Friday, August 20, 2010

America's Cancerous Militarism - Part 2

America has been gradually overtaken by a type of hyper-militarism that, unless checked, could threaten its future as a democratic republic.   That is the warning of Andrew J. Bacevich in his book, The New American Militarism.   This former career US Army officer turned academic sees a confluence of forces that arose from the Reagan era through the administrations of Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and, now, Obama to ensnare his country in a militarism that now dominates American policy, foreign and domestic.

Yesterday, in part one, we looked at Ronald Reagan as the Founding Father of Americn Militarism and the role played by the marriage of fundamentalist Christianity and the US military.   This part will deal with Bacevich's exploration of the roles played by right wing ideologues, the neoconservatives, and the far right academics who spawned them together with the role they have played in boosting America's hyper-militarism.

Several years ago Lewis Lapham wrote that the end of his beloved America was foretold in the Nixon years when, as he put it, Americans came to "equate wealth with virtue."  It's an interesting premise and one that's fairly easily made out.   Bacevich carries it one step further.   In dealing with the "blood for oil" argument, he contends that today's American militarism came about when his countrymen came to view affluence as liberty itself.

The marriage of Extremist Ideology and Far Right Intellectualism with American Militarism.

It's pretty standard for modern governments to rely on intellectuals to assist in formulating policy.   This is particularly true in matters of foreign affairs, a truly multi-disciplinary pursuit.   In the United States, however, academics ventured far beyond matters of diplomacy to reach deeply into the very guts of military strategy.   In doing so, Bacevich argues, academics formed the High Priestdom of American Militarism.   They became the alchemists of modern warfare charged with solving the age-old dilemma:

"Since the beginning of the industrial age, war has time and again proven itself to be all but ungovernable.  The shattered reputations of generals and statesman who presumed to bring it under their control litter the twentieth century."

The end of WWII and the advent of the nuclear age triggered great changes in America's concept of warfighting.  Before then matters of tactics and strategy had been the near exclusive preserve of top generals and their political masters.   Think Guderian, think Rommel, think Patton.   But even the best generals suffered occasional defeats, something that had greater significance in the context of a nuclear exchange.

Bacevich chronicles how, in the wake of WWII, academics reformulated warfare.   No longer would the chief purpose of the military establishment be to win wars.   Instead the prime function of a modern military would be to avoid war.  At least that was the thinking in the 1950's.

The University of Chicago-trained Bernard Brodie advanced the notion of deterrence, "threatening force in order to persuade would be adversaries to forego misbehavior, with success making the actual use of force unnecessary."

"Brodie ...formed the basis of a new profession, its members known as defense intellectuals.  It gave birth to new institutions such as the RAND Corporation, the federally funded research facility...   The defense intellectuals produced a vast literature, most of it highly classified and bristling with jargon - 'not incredible counterforce first strike' and 'Doomsday Machine,' 'overkill' and 'mutual annihilation,' 'MAD' and "N=1.' "

But Brodie was wrong.   "Hiroshima had not, in fact, robbed violence of its political utility.  It had certainly not made war obsolete."  The Pentagon, notes Bacevich, really wasn't interested in high-minded ways to prevent another Hiroshima.   Instead it wanted answers on how to, "perpetuate the advantages that had accrued to the United States as a consequence of Hiroshima..  ..without triggering WWIII.   This was the challenge that imbued nuclear strategy with excitement and allure."

",,,the really interesting arguments were not with the hopelessly naive One Worlders or the hopelessly simple-minded generals but with the economists, mathematicians and political scientists across the corridor or down the hall, whether at RAND or any of the other institutions such as Harvard, MIT, and the University of Chicago where members of the priesthood congregated."

Foremost among these was Albert Wohlstetter, a mathematical logician, who went on to mentor the likes of Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz.   Wohlstetter, claims Bacevich, dislodged America from the perch of deterrence to more activist militarism, " enhance the ability of the United States to fight, whether all-out wars or limited ones, whether brief or protracted, whether employing nuclear or conventional weapons.   A wider range of robust military capabilities (necessarily requiring increases in defense spending), more options available to decision makers and a blunt willingness to go to the mat; these alone could keep the Red menace at bay."

"...Thus at the end of the 1950s did Wohlstetter's fallacious (even fraudulent) case for vulnerability nudge the strategic priesthood around a corner and down a path ending some four decades later in a fully developed argument for preventive war as the cornerstone of U.S. strategy."

The academics restored the concept of limited war, offering, "...the prospect of enhancing the direct political relevance of American military power.  Intelligently employed, force could enable the United States to dispose of garden-variety irritants, thereby reducing the likelihood of having to confront the big problem of an all-out nuclear showdown with the Soviet bloc."

Wohlstetter's influence continued for decades.  He was a forceful champion of the development of precision-guided munitions, not for minimizing civilian casualties or other humane advantages, but to enhance, "...the efficacy of American striking power.   ...Wohlstetter posited that a 'tenfold improvement in accuracy is roughly equal in effectiveness to a thousand-fold increase in the explosive energy released by a weapon.'  ...This prospect in turned opened up whole new vistas for the application of force.  At a minimum it promised to make war more readily available as an instrument of advancing U.S. security objectives.

Wohlstetter's crowning achievement in his decades-long effort to reconceptualize warfare came when he cochaired the Commission on Integrated Long-Term Strategy.  "Under the guise of reinforcing deterrence, this panel candidly advanced the case for a national security strategy incorporating the anticipatory use of force, eliminating threats before they could mature."  Bacevich refers to this as an "important milestone on the road to the Bush Doctrine."

Much of Wohlstetter's thinking was proven out in Operation Desert Storm when Saddam Hussein's armies were swept out of Kuwait.   But Wohlstetter saw the campaign as a failure in that it ended with Hussein still in power. 

Bacevich credits this as the final step in the 'evolving logic' leading to a strategy of preventive war.  "By their very existence dictatorships constituted an unacceptable threat.  The only sure remedy to the problem of vulnerability..  ..was to bring despotic regimes into full compliance with American norms, using force if necessary to do so."

Thus Wohlstetter and his successors ushered in the reality of military force supplanting diplomacy in America's foreign affairs.

Wholstetter's evolving wisdom was readily embraced by his ideological kin, the neoconservatives.   During the Cold War their focus was on maintaining an adequate force to defeat the threat of communism.   When the Soviet Union imploded, the second generation of neoconservatives looked for a new purpose and found it in pressing for America's unipolar military superiority to be employed to maintain their country's military and economic supremacy into perpetuity.

During the Clinton years, the Latter-Day Neo-Cons, massed themselves into an outfit they called The Project for the New American Century.  Above all else they wanted Saddam gone and the Arab Middle East reformed to comply with American values.  Clinton gave them the brush off but Cheney brought them straight into the White House when Bush II came to power.

Bacevich labels the neoconservative movement an "insurgency," an ideological counter-revolution.

"The conception of politics to which neoconservatives paid allegiance owed more to the ethos of the Left than to the orthodoxies of the Right.  Their ultimate ideological objective was not to preserve but to transform.  They viewed state power not as a necessary evil but as a positive good to be cultivated and then deployed in pursuit of large objectives."

As argued by one of the founders of first-generation neoconservatism, Norman Podhoretz, "...America had a mission and must never 'come home.'  ...Alternatives to or substitutes for American global leadership simply did not exist.   ...History had singled out the United States to play a unique role as the chief instrument for securing the advance of freedom, which founded its highest expression in democratic capitalism."

In the wake of the Cold War, neoconservatives grew fearful of being rendered irrelevant and cast about for a new mission.

"The neoconservative writer George Weigel put his finger on the problem in 1992:  to leave the post-Cold War foreign policy debate to the newly ascendant realists ...meant that isolationism would ultimately prevail.  ...all that the neoconservatives had struggled for would be lost.  Hence, wrote Weigel, the imperative or reenergizing the cause of 'democratic internationalism' - an approach to U.S. foreign policy based on the old neoconservative precepts of global engagement, assertiveness, and activism backed by military power."

The second-generation neocons, according to Bacevich, organized themselves on several precepts:

 1.  "...the certainty that American global dominion is, in fact, benign and that other nations see it as such."

2.  "Failure of the United States to sustain its imperium would inevitably result in global disorder, bloody, bitter and protracted."

3.  "Employing ...military might with sufficient wisdom and determination would bring within reach peace, prosperity, democracy, respect for human rights, and American global primacy extending to the end of time."

4.  "Military strength alone will not avail unless used actively to maintain a world order which both support and rests upon American hegemony."

5.  "Military conquest has often proved to be an effective means of implanting democracy.  Michael Ledeen went even further, declaring that, 'the best democracy program ever invented is the U.S. Army.  Peace in this world only follows victory in  war."

And so the neoconservatives laid the basis for what would become lifted straight out of their playbook to be enshrined as American policy in the Bush Doctrine.   Obama has notionally repudiated the Bush Doctrine but, as Bacevich reveals, that's infinitely easier said than done.

Blood for Oil, Affluence as Liberty and Militarism to Preserve American Prosperity.

Bacevich contends that, while  the Cold War could be considered WWIII, America has, as far back as the Carter Administration, been waging WWIV, the war to secure American access to cheap Middle East oil against all rivals and threats.

Since 1945 when Franklin Roosevelt met with then Saudi King Ibn Saud, there existed an understanding that Saudi Arabia could rely on America to guarantee its security and the U.S. could count on Saudi Arabia for preferential treatment (access) to the kingdom's vast reserves of oil.  U.S. power, however, was to remain low-key and whenever possible out of sight.   That came to an end in 1979 due to the Iranian Revolution and the rise of an Islamist regime hostile to the United States and the Soviet military excursion into Afghanistan.   That led to the pronouncement of the Carter Doctrine, "An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary."

"...each of President Carter's successors has expanded the level of U.S. military involvement and operations in the region.  Even today (pre-Obama) American political leaders cling to their belief that the skillful application of military power will enable the United States to decide the fate ...of the entire Greater Middle East.

"...What was true of the other three presidents who had committed the U.S. to world wars - Wilson, FDR, and Truman - remained true in the case of President Carter and World War IV as well.  The overarching motive for action was the preservation of the American way of life.

":...What Americans wanted for themselves and demanded from their government was freedom, defined as more choice, more opportunity, and above all greater abundance measured in material terms.  That meant ...assured access to cheap oil and lots of it."

"On the surface the exchange might entail blood-for-oil, but beneath the surface the aim was to guarantee the ever-increasing affluence that underwrites the modern American conception of liberty."

A fascinating concept - ever-increasing affluence as the foundation of liberty.   An interpretation that begets the use of constant military force to ensure access to the lifeblood of liberty, oil.

"Only by enjoying unquestioned primacy in the region - initially defined as "Southwest Asia" but eventually to encompass all of the Persian Gulf, the Caucasus, and Central Asia - could the government of the United States guarantee American prosperity and therefore American freedom.

From the outset, that is, dominance was the aim.  What Winston Churchill had said with regard to European maneuvering in the Persian Gulf at the beginning of the twentieth century remained true as the century drew to a close, 'mastery itself was the price of the venture.'"

Here lay the driving force behind U.S. actions in what became World War IV; not preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction; not stemming the spread of terror' certainly not liberating oppressed peoples or advancing the cause of women's rights.   The prize was mastery of a region that leading members of the American foreign policy elite, of whatever political persuasion, had concluded to be critically important to the well-being of the United States.

"...the problem was one that demanded a military solution; this, at least, was the initial presumption, never thereafter subjected to serious scrutiny.  ...This is where Reagan made his most lasting contribution.

"Those who view World War IV as either sinister in its motivation or misguided in its conception will include Reagan in their bill of indictment.   From their perspective, it was Reagan who seduced his fellow citizens with promises of material abundance without limit.  It was Reagan who made the fusion of military strength with American Exceptionalism the centerpiece of his efforts to revive national self-confidence.  It was Reagan's enthusiastic support of Afghan 'freedom fighters' - eminently defensible in the context of World War III - that produced not freedom but a Central Asian power vacuum, Afghanistan becoming a cesspool of Islamic radicalism and safe haven for America's chief adversary in World War IV.   Finally, it was Reagan's inconclusive forays in and around the Persian Gulf that paved the way for still larger if equally inconclusive interventions to come"

From Bacevich's viewpoint, World War IV, has progressed in three distinct phases.   Phase One spanned the Islamist takeover of Iran and the Soviet entry into Afghanistan up to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.   Phase Two covered the Iraqi conquest of Kuwait, Saddam's ouster and the decade of containment.    Phase Three began with the attacks of 9/11, leading to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the sorry aftermath of that folly.

Bacevich warns that the outcome of World War IV remains dangerously hanging in the balance:

"...American shortsightedness played a large role in creating this war.  American hubris has complicated it unnecessarily, emboldening the enemy, alienating old allies, and bringing U.S. forces close to exhaustion.  Yet like it or not, Americans are now stuck with their misbegotten crusade.

"...Still, even if the United States ultimately prevails - thereby reinvigorating the several conceits informing the new American militarism - the prospects for the future will be hardly less discouraging.  On the far side of World War IV, a time which we are not presently given to see, there await others who will not readily concede to the United States the prerogatives and the dominion hat Americans have come to expect as their due.  The ensuing collision between American requirements and a noncompliant world will provide the impetus for more crusades.  Each in turn will be justified in terms of ideals rather than interests, but together they may well doom the United States to fight perpetual wars in a vain effort to satisfy our craving for freedom without limit and without end."

What seems to be missing from this book is any mention of a particularly powerful force in American hyper-militarism, the military-industrial complex and its recent hellspawn the industrial warfighting complex exemplified in corporations such as Blackwater, Halliburton, Kellog Root & Brown and so many others.  The private sector no longer provides just the instruments of war but now rakes in massive profits from actually participating in America's wars, even from warfighting itself.  In effect this influential private sector has everything to gain and nothing to lose from war without end and its voice is well heard in America's "bought and paid for" Congress.

Tomorrow:  Bacevich's formula for undoing America's hyper-militarism; the parallels between American militarism and the British experience toward the end of the British empire; and the role Canada and NATO should play in the future of American militarism. 


Beijing York said...

I'll be coming back to read these two latest installments when I have more time to do it justice.

I linked here at Dammit Janet since there is a new post about the military and evangelism:

Beijing York said...

All three entries were much appreciated.

I came across this mid-1950s propaganda gem that I think you'll find interesting:

Described as corporate Cold War-era cartoon linking Bill of Rights to free-enterprise ideology, and produced by US Chamber of Commerce and DuPont Corp.

The Mound of Sound said...

Thanks for the link BY. I watched the whole thing. It reflected another time entirely. Back then the earth's population has just passed two-billion and we could see capitalism and growth as solving all of our concerns, such as they were.

Did you notice that, when women were depicted as part of the workforce, they were dressed up in lacey maids' outfits? Other than that they were dutiful housewives, consumers.

Beijing York said...

I think I missed the domestic French maid workforce :-) The enterprising Native with feathers and beads was ummm interesting and possibly the only non-white in the whole production.

I watched a few other commercial films at that site. One was a short musical for AT&T to promote fashionable phones for every room in the house. The other was a Daddy Knows Best type of sit-com promoting electrical appliances. The blatant sexism and consumerism are breathtaking.

The Mound of Sound said...

It was inarguably another time. Those who had gone through the Dirty 30's and WWII emerged profoundly shaped by those events and the combined appeal of consumerism and a better day must have been irresistible. I wonder how many men - or women - really perceived the reality of sexism?