement, the U.S. Army provides a unique and diverse lifestyle for Soldiers."

No mention of course that you might get your head blown off, or that your duties might involve blowing someone else's head off. The Pentagon's ad campaign has successfully disguised the fact of mortality from new recruits. A less generous person might call the campaign a lie, but we don't have to reach to the recruitment literature for that. All we need do is turn on the nightly news and get our fill of the hero du jour: Patrick Tillman, say, or Jessica Lynch. Both carefully constructed narratives for mass media consumption that were fabrications from top to bottom. This "new aesthetic" as Bacevich calls it, has contributed, in turn, to an appreciable boost in the status of military institutions and soldiers themselves. Yet, despite the occasional stumble (the fabrications surrounding both the Tillman story and the Lynch narrative did eventually come out) the Pentagon's new Madison avenue approach has obviously been successful. "Since the end of the Cold War, opinion polls surveying public attitudes toward national institutions have regularly ranked the armed services first. While confidence in the executive branch, the Congress, the media, and even organized religion is diminishing, confidence in the military continues to climb. Otherwise acutely wary of having their pockets picked, Americans count on men and women in uniform to do the right thing in the right way for the right reasons."

"The last meritocracy" was how I heard one soldier-loving citizen describe it, and there is some truth to that, but not enough to outweigh the downsides. It's rather ironic that the single most onerous burden that the American taxpayer most support (to the tune of 440 billion dollars a year and counting), involves the creation of a vast and unwieldy bureaucracy that participates in semi-unilateral wars, violates international norms of conduct (rather regularly of late) and greatly exaggerates it's own dependencies as well as it's own importance and effectiveness. Yet, just mention cutting back on the military budget and wait for the wails of anguish from the hallowed halls of that most cherished institution's head: the Pentagon.

As a result, according to Bacevich: "In public life today, paying homage to those in uniform has become obligatory and the one unforgivable sin is to be found guilty of failing to "support the troops."

Sometimes, though, at the upper reaches of the Pentagon, it becomes less a matter of 'supporting our troops' and more a matter of supporting defense contracts, for industry lobbyists and ex-army pals alike.

"Since 1992" The American Federation of Scientists note,

"the United States has exported more than $142 billion dollars worth of weaponry to states around the world. The U.S. dominates this international arms market, supplying just under half of all arms exports in 2001, roughly two and a half times more than the second and third largest suppliers.  U.S. weapons sales help outfit non-democratic regimes, soldiers who commit gross human rights abuses against their citizens and citizens of other countries, and forces in unstable regions on the verge of, in the middle of, or recovering from conflict.  

U.S.-origin weapons find their way into conflicts the world over. The United States supplied arms or military technology to more than 92% of the conflicts under way in 1999. The costs to the families and communities afflicted by this violence is immeasurable. But to most arms dealers, the profit accumulated outweighs the lives lost. In the period from 1998-2001, over 68% of world arms deliveries were sold or given to developing nations, where lingering conflicts or societal violence can scare away potential investors.  

Of course, a loss of investment opportunities is not the only way Americans are impacted by the weapons trade. In addition to paying billions of dollars every year to support weapons exports, Americans may also feel the impact of increasing instability overseas. The United States military has had to face troops previously trained by its own military or supplied with U.S. weaponry in Panama, Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, and now in Afghanistan. Due to the advanced capabilities these militaries have acquired from past U.S. training and sales, the U.S. had to invest much more money and manpower in these conflicts than would have otherwise been needed.  

Support our troops, indeed. Unless a little more money might be had, not supporting them. Nearly a decade ago, the prospect for making a killing (literarily and figuratively) in the small arms trade became the defacto ruling motive for selling arms. FMS (Foreign Military Sales) are Pentagon approved military contracts to foreign entities, ostensibly ensuring they don't get into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, as we've seen the Pentagon hasn't been especially sucessful at this, but that's not all bad. Martha Honey from theBaltimore Chronicle details the process:

International arms sales also put U.S. troops based around the world at growing risk. In discussing this so-called "boomerang effect," the CIA's Nonproliferation Center noted in 1995 that "the acquisition of advanced conventional weapons and technologies by hostile countries could result in significant casualties being inflicted on U.S. forces or regional allies." In fact, the last five times that the United States has sent troops into conflict-in Panama, Iraq, Kuwait, Somalia, Haiti and Bosnia-American forces faced adversaries that had previously received U.S. weapons, military technology or training.

The Pentagon and defense contractors then turn around and use the presence of advanced U.S. weapons in foreign arsenals to justify increased spending on new leading-edge weapons back home so that the United States can maintain its military superiority. For instance, the export of F-15 and F-16 tactical fighters to U.S. allies in Europe, Asia and the Middle East is being used to justify the development of the F-22, the "next generation" fighter that has already cost taxpayers $16 billion. Air Force officials are already proposing F-22 production costs be offset through overseas sales of the plane, which will undoubtedly provoke calls for yet another new fighter.

It's nice to be able to develop your own market when you're the supplier for that market as well. Unfortunately, as previously noted, selling dangerous weapons and then using that as an excuse to build/buy larger and more dangerous weapons does scant little to 'support' anyone's troops, much less our own. Yet the revolving door between the upper echelon of the Pentagon brass and the board of directors of defense firms or 'management assignments' to defense firms rarely get mentioned. A classic example occurred just recently, in fact, less than 6 months ago Gen. Richard B. Myers retired as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest ranking military officer in the country. He's quickly found alternative employment.

From the Chicago Tribune's The Swamp:

Northrop Grumman, one of the nation's largest and best-known defense firms, announced Wednesday that Myers, an Air Force veteran and former fighter pilot, has joined its board of directors.

As one of 11 "non-employee" directors, Myers will earn $200,000 a year, according to a company spokesman. Half of that sum is paid to the company's 12 directors in stock.

In exchange for his 200K, Myers will have to attend "eight scheduled board meetings this year, two of which are conducted by phone.

The problem isn't so much what little Myers will do to earn his keep at Northrup Grumman, the problem is what he has already done as the highest ranking officer in the US military. Eisenhower called this the Military Industrial complex for a reason. General Meyers is a prime example, but really only one. When the Bush administration first took office, it appointed 32 executives, paid consultants, or major shareholders of weapons contractors to top policymaking positions in the Pentagon, the National Security Council, the Department of Energy (involved in nuclear weapons development), and the State Department. Since that time, the "revolving door" has continued to spin, including a high profile scandal in which Air Force procurement official Darleen Druyun pled guilty to criminal charges for negotiating for a position at Boeing while simultaneously negotiating with the company on the terms of a controversial scheme to lease 100 more Boeing 767 airliners for modification and use as aerial refueling tankers. Another controversial move involved Pentagon acquisition chief Edward "Pete" Aldridge's decision to move straight from Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon to a position on the board of Lockheed Martin. And of course there is the keystone cop quality of the Randall "Duke" Cunningham bribery scandal involving Defense industry contractors.

Somehow these types of items are rarely found in your daily editorial column chastizing the lowly US citizens to--once again--"support the troops". Nor are Eisenhower's words of warning about the military industrial complex.

In the realm of partisan politics, the political Right has shown considerable skill in exploiting this 'support our troops' dynamic. Bacevich --who is a conservative -- notes that they [the Right] "shamelessly pander to the military itself and by extension to those members of the public laboring under the misconception, a residue from Vietnam, that the armed services are under siege from a rabidly anti-military Left. In fact, the Democratic mainstream - if only to save itself from extinction - has long since purged itself of any dovish inclinations. Moreover, in comparison to their Republican counterparts, they are at least as deferential to military leaders and probably more reluctant to question claims of military expertise."

Indeed, some of the more persistent calls for U.S. intervention abroad to relieve the plight of the abused and persecuted have come from the Left. Clinton's Haiti adventure in which he attempted (unsuccessfully, as it turns out) to reinstall Aristide is one example, some would say that Kosovo was another. In the present moment, writes Michael Ignatieff, "empire has become a precondition for democracy." Ignatieff, once a prominent human rights advocate, summons the United States to "use imperial power to strengthen respect for self-determination [and] to give states back to abused, oppressed people who deserve to rule them for themselves."  This is militarism from the Left, exactly fulfilling the dream of the neocon's PNAC, and the New Republic in almost equal measure, and it is a dreadful thing to behold. Whatever intellectual limit the liberal Left had placed on military projection in the era of the `Vietnam syndrome', it has now utterly disappeared.

Combine the ascendancy of militarism with the new evangelicalism; the core belief in our population that we are both exceptional and innocent and you have the makings of a perfect storm. We've already seen the results of that storm in two murderous invasions, neither of which achieved whatever happened to have been the stated objective, but both of which made real to the world the quite authentic and increasingly menacing face of Americanism.

Next diary: Americanism - Part III, American Religiosity

Crossposted at DailyKos and the ProgressiveHistorians

American militarism manifests itself in the large nunber of veterans. When I was in California there was a Marine flag hanging out of (I exaggerate) every balcony.

Bush is a symptom, not the disease.
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 17th, 2007 at 03:02:35 AM EST
I've often wondered if the fact that we don't have more recent veterans has actually aided those who would gloss and romanticize a soldier's life. 'Militarism' is probably three things altogether:
  1. an idea, a knee jerk belief in the effectiveness of using military force to solve all manner of problems
  2. an ideology, the romanticization of violence, code of the warrior, love of uniform and various machismo trappings etc.  
  3. a 'big time' money making economic grab bag of rotating Pentagon and Defense industry board members, Keynesian economics to support the homeland with big paying jobs making weapons systems, tanks and small arms and a way to leverage our defense industry as another element of foreign aide.

Of all these the last is probably most important--and the least important? Indeed, not even mentioned. The veterans themselves.
by delicatemonster (delicatemons@delicatemonster.com) on Thu May 17th, 2007 at 11:48:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Excellent diary.

The military is of course one aspect of the revolving door of elites that make up the governing class of the US version of polyarchic governance, thinly disguised as an elective democracy.  That Bacevich is able to have taken a scholarly look at the process after being heavily indoctrinated speaks volumes of the degree to which it has possibly gone so far off kilter since the confusion that what it called its "defeat" in Vietnam.  As we who bother with this area of scholarship have been informed, Chalmers Johnson was also a spear carrier for empire who could not ignore what he saw.

The binary opposition of liberal/conservative, Democrat/Republican is somewhat irrelevant to this issue as I see it.

"I would pillow myself on the stream, for I'd like to cleanse my ears" - Sun Chu (218-293) Chinese recluse

by Ren on Thu May 17th, 2007 at 03:24:27 PM EST

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