Because of the NDAA and the GOP candidate who must not be discussed, there's been more discussion than usual about the bipartisan support for the National Security State. That's a good thing. But in response, more than a few progressives are arguing that this set of issues -- war, militarism, imperialism, civil liberties -- is unimportant relative to "real" issues. You probably recall that the normally excellent critic from Muskegon called indefinite detention a "flimsy" issue, and here's Thereisnospoon, David Atkins:
For a liberal like me, who is primarily interested in the well-being of the American middle-class and in providing opportunity for everyone in the United States, regardless of race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion etc., I just don’t see why I should be “challenged” by Ron Paul. I understand that if you’re a liberal who is primarily interested in civil liberties and a less bellicose foreign policy, then you might be conflicted about Paul.
It's difficult to overstate the wrongness of that point of view, the notion that a "bellicose foreign policy" doesn't directly affect the "well-being of the American middle class." There are many ways to refute it. I won't discuss the fact that war-making leads to attacks on our rights, which threaten all Americans. Or that it engenders blowback that endangers all Americans. Or that the Americans fighting, killing, and dying in our wars aren't 1 percenters. This post is about the links between war-making and the economic condition of the country.
Make no mistake: Actual War = Class War. A good way to prevent war would be to win, or at least hold our own, in the class war, but we need to go at it from the other end as well: oppose the militarism that's gobbling up our resources and helping to entrench the oligarchy.
The Budget Connection.
This is the probably the most obvious link. More money for war and the machinery of war means less money for jobs, education, and everything else that constitutes a decent society. The military accounts for 54% of the country's discretionary spending, 19% of all spending, and 47% of all military spending worldwide. That's right: the U.S. spends almost as much on its military as the rest of the world combined.
Much of that money goes not directly to wars but to weapons and to the maintenance of the American military empire. But the cost of our wars is staggering. Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes put out a book arguing that the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq would be three trillion dollars. Turns out, they were way off. It was too low. The new estimate is 4 to 6 trillion. (Wars are funded mostly through supplemental spending bills, which aren't included in the defense budget, and they also drain from the Department of Veterans Affairs and a range of other government sources.)
Four to six trillion for war while around the country states are unpaving roads, shutting off street lights, and shortening school years. It's hardly hyperbolic to say that the United States is destroying itself by maintaining its obscene military might. This is how powerful nations crumble.
The U.S. clearly has reached the point of imperial overreach. Military spending and debt-servicing are cannibalizing the U.S. economy, the real basis of its world power. Besides the late U.S.S.R., the U.S. also increasingly resembles the dying British Empire in 1945, crushed by immense debts incurred to wage the Second World War, unable to continue financing or defending the imperium, yet still imbued with imperial pretensions.
It is increasingly clear the president is not in control of America’s runaway military juggernaut. Sixty years ago, the great President Dwight Eisenhower, whose portrait I keep by my desk, warned Americans to beware of the military-industrial complex. Six decades later, partisans of permanent war and world domination have joined Wall Street’s money lenders to put America into thrall.
The Corporate Connection.
But where do all those dollars go? Many, if not most, go to contractors, for whom war is a lucrative business. You need not be an anti-corporate crusader (though it helps!) to recognize that one of the primary forces sustaining and expanding the American military empire are corporations, which feature once and future government officials among their leadership, and which have no allegiances beyond the bottom line. Time and again it's the same giant conglomerates receiving taxpayer money via the Pentagon.
Large Pentagon contractors have been the main beneficiaries of this windfall. For example, a 2004 study by The Center for Public Integrity revealed that, for the 1998–2003 period, one percent of the biggest contractors won 80 percent of all defense contracting dollars. The top ten got 38 percent of all the money. Lockheed Martin topped the list at $94 billion, Boeing was second with $81 billion, Raytheon was third (just under $40 billion), followed by Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics with nearly $34 billion each.
In Irag the number of contractors has approached the number of troops, and in Afghanistan there is an even higher percentage of private employees. The DOD didn't even keep track of contractors until 2007. Since then, contractors have made up between 55% and 69%of DOD's workforce in Afghanistan. This is the privatization of the military, and lest you think it's effective: in Afghanistan alone, contractors have overcharged the government by about a billion dollars. Oh, and there's this minor problem.
Contractors often shot with little discrimination — and few if any consequences — at unarmed Iraqi civilians, Iraqi security forces, American troops and even other contractors, stirring public outrage and undermining much of what the coalition forces were sent to accomplish.
In the same month (October 2006) that the US forces lost a record number of soldiers in Iraq, and the Iraqi citizens lost many more, Halliburton announced that its third quarter revenue had risen by 19 percent to $5.8 billion. This prompted Dave Lesar, the company’s chairman, president and CEO, to declare, "This was an exceptional quarter for Halliburton."
I haven't even mentioned Big Oil, which benefits from and helps to perpetuate the country's longtime strategic goal of exerting control over the world's energy reserves. Blood for Oil? Yes indeed, tons and tons. There are, of course, many other forces driving the country's wars, but oil is often a primary one. The informal alliance of the U.S. government and oil companies goes back at least to the 1930s when they worked together to block Mexico's attempt to nationalize its oil industry. It intensified in the years after World World II they both set their sights on oil in the Middle East. It isn't so much that the oil companies have dictated U.S. foreign policy; rather, their perceived interests have generally aligned.
The Imperial Connection.
Military imperialism is linked to economic imperialism, also known as the Washington Consensus, also known as free trade, also known as market fundamentalism, also known as neo-liberalism. The tenets are deregulation, a free flow of capital and goods, an openness to foreign investment, privatization, and low taxes. It's both an economic philosophy and a way of ordering the world, with the United States at the center, administering its clout directly through its foreign policy and indirectly through international institutions like the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank.
The Washington Consensus is good for multinational corporations, bad for workers and poor countries, and it's a pillar of the American Empire, the economic means by which the United States imposes its will on the world. In a landmark piece several years ago in Harper's, William Finnegan explored the Washington Consensus and its link to military imperialism.
Shortly after September 11, 2001, [President Bush] declared, "The terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, and we will defeat them by expanding and encouraging world trade."...The United States trade representative, Robert B. Zoellick was less delicate when he suggested in a speech around the same time that opponents of corporate-led globalization might have "intellectual connections" with terrorists."
As Finnegan points out, Bush's National Security Strategy in 2002 said, "We will actively work to bring the hope of democracy, development, free markets, and free trade to every corner of the world." This essay in the London Review of books dubs such a philosophy "military neo-liberalism" and traces it back to the seventies, when there emerged for the United States a "crisis of over-accumulation."
Faced with growing competition from Western Europe, Japan and East Asia, the US under Richard Nixon dismantled international financial barriers in order to ‘liberate the American state from succumbing to its economic weaknesses and . . . strengthen the political power of the American state’, as Peter Gowan puts it in The Global Gamble (1999). At the heart of neo-liberalism’s strategy was an assault on the state-centred development of postcolonial nations: markets were to be forced open, capital and financial flows freed up, state properties sold at knockdown prices, and assets devalued and transferred in crises of neo-liberalism’s own making.
Nowhere was "military neo-liberalism" more apparent and disastrous than in Iraq, where neocons and corporate interests, with their eyes on oil money, tried and failed to create the market fundamentalist state of their wet dreams. It's no exaggeration to say that American soldiers have killed and died in an attempt to make the world safe for the Washington Consensus.
Most establishment pols don't share Bush's messianic fervor; but most are devout believers in free trade. They don't call it the Washington Consensus for nothing.
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The rich must be overjoyed with the War of Terror, which has locked the country into a permanent state of war, a self-perpetuating upward redistribution of wealth. The rich make war to make money, and the war makes more war, which makes the rich more money. I often return to these two paragraphs written by Chris Floyd, one of our best critics of Empire:
Each such act perpetuates the cycle of violence, the horrific dynamic of blowback: a self-perpetuating feedback loop that uses itself to engender more violence, in new and expanding forms. We are living today in the midst of a particularly virulent form of this dynamic, the so-called "War on Terror," which I think has been designed -- more or less deliberately so, although the obscene ignorance and arrogance of the powerful have also played their fateful part in unwittingly exacerbating these evils -- to rage on without chronological end, without geographical, limits, and without any moral, social, legal or financial restraints. In his book X Films (reviewed here), Alex Cox uses an apt term borrowed from systems analysis -- POSIWID: The Purpose of a System is What It Does.
The Terror War is not an event, or a campaign, or even a crusade; it is a system. Its purpose is not to eliminate "terrorism" (however this infinitely elastic term is defined) but to perpetuate itself, to do what it does: make war. This system can be immensely rewarding, in many different ways, for those who operate or assist it, whether in government, media, academia, or business. This too is a self-sustaining dynamic, a feedback loop that gives money, power and attention to those who serve the system; this elevated position then allows them to accrue even more money, power and attention, until in the end -- as we can plainly see today -- any alternative voices and viewpoints are relegated to the margins. They are "unserious." They are unimportant. They are not allowed to penetrate or alter the operations of the system.
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Above I identify several tangible ways that American militarization affects the non-rich. There are other more elusive yet still significant ways. War-making create cynicism, hopelessness, and anger that the angry direct at the poor and people of color. A war-making country is a colder, crueler, more conservative place. How's that for the "well-being of the American middle class?"
This post is an edited version of this one.