Americas Third World War
How 6 million People Were killed in CIA secret wars against third world countries
Updated: May 21, 2009 added video
by Vince Reardon
The Daily Message Point
May 12, 2009
“Flight controllers here are looking very carefully at the situation. Obviously, a major malfunction.” These somber words of Steve Nesbit, NASA’s Mission Control spokesman, were said minutes after the worst disaster in the history of the American space program.
By Robert Parry (A Special Report)
June 30, 2008
As historians ponder George W. Bush’s disastrous presidency, they may wonder how Republicans perfected a propaganda system that could fool tens of millions of Americans, intimidate Democrats, and transform the vaunted Washington press corps from watchdogs to lapdogs.
By David Michael Green
Back in the day when communism was a politically viable economic program, its capitalist enemies used to love to rail against the evils of “Marxism-Leninism”.
Interestingly, they almost always attacked it for all the wrong reasons, citing, for example, the lack of political freedom in societies where it was being practiced, the aggressive tendencies of national leaders in those countries seeking to conquer their neighbors, or the ideology’s hostility to religion. That last one in particular was always a good one for getting Americans to rise out of their pews in disgust and anger. Those commies don’t even have Jesus!
The fact that none of these critiques had anything at all to do with the economic system that communism actually is was always telling. It’s not so easy to attack the idea of sharing and community, is it? Better to wrap it up instead inside the godless thugs – sometimes real, sometimes not – who embraced it abroad. What could be more un-American?
This was chiefly a marketing ploy, and probably an unnecessary one at that, as communist experiments – again, in the form of economic systems – had limited successes and some spectacular failures. The Soviet Union did rapidly grow from an agrarian economy into a superpower (albeit not an economic one) in very short time, in part through a planned economy. However, that same system later became so ossified that the country ultimately collapsed around it. Toward the end, workers used to joke about the sham command economy in which they were stuck, saying, “We pretend to work, and the government pretends to pay us”. Often that wasn’t so far from the truth. Likewise, it would be hard to make a real compelling argument for Mao’s Great Leap Forward – a collectivization program that wiped out twenty or thirty million Chinese peasants – over Deng Xiaoping’s turn to the market, which has made the Chinese economy a gale force storm for three decades now, with political and military power following closely in its wake.
We in the US are now being treated to a similar experiment in economic ideology, though it is neither new nor, at the end of the day, actually ideological. More on that later. For now, though, in the spirit of my good friends on the right, I propose that we give this program the name it properly deserves: Reaganism-Bushism.
While China has been growing into an economic powerhouse these last thirty years, America, under the sway of Reaganism-Bushism, has become the economic equivalent of a Midwestern town decimated by a crystal meth epidemic. Nor are the two likely unrelated, particularly when dealing devastating drugs is the sole economic opportunity on the landscape, and doing those drugs is the sole escape from that personal blight.
In any case, that’s our national story. We’re the country that is losing its teeth, blasting its brain cells, rotting its body, and stealing everything not bolted down in order to feed its greed habit. Now, as credit crises explode around us and our housing bubble pops and we’ve run out of foreigners and domestics to exploit and the future and the past from which we’ve borrowed so heavily are both calling in their chits – now we are the crystal meth country. Survey the economic, social, political and moral landscape and cringe. Look what Reaganism-Bushism has wrought.
Reaganism-Bushism markets itself as a real economic ideology with real principles, but the truth is all that’s just for the consumption of the hoi polloi. As a Madison Avenue – or P.T. Barnum – scheme it’s rather more complex than that. As a set of economic principles, it’s far less so.
Because your education in self-destructive political foolishness is not yet complete, it remains necessary to pretend that this is a real ideology with real economic principles that are actually adhered to. You know, stuff like ‘market discipline’ and the ‘invisible hand’, which only ever seem to apply to the already vulnerable, not to the friendly rich people forever espousing these ideas. In truth, there actually are a set of operating principles here. Just not the ones that are advertised.
Principle Number One is that only a fool believes that the government is an instrument whose purpose is to insure the safety and welfare of the people living within the country’s borders. In actuality, the government is a giant cash cow – in fact, the biggest of them all. Yes, its purpose is in fact redistribution of wealth, just not in the southerly direction favored during the more quaint times of our youth. Now it’s all about aggregating what’s left of meager middle-class earnings through tax collections and then redistributing it to the already fabulously wealthy folks of the richest one percent of the population. (Actually, even many of those are pikers compared to the real money in this country, the top one-tenth of a percent who have their fingers really deep into the pie.) But, of course, since this is fundamentally an exercise in wanton societal destruction, the cash cow is probably the wrong mammalian metaphor for the crisis in question. What we’re actually talking about here is geese, as in the kind that lay golden eggs. Or, at least, do so until you slit open their bellies.
But even steering fat, no-bid, no supervision, secret contracts to favored corporations in order to pay for military hardware we don’t need, or services in Iraq that aren’t actually provided, is not enough. (Did you see the New York Times cover story about American soldiers being electrocuted because of shoddy contractor work? Or the one about the Army employee who got reassigned when he questioned Kellogg, Brown and Root’s non-performance there?) So Principle Number Two is to never let economic realities that would deter mere mortals prevent you from maximum possible aggrandizement. In short, steal from your own kids.
The only thing more amazing about regressive-created deficits to finance bloated and unnecessary government spending is the fact that conservatives have until very recently somehow still prevailed in the political marketing wars sufficiently that Americans saw them as the folks who are most fiscally responsible. Considering the record of our most conservative presidents (and the ideological namesakes in question), this is truly an astonishing feat. Ronald Reagan, who castigated Jimmy Carter in 1980 for economic mismanagement, including excessive deficits, proceeded to quadruple the national debt when he came to office. Anyone could see it coming, too. In fact, George Herbert Walker Bush, when he was fighting Reagan for the nomination that year, called the latter’s patently unbalanced economic agenda of military build-up, massive tax cuts and a balanced budget, “voodoo economics”. In one of the greatest sell-outs of all history, however, Poppy Bush put his personal interest over our national interest, and become strangely silent on the matter after Reagan put him on the ticket as vice-presidential nominee, opening the way for him to ultimately win the presidency.
Meanwhile, not to be outdone by his daddy or Saint Ron, Lil’ Bush has turned the greatest budget surplus in American history into the greatest deficit ever. His pals in Congress, always railing about Democratic fiscal irresponsibility, broke every imaginable record for doling out the self-serving pork once they got control of the national piggy bank. The national debt is now well over nine trillion bucks, and fast rising. If Bush’s tax cuts (actually tax burden transfers, from the wealthy to the middle class, and from this generation to the next) are renewed, it will be far worse still. If the alternate minimum tax is properly adjusted, even worse yet. And we know about the time-bomb of entitlement benefits for retiring Baby Boomers that will soon hit us. What most Americans don’t know is that regressives have spent the last decades using their voodoo economics to raid those funds, in order to help keep the general budget deficits from being even worse, thus turning a time-bomb into a nuclear stockpile, about to explode.
So Reaganism-Bushism Principle Number One is use the people’s government to steal everything you can from them. Principle Number Two is to use deficit spending to steal from their children as well. (Can’t you just see the commercial: “Why wait, when you can bilk it now?!”) Principle Number Three is to destroy as much of the social safety net as you possibly can. After all, some Honest John knuckleheads out there are still going to be fiscally responsible enough to want to pay for what we spend, and if they go looking around for potential tax revenue, guess where they might see a whole lot of it lurking about, untouched? So, welfare programs gotta go. Social Security? Gotta go, though of course you can’t just kill middle class programs like you can for the poor, so you have to pretend your privatization plan is a reform to make the program solvent. National healthcare? Yeah, right. And, if you do have to add a prescription drug benefit because of the need to pander to seniors, make sure it’s written to line the pockets of Big Pharma and Big Insurance so heavily that their pants fall down around their ankles. Don’t worry, they have plenty of servants they can get to pull them back up.
The fourth precept of Reaganism-Bushism is an extension of the first three. Once you’ve exhausted your exploitation of the folks at home and their children, why stop? Americans are only five percent of the world’s population. That leaves a whole world of nice vulnerable people to exploit economically!! And politically. And physically. Can you say “Pinochet”? “The Shah”? “Apartheid”? “Contras”? “Marcos”? And lots more where those good old boys came from. Regressives didn’t prop up those bloody dictators because they were great lovers of democracy, or even because of some concern about communist incursions into the ‘free’ world. They did it because all you had to do was enrich these tinhorns and stroke their egos in order guarantee their assistance in the pillaging of their own people. In Grant’s era, or even Hoover’s, all plunder was local – or at least mostly. Reagan and Bush have taken the hunt for spoils truly global.
But why stop with people, even 6.5 billion of them? There’s an entire landscape to be raped! Doing so with wanton disregard for the consequences is Principle Number Five. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, one of the surprises for people in the West, not to mention many in the East, was the degree of environmental annihilation that had taken place. In the race to seek industrial parity with the West, the cheapest way for the Soviets and their allies to get the job done was to ignore environmental impacts of any sort. So that’s just what they did, to devastating consequences. The rest of the world is likely to be having a similar experience pretty soon. Whether it’s mountain leveling, or rainforest obliteration, or gargantuan industrialized outdoor cattle toilets, or sticking the planet in the pot and leaving it there on a low boil, the world is beginning to find out what happens when the captains of industry exploit the planet’s resources while leaving the ‘externalities’ for the rest of us to clean up. And what happens when right-wing politicians who are supposed to be regulating them in the public interest instead serve the special interests. Hint: It ain’t pretty. When it comes to regressive politics in America today, nothing is sacred, not even the ground you walk upon, the water you drink or the air you breathe.
Finally, Reaganism-Bushism Principle Number Six is that war is not healthy for children and other living things, except rich people getting even richer from it. So be sure to have lots of war. Or, at the very least, lots of spending on war goodies. Right now, the US not only spends more on ‘defense’ than any other country, it spends more – and it’s not even close – than every other country in the world, combined! And there are 195 of them or so, if you’re keeping score. And our great national threat is…? Nazi Germany? Nah. Stalin’s Soviet Union? Nope. It’s a guy with a beard holed up in the mountains of Pakistan, and a few other folks like him. (Or, at least it used to be a few, until we had the bright idea of launching the Al Qaeda Hyperdrive Recruitment Program, aka the Iraq War.) Meanwhile, gee, I don’t know. Is it just me, or does this seem like a grossly disproportionate amount of money to spend on privately produced military hardware, especially when our medical, education and infrastructural systems are crumbling at home? I guess it’s just all a big coincidence that we spend so much on military hardware while the fat-cats bankrolling regressive politicians are getting rich from the war toys the latter then turn around and purchase from the former.
All that said, the above itemization of Reaganism-Bushism’s key ideological principles absolutely gives the creed far too much credit. That’s because this is no ideology at all, even a bad one. In actuality, it is a prescription for pillaging and kleptocracy, wrapped in an ideological cloak to give it legitimacy. They need to market it that way because it’s a little early yet in the Dumbification of America campaign for them to come right out and tell you that war is peace, freedom is slavery and ignorance is strength. Only Republican voters are quite so intoxicated to believe that already, and lots of them have been falling off the wagon lately. So, instead, they have to give you this looting of your own wallet and the tattering of your moral map all gussied up as a real, bona fide economic ideology.
You know: Free trade raises prosperity for everyone! Tax cuts benefit the country and even raise governmental revenues! Government regulation is evil! A skyrocketing wealth gap is just the natural product of entrpreneurial dynamism! And social programs to assist the poor, elderly and the middle class sap the moral strength of the country! Then they go find some loopy economist like Arthur Laffer to legitimate completely counter-intuitive ideas by publishing some fancy graphs in some backward academic journal. Never mind that your wallet gets lighter every year – you’ve got to stick with this economic program because it’s the American Way, and anything else is some commie plot.
Marxism-Leninism may be a dead ideology (or it may not), relegated to the ash heap of history, but at least it sprang from an altruistic motivation. Marx wasn’t sitting in the British Museum all day long figuring out how he could get rich by exploiting the masses. Reaganism-Bushism was always just the opposite – it’s just as non-altruistic a program as thievery always was, whatever fancy label you want to paste on it, however much lipstick you slather on the pig. Just as evil as slavery, colonialism, worker exploitation and environmental depredation ever were.
And just as much a real ideology as any emperor’s fine set of new clothes.
David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (firstname.lastname@example.org), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, http://www.regressiveantidote.net.
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By Robert Parry
January 19, 2008
Sen. Barack Obama prides himself in transcending the old ideological chasms that have divided the American electorate for decades, so much so that he recently cited Republican icon Ronald Reagan as a leader who “changed the trajectory of America.”
by The Other Katherine Harris
The Other Katherine Harris’s blog
Jan. 19, 2008
If an eloquent speaker speak not the truth, is there a more horrid kind of object in creation?
~ Thomas Carlyle
During a week punctuated by due tribute for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the incongruity was more flagrant than it might’ve been, but I’d be shuddering at your recent paeans to Ronald Reagan, even if the week had contained nothing more notable than a day in praise of egg whisks.
This is no small thing, Senator Obama. Compared to aiding the radical right by raising alarms about a false Social Security crisis, calling unions “special interests” and decrying health care as a moral peril if Americans are “forced” to have it, your apologia for Reagan is worse. Because his was the smiley face painted on their whole poison pill.
It’s still serving that function today. Your supposed rivals, whose debates are All-the-Reagan-You-Can-Gag-Down buffets, are invoking his ghost in hope that voters will share the same lapse of memory and discernment you displayed on Monday in Reno, telling the Journal Gazette that Ronald Reagan “put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. They felt like with all the excesses of the 60s and the 70s and government had grown and grown but there wasn’t much sense of accountability in terms of how it was operating. I think he tapped into what people were already feeling. Which is we want clarity, we want optimism, we want a return to that sense of dynamism and entrepreneurship that had been missing.” (Video and an excellent precis are HERE.)
While I can’t fault your saying, “Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America,” that trajectory — which sadly we’ll remain on, until the last neocon policy bites the dust — has been, for most, a path to ruin. As for his encouraging entrepreneurship, small businesses ranked among the first victims of his presidency, along with the poor. Throughout the 30+ years of his abiding revolution, everything has been rigged to profit large corporations and the ultra-rich.
This reality is glibly glossed over in your book, where another defense of Reagan appears: “That Reagan’s message found such a receptive audience … spoke to the failures of liberal government, during a period of economic stagnation, to give middle-class voters any sense that it was fighting for them. For the fact was government at every level had become too cavalier about spending taxpayer money. Too often bureaucracies were oblivious to the cost of their mandates. A lot of liberal rhetoric did seem to value rights and entitlements over duties and responsibilities. Reagan may have exaggerated the sins of the welfare state, and certainly liberals were right to complain that his domestic policies tilted heavily toward elites, with corporate raiders making tidy profits throughout the eighties while unions were busted and the income for the average working stiff flatlined. Nevertheless, by promising to side with those who worked hard, obeyed the law, cared for their families, loved their country, Reagan offered Americans a sense of common purpose that liberals seemed no longer able to muster.” (Page 31)
Senator Obama, are you tragically uninformed, trying to contrive “unity” by pandering to right-wingers or legitimizing their idol from conviction? Surely we can rule out option one, because you’re entirely too smart to speak and write about matters you haven’t studied seriously. Yes, when Reagan started spouting his political vitriol, you were a child. So was I, a somewhat bigger kid, but his words and deeds are well-documented from the mid-1960s onward. Thus, everything I know about him, you must also know.
For instance, while governor of California, he dehumanized welfare recipients, calling the needy “bums”, “cheats” and “a faceless mass waiting for a handout.” He’d campaigned on cutting funds for the poor, saying, “The time has come to stop being our brother’s keeper”. (Some “Christian” sentiment from one who soon styled himself a righteous Bible-thumper, huh?)
Condemning help for working people who lost their jobs, he sneered, “Unemployment insurance is a pre-paid vacation for freeloaders,” and he dismissed upholding minority rights with this argument: “It doesn’t do good to open doors for someone who doesn’t have the price to get in. If he has the price, he may not need the laws. There is no law saying the Negro has to live in Harlem or Watts.”
Our environment meant no more to him than marginalized citizens did. In opposing expanded protection of his state’s majestic redwoods, unique in all the world, he shrugged, “A tree’s a tree. How many do you need to look at?” Given that attitude, it’s fair to say he never really saw one. Something else he never saw was military action. During World War II, Reagan served in an Army film studio — but, with bring-’em-on bravado, he blustered in 1966: “We should declare war on North Vietnam. We could pave the whole country and put parking stripes on it, and still be home by Christmas.”
Consigned to a special hell of hatred in his heart were the young. Of students who dared protest the war, he said they didn’t deserve an education and added, “I’d like to harness their youthful energy with a strap.” His later words were more violent: “If it’s a bloodbath they want, let’s get it over with.” He meant it. Let’s not forget he imposed martial law on the Berkeley campus and endorsed shootings there. As for experimentation with drugs, he deemed it “a repudiation of everything America is” — never mind that no national drug laws existed in this country until after his own birth.
This was a man born in 1911, who was past 50 when he began his life in politics. On generational grounds, the merciful might excuse his weirding-out about the Berkeley scene (short of the shootings), but would any halfway decent human being slash funds to feed low-income and retarded children on the very day when he, freshly made a multi-millionaire via a shady land deal, budgeted a hike in his own salary?
While age alone can’t be fairly be held against anyone, Reagan absolutely represented an Old Guard oligarchy bent on crushing the emerging power of a new, well-educated and open-minded middle class. Between 1964 — when he made his first entrance on the Republican national stage by endorsing Barry Goldwater and was talent-spotted for a gubernatorial run — and his 1980 election as president, he was carefully groomed to sell the corporatist agenda to the masses, while his backers were also spending billions on “think tanks” and hired-gun academics to distort public discourse.
It would be an insult to suggest that you know less than I do about the genesis and development of their colossal Noise Machine — devised in the early Nixon years, when the most powerful gathered to script their reversal of all middle class gains since the New Deal — so how, Senator Obama, can you possibly state that people were “ready for” Reagan with no reference to how they were MADE ready by a constant barrage of deceptions calculated to overwhelm objective journalism and scholarship?
And how can you couch Reagan’s victory in terms of liberal shortcomings, without recognizing that lies were spread daily to mask Jimmy Carter’s real successes? Those were good times. The war, Watergate and the Ford recession were past, unemployment was falling dramatically, real GDP was growing at five percent yearly, the national debt relative to GDP was lower than in 50 years, the inflation rate was reasonable and, on average, we brought home twice the real income that our parents earned. International diplomacy was paying off, too; we had détente with the USSR, troop reductions in Korea, even the Camp David Mideast Peace Accords. A funny thing happened on the way to national satisfaction, though: The better things got, the more the Noise Machine told us to see Carter as incompetent and ourselves as in Big Trouble. For no legitimate reason, the number of Americans who believed we were on the brink of disaster jumped from 41 percent to 64 between 1978 and 1979 and Carter’s approval dropped from 65 percent to 39. The right-wing freakazoids even got the media to question his sanity!
In fact, they were out to drive the citizenry nuts and they succeeded. Fanning fears of runaway inflation and impending economic collapse, they drove Americans to spend now — which people did so madly in 1979 that inflation spiked briefly to 14 percent. Analysts blamed this on Carter — having formed the habit of blaming him for everything that couldn’t be pinned on unions, “bureaucrats” or “entitlements”, but they couldn’t name any particular policy as responsible.
Likewise, the radical right targeted Carter’s sensible energy program aimed at curtailing oil imports and fostering extensive use of solar power. We’d be sitting pretty now, if the neocons hadn’t assured us there was no energy problem and gone back to business as usual under Reagan, who had solar collectors ripped off the White House roof as soon as he moved in.
They further roused the populace to scream for war on Iran. The whole hostage crisis was needless. None would have been taken, had Carter not been endlessly pressured to bring the Shah here. He cared about human life, you see — unlike those who merely prate about the unborn — and it took a bare-faced lie about the Shah’s urgent need for medical treatment obtainable only in this country for Carter to admit him. Then our Embassy people were grabbed, as predictably as after-party cleanup, and Carter turned his attention to preserving their lives. He wouldn’t bomb or invade and Reagan’s backers made dead-certain his diplomacy could never work. Thanks to an underhanded arms deal, the hostages wouldn’t be freed until the neocons’ grandfatherly poster child was sworn in.
Again, I’m not stating anything you don’t know, Senator Obama. Both of us are old enough to remember that period. You were in college in the late 70s and I was a young woman in my 20s. So, in response to your saying Reagan offered “clarity” and “optimism,” I invite you to recall the murky and frightening key words tossed around at the 1980 nominating convention. Kissinger emphasized “weakness … impotent … upheavals … disaster … painful… fear … chaos … feeble … paralysis… humiliation … slipping … crash … whipsawed … unraveling … despair… crushing … turmoil … lost … war … dark forces” — and then the winning candidate’s acceptance speech featured “destroy … disintegrating … weakened … calamity … sacrifice … eaten away… wasted away … harm … injure … turned the national stomach … freeze … exhaustion … destruction … disasters … war…”
None of this strikes me as laissez le bon temps rouler stuff, Senator. Nor did it at the time. But the media lapped it up on toast and Reagan took office amid his wholly manufactured crisis, availing himself of the collective nightmare to implement a radical agenda that combined wanton military overspending with lavish indulgence of corporations and the rich and austerity for everybody else (including increased taxation of the poorest). Assuming office, he said he felt like a captain of a ”ship about to go over the falls,” asserted we were ”in greater danger … than … the day after Pearl Harbor” and told his budget-cutters to be “meaner than junkyard dogs.”
Now let’s recall the editorial cartoons that accompanied his rise: a huge number of them playing on his promise of “bloody cuts” by picturing him with an executioner’s axe. This he wielded supposedly on our behalf, to punish the unworthy, but eventually it fell on almost all of us. Morning in America should have been spelled “mourning”.
The phrase “victims of Reaganomics” isn’t literary. As early as 1984, 150,000 lost lives were quantified by the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, based on average mortality increases during recessions for suicide, homicide, cardiovascular fatalities and other indices of death linked to economic activity. We can double that figure to cover his second four years and still fall far short of the total. We haven’t counted those who died because budgets were cut for child and maternal nutrition programs and for disability benefits –- nor those who died here due to families’ losing health insurance along with a parent’s job — nor the mentally ill, who died after release to “community care” (aka homelessness) when state hospitals were closed –- nor the poor children who could longer receive care in community health centers that closed — nor the children battered to death because support for the formerly successful National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect received almost nothing – nor those killed gradually by reduced environmental protection. And let’s also spare a thought for those who died elsewhere because of reduced foreign aid and Reagan’s support of tyrannical regimes that slaughtered their people.
“The Reagan safety net is a myth. People are dying as the result of these cuts,” reported the honorable journalist Bill Moyers during the winter of 1981-82, when the media — not yet unregulated and conglomerated — retained enough independence to air occasional footage of families sleeping on snowy nights under bridges. Reagan flatly denied it. “My program hasn’t resulted in anyone getting thrown out in the snow or dying,” he said. And the public, by then warped by a decade of right-wing spin, approved. In an opening monologue, Johnny Carson remarked, “The Senate cut one million people off the food stamp rolls yesterday,” and wild cheering, applause and laughter ensued. “Let’s hear it from the truly mean,” he continued.
During Christmas week that winter, 30 million pounds of stockpiled cheese were released as a gift to the hungry Americans Reagan liked to pretend didn’t exist. We were paying $1 million a day to store surplus cheese, milk and butter and another $6 million a day to buy more, but Reagan preferred to let all this food go rancid than distribute it regularly. All who had the will to see the truth could see it, but most chose to deny it, with considerable help from the media. As 10,000 visibly middle class protesters turned out in objection to Reagan’s receiving a “humanitarian” award, TV commentator Gabe Pressman told us, “They clearly are militant radicals.”
As their pain grew more severe, the deceived public endorsed Reagan’s drive for additional scapegoats. Serious crimes weren’t increasing, but the Noise Machine spread the lie that they were and we climbed aboard his lunatic “war on crime” bandwagon. While more prisons were built and harsher sentences imposed, Reagan cut funds for law enforcement in order to keep demand up. We incarcerate far more citizens per capita than any other nation, most for nonviolent offenses, all to satisfy private prison industry profiteers and punish Reagan’s old enemies: minorities and the young.
Similarly, the public bought into his privatization of a host of government functions, although the slightest appeal to reason should have told us that placing a profit-collecting entity between the provider and the recipient of any service means its cost will go up, not down.
Other lies pretended both a rise in teen pregnancy (steadily declining since the late ’50s) and an alleged “baby boom” (although the birth rate per potential mother was dropping). These were ruses to focus attention on reproductive issues and give the Noise Machine a chance to trumpet its case for “family values” and puritanism — against what you defer to them by calling “excesses” of a tolerant time.
After union-bashing began in 1981 and unemployment rose to 9 percent in early 1982, Wall Street pronounced itself delighted by the sudden docility of remaining workers. The plutocrats grew even happier as unemployment soared to nearly 11 percent. It took Reagan less than two years to have more than 12 million Americans out of work, most without unemployment benefits and more than two million of them homeless. More than 40 million of us had lost health benefits, infant mortality was rising and more than 20 percent of our children lived in poverty. GDP dropped by two percent yearly, while the trade deficit climbed past $4 million monthly and every year the government borrowed about $200 billion — set to triple the national debt before the ’80s ended.
Maggie Thatcher was practicing the same tricks across the Pond, privatizing like crazy and doubling unemployment within three years of taking office. The prosperity of the ’60s and ’70s simply had to go, because employees had gotten altogether too uppity. As conservative economist Bill Bonner, who publishes The Daily Reckoning, wrote about a month ago, “The Reagan/Thatcher revolutions … had little to do with conservatism or free market principles. What they … brought was … a way of harnessing market forces for the benefit of the state and the elites who control it.”
When Brits began to see through Maggie — I was living there at the time — she proceeded to wrap them around her pinky finger again by stirring up a wee war in the Falklands. Inspired by her example, we took to shooting down planes in Libya, launching a stupid kerfuffle in Grenada, threatening Castro, messing Nicaragua around in full earnest and playing nuclear war games for the first time in decades. The trans-Atlantic press found it all great fun.
I could keep elaborating the Reagan story for hours, Senator Obama.. I haven’t even touched on the corrupt S&L debacle, the HUD scandal, the Iran-Contra affair that should have brought impeachment, Reagan’s smarmy wooing of social reactionaries into the plutocrats’ club, his opposition (with Jesse Helms) to the MLK holiday, crazy poison scares whipped up as distractions, the devaluation of the dollar, the wasteful military spending, the squeezing out of local businesses by giant chains and the continuous offshoring of American manufacturing jobs that were replaced by ill-paying service work.
When the money supply loosened and growth was allowed to resume, there was no “recovery” for many. The great majority of Americans had lost ground and we’ve continued losing it as Reagan’s policies were extended through the Bush, Clinton and Shrub years. We’re working harder and longer for less, in real terms, than we or our parents did in 1970; in fact, families now earn only 8 percent more with two parents working than one breadwinner made in 1905. And the gap between haves and have-nots has widened famously. We often see it likened to the 1920s; however, the disparity is actually worse than that. Even our society’s traditional promise of upward mobility for the deserving has been broken. Thus, Reaganomics created a new aristrocracy that, as Bill Moyers pointed out, now possesses as much of our nation’s wealth as their counterparts did when our country was a British colony. The American Revolution has been essentially nullified!
Again I ask how you can offer any mild words for Ronald Reagan and his legacy. I ask, too, how you can reasonably believe that bipartisan unity should be the Democratic Party’s goal. Now that we wage-slaves are finally wising up, why should our urgent need to revive social and economic justice be made contingent on what the Masters of Universe may kindly concede?
The facts and statistics cited here are readily available to anyone, so they can’t be new-news to you. This, however, may be. Because you didn’t live in mainland America until 1979, the eve of the Reagan era, let me tell you what things were like before your college days in California and New York. This is meant equally for others unable due to age or geography to remember what we once had –before, by careful plan, it was taken away:
Picture a nation in which every city and town was different. Wherever you traveled, there was a “there” there: local foods and other products to be discovered, along with homes, shops and offices that expressed local tastes and suited the climate. Residents took pride in their community’s uniqueness and were dedicated to improving its schools, libraries, cultural offerings, health resources and recreational opportunities. Locally-owned newspapers and broadcast stations brought word from near and far, usually with no agenda apart from providing an honest service to their audiences and advertisers. Although there were a few large employers and chain stores, small businesses provided about 80 percent of all jobs, so most people were on very friendly terms with their colleagues and even their competitors. Of course some families had more money than others, but seldom enough that they looked down on anyone. We all had much more in common than not and it didn’t take a lot, to feel secure. Nobody feared being bankrupted by illness or injury, because medical costs were reasonable. Even those earning minimum wage had more spending power than they do today. Kids could easily work their way through college, because tuition was cheap (in some states free). Overall, there was a feeling of calm about having what you needed — maybe not all you wanted, but enough — and in that calm were dignity and purpose. We felt confidence in government, too. It kept up the infrastructure nicely, when corporations were paying about half of all income tax (now six or seven percent) and federal agencies existed to do their jobs, not to pretend or refuse to do them. Pollution was on the wane and the rights of minorities and women were increasingly respected, in large part because principled journalists stayed on the watch. It was a lot harder to be shameless while the media still reported events objectively.
Yep, that was America as limned by Rockwell, rather than Rockefellers. It would be a good place to bring up your daughters and it was good enough for us — but not for the grillionaires. As their Noise Machine began to roar, spin and opinion supplanted news and lies could no longer be effectively challenged. Truth was rendered irrelevant, as was the welfare of people, communities and nations. Individually we’ve been reduced to consumers; collectively we’re workforces, troops, markets. Sheep to be fleeced and sheep for the slaughter.
Please, Senator Obama, rethink your charitable analysis of Ronald Reagan and call this lingering reign of horrors what it is. All over the world, people continue to suffer and die under his rusty old corporatist axe every day, just to make the richest richer.
I added the pic. ~ Lo
In Sicko, Michael Moore’s new film, a young Ronald Reagan is shown appealing to working-class Americans to reject “socialised medicine” as commie subversion. In the 1940s and 1950s, Reagan was employed by the American Medical Association and big business as the amiable mouthpiece of a neo-fascism bent on persuading ordinary Americans that their true interests, such as universal health care, were “anti-American”.
Watching this, I found myself recalling the effusive farewells to Reagan when he died three years ago. “Many people believe,” said Gavin Esler on the BBC’s Newsnight, “that he restored faith in American military action [and] was loved even by his political opponents.” In the Daily Mail, Esler wrote that Reagan “embodied the best of the American spirit – the optimistic belief that problems can be solved, that tomorrow will be better than today, and that our children will be wealthier and happier than we are”.
Such drivel about a man who, as president, was responsible for the 1980s bloodbath in central America, and the rise of the very terrorism that produced al-Qaeda, became the received spin. Reagan’s walk-on part in Sicko is a rare glimpse of the truth of his betrayal of the blue-collar nation he claimed to represent. The treacheries of another president, Richard Nixon, and a would-be president, Hillary Clinton, are similarly exposed by Moore.
Just when there seemed little else to say about the great Watergate crook, Moore extracts from the 1971 White House tapes a conversation between Nixon and John Erlichman, his aide who ended up in prison. A wealthy Republican Party backer, Edgar Kaiser, head of one of America’s biggest health insurance companies, is at the White House with a plan for “a national health-care industry”. Erlichman pitches it to Nixon, who is bored until the word “profit” is mentioned.
“All the incentives,” says Erlichman, “run the right way: the less [medical] care they give them, the more money they make.” To which Nixon replies without hesitation: “Fine!” The next cut shows the president announcing to the nation a task force that will deliver a system of “the finest health care”. In truth, it is one of the worst and most corrupt in the world, as Sicko shows, denying common humanity to some 50 million Americans and, for many of them, the right to life.
The most haunting sequence is captured by a security camera in a Los Angeles street. A woman, still in her hospital gown, staggers through the traffic, where she has been dumped by the company (the one founded by Nixon’s backer) that runs the hospital to which she was admitted. She is ill and terrified and has no health insurance. She still wears her admission bracelet, though the name of the hospital has been thoughtfully erased.
Later on, we meet that glamorous liberal couple, Bill and Hillary Clinton. It is 1993 and the new president is announcing the appointment of the first lady as the one who will fulfil his promise to give America a universal health-care. And here is “charming and witty” Hillary herself, as a senator calls her, pitching her “vision” to Congress. Moore’s portrayal of the loquacious, flirting, sinister Hillary is reminiscent of Tim Robbins’s superb political satire Bob Roberts. You know her cynicism is already in her throat. “Hillary,” says Moore in voice-over, “was rewarded for her silence [in 2007] as the second-largest recipient in the Senate of health-care industry contributions”.
Moore has said that Harvey Weinstein, whose company produced Sicko and who is a friend of the Clintons, wanted this cut, but he refused. The assault on the Democratic Party candidate likely to be the next president is a departure for Moore, who, in his personal campaign against George Bush in 2004, endorsed General Wesley Clark, the bomber of Serbia, for president and defended Bill Clinton himself, claiming that “no one ever died from a blow job”. (Maybe not, but half a million Iraqi infants died from Clinton’s medieval siege of their country, along with thousands of Haitians, Serbians, Sudanese and other victims of his unsung invasions.)
With this new independence apparent, Moore’s deftness and dark humour in Sicko, which is a brilliant work of journalism and satire and film-making, explains – perhaps even better than the films that made his name, Roger and Me, Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 – his popularity and influence and enemies. Sicko is so good that you forgive its flaws, notably Moore’s romanticising of Britain’s National Health Service, ignoring a two-tier system that neglects the elderly and the mentally ill.
The film opens with a wry carpenter describing how he had to make a choice after two fingers were shorn off by an electric saw. The choice was $60,000 to restore a forefinger or $12,000 to restore a middle finger. He could not afford both, and had no insurance. “Being a hopeless romantic,” says Moore, “he chose the ring finger” on which he wore his wedding ring. Moore’s wit leads us to scenes that are searing, yet unsentimental, such as the eloquent anger of a woman whose small daughter was denied hospital care and died of a seizure. Within days of Sicko opening in the United States, more than 25,000 people overwhelmed Moore’s website with similar stories.
The California Nurses Association and the National Nurses Organising Committee despatched volunteers to go on the road with the film. “From my sense,” says Jan Rodolfo, an oncology nurse, “it demonstrates the potential for a true national movement because it’s obviously inspiring so many people in so many places.”
Moore’s “threat” is his unerring view from the ground. He abrogates the contempt in which elite America and the media hold ordinary people. This is a taboo subject among many journalists, especially those claiming to have risen to the nirvana of “impartiality” and others who profess to teach journalism. If Moore simply presented victims in the time-honoured, ambulance-chasing way, leaving the audience tearful but paralysed, he would have few enemies. He would not be looked down upon as a polemicist and self-promoter and all the other pejorative tags that await those who step beyond the invisible boundaries in societies where wealth is said to equal freedom. The few who dig deep into the nature of a liberal ideology that regards itself as superior, yet is responsible for crimes epic in proportion and generally unrecognised, risk being eased out of the “mainstream”, especially if they are young – a process that a former editor once described to me as “a sort of gentle defenestration”.
None has broken through like Moore, and his detractors are perverse to say he is not a “professional journalist” when the role of the professional journalist is so often that of zealously, if surreptitiously, serving the status quo. Without the loyalty of these professionals on the New York Times and other august (mostly liberal) media institutions “of record”, the criminal invasion of Iraq might not have happened and a million people would be alive today. Deployed in Hollywood’s sanctum – the cinema – Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 shone a light in their eyes, reached into the memory hole, and told the truth. That is why audiences all over the world stood and cheered.
What struck me when I first saw Roger and Me, Moore’s first major film, was that you were invited to like ordinary Americans for their struggle and resilience and politics that reached beyond the din and fakery of the American democracy industry. Moreover, it is clear they “get it” about him: that despite being rich and famous he is, at heart, one of them. A foreigner doing something similar risks being attacked as “anti-American”, a term Moore often uses as irony in order to demonstrate its dishonesty. At a stroke, he sees off the kind of guff exemplified by a recent BBC Radio 4 series that presented humanity as pro- or anti-American while the reporter oozed about America, “the city on the hill”.
Just as tendentious is a documentary called Manufacturing Dissent, which appears to have been timed to discredit, if not Sicko, then Moore himself. Made by the Canadians Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine, it says more about liberals who love to face both ways and the whiny jealousies aroused by tall poppies. Melnyk tells us ad nauseam how much she admires Moore’s films and politics and is inspired by him, then proceeds to attempt character assassination with a blunderbuss of assertions and hearsay about his “methods”, along with personal abuse, such as that of the critic who objected to Moore’s “waddle” and someone else who said he reckoned Moore actually hated America – was anti-American, no less!
Melnyk pursues Moore to ask him why, in his own pursuit of an interview with Roger Smith of General Motors, he failed to mention that he had already spoken to him. Moore has said he interviewed Smith long before he began filming. When she twice intercepts Moore on tour, she is rightly embarrassed by his gracious response. If there is a renaissance of documentaries, it is not served by films such as this.
This is not to suggest Moore should not be pursued and challenged about whether or not he “cuts corners”, just as the work of the revered father of British documentary, John Grierson, has been re-examined and questioned. But feckless parody is not the way. Turning the camera around, as Moore has done, and revealing great power’s “invisible government” of manipulation and often subtle propaganda is certainly one way. In doing so, the documentary-maker breaches a silence and complicity described by Günter Grass in his confessional autobiography, Peeling the Onion, as maintained by those “feigning their own ignorance and vouching for another’s… divert[ing] attention from something intended to be forgotten, something that nevertheless refuses to go away”.
For me, an earlier Michael Moore was that other great “anti-American” whistleblower, Tom Paine, who incurred the wrath of corrupt power when he warned that if the majority of the people were being denied “the ideas of truth”, it was time to storm what he called the “Bastille of words” and we call “the media”. That time is overdue.
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A funny thing happened on the way to the White House in 1981.
Ronald Reagan had been talking throughout the previous year’s campaign about taking a meat-axe to federal taxes (and therefore, also, revenue, but that part somehow never got mentioned), about massively increasing military spending, and about balancing the budget. And doing all at once, no less.
Even a Republican could figure out – if they allowed themselves to – that the numbers couldn’t possibly add up. Indeed, no less a Goppy than Poppy (one George Herbert Walker Bush) referred to this preposterous suite of promises as “voodoo economics”. Er, he did that is, during the primaries, when he was competing with Reagan for the nomination. Once he had lost and was hungering for the newly nice and oh-so wise Saint Ron to offer him the vice-presidency, he all of a sudden became strangely silent on the topic, reminding the rest of us once again what is mankind’s second-oldest profession – a gig very much not unlike the first.
The mystery of how Reagan could possibly do all of these things was finally solved when the administration proposed its first budget and he absolutely didn’t. It couldn’t, of course, and not only did Reagan fail to balance the federal budget as promised, he actually went on to quadruple the national debt, choosing instead to avidly pursue the two more important remaining goals of his troika, tax-slashing and military spending.
Many people wondered at the time how the Republican Party could sustain this debt-crazed apostasy (not to mention hypocrisy), particularly after so many years of hammering the Democrats as “tax-and-spend liberals”. (Oh, and by-the-way Item Number One: The numbers involved would pale against those of today’s borrow-spend-and-giveaway Republicans.) (Oh, and by-the-way Item Number Two: Nevertheless, in an attempt to demonstrate that there truly is absolutely no bottom whatsoever to the well of GOP hypocrisy, this week we have Righteous George, Protector of the Purse, vetoing S-CHIP legislation and replaying the party’s tired old and now jaw-droppingly absurd tune as he claims that the Democratic Congress is being profligate with the public’s tax dollars. No-bid billions for the Blackwater black-hole? Absolutely. Money for sick kids? Irresponsible!)
When Reagan first went down this path it was so weird that a conspiracy theory of sorts arose. The notion was that Republicans knew they could not possibly go through the front door to successfully kill popular programs like Social Security and Medicare, even if they were willing to risk political suicide to do so. So Reagan’s agenda was a back-door approach, instead. Driving up the debt to completely unsustainable levels, the story went, America would be faced with a series of uncomfortable choices as collectors came demanding their payments. The country could either raise taxes, cut military spending, or slash social programs. The idea was that, of the three, the last of these would seem to the public like the least worst choice. And then conservatives could surreptitiously achieve a long-held goal, best expressed by Grover Norquist, right-wing tax crusader extraordinaire: “I don’t want to abolish government, I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” By “government”, of course, he means the parts that help people, not the parts that kill people. For the right, those parts are okay. If not beloved.
Perhaps this conspiracy was real all along. Boy Bush has made Reagan look like Leona Helmsley’s accounts-payable supervisor by comparison when it came to deficit spending, managing to borrow more than all other American presidents (that’s 42 of them, if you’re keeping score here), combined. Ouch. That’s a lot of cash, dude. Indeed, about nine trillion bucks or so now on the national credit card, and rapidly rising. Plus, of course, interest. Trust me, you don’t want to be handed the bill for this party of the millennium, and neither do your children (”Excuse me, you did what to us?”).
But even if the alleged conspiracy was actually real, it seems likely to have been a bad bet all along. That is, I don’t think it’s a given that, presented with these three options, Americans would necessarily acquiesce to the destruction of the country’s social safety net, especially the massive cohort of Baby Boomers who are just now approaching the age where their hands are going to be extended outward, palm up. I think that given such a stark choice, something miraculous might occur. Americans might choose to finally give up their empire instead, just as the British did when they could no longer afford to pay for both guns and butter after the two world wars. This conservative plan, if it was ever real, could backfire quite nicely into forcing the country to think seriously about excessive military spending for the first time since World War II, and then perhaps to, in the words of Colin Powell, “cut it off, and then … kill it”.
To see what I mean, let’s pull Joe Six Pack – or preferably, the Baby Boomer version of Joe Six Pack (Joe Dime Bag?) – off the street and ask him some basic questions about his priorities for American government:
Joe, which would you prefer, to receive your Social Security payments, or to bring democracy to the Middle East (even assuming it could be done by American military force, which it quite clearly cannot)?
Which would you prefer, Joe, to fully fund Medicare, or to protect the ability of American corporations to pillage third world countries unhampered by inconveniences like, say, the governments of those countries?
Which would you prefer, education for your children and grandchildren, or continued tax breaks for Americans who are already fabulously wealthy?
Which would you prefer, national infrastructure that isn’t crumbling, or corporate welfare programs for well connected defense industry firms?
These may seem like tongue in cheek pokes at America’s national priorities, but they will actually become very real choices in the near future, especially if there is a progressive party or other force in America able to articulate the obvious options, and provided the the word can get out. Given the performance of the Democratic Party and the media of late, these are far from foregone conclusions. (Heck, I’m far from even being convinced that Bush and Cheney will actually leave office on January 20, 2009. Watch for them to pull a Putin.) But apart from those major caveats, these questions will rapidly become all too real.
When the bill for the fiscal blow out comes due, hard choices are going to have to be made. Americans are not big on taxes, but they don’t support the idea of the rich getting a free ride. That hard choice is likely to be an easy choice.
Americans will never accept a weak defense apparatus that leaves the country vulnerable to attack. But beyond that, they may well finally be open to some thoughtful discussion about what is needed to achieve that end – and where the rest of the money is going – especially if such a dialogue is prompted by the requirements imposed by an encroaching reality, forcing decisions like the ones posited above.
Right now, it’s a safe guess that the public has only the vaguest notion of the costs and capacities of the American military, especially in any relative sense. Most people probably understand that the United States has the most powerful military in the world, and they support that. On the other hand, they might well be horrified to learn just how expensive that military is, how ridiculously disproportionate it is to the others in the world, and how removed those costs are from any real threat facing the country. In times of plenty – or faux plenty – when your government is giving you tax money back even while it is fighting two wars simultaneously, those questions don’t need to be asked (or at least one can be so deluded into thinking). But those days will soon be gone, and – as they say – payback’s a bitch.
It’s harder than might be imagined to track federal expenditures, because there are lots of accounting choices (and nifty tricks, if you so desire to trick people) involved. But, near as I can tell, the US is now contemplating a budget of $672 billion this year for ‘defense’. That, by the way, is up from $385 billion in 2000, measured in constant (2007) dollars. And that, of course, is nearly a doubling, from what was already a huge amount. These numbers don’t include the costs of past wars (principally debt from loans), estimated in 2006 to be about $264 billion. If you add that figure to the $572 spent last year for last year’s military, you get $837 billion spent on the military in 2006, or 41 percent of the federal budget.
How does that stack up comparatively? Social Security took $595 billion in 2006. Twelve percent of the budget went to poverty initiatives, five percent to community and economic development, and two percent to science, energy and environmental programs.
How does that stack up internationally? In 2004, while the rest of the world’s military expenditures equaled $500 billion, the US was spending $534 billion. That is to say, more than all the rest of the entire world. Combined.
Americans might even be fine with a military budget that dwarfs the sum total for entire rest of the world – nearly 200 other countries – assuming unlimited resources to provide butter as well as guns (though if they knew the relative figure was quite that big, they might choke a bit on the expenditures even with low taxes and adequate social spending). But when you reach the point where you start having to choose one or the other – a point we actually reached long ago, but have hidden from ourselves by borrowing – everything is different, hence the above alternatives for Joe Six-Pack to ponder.
What is sorely missing today, and would be even more so at the moment when our fiscal recklessness is no longer sustainable even under conditions of mass societal hallucination, is simply a rational discussion of the purposes of the United States military. Once that happens, programmatic and budgetary choices then follow in the logical order which they should in any universe where people are even remotely in touch with reality.
In fact, the current military budget could easily be slashed, because the only reason for its ridiculously bloated proportions is to pursue missions far beyond those Americans would support even during conditions of plenty, let alone when the alternative becomes giving up their expected benefits.
If we think about military priorities from the ground up, without any built-in assumptions, and without the necessity of maintaining existing programs on the basis of inertia alone, I don’t think we’d get very far before the public would shout out “enough”, especially if they were faced with the choice of having their Social Security checks bounce in order to instead fund some obscure military objective on behalf of corporate interests in Burkina Faso.
What do Americans want? They want defense, in the true meaning of the word. To begin with, I have little doubt that Americans would be willing to spend whatever it takes to defend American soil from foreign attack. When it comes to state-based violence, that need could be fairly easily addressed by a nuclear deterrent force a tenth of the size of the current one, along with a moderate contingent of land and naval forces. The cost of these represent a small fraction of the current total military budget. No country is ever going to attack the United States in either a traditional operation using conventional forces or by means of non-conventional weapons, of course, because to do so would mean their instant obliteration. Whatever else one can say about nuclear weapons and all the real and potential horrors of mass annihilation, they do give pause to those who would contemplate an attack, in all but the most dire conflicts or screw-ups. (And this works both ways, of course. It is no accident that the US never attacked the Soviet Union or China, for instance, or that Bush did go into Iraq, but not North Korea.) Perhaps some day nuclear weapons can be eliminated from the planet. In the meantime, though, a small quantity of them could form part of a defense structure that permitted the US to dramatically cut military spending while allowing Americans to feel secure from external threat.
Americans would also support, I think, the military having the capability to respond to certain emergencies abroad – say, enough force for the early stages of a scenario where an ally was invaded, or US diplomats or nationals needed to be rescued from some sort of foreign incident. This means some special forces – again, a relatively small and inexpensive portion of the current military budget – and the same small to moderate land and naval forces charged with defending the national borders.
Clearly, the public would also support whatever force is necessary to effectively attack and destroy non-state actors, such as al Qaeda, who seek to harm the United States through non-conventional assaults. John Kerry of course paid the price for speaking honestly about this in 2004, back when this country was still shaking off the hangover from the Bush Binge of 9/11 and beyond, but he was right in asserting that terrorist threats are best resisted by means of intelligence and law enforcement (and sometimes small scale military action, when useful), which is also a relatively low-cost affair, comparatively speaking. (Throw in a little global justice and economic development, moreover, and you might find you’ve eliminated most such threats before they ever come to exist. What a concept, eh?)
Finally, unquestionably, there would be support in the United States for the capacity to rapidly increase US military capability in response to a major unexpected scenario. Americans will want a National Guard, Reserves, and the infrastructure necessary for a Post-Pearl Harbor-like draft and rapid militarization in the event of such an unanticipated attack. But again, maintaining this capacity – as opposed to the actual forces – is not a terribly expensive proposition.
And that, I suspect, is it. A moderate base force, a small nuclear deterrent capability, the Guard and Reserves, and the capacity to rapidly add more as needed. In sum, a vastly smaller military than today’s.
This is not World War II we’re in today, and it’s not the Cold War. There is no need for a massive military armada to be fielded or even to stand in readiness, as there is no massive implacable enemy to be vigilant against, let alone a massive implacable enemy which we would fight with conventional set-piece armies to be landed at places like Normandy, and to fight territorial struggles like the Battle of the Bulge.
What is the difference, then, between this American military that the public would support and the one we’ve got, besides of course hundreds of billions of dollars per year? The short answer is the capacity to ‘protect’ American ‘interests’ abroad. Does the American public care whether Botswana is a democracy or not? Probably a little – not that anyone would have the slightest clue where or what it is – but not enough to invest their tax dollars in it, not enough to forego the government services they want at home, and not enough to spill their children’s blood there. Turns out their government doesn’t care either, though it may well pretend to on occasion. It doesn’t even care whether Botswana – democracy or autocracy – is particularly ‘pro-American’.
What the American government cares about, above all, is that Botswana plays ball with those economic actors (who nowadays might not even necessarily be American-based) with a pipeline to power in Washington. Usually that means that a neat little dictatorship is in fact preferable to a democratically elected government, particularly one that makes the mistake of having the real interests of the local people in mind. Folks in Iran, Chile, Guatemala, Nicaragua and beyond will be happy to verify this proposition, in case you have any doubt.
Which brings us back to the absurd levels of military spending the United States has been indulging in latter years, like an insatiable crack addict. I hate to break up the acid test party with a mild dose of reality, but it’s pure lunacy to spend considerably more than all of nearly 200 other countries in the world on your national defense. I mean, isn’t it? Is there really no limit to the depths of America’s national paranoia? Well, as a matter of fact, it gets far stranger yet when you contemplate that none of those countries – not even North Korea, Cuba or Iran – have expressed anything approaching a genuine hostility toward your country which could plausibly lead to an attack on their part. Then it becomes the very definition of insane when you have a nuclear deterrent force that prevents any of those countries from attacking you even if they wanted to. And it makes the insane look downright wholesome when you spend these obscene sums to fight a non-existent enemy, but cannot afford a children’s healthcare program at home. If you needed to write a definition of a society gone mad, surely this would be the textbook case.
Let’s face it, probably three-fourths of the Pentagon budget is spent to enrich contractors at home and bust down doors for corporate predators abroad. China spends about $60 or $70 billion a year on protecting the same geographical area as the US and more than four times the number of people. Who is going to mess with that country? Not even the United States, with tens times the military budget, would dare. Surely America could easily procure the same degree of security as the Chinese do for – let’s be generous – say, double their expenditure, if its true interests were purely defensive.
Nor would such a formula be a prescription for disarmament or a wimpy defense posture. This is still double the amount of any other country in the world. Certainly many would argue that far less than even that much should be spent. I’m one of them, but right now I’d gladly settle for a 75 percent reduction in military spending.
Of course, there are those who would claim that the United States is the ‘indispensable nation’, the one that provides the glue for keeping peace in the international system, and the only one capable of mounting an operation like the Iraq war. Let’s leave aside for the moment the poor performance of keeping peace during the ‘American century’, which often seemed rather more like the American adventure series, and let’s leave aside also the disasters of Afghanistan, Vietnam and Iraq. What a critique such as this actually reveals is three things. First, that other developed countries have been able to buy butter like national healthcare and such, while we have stupidly forsaken it for guns. Second, that the result of our spending the last decades undermining the creation of a legitimate and functional international force to clean up international messes is – surprise, surprise – that no such forces now exist to carry this burden. And third, that we’re too arrogant and narcissistic to pay attention to the wake-up call that non-interest in our wars among potential allies represents.
This is where multilateralism comes into play in a crucial and cognitive fashion. If we can’t attract serious allied support for a war, it’s certainly worth asking whether we should be engaged in such a conflict at all. Neocon blowhards love to argue that Europeans have gone soft and are all from Venus, while tough-guy Americans are from Mars. The truth is that Europeans were fighting wars long before America was even in diapers, and they’ve learned more from the experience than have we. They’re not soft. Rather, it’s that they’re not indiscriminate. They went to Afghanistan. They didn’t go to Iraq. Or at least a lot of them didn’t. The others only went because they wanted to keep the hyperpower happy. The next stop was regret, followed by withdrawal of what were mostly token forces anyhow. In any case, for a legitimate threat or a legitimate emergency (the antithesis of Iraq), the Europeans and many others would stand shoulder to shoulder with America, as has happened many times previously, including those wimpy cheese-eating French who were there at America’s birth, and without whom, indeed, the country would likely not have been born at all.
But wouldn’t cutting American military spending dramatically make the country weaker? To the contrary, our current approach makes us weaker. We have lost the capacity to exert soft power by over-reliance on hard power. Nobody follows us anymore unless they have to because we have twisted their arm nearly out of its socket, or unless they’re into committing career suicide, like Tony Blair did. And, increasingly, that simply means that nobody follows us anymore at all. The tauntings of Hugo Chávez or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would have been inconceivable not so long ago. Now they represent leadership to a resentful world where the arrogant and impotent superpower has hobbled itself, and can do nothing to respond. Meanwhile, China and Russia quietly build power and influence, wondering what they ever did to get so lucky as to have a rival apparently quite devoted to destroying itself.
In addition to being so diplomatically, we are also weakened economically. Dollars spent on bombs instead of education mean a dummer ‘Muricah, bro. Dollars spent on napalm instead of education mean a sicker America. And ask the Soviets what happens to a national economy when it is dominated by military spending. If you can find the Soviets, that is, which you can’t (hint, hint). National security in the modern era depends on economic power as well as on legions and hardware. In a very real sense, therefore, we are diminishing our capacity to provide sustained military security should we need it tomorrow, by bloating it out of all recognition today.
Finally, it is pretty impossible to argue that recent choices have made the America militarily stronger in even the most narrow sense. When all your land forces are bogged down in a worse than useless war, you’ve got a problem should a real crisis come ‘round the corner. When even a sycophant like Colin Powell can say that your Army is “broken”, surely it is and worse. When your own intelligence agencies affirm that your actions in Mesopotamia are actually creating terrorists with a vengeance (and with a vengeance), you screwed up bad, pal. When nobody believes you anymore including your own public, and you have to pay exorbitant sums to get people otherwise headed to jail to join your ‘volunteer’ military, it’s no longer clear which is scarier – your army or theirs. Hey everybody, raise your hand right now if you feel safer today than before Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld got hold of US national security policy. Yeah, that’s what I thought.
All this obscenely exorbitant military spending represents one helluva lot of bad news, but the good news is that the entire scenario is unsustainable. One day, not long from now, Americans will have to make tough choices that they are avoiding (and therefore exacerbating) today. But in all probability, such choices may not actually wind up being so tough, after all.
We want our MTV, and we want our Social Security.
And if we have to sacrifice protecting Chiquita Brands’ exorbitant profits in Guatemala or Colombia to get them, we will.
David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers’ reactions to his articles (email@example.com), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.
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Two soldiers in Paraguay stand in front of a camera. One of them holds an automatic weapon. John Lennon’s “Imagine” plays in the background. This Orwellian juxtaposition of war and peace is from a new video posted online by U.S. soldiers stationed in Paraguay. The video footage and other military activity in this heart of the continent represent a new wave of U.S.-backed militarism in Latin America. Continue reading