Wednesday, March 23, 2016
Go To Original
I have been filming in the Marshall Islands, which lie north of Australia, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Whenever I tell people where I have been, they ask, “Where is that?” If I offer a clue by referring to “Bikini”, they say, “You mean the swimsuit.”
Few seem aware that the bikini swimsuit was named to celebrate the nuclear explosions that destroyed Bikini island.
Sixty-six nuclear devices were exploded by the United States in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958 — the equivalent of 1.6 Hiroshima bombs every day for twelve years.
Bikini is silent today, mutated and contaminated. Palm trees grow in a strange grid formation. Nothing moves. There are no birds. The headstones in the old cemetery are alive with radiation. My shoes registered “unsafe” on a Geiger counter.
Standing on the beach, I watched the emerald green of the Pacific fall away into a vast black hole. This was the crater left by the hydrogen bomb they called “Bravo”. The explosion poisoned people and their environment for hundreds of miles, perhaps forever.
On my return journey, I stopped at Honolulu airport and noticed an American magazine called Women’s Health. On the cover was a smiling woman in a bikini swimsuit, and the headline: “You, too, can have a bikini body.” A few days earlier, in the Marshall Islands, I had interviewed women who had very different “bikini bodies”; each had suffered thyroid cancer and other life-threatening cancers.
Unlike the smiling woman in the magazine, all of them were impoverished: the victims and guinea pigs of a rapacious superpower that is today more dangerous than ever.
I relate this experience as a warning and to interrupt a distraction that has consumed so many of us. The founder of modern propaganda, Edward Bernays, described this phenomenon as “the conscious and intelligent manipulation of the habits and opinions” of democratic societies. He called it an “invisible government”.
How many people are aware that a world war has begun? At present, it is a war of propaganda, of lies and distraction, but this can change instantaneously with the first mistaken order, the first missile.
In 2009, President Obama stood before an adoring crowd in the centre of Prague, in the heart of Europe. He pledged himself to make “the world free from nuclear weapons”. People cheered and some cried. A torrent of platitudes flowed from the media. Obama was subsequently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
It was all fake. He was lying.
The Obama administration has built more nuclear weapons, more nuclear warheads, more nuclear delivery systems, more nuclear factories. Nuclear warhead spending alone rose higher under Obama than under any American president. The cost over thirty years is more than $1 trillion.
A new mini nuclear bomb is planned. It is known as the B61 Model 12. There has never been anything like it. General James Cartwright, a former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said, “Going smaller [makes using this nuclear] weapon more thinkable.”
In the last eighteen months, the greatest build-up of military forces since World War Two — led by the United States — is taking place along Russia’s western frontier. Not since Hitler invaded the Soviet Union have foreign troops presented such a demonstrable threat to Russia.
Ukraine – once part of the Soviet Union – has become a CIA theme park. Having orchestrated a coup in Kiev, Washington effectively controls a regime that is next door and hostile to Russia: a regime rotten with Nazis, literally. Prominent parliamentary figures in Ukraine are the political descendants of the notorious OUN and UPA fascists. They openly praise Hitler and call for the persecution and expulsion of the Russian speaking minority.
This is seldom news in the West, or it is inverted to suppress the truth.
In Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — next door to Russia – the US military is deploying combat troops, tanks, heavy weapons. This extreme provocation of the world’s second nuclear power is met with silence in the West.
What makes the prospect of nuclear war even more dangerous is a parallel campaign against China.
Seldom a day passes when China is not elevated to the status of a “threat”. According to Admiral Harry Harris, the US Pacific commander, China is “building a great wall of sand in the South China Sea”.
What he is referring to is China building airstrips in the Spratly Islands, which are the subject of a dispute with the Philippines – a dispute without priority until Washington pressured and bribed the government in Manila and the Pentagon launched a propaganda campaign called “freedom of navigation”.
What does this really mean? It means freedom for American warships to patrol and dominate the coastal waters of China. Try to imagine the American reaction if Chinese warships did the same off the coast of California.
I made a film called The War You Don’t See, in which I interviewed distinguished journalists in America and Britain: reporters such as Dan Rather of CBS, Rageh Omar of the BBC, David Rose of the Observer.
All of them said that had journalists and broadcasters done their job and questioned the propaganda that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction; had the lies of George W. Bush and Tony Blair not been amplified and echoed by journalists, the 2003 invasion of Iraq might not have happened, and hundreds of thousands of men, women and children would be alive today.
The propaganda laying the ground for a war against Russia and/or China is no different in principle. To my knowledge, no journalist in the Western “mainstream” — a Dan Rather equivalent, say –asks why China is building airstrips in the South China Sea.
The answer ought to be glaringly obvious. The United States is encircling China with a network of bases, with ballistic missiles, battle groups, nuclear -armed bombers.
This lethal arc extends from Australia to the islands of the Pacific, the Marianas and the Marshalls and Guam, to the Philippines, Thailand, Okinawa, Korea and across Eurasia to Afghanistan and India. America has hung a noose around the neck of China. This is not news. Silence by media; war by media.
In 2015, in high secrecy, the US and Australia staged the biggest single air-sea military exercise in recent history, known as Talisman Sabre. Its aim was to rehearse an Air-Sea Battle Plan, blocking sea lanes, such as the Straits of Malacca and the Lombok Straits, that cut off China’s access to oil, gas and other vital raw materials from the Middle East and Africa.
In the circus known as the American presidential campaign, Donald Trump is being presented as a lunatic, a fascist. He is certainly odious; but he is also a media hate figure. That alone should arouse our scepticism.
Trump’s views on migration are grotesque, but no more grotesque than those of David Cameron. It is not Trump who is the Great Deporter from the United States, but the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Barack Obama.
According to one prodigious liberal commentator, Trump is “unleashing the dark forces of violence” in the United States. Unleashingthem?
This is the country where toddlers shoot their mothers and the police wage a murderous war against black Americans. This is the country that has attacked and sought to overthrow more than 50 governments, many of them democracies, and bombed from Asia to the Middle East, causing the deaths and dispossession of millions of people.
No country can equal this systemic record of violence. Most of America’s wars (almost all of them against defenceless countries) have been launched not by Republican presidents but by liberal Democrats: Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton, Obama.
In 1947, a series of National Security Council directives described the paramount aim of American foreign policy as “a world substantially made over in [America's] own image”. The ideology was messianic Americanism. We were all Americans. Or else. Heretics would be converted, subverted, bribed, smeared or crushed.
Donald Trump is a symptom of this, but he is also a maverick. He says the invasion of Iraq was a crime; he doesn’t want to go to war with Russia and China. The danger to the rest of us is not Trump, but Hillary Clinton. She is no maverick. She embodies the resilience and violence of a system whose vaunted “exceptionalism” is totalitarian with an occasional liberal face.
As presidential election day draws near, Clinton will be hailed as the first female president, regardless of her crimes and lies – just as Barack Obama was lauded as the first black president and liberals swallowed his nonsense about “hope”. And the drool goes on.
Described by the Guardian columnist Owen Jones as “funny, charming, with a coolness that eludes practically every other politician”, Obama the other day sent drones to slaughter 150 people in Somalia. He kills people usually on Tuesdays, according to the New York Times, when he is handed a list of candidates for death by drone. So cool.
In the 2008 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton threatened to “totally obliterate” Iran with nuclear weapons. As Secretary of State under Obama, she participated in the overthrow of the democratic government of Honduras. Her contribution to the destruction of Libya in 2011 was almost gleeful. When the Libyan leader, Colonel Gaddafi, was publicly sodomised with a knife – a murder made possible by American logistics – Clinton gloated over his death: “we came, we saw, he died.”
One of Clinton’s closest allies is Madeleine Albright, the former secretary of State, who has attacked young women for not supporting “Hillary”. This is the same Madeleine Albright who infamously celebrated on TV the death of half a million Iraqi children as “worth it”.
Among Clinton’s biggest backers are the Israel lobby and the arms companies that fuel the violence in the Middle East. She and her husband have received a fortune from Wall Street. And yet, she is about to be ordained the women’s candidate, to see off the evil Trump, the official demon. Her supporters include distinguished feminists: the likes of Gloria Steinem in the US and Anne Summers in Australia.
A generation ago, a post-modern cult now known as “identity politics” stopped many intelligent, liberal-minded people examining the causes and individuals they supported — such as the fakery of Obama and Clinton; such as bogus progressive movements like Syriza in Greece, which betrayed the people of that country and allied with their enemies.
Self absorption, a kind of “me-ism”, became the new zeitgeist in privileged western societies and signaled the demise of great collective movements against war, social injustice, inequality, racism and sexism.
Today, the long sleep may be over. The young are stirring again. Gradually. The thousands in Britain who supported Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader are part of this awakening – as are those who rallied to support Senator Bernie Sanders.
In Britain last week, Jeremy Corbyn’s closest ally, his shadow treasurer John McDonnell, committed a Labour government to pay off the debts of piratical banks and, in effect, to continue so-called austerity.
In the US, Bernie Sanders has promised to support Clinton if or when she’s nominated. He, too, has voted for America’s use of violence against countries when he thinks it’s “right”. He says Obama has done “a great job”.
In Australia, there is a kind of mortuary politics, in which tedious parliamentary games are played out in the media while refugees and Indigenous people are persecuted and inequality grows, along with the danger of war. The government of Malcolm Turnbull has just announced a so-called defence budget of $195 billion that is a drive to war. There was no debate. Silence.
What has happened to the great tradition of popular direct action, unfettered to parties? Where is the courage, imagination and commitment required to begin the long journey to a better, just and peaceful world? Where are the dissidents in art, film, the theatre, literature?
Where are those who will shatter the silence? Or do we wait until the first nuclear missile is fired?
Go To Original
The United States and the Philippines announced last Friday that five of the country’s military bases would be opened up to American forces under the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). The implementation of the Philippine basing arrangement is just one component of the accelerating US military build-up throughout the Indo-Pacific region as part of the Pentagon’s encirclement and war preparations against China.
The two countries signed EDCA in 2014 but the Philippine Supreme Court only rejected legal challenges to the agreement in January. Last week’s announcement followed two days of high-level discussions in Washington on an offer by the Philippine administration in February to make eight bases available to the US military.
The five “agreed locations” include the Antonio Bautista Air Base on Palawan Island, directly adjacent to the contested Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Over the past year, Washington has dramatically heightened tensions with Beijing, denouncing its land reclamation activities and “militarisation” of the South China Sea. Last October and again in January, US navy destroyers directly challenged Chinese maritime claims by intruding into the 12-nautical-mile territorial limit around Chinese-administered islets.
The US military will also have access to Basa Air Base north of Manila, Fort Magsaysay (a huge army base), Lumbia Air Base in Cebu and Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base in Mindanao. Defence Secretary Ashton Carter is due to visit Manila next month to finalise arrangements. However, Philip Goldberg, US ambassador to the Philippines, told the media he expected the initial movement of supplies and personnel to begin “very soon.” The US Congress has set aside $66 million for the construction of military facilities in the Philippines.
Beijing condemned the new basing deal and warned of the potential for conflict. A comment published on Saturday by the state-owned Xinhua news agency accused Washington of “muddying waters in the South China Sea and making the Asia Pacific a second Middle East.” On Monday, foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying pointed to the hypocrisy of the US accusing China of “militarising” the South China Sea, exclaiming: “Isn’t this kind of continued strengthening of military deployments in the South China Sea and areas surrounding it considered militarisation?”
As the US prepared to move military forces back into its former colony, General Dennis Via, chief of US Army Materiel Command, revealed to the media last week that Washington had secured other basing arrangements in Asia, including Vietnam, Cambodia and other unnamed countries. Under these deals, the US army will be able to stockpile equipment to enable troops to be deployed more rapidly to the region.
Via emphasised that the “activity sets” would be geared to low-intensity operations such as multinational training exercises and relief operations. “We are looking, for example, at in Cambodia placing a combat support hospital,” he said.
Reassurances that the US military presence will be benign are worthless. As in the Philippines, the Pentagon is treading carefully so as not to immediately inflame opposition to a foreign military presence. In the case of Cambodia and Vietnam, the death and destruction wrought in both countries by Washington’s neo-colonial war in the 1960s and 1970s is deeply etched into popular consciousness.
Washington has already forged closer diplomatic, economic and military relations with the Vietnamese regime, including backing its more aggressive stance in its disputes with China in the South China Sea. The US has lifted embargoes on the sale of arms to Vietnam, conducted joint military exercises and is seeking greater access to port facilities. However, the placement of US army supplies inside Vietnam for the first time since American troops were forced to withdraw in 1975 marks a turning point in the regime’s collaboration with US imperialism.
Beijing will be even more concerned about Cambodia’s decision to host US military equipment. The Cambodian regime has close ties with China and has attempted to block US efforts to press the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to take a more confrontational stand against China over the South China Sea. Nevertheless, the US has been developing defence ties with Cambodia since 2006. These include limited training, port calls and joint exercises. Washington has also been exploiting the Lower Mekong Initiative to drive a wedge between Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand, on the one hand, and China which is building dams on the upper Mekong River, on the other.
The latest basing arrangements with the Philippines, Vietnam and Cambodia come on top of the stationing of the US navy’s littoral combat vessels in Singapore and closer military collaboration with Indonesia and Malaysia. The rapid expansion of the US military presence in South East Asia goes hand in hand with the restructuring of permanent American military bases in South Korea, Japan and Guam, the upgrading of the US strategic partnership with India, and preparations to station long-range strategic bombers in northern Australia.
The US build-up is part of the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia,” formally announced in 2011—a comprehensive diplomatic, economic and military strategy aimed at subordinating China to Washington’s interests. The “pivot” has greatly inflamed potential flashpoints for war throughout the region, particularly through its provocative activities in the South China Sea.
Speaking in Canberra last week, Admiral Scott Swift, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, delivered another broadside against China, declaring that “freedom of the seas” was “increasingly vulnerable to a state-led resurgence of the principle of might makes right.” He declared that he was troubled by “the undeniable signs of militarisation in select parts of the region, unprecedented in scope and scale.”
The cynicism of such statements knows no bounds. The US navy has not only carried out two “freedom of navigation” operations within territorial waters claimed by China, but earlier this month dispatched the nuclear aircraft carrier, the USS John C Stennis, along with its associated strike group, to the South China Sea for four days of exercises and patrols. Over the past quarter century, the US has ridden roughshod over international law on the basis of “might makes right” to engage in a continuous succession of wars, military interventions and provocations.
Now Washington is preparing for war on an even more terrible scale with China and pressing countries throughout the region into line. Swift’s visit to Canberra coincides with a concerted campaign to pressure the Australian government to mount its own “freedom of navigation” operation in the South China Sea—a reckless military exercise that always entails the risk of a miscalculation or mistake triggering a broader conflict.
Go To Original
Two attacks on a US firebase in northern Iraq, which killed one US Marine and wounded several more, have led to revelations about a substantial escalation of the US military intervention in the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the Pentagon has deployed more than 5,000 soldiers in Iraq, some 20 percent more than the current “cap” of 3,870 troops publicly announced by the Obama White House. The Daily Beast web site gave the total as 5,325.
The revelations of additional US forces came after ISIS attacked a Marine Corps position in Makhmour, about 70 miles south of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the largest urban area controlled by ISIS in either Syria or Iraq.
ISIS mortars slammed into the base, dubbed Firebase Bell, killing Staff Sergeant Louis Cardin and wounding several more Marines. Some of the wounded had to be evacuated out of the country in order to receive proper treatment.
Cardin, 27, from Temecula, California, was on his fifth deployment in a war zone. He had served three tours of duty in Afghanistan and one previous tour in Iraq before he was airlifted into Makhmour last month as part of the deployment of the US Marines 26th Expeditionary Unit from the USS Kearsarge, a troop carrier stationed in the Persian Gulf.
On Monday, a small ISIS unit attacked the base, home to 200 Marines, with small arms fire. They were driven off without casualties. At that point, Pentagon spokesmen acknowledged the existence of Firebase Bell, the first US-only facility to be set up in Iraq since the formal end of the US military occupation of the country in December 2011.
The Marine base sits adjacent to Iraqi Army and Kurdish Peshmerga positions in the area where the Iraqi government is assembling forces for a planned offensive against Mosul, expected later this year. The 200 soldiers at Firebase Bell operate 155mm artillery to provide long-range support for Iraqi Army and Kurdish troops and US Special Forces.
The Obama administration has classified the deployment of the Marines and many other soldiers as “temporary” in order to claim that the number of troops in Iraq is below the current ceiling of 3,870 that it reports to Congress.
Colonel Steve Warren, the top US military spokesman in Baghdad, told the press Monday, “People come through on a temporary basis and go above and below the force cap all the time, but we remain under our force cap.”
Nancy Youssef, a Daily Beast reporter, noted that Cardin’s death had revealed “a familiar, disturbing pattern in this war—one where the US military does not reveal what it is asking of troops until it has to, usually when a service member is killed. Up until Cardin’s death, the US military said its troops were only on heavily fortified bases; that its forces were not part of any offensive operations; that they were properly secured; and that frontline troops are counted in publicly released tallies of those deployed in Iraq. But Saturday’s attack revealed that none of that was accurate.”
The purpose of the official secrecy and lying is not military security. ISIS was well aware of the existence of the firebase, which it targeted with mortar shells. In any case, as one official admitted, it is hard to hide 200 heavily armed Marines stationed only 10 miles from enemy lines.
The purpose was to conceal from the Iraqi and American people what the US government and Pentagon are doing in Iraq. President Obama has repeatedly declared that he brought an end to combat in Iraq and that he would not send US combat forces back to that country. But this is what, in fact, is happening.
Iraq’s Joint Operations Command denied Monday that US Marines were involved in combat in Iraq, declaring, “There is no credibility for the rumors talking about the deployment of American fighting troops in certain sites and camps in Baghdad or elsewhere.”
Colonel Warren also denied that the deployment in Makhmour constituted a combat mission. “They won’t kind of go off and conduct any type of mission on their own,” he told reporters. “They don’t really have that capability anyways. They’re just providing coverage, right? They’re providing fire support coverage for the several thousand Iraqi soldiers and the several hundred advisers.”
Nonetheless, he admitted that the Marines had been deliberately attacked by ISIS. “I think they were targeted specifically,” he said. “We’re in a dangerous place and there’s a war going on. So we have to expect there will be attacks.”
Sergeant Cardin was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment. As the Wall Street Journal wrote in its report on Cardin’s death, “The transfer of a regular Marine unit into a combat zone marks stepped-up efforts by the US to combat the extremist group.”
Other press reports noted that the US government had previously claimed that ISIS used mustard gas against Kurdish troops stationed in Makhmour last year. Establishing a base for the US Marines on the same site makes nonsense of the pretense that US forces are not playing a ground combat role in the war against ISIS.
The Associated Press reported, “Makhmour is expected to become a major focus of any future offensive to gain control of Mosul, and Iraqi army reinforcements have begun arriving there in recent weeks in preparation for the operation.”
The top State Department official in the region, Brett McGurk, said the offensive had already begun, in the sense that US-backed Iraqi forces were edging toward Mosul. “It’s already started,” he told a forum at the American University of Iraq at Sulaymaniyah, in the Kurdish-ruled zone of northern Iraq. “It’s a slow, steady squeeze,” he said, adding, “It’s going to be a long campaign.”
The exposure of previously secret US military facilities in northern Iraq follows reports earlier this month that the Pentagon was operating two secret airstrips in northern Syria, inside the region along the Syrian-Turkish border controlled by the Syrian Kurdish PYG.
One airstrip, at Rmeilan, in the far northeastern corner of Syria near the Iraq border, was doubled in length in order to accommodate US cargo planes bringing supplies for the PYG and US Special Forces troops working with them. The other airstrip, near Kobani, was reported March 6 to be under construction.
Go To Original
It has been thirteen years since former president George W. Bush sat in the Oval Office and announced the invasion and large-scale bombing of Iraq to "free its people and to defend the world from grave danger."
That war and occupation would go on to take the lives of over one million Iraqi people, according to some estimates, and leave behind decimated infrastructure,environmental poison, a sectarian political system and the conditions that fueled the rise of the "Islamic State."
Met with the largest coordinated global protests in human history, the 2003 invasion was, for people in Iraq, one of many violent US interventions in the country.
As the Iraqi Transnational Collective recently documented, it has been 25 years since the US attacked a bomb shelter in Baghdad's Amiriyah neighborhood, killing 403 civilians as part of "Operation Desert Storm" assault on cities, infrastructure and people. The brutal US sanctions regime during the '90s is estimated to have killed at least half-a-million children -- a death toll that was cruelly described in 1996 by Madeleine Albright as "worth" the price.
Now, on the anniversary of a war that is broadly considered to be a disaster of epic proportions, and even acknowledged as a mistake by some of its initial supporters, the Obama administration is quietly deploying more troops to the country. These deployments come despite the president's previous pledges that there would be no "boots on the ground" in military operations against the "Islamic State," which have now been waged in Iraq and Syria for roughly a year-and-a-half.
US Central Command announced on Sunday that it has assigned "a detachment of US Marines from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit to the support of Iraqi Security Force and Coalition ground operations." The military did not disclose the specific number of marines who will be deployed to a country where there are already nearly 4,000 US troops on the ground.
That announcement came one day after the Pentagon announced that Marine Staff Sergeant Louis F. Cardin was killed by rocket fire on a base near Makhmour, located southeast of Mosul.
CNN's Barbara Starr reported over the weekend that the firebase had not been previously disclosed to the public and was only revealed by Cardin's death.
An unnamed defense official told CNN that the Pentagon had been planning to reveal the existence of a "couple hundred" marines living in tents near Makhmour. However, such claims are questionable, given the military's repeated failure to share the most basic information about its ongoing wars, including civilians it has killed in Iraq and Syria.
"The fact that the US is sending undisclosed numbers of marines back to Iraq is a sad indication that the the Obama administration's policy in the country does not depart from the policies of former administrations," Raed Jarrar, government relations manager for the American Friends Service Committee, told AlterNet. "In addition to direct military intervention, the US is also sending Iraq weapons and military aid. It is indirectly supporting human rights violations and war crimes committed by our partner in the country."
"Obama ran on a platform of ending the Iraq War," Jarrar continued. "The US has been engaged in military intervention in Iraq since 1991, and Obama is the fourth consecutive president who seems to be following the same unfortunate policies of continuing to interfere in Iraq militarily and continuing to be part of the problem."
Go To Original
In the decades since the draft ended in 1973, a strange new military has emerged in the United States. Think of it, if you will, as a post-democratic force that prides itself on its warrior ethos rather than the old-fashioned citizen-soldier ideal. As such, it's a military increasingly divorced from the people, with a way of life ever more foreign to most Americans (adulatory as they may feel toward its troops). Abroad, it's now regularly put to purposes foreign to any traditional idea of national defense. In Washington, it has become a force unto itself, following its own priorities, pursuing its own agendas, increasingly unaccountable to either the president or Congress.
Three areas highlight the post-democratic transformation of this military with striking clarity: the blending of military professionals with privatized mercenaries in prosecuting unending "limited" wars; the way senior military commanders are cashing in on retirement; and finally the emergence of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) as a quasi-missionary imperial force with a presence in at least135 countries a year (and counting).
The All-Volunteer Military and Mercenaries: An Undemocratic Amalgam
I'm a product of the all-volunteer military. In 1973, the Nixon administration ended the draft, which also marked the end of a citizen-soldier tradition that had served the nation for two centuries. At the time, neither the top brass nor the president wanted to face a future in which, in the style of the Vietnam era just then winding up, a force of citizen-soldiers could vote with their feet and their mouths in the kinds of protest that had only recently left the Army in significant disarray. The new military was to be all volunteers and a thoroughly professional force. (Think: no dissenters, no protesters, no antiwar sentiments; in short, no repeats of what had just happened.) And so it has remained for more than 40 years.
Most Americans were happy to see the draft abolished. (Although young men still register for selective service at age 18, there are neither popular calls for its return, nor serious plans to revive it.) Yet its end was not celebrated by all. At the time, some military men advised against it, convinced that what, in fact, did happen would happen: that an all-volunteer force would become more prone to military adventurism enabled by civilian leaders who no longer had to consider the sort of opposition draft call-ups might create for undeclared and unpopular wars.
In 1982, historian Joseph Ellis summed up such sentiments in a prophetic passage in an essay titled "Learning Military Lessons from Vietnam" (from the book Men at War):
[V]irtually all studies of the all-volunteer army have indicated that it is likely to be less representative of and responsive to popular opinion, more expensive, more jealous of its own prerogatives, more xenophobic -- in other words, more likely to repeat some of the most grievous mistakes of Vietnam … Perhaps the most worrisome feature of the all-volunteer army is that it encourages soldiers to insulate themselves from civilian society and allows them to cling tenaciously to outmoded visions of the profession of arms. It certainly puts an increased burden of responsibility on civilian officials to impose restraints on military operations, restraints which the soldiers will surely perceive as unjustified.
Ellis wrote this more than 30 years ago -- before Desert Storm, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, or the launching of the War on Terror. These wars (and other U.S. military interventions of the last decades) have provided vivid evidence that civilian officials have felt emboldened in wielding a military freed from the constraints of the old citizen army. Indeed, it says something of our twenty-first-century moment that military officers have from time to time felt the need to restrain civilian officials rather than vice versa. Consider, for instance, Army Chief of Staff General Eric Shinseki's warning early in 2003 that a post-invasion Iraq would need to be occupied by "several hundred thousand" troops. Shinseki clearly hoped that his (all-too-realistic) estimate would tamp down the heady optimism of top Bush administration officials that any such war would be a "cakewalk," that the Iraqis would strew "bouquets" of flowers in the path of the invaders, and that the U.S. would be able to garrison an American-style Iraq in the fashion of South Korea until hell froze over. Prophetic Shinseki was, but not successful. His advice was dismissed out of hand, as was he.
Events since Desert Storm in 1991 suggest that the all-volunteer military has been more curse than blessing. Partially to blame: a new dynamic in modern American history, the creation of a massive military force that is not of the people, by the people, or for the people. It is, of course, a dynamic hardly new to history. Writing in the eighteenth century about the decline and fall of Rome, the historian Edward Gibbon noted that:
In the purer ages of the commonwealth [of Rome], the use of arms was reserved for those ranks of citizens who had a country to love, a property to defend, and some share in enacting those laws, which it was their interest, as well as duty, to maintain. But in proportion as the public freedom was lost in extent of conquest, war was gradually improved into an art, and degraded into a trade.
As the U.S. has become more authoritarian and more expansive, its military has come to serve the needs of others, among them elites driven by dreams of profit and power. Some will argue that this is nothing new. I've read my Smedley Butler and I'm well aware that historically the U.S. military was often used in un-democratic ways to protect and advance various business interests. In General Butler's day, however, that military was a small quasi-professional force with a limited reach. Today's version is enormous, garrisoning roughly 800 foreign bases across the globe, capable of sending its Hellfire missile-armed drones on killing missions into country after country across the Greater Middle East and Africa, and possessing a vision of what it likes to call "full-spectrum dominance" meant to facilitate "global reach, global power." In sum, the U.S. military is far more powerful, far less accountable -- and far more dangerous.
As a post-democratic military has arisen in this country, so have a set of "warrior corporations" -- that is, private, for-profit mercenary outfits that now regularly accompany American forces in essentially equal numbers into any war zone. In the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Blackwater was the most notorious of these, but other mercenary outfits like Triple Canopy and DynCorp were also deeply involved. This rise of privatized militaries and mercenaries naturally contributes to actions that are inherently un-democratic and divorced from the will and wishes of the people. It is also inherently a less accountable form of war, since no one even bothers to count the for-profit dead, nor do their bodies come home in flag-draped coffins for solemn burial in military cemeteries; and Americans don't approach such mercenaries to thank them for their service. All of which allows for the further development of a significantly under-the-radar form of war making.
The phrase "limited war," applied to European conflicts from the close of the Thirty Years' War in 1648 to the French Revolution in 1789, and later to conventional wars in the nuclear age, has fresh meaning in twenty-first-century America. These days, the limits of limited war, such as they are, fall less on the warriors and more on the American people who are increasingly cut out of the process. They are, for instance, purposely never mobilized for battle, but encouraged to act as though they were living in a war-less land. American war efforts, which invariably take place in distant lands, are not supposed to interfere with business as usual in the "homeland," which, of course, means consumerism and consumption. You will find no rationing in today's America, nor calls for common sacrifice of any sort. If anything, wars have simply become another consumable item on the American menu. They consume fuel and resources, money, and intellect, all in staggering amounts. In a sense, they are themselves a for-profit consumable, often with tie-ins to video games, movies, and other forms of entertainment.
In the rush for money and in the name of patriotism, the horrors of wars, faced squarely by many Americans in the Vietnam War era, are now largely disregarded. One question that this election season has raised: What if our post-democratic military is driven by an autocrat who insists that it must obey his whims in the cause of "making America great again"?
Come 2017, we may find out.
Senior Military Men: Checking Out and Cashing In
There was a time when old soldiers like Douglas MacArthur talked wistfully aboutfading away in retirement. Not so for today's senior military officers. Like so many politicians, they regularly go in search of the millionaires' club on leaving public service, even as they accept six-figure pensions and other retirement benefits from the government. In the post-military years, being John Q. Public isn't enough. One must be General Johannes Q. Publicus (ret.), a future financial wizard, powerful CEO, or educator supreme. Heck, maybe all three.
Consider General David Petraeus, America's "surge" general in Iraq and later head of U.S. Central Command. He left the directorship of the CIA in disgrace after an adulterous affair with his biographer-mistress, with whom he illegally shared classified information. Petraeus has since found teaching gigs at the University of Southern California, the City University of New York, and Harvard's Kennedy School while being appointed chairman of the investment firm KKR Global Institute. Another retired general who cashed in with an investment firm is Ray Odierno, the former Army chief of staff, who became a special adviser to JP Morgan Chase, the financial giant. (Indeed, the oddness of Odierno, an ex-football player known for his total dedication to the Army, being hired by a financial firm inspired this spoof at a military humor site.)
But few men have surpassed retired Air Force General John Jumper. He cashed in by joining many corporate boards, including the board of directors for Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a major defense contractor. After five years he became its CEO with a seven-figure salary. Then you have retired general officers who pull down more than $300 an hour (no $7.25 federal minimum wage for them) advising their former subordinates at the Pentagon as "senior mentors."
No one expects generals to take vows of poverty upon retirement. Indeed, those hefty government pensions and assorted other benefits would preclude such vows. But in the post-democratic military world, duty, honor, country has become duty, honor, cash.
For today's crop of retiree generals, no Cincinnatus need apply. Of course, there's long been a revolving door between Pentagon offices and corporate boardrooms, but that door seems to be spinning ever faster in the twenty-first century.
The peril of all this should be obvious: the prospect of cashing-in big time upon retirement can't help but affect the judgment of generals while they're still wearing the uniform. When you reach high rank, it's already one big boys' club where everyone knows everyone else's reputation. Get one for being an outspoken critic of a contractor's performance, or someone who refuses to play ball or think by the usual rules of Washington, and chances are you're not going to be hired to lucrative positions on various corporate boards in retirement.
Such an insular, even incestuous system of pay-offs naturally reinforces conventional thinking. Generals go along to get along, embracing prevailing thinking on interventionism, adventurism, and dominance. Especially troublesome is the continued push for foreign military sales (arms exports) to some of the world's most active war zones. In this way, weaponry and wars are increasingly the business of America, a "growth" industry that is only reinforced when retired generals are hired to lead companies, to advise financial institutes, or even to teach young adults in prestigious schools.
For Petraeus is not the only retired general to lecture at such places. General Stanley McChrystal, who infamously was fired by President Obama for allowing a command climate that was disrespectful to the nation's civilian chain of command, is now asenior fellow at the Jackson Institute at Yale University. Admiral William McRaven, former head of U.S. Special Operations Command during the era of black sites and deaths by torture, is now the chancellor of the entire University of Texas system. McRaven had no prior background in education, just as Odierno had no background in finance before being hired to a top-tier position of authority. Both of them were, however, the military version of "company men" who, on retirement, possessed a wealth of contacts, which helped make them highly marketable commodities.
If you're wearing three or four stars in the military, you've already been carefully vetted as a "company man," since the promotion process screens out mavericks. Independent thinkers tend to retire or separate from the military long before they reach eligibility for flag rank. The most persistent and often the most political officers rise to the top, not the brightest and the best.
Special Operations: The US Military's "Jesuits"
As Nick Turse has documented at TomDispatch, post-9/11 America has seen the rapid growth of U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, a secretive military within the military that now numbers almost 70,000 operatives. The scholar and former CIA consultant Chalmers Johnson used to refer to that Agency as the president's private army. Now, the commander-in-chief quite literally has such an army (as, in a sense, he also now has a private robotic air force of drone assassinsdispatchable more or less anywhere). The expansion of SOCOM from a modest number of elite military units (like the Green Berets or SEAL Team 6) into a force larger than significant numbers of national armies is an underreported and under-considered development of our post-democratic military moment. It has now become the regular go-to force in the war on terror from Iraq to Afghanistan, Syria to Cameroon, Libya to Somalia.
As Gregory Foster, a Vietnam veteran and professor at the National Defense University noted recently, this now-massive force "provides an almost infinite amount of potential space for meddling and 'mission creep' abroad and at home due, in part, to the increasingly blurred lines between military, intelligence, police, and internal security functions… [T]he very nature of [special ops] missions fosters a military culture that is particularly destructive to accountability and proper lines of responsibility… the temptation to employ forces that can circumvent oversight without objection is almost irresistible."
Like the Jesuit order of priests who, beginning in the sixteenth century, took the fight to heretical Protestants and spread the Catholic faith from Europe and Asia in the "Old World" to nearly everywhere in the New World, today's SOCOM operators crusade globally on the part of America. They slay "evildoers" while advancing U.S. foreign policy and business goals in at least 150 countries. Indeed, the head of SOCOM, General Joseph Votel III, West Point grad and Army Ranger, put it plainly when he said that America is witnessing "a golden age for special operations."
A military force effectively unaccountable to the people tears at the very fabric of the Constitution, which is at pains to mandate firm and complete control over the military by Congress, acting in the people's name. Combine such a military with a range of undeclared wars and other conflicts and a Congress for which cheerleading, not control, is the order of the day, and you have a recipe for a force unto itself.
It used to be said of Prussia that it was a military with a state attached to it. America's post-democratic military, combined with the proliferation of intelligence outfits and the growth of the country's second defense department, the Department of Homeland Security, could increasingly be considered something like an emerging proto-state. Call it America's 51st state, except that instead of having two senators and a few representatives based on its size, it has all the senators and all the representatives based on its power, budget, and grip on American culture.
It is, in other words, a post-democratic leviathan to be reckoned with. And not a single Democratic or Republican candidate for commander-in-chief has spent a day in uniform. Prediction for November: another overwhelming victory at the polls for America's 51st state.