Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Obama being held captive?

by rdf Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 11:02:05 AM EST

In most countries there are four (or five) centers of power:

  1. The executive
  2. The legislature
  3. The judiciary
  4. The military
  5. The church

In the US the church has always wielded indirect power, although in the past four decades there has been an unusually close alliance between certain religious sectors and the Republican part. This is atypical for the US.

What I want to focus on is branch that we are taught in civics class doesn't exist: the military. The idea is that the US doesn't have such a fourth branch of government because the military is under "civilian" control. This is a convenient fiction, 99% of the military structure remains in place from one administration to the next. It is the largest recipient of discretionary federal funds, now at 54% of the budget. To ignore its influence is to make a big mistake.

Until the 20th Century the US tended to have a small military and the general sentiment was for America to stay out of foreign entanglements. There were some exceptions with the Monroe Doctrine and the like, but most military expansionism was focused on continental territory.

When leaders wanted to engage in foreign military action they needed to gin up support by creating a sense of outrage in the public. "Remember the Maine" was used to justify the Spanish American war. Wilson used various claims to get support for entering WWI, LBJ invented the Gulf of Tonkin and even FDR had a campaign of assisting England before Pearl Harbor to sway public sentiment. Recent events have followed this pattern.

There has been a subtle change since WWII, however. Once the military was ramped up to the extent that it became a world player it has never gone back to being only reactive. The first to be affected by the rise of the permanent fourth branch of government was Truman. Enough evidence has now come out over the decision to use the A bomb on Japan to show that he was influenced (or manipulated) by the group that had been working on the bomb and the generals who wanted to use it as a way to signal US superiority, especially to the USSR, in the post war period. Truman was the first modern president to be held captive by the military.

I won't recite all the other examples, but it is clear that LBJ and Nixon were also manipulated. Their mishandling of the Vietnam war was directly related to the poor intelligence information and biased advice they were getting.

The responses of both Bushes to events in the Middle East are just the latest in this chain. The fact that Bush II was happy with false intelligence only shows that some people are content to live in their bubble.

We now come to Obama. Even before he was elected he started to make statements that are right out of the permanent military playbook. This includes the need to expand the military and, now, to ramp up attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The statements that are made by his military advisers sound just like those heard from McNamara and his crew during the Vietnam war. These include the idea that we can pacify the local population, by eliminating the insurgents, that the failure of our programs is due to corruption or lack of adherence to our plans by the government leaders and that an increase of troops on the ground will make a difference.

None of these tactics have ever worked in the past. The evidence of history is there for all to see, not just in wars that the US has fought, but elsewhere. The IRA was not conquered, the parties finally realized that a political solution was the only way out. The rebel forces in parts of Africa have been carrying on civil wars for as long as 40 years. The Kurds have been doing so for centuries.

So what can explain Obama's shortsightedness? Is he a war hawk like Bush? Not likely. Is he in a bubble where all he hears are the daily threat assessments? Perhaps. What I claim is that all presidents are captives of the military branch. They wield so much power, have so many "friends" in congress and control so much of the industrial production of the country that a president isn't able to muster enough support to go against their wishes.

How would he do it? Suppose he proposed a sudden pullout of troops, or a radical downsizing in military spending. Would congress pass the enabling legislation? No. Would he be re-elected. Doubtful.

Is there anything Obama can do to dig himself out of the Middle East quagmire? I'm stumped, recent history seems to indicate not. We only leave after we have not only lost, but been throughly humiliated. When a segment of our government is larger than that of all the other industrialized countries combined to think that its doesn't wield power is naive.

If anyone one thinks they have a way to remove the undue influence of the military on US policy, I'd love to hear it.

I do think that the only way you could make serious cutbacks into the military would be for your president to be a former General or Admiral, with a distinguished military record, and be a republican.

other than that a significant military disaster, that is obviously the fault of the military and cant be blamed on the political leadership for lack of funds.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 11:33:24 AM EST
But don't you know the US Military has only ever lost a war because of insufficient funding/backing from back sliding, spineless, soft, commie loving politicians?

The currently fiscal crisis actual allows a way out of this conundrum - radical spending cuts on purely fiscal (not "ideological") grounds.  

Obama needs to announce that the US can no longer afford to be the world's "policeman" and announce a truly radical spending reduction plan to "balance the budget"

It's either the economy or the military - one of them has to go down the tubes - you choose...

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 12:43:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think that might work, do you think the financial crisis is big enough yet for that to work?

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.
by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 01:08:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Obama is the master of strategy and timing.  After the stimulus plan is activated, he will "discover" that the public finances are actually in much worse shape than he ever realised - requiring major sacrifices from all - excepting only the "middle classes" who have suffered a lot already.  Bank bail-outs of the big 6 banks will go, huge cuts in military spending, reductions in foreign "aid" to Israel et al.

The right does not have a monopoly on shock doctrine tactics.  In the short term the impact on the stock market will be catastrophic, "confidence" will suffer, but if he does it quickly enough people will still associate it with the aftermath of the Bush years.

He then has three years to rebuild the economy on a much more sustainable base... if he is not assassinated first

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 02:21:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Frank, here's a time when I hope with all my heart you're right.
Do you think the republican senate will filibuster the package, or is it a bluff?
If they do, --

Obama needs a story line to detoxify the centrally managed (spelled "socialistic") element of a mixed economy, and get people fired up, for ghange that's more than an economic emergency rescue. Without the unifying narrative,--the theater part of the equation-- strategy, even shock strategy could lead to a deeply authoritarian shift.

He also needs fewer blue-dog dems, and a veto-proof senate.

Dear Santa, --



Capitalism searches out the darkest corners of human potential, and mainlines them.

by geezer in Paris (risico at wanadoo(flypoop)fr) on Sun Feb 1st, 2009 at 02:21:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Read Nate Silver on the alleged filibuster threat - something which he thinks is almost non-existent in the foreseeable future because too many Senate Republicans have no choice but to work with the Obama Administration if they are to have any influence at all, and any chance of re-election in their now frequently Democratic leaning states.

If Obama appoints Judd Greg as Commerce Secretary, the likely outcome is another Obama leaning replacement Senator from New Hampshire giving a filibuster proof majority in all but name.  Democrats are also well placed to increase their majority in 2010, although, as they say, 2 years is a long time in politics.

Obama's majority in the house is also sufficient to overcome blue dog resistance and I do not doubt Obama's communication skills in being able to change the dominant narrative from the Reaganite "Government is the problem" to the progressive Government is the solution.

Obama's biggest problem is managing the decline in the USA's position as the world's sole Superpower and the hyperventilating theatrics this will inspire in the right wing.  If the Economy is still in trouble in 3/4 years time, Obama is in big trouble, and may take the fall for problems he never created.

However if he can stabilise the economy - even at a much lower rate of growth - create jobs, improve healthcare and deliver on most of his promises he should be a shoo-in for 2012.

notes from no w here

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Feb 1st, 2009 at 10:01:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You are right, its like having a junkie in charge of your checkbook.  Not only do they spend all your money but they spend it on destructive shit.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson
by NearlyNormal on Tue Feb 3rd, 2009 at 01:40:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's a wonderful article about the difference between diplomacy's domestic political setup versus the pentagon's: The Politics of National Security Budgets by Gordon Adams for The Stanley Foundation. The crux of which is exactly what you suggest, that the Pentagon has been highly organized and disciplined in its relations with Congress...and with congressional pressure as well (read the paper), security considerations get lots of play whichever way you turn.

Adams' paper is definitely worth a read.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 01:16:15 PM EST
Having worked for both the Departments of Defense and State, I have heard this/Adams' arguments for years, and I agree that diplomacy will always lose the battle for resources.  The deck is stacked so many ways, but it's not the military's fault particularly.  It's the way the cards are dealt.  Dept of State has no constituency while the military has constituency in every State where there is a military base or tentacle of the military industrial complex.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 01:55:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
More specifically, the diplomats do have a constituency. But that constituency doesn't vote in US elections, and for the most part does not bribe US congresscritters. On account of that constituency being mostly furriners who speak funny.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 04:13:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
actually, State tries to make common cause with foreign nationals living in the US. But, I agree and have made this point myself. Other than AIPAC, Cuban-Americans in south Florida, and the Hispanic community in the southwest, there aren't any foreign policy constituencies in the US.

Leaving the field open for business, security types, etc.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 06:21:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are a few powerful State Dept constituencies in the US, but most can be classified as big US/international business interests and their focus is very narrow, totally self centered and of no real benefit to State when it comes to budget time.

The other card dealt DoD is excessive staffing that can be devoted to selling the Defense cause. What do hundreds of senior military officers do when they arent somewhere fighting a war.  They sit at a desk in the Pentagon and perfect the DoD budget and its presentation to Congress, et al.  I'm told the annual DoD presentation is spit and polish spectacular, whereas State Dept sends up an a few egg heads in crumpled suits and they just scratch their heads when asked a question.  Exaggeration, probably, but there is likely more than a grain of truth in the comparison.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 10:10:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, the 2010 budget cycle has begun. Or it will by the first week of Feb. Or it should, frankly I don't know how it works during a transition, and I can't imagine the Obama team having a proposal put together so quickly. Likewise, I can't imagine anyone taking a leftover Bush administration budget proposal seriously.

But SecDef Gates has repeatedly called for more diplomacy, and that should help this round.

Time for some research, I'll keep you posted.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Sun Feb 1st, 2009 at 01:33:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
  1. Unemployment steadily climbs in the US (and most other places) over the next 12 months.

  2. Within 6 months from now, hyperinflation takes off.  Wonderful combination ... no income and escalating prices.

  3. People don't like being homeless and hungry.  Crime rate escalates.

  4. Wealthy Republicans still flush will all their ill-gotten booty, fund a constant stream of busloads of unemployed people to DC generating scenes reminiscent of the good old '60s hippie days.  Break out your bongs!

  5. Things get ugly.  Obama has to call out the troops here at home to subdue his own population.  Poor people become the army for the Republicans against the Demos.  Hey, at least they provide a lunch on the bus.

  6. Welcome to HELL!  And that's the optimistic scenario.  Notice I did NOT use the words Hitler, nukes, or thong underwear. (What?)

Take Home Lesson:  The troops come home when the govt. needs them to subdue our own population.

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Sat Jan 31st, 2009 at 06:03:25 PM EST
What about monetary governing powers? If money makes the world go round, what else matters?
by das monde on Sun Feb 1st, 2009 at 11:13:47 PM EST
to have so many branches of government. We have:

  1. Government branch. Executive, legislative and judiciary branch rolled up into one, under the total control of the Prime minister. Wonderful, eh?

  2. The media branch. They're utter idiots. 'nuff said.

  3. The labour unions. Or rather, the labour union, only one of them really counts. It's called LO, and our biggest party, the soc dems, are sometimes seen as its political wing. In jest, yes, but that doesn't make it any less true.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Tue Feb 3rd, 2009 at 11:14:15 AM EST
First, they don't call it the Military Complex.

They call it the Military/Industrial Complex.  The influence of corporate money in both campaign support and lobbying is the point of this very large spear.

I agree that unprecedented governmental budget crunches can level the playing field somewhat for proposals to ramp back military spending.  But I also think that two other aspects will also provide some 'force-muliplying' impact on such proposals.

The first aspect is education of the US public of the massive increases in the general budget (over and above the Iraq and Afghanistan appropriations).  These increases have escaped significant scrutiny in part because of the singular focus on the spending and politics surrounding these active wars.  

The second aspect is the cycle of excess-outrage-blowback such as that currently on display in the financial world.  This goes beyond the mere size of spending on the general budgets and war appropriations.  This cycle is more simple and because of the passion it elicits it is also much more potent.

Exposure of the almost unimaginable waste and corruption,the overpayments and "privatization", the traitorous greed and malfeasance that has led directly to the deaths of American military personnel will have a heavy political balancing effect on the power and influence of the M/I Complex.

Of particular interest will be the activities of the The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan which just yesterday finally held its first public hearing.  It is a bipartisan and independent commission with some fairly influential Congressional backing.


Under the Obama Administration, it may produce some interesting and potentially emancipating results.

by Into the Woods on Tue Feb 3rd, 2009 at 03:16:53 PM EST

Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]