April 28, 2007

How you became the enemy


At the end of the Cold War, a top Soviet official promised America one last horrible surprise. We are, he said, going to deprive you of an enemy. The official turned out to be more perceptive about American politics than many in Washington. In at least one Pentagon office there is still a sign that reads: WANTED: A GOOD ENEMY.

Mostly unreported, America's political and military planners have been working hard developing an external threat to compensate for the disappearance of the USSR. Although in the short run, the Pentagon has been remarkably successful in exempting itself from the deficit-cutting hysteria, there is always the danger that the public and politicians might start asking too many questions. Even those defense contractors whose basic expertise is the creation of weapon cost overruns are hedging their bets. A slew of these companies, for example, are bidding to take over the Texas social welfare system, thus diversifying from one form of human misery to another.

Lately the military's dilemma has come a bit more out in the open thanks to something called the Quadrennial Defense Review, a sort of Olympics of Pentagon budgetary navel gazing. In the subsequent angst as displayed in policy papers, conferences, and trade journals, it still appears that the military and foreign policy junkies lack a decent foe.

So uncertain is their trumpet, in fact, that planners have been forced to resort to abstractions that are not only uninformative, they are truly absurd. I am not speaking of euphemisms, mind you, for a euphemism is word or phrase substituted for something else. In this case, there is no something, at least until around 2010 when it is optimistically projected that a non-euphemistic enemy might actually emerge.

In the meanwhile, we just have to make do with -- and spend hundreds of billions to protect ourselves against -- a generic composite peer competitor, myriad formless threats, or even, god forbid, an asymmetrical niche opponent. (What did you do in the last war, daddy? Well, son, I killed 14 generic composite peer competitors and would have wasted more if a frigging asymmetrical niche opponent hadn't got me in the chest.)


To produce a justification for defending against such gossamer threats, retired Vice Admiral John Shannahan of the Center for Defense Information notes, the Department of Defense has "day by day, hour by hour plans" to make sure that its version of the quadrennial defense review is reflected in federal appropriations and the public prints. As every Pentagon official knows, the most predictable threat to the American military is the budget cycle. Franklin C. Spinney, a top DOD budget analyst who has recused himself from the current charade, describes his colleagues as busy changing charts and changing colors on the changing charts as they plan for the future. "They're off in virtual reality," he suggests.

Toys, not boys

For all the new jargon, there is something strangely familiar about it all. In fact, the QDR is at heart a repackaging of military modernization plans first created in the last days of the Cold War. Much of it has little to do with defending America from enemies known and unknown. Rather, argue critics, its purpose is to manufacture threats to justify the current force structure -- including the 45% of the military (more than 600,000 people) who perform non-combat functions (such as preparing charts for the Quadrennial Defense Review).

The QDR is propelled by budgets, not strategy. Not only that, it is driven by a particular sort of budget, exemplified by another poster found recently at military bases to advertise Armed Forces Day. The sign shows ships (including, strangely, an obsolete battleship), planes and tanks, but absolutely no human beings. This is fitting because the modern military is not so much about fighting men and women as about equipment sold to the military by corporate men and women. The saying is that it's about "toys, not boys."

The Pentagon lobbyists and their contractors are brilliant at keeping this DOD money machine churning. They have even revived Star Wars, that megabuck fraud of the Reagan era well described as a system that doesn't work designed to be used against a threat that doesn't exist.

We will protect your purchasing power -- Budget director Franklin Raines to a meeting of high-level Pentagon officials.

More modest goals include selling Congress hugely expensive weapon systems on the specious grounds that they will be cheaper to operate than older versions. By the time Congress discovers that the operating cost estimates are wrong (some-thing it might have surmised if it had used common sense instead of lobbyists' press releases) the defense contractors involved are billions richer and ready to recycle the scam one more time. The stakes are not insignificant. A typical fighter plane at the end of the Cold War cost about $28 million. Ten years from now, your run-of-the-mill fighter will set you back $88 million.

Waiting for Godzilla

Of course, just as people really can be out to get paranoids, so even a rampantly misguided military establishment can really face some serious threats. This fact raises America's military myopia from absurdity into the realm of justifiable concern.

An open discussion of such threats, however, is virtually impossible. Even the right to talk about such things is a tightly held prerogative of the mandarin class. The Council of Foreign Relations, a cult-like like organization that journalist Richard Hardwood approvingly calls "the nearest thing to a ruling establishment in America," routinely holds meetings at which participants (including guests) are prohibited from speaking about what transpired.

It's not that one would really want to listen to much of it. The men and women who have designated themselves the guardians of America's future policies are among the most boring and unimaginative folk one finds in Washington. Many are like those described by LBJ as having gone to Princeton and ended up in the CIA because their daddies wouldn't let them into the brokerage firm. Still it is not too comforting to realize that in the quiet places of Washington, the first half of the 21st century (as they never tire of calling what the rest of us call the future) is in the hands of the conceptually dyslectic.

And the media is not about to challenge these folk. One good reason may be found in a 1995 membership roster of the Council on Foreign Relations as reported by Public Information Research. Here are just a few of the media CFRers:

Roone Arledge, Sidney Blumenthal, David Brinkley, Tom Brokaw, William F. Buckley Jr., Hodding Carter III, John Chancellor, Arnaud de Borchgave, Joan Didion, Leonard Downie Jr., Elizabeth Drew, Rowland Evans Jr., James Fallows, Leslie Gelb, David Gergen, Katharine Graham, Meg Greenfield, Jim Hoagland, Warren Hoge, David Ignatius, Robert Kaiser, Marvin Kalb, Joe Klein, Morton Kondrake, Charles Krauthammer, Irving Kristol, Jim Lehrer, Anthony Lewis, Michael Lind, Jessica Matthews, Jack Nelson, Walter Pincus, Norman Podhoretz, Dan Rather, Stephen Rosenfeld, A. M. Rosenthal, Diane Sawyer, Hederick Smith, Laurence Tish, Garrick Utley, Katrina vander Heuval, Milton Viorst, Ben Wattenberg, Lally Weymouth, Roger Wilkins, and Mortimer Zuckerman.

Ask any of these people what went on at their last CFR tête-à-tête and you'll probably find their concern for a free press rapidly evaporating. Katherine Graham, for example, once told a CIA gathering: "There are some things the general public does not need to know and shouldn't."

There are substantial implications to all this. If, for example, the CFR puts out a report decrying restraints on the CIA, may we infer that the aforementioned concur? If not, how many have publicly stated their disagreement? How, in fact, can we tell what is going on if foreign policy discussions are handled in the manner of meetings of the Masons, Montana Militia, or Skull & Bones?

The rest of the liberal establishment, for its part, is sometimes willing to challenge the Pentagon on cost grounds, but becomes considerably more befuddled when considering strategy and downright timid when confronted with growing evidence of military intervention in civilian life.

Part of the problem stems from the lack of a coherent liberal foreign strategy short of supporting the UN, Israel and Nelson Mandela. Part of it stems from the chronic cowardice of contemporary liberalism. But the biggest challenge comes the fact that liberals have bedded down with the most right-wing president of modern times. The price for this includes going along with Clinton's schizophrenic, short-term, and amoral foreign and military policies, which are driven far more by the needs of major campaign contributors than by American interests.

Building a threat

Nowhere is this more apparent than in our policy towards China. If there is to be a real "peer competitor" in the foreseeable future, China easily makes the finals. As the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. General Patrick Hughes, told a Senate committee recently:

Overall, China is one of the few powers with the potential -- political, economic and military -- to emerge as a large scale regional threat to US interests within the next ten to twenty years. . . . In a worst-case scenario, China would view the United States as a direct military threat.

Now, if this is a fair assessment, there could be a number of reasonable responses. One might, for example, demote China to a trade category somewhat below that of most favored nation. One might be fairly strict about concessions such as permitting them only after improvements in China's treatment of its own people. One might maintain a cool civility of relations or even make bombastic noises from time to time just to stay in practice.

What one would likely not do as President -- if the opinions of the DIA director are worth a jot or a tittle -- is:

· Let persons with close ties to the Chinese government (and particularly its military) play major roles in your political fundraising machine and get access to top secret materials.

· Ship highly advanced computers and software to the Chinese.

· Help the Chinese get advanced fighter aircraft technology.

· Pretend that Tiananmen Square was just an unfortunate faux pas.

Yet the fact is that we currently have two contradictory policies towards China. One, enunciated by General Hughes and costing us hundreds of billions a year in military spending; the other, practiced by President Clinton and his political machine, in which all of America and its economy seems to have become a loss leader designed to attract the Chinese.

Admittedly, there has been similar schizophrenia in the past as when American corporations helped Hitler become enough of a "peer competitor" to launch his half of World War II. Or when large numbers of Ford tractors tilled the collective fields of Stalin's Soviet Union. Or when the Bush administration helped build up the Iraqi military prior to launching war against it.

But little as blatantly inconsistent has occurred in American history as the China policies being pursued today on either side of the Potomac River (and even in different parts of the Pentagon).

Much of the bizarre detail of this may not have reached the average reader, but examples include:

· Insight magazine reports that supercomputers were sold to China. Other hyper-high tech systems were sold to the China Academy of Science, apparently with the approval of then-Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and the director of the NSA.

· While his employees pumped up the budget to prepare for a Chinese threat, Defense Secretary William Cohen announced that working with China and Russia would be a cornerstone of his military policy. To make this clear, Cohen not only sent General Shalikashvili to Beijing (the flaggiest American officer to appear there in 14 years) but during the same period gave Russian defense secretary Igor Rodionov lunch, lengthy conferences, and a 19-gun salute.

· A 1995 GAO report found that the US had approved 67 export licenses to China for military-industrial products between 1990 and 1993, including $530 million of military-related technology.

· Israel is reported to be helping China build an advanced jet fighter using technology that originally came from the US.

· Another Chinese jet fighter, the FB-7, was started with US aid and assistance during the Reagan/Bush administration.

The vanishing nation

One of the reasons there is so little interest in the consequences of such policies is that modern governmental and media technocrats don't really believe in countries any more -- even their own. In a logic system overwhelmingly dominated by money and its passage from here to there, the nation-state has become a nostalgic anachronism, useful primarily as a symbol with which to appeal to aged members of the electorate on Memorial Day.

I would wager that President Clinton has evoked loyalty to America less than any president to date. Instead, patriotism has been replaced by such corporatist goals as being "globally competitive" or "maintaining productivity."

While the dubious history of jingoism may lead some to shrug off the decline of nationalism, if we are to be transformed from a major country into just another corporate conglomerate, shouldn't we at least be allowed to vote on the matter? Even the stockholders in leveraged buyouts get that much.

There is another and more subtle problem. As emotional ties to our country are diminished or severed, there becomes less and less reason to respect those protections, habits and ideals that have characterized America. Clinton's rampant contempt for civil liberties, while in part the product of the southern feudal culture from which he sprung, demonstrates how expendable constitutional values are in a system where the last line of the budget is considered more important than the first lines of the Bill of Rights and where next quarter's trade with China is considered infinitely more significant than the possibility that the next generation's might end up fighting it.

Once one has applied the puerile, short-ranged, soulless, and avaricious principles of modern corporatism to foreign and domestic policy, everything else becomes expendable: sovereignty, loyalty, democracy, freedom, happiness, decency, environment, and morality.


This is not some future threat we face but our present condition. In the dollar-driven logic of Clintonism, behavior that in the Cold War would have been regarded as near treasonous is now considered business as usual. We still, in order to restrain anarchy, severely punish as spies those who sell secrets to foreign countries without higher authority. If however, the president or secretary of commerce support the transaction, we call it trade policy and make upbeat announce-ments about it.

Similarly, for nearly all our history, any US official who dared give up American territory without a struggle would be pilloried or worse. Yet today the greatest surrender of sovereignty in US history, our signature on the GATT agreement, is chalked up as an inevitable result of globalism.

This abandonment is not controversial, nor even readily apparent, because Americans simply have not been told that it has occurred. They do not know that their country -- which defeated in turn the British, the Mexicans, the Confederacy, the Spanish, the Germans (twice), the Japanese and outlasted the Soviet Union, has surrendered without a whimper to a junta of trade technocrats armed with nothing more menacing than cell phones.

They do not know that the US Trade Representative can go into court and sue any state or local government for pursuing policies at odds with the dictates of international trade tribunals -- policies that for more than two hundred years have been considered the rightful and righteous business of American governments. They are probably not aware that a three-member panel of the world Trade Organization has already ruled that the European Union's ban on hormone-treated beef is illegal, a ruling that could easily be replicated again and again against American local and state environmental, civil rights, and labor legislation.

The real war

How could our own government so blithely have betrayed us? How could our own media fail to note the coup? Simply because, once the rules of the game changed from a geographic to a corporate definition of international politics, citizenship, patriotism and national self-interest became irrelevant. Your value became not your nationality but your prevailing wage rate. Your country was no longer a homeland but a unit of production. In fact, to the extent that you still consider yourself a party to your government with actual rights and such, you have become at best a problem and at worst a threat.

The greatest change that has occurred in recent years in the relationship between governments and their people is the degree to which the former fears and distrusts the latter. Underlying this fear and distrust is the knowledge that the robber-baron paradigm of the Reagan-Bush-Clinton era has reaped a harvest of enormous hostility. Bruce Auster, writing recently in the US News & World Report, noted:

The admirals and generals have been gathering . . . to learn what enemy the visionaries from the Central Intelligence Agency see in their future. The answer, it turns out, is not Russia or China or Iraq. It's demographics. Global Trends 2010, a classified study by the CIA 's National Intelligence Council, finds that growing populations, widening gaps between rich and poor, and continuing revolutions in communications will incite new ethnic and civil conflicts."

Another study, prepared for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reports that "mass communications will vividly depict quality-of-life differences, leading to political instability in some places."

These studies tacitly admit what no politician will: that the policies of the past twenty years have been for the benefit of the few at the brutal expense of the many.

While little of such considerations creep into the Quadrennial Defense Review, this is largely because the means of containing alienated civilian populations are relatively inexpensive. The funds required to maintain a calming American presence in scores of countries would be hard to find on one of those DOD charts if placed next to, say, projected aircraft expend-itures.

These funds support something the military calls "Operations Other Than War." OOTW covers a wealth of activities including policing urban areas, search and seizure, civil administration, peacekeeping, and supplying food.

According to an article in Commentary, in 1994 "Army units found themselves reacting to a host of OOTW and deterrence missions in Rwanda, Bosnia, Somalia, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Northern Iraq, Korea, Haiti, and even in California to fight forest fires."

Many of these activities are carried out by Special Operations, the command in charge of low intensity warfare and psychological operations. According to a report in the Tampa Tribune, Special Ops -- comprised of 46,000 personnel from all three services -- averages 280 missions a week in 137 countries.

Such skills can be easily transferred from Rwanda to, say, Watts. The current militarization of American civilian life is simply Operations Other Than War in a more familiar country. Let's review the bidding:

· The National Guard is now deeply involved in the War on Drugs, from flying helicopter missions to providing logistical support for police paramilitary operations in urban areas.

· JROTC courses are now found in more than 2,200 high schools involving some 310,000 students. These courses teach not only military behavior but inculcate military biases into subjects such as American history. In Washington, DC, students per-ceived to be discipline problems have been told they were required to join JROTC.

· The military is being used to train police officers, inevitably increasing the tendency of citizens to be regarded by these officers as "the enemy."

· The military is ready to provide "overflow facilities for incarceration of those convicted of drug crimes" and "rehabilitation oriented training camps" according to DOD documents. These facilities could be as easily used for incarcerating anyone else for any other reason as well.

· The century-old posse comitatus act, designed to keep the military out of civilian law enforcement, appears to be on its last legs.

· Eight-nine percent of the county's police departments, according to a recent study, have paramilitary units and some of these are used "proactively," deliberately creating fear in minority neighborhoods.

· The military is monitoring the Internet as a potential threat and is working on plans to use the Internet for psychological warfare.

· Plans by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the 1980s to take over the country in an ill-defined emergency appear to have been only partially dismantled after being exposed in the media (including TPR). Among the most striking aspect of these emergency plans was the absence of any provision for a legislature or judiciary. In any event, a long list of presidential directives provide for a massive transfer of political power to the executive branch under uncertain circumstances and even less certain constitutional protections.

Such steps have been prepared without any public debate about who should run the country in a genuine emergency. The Constitution does not address the matter directly, but since martial law is not one of the powers delegated to federal government, it seems clear that in a catastrophe -- say a nuclear attack on Washington -- the country should properly be run by the fifty states. Unfortunately, the governors of these states do not have the power to enforce this view. In fact, their state militias -- once a jealously guarded symbol that we were indeed "united states" -- have been greatly federalized

Occupying urban America

A study reported in the academic journal Social Problems found that 89% of the over 500 police departments it surveyed had fully functioning special operations units trained and modeled on military principles. For all practical purposes, these units represent a military force whose target is American communities and citizens. Not only has the number of paramilitary police units soared but the level of their activity has exploded as well. Between 1980 and 1995, the number of incidents involving paramilitary units has quadrupled.

The study, conducted by Peter B. Kraska and Victor E. Kappeler of Eastern Kentucky University, was carefully designed to elicit the cooperation of police departments. Some police officers spoke with brutal frankness:

"We're into saturation patrols in hot spots. We do a lot of our work with the SWAT unit because we have bigger guns. We send out two, two-to-four men cars, we look for minor violations and do jump-outs either on people on the street or automobiles. After we jump-out the second car provides periphery cover with an ostentatious display of weaponry. We're sending a clear message: if the shootings don't stop, we'll shoot someone."

But are these units really going after the truly dangerous? Out of all 1995 incidents, civil disturbances and terrorist events amounted to one percent each, hostage situations 4% and barricaded persons, 13%. Conducting what the police call "high risk warrant work" (overwhelmingly drug raids) accounted for 76% of the paramilitary operations.

Here are some of the other facts the researchers uncovered:

· Many paramilitary units conduct between 200 to 700 warrant or drug raids a year. These are almost exclusively no-knock entries.

· A paramilitary unit in Chapel Hill NC conducted a crack raid of an entire block in a black neighborhood. Up to 100 persons were detained and searched, all of whom were black (whites were allowed to leave the neighborhood). There were no prosecutions.

· Some 20% of the units regularly patrol just as a display of force, often dressed in extreme military garb, including ninja type uniforms. Police in Fresno CA refer to their patrol area as the "war zone."

· Such tactics are not limited to big cities. In fact, more and more smaller towns have their own paramilitary units. For example: "One mid-west police department that serves a community of 75,000 people patrols in full tactical gear using a military armored personnel carrier (termed a 'Peace Keeper' as their transport vehicle." Says the commander, "we stop anything that moves." Another town's paramilitary commander told the researchers, "When the soldiers ride in you should see those blacks scatter."

· Some of these police departments admit to using "community policing" funds for these military operations. In fact, 63% of those responding to a question on the matter agreed that the paramilitary units "play an important role in community policing strategies." One self proclaimed community policing chief said: "It's going to come to the point that the only people that are going to be able to deal with these problems are highly trained tactical teams with proper equipment to go into a neighborhood and clear the neighborhood and hold it; allowing community policing and problem oriented policing officers to come in and start turning the neighborhood around."

· The nation's capital is being turned into a Singapore on the Potomac as congressional appointees exercise plenary powers on behalf of corporate friends -- with total contempt for elected officials and the citizenry. The Washington DC school system is being run by a retired general of dictatorial inclinations and right-wing ideology. A buddy of Clarence Thomas and a man of no apparent competence in the field of education, Gen. Julius Becton commutes miles into the city and has provided high-paying jobs to old Army comrades, including the former director of the Department of Defense's only maximum security prison.

· An active duty military officer has been put in charge of a state National Guard unit for the first time in American history.

· Several active-duty special operations units have reportedly been quietly integrated into National Guard units.

· The FBI's deputy chief for domestic terrorism is an active duty colonel, despite the century-old posse comitatus act's prohibition on the military taking part in domestic law enforcement.

· Two hundred troops and nine helicopters invaded Pittsburgh the night of June 3, 1996, in what was later described as a routine training exercise but sure fooled a lot of the city's residents. They flooded 911, talk shows, and local media with worried calls. The exercise appears to have been part of an attempt to acclimatize citizens to an increasing military presence in civilian life. Similar exercises have taken place in at least 20 other cities.

· The Pentagon's manual on "domestic support operations" gives a chilling view of how the military sees its role in a post-Cold War America. Says the manual: "Today . . . is a new awareness of the benefits of military assistance to improve the nation's physical and social infrastructure." The role the military projects is extra-ordinarily broad including disaster assistance, environmental missions, law enforcement, and community action. In a section that may have been lifted from a guide to the Vietnam village pacification program, the Army notes that "domestic support operations provide excellent oppor-tunities for soldiers to interface with the civilian community and demonstrate traditional Army values such as teamwork, success-oriented attitude, and patriotism. These demonstrations provide positive examples of values that can benefit the community and also promote a favorable view of the army to the civilian population."

· A remarkable article by military historian and strategist Martin van Creveld in the Los Angeles Times last July 30 gives the flavor of what's in store. Van Creveld argued that "the military systems built up over the past decades are proving useless in the face of the greatest security threat of the next century: terrorism." The reason: these forces "have discovered that their weapons are too cumbersome and their organization too complex for anti-terrorist and anti-guerrilla actions. . .

"In many countries, militaries originally designed for interstate warfare are already taking an active part in the struggle against internal opponents. Others are preparing to take the same road. In France on July 14, police units joined the army in marching down the Champs Elysees for the first time. In the peaceful Netherlands, the Marechausee, or riot police, now forms the fourth service besides army, navy and air force. . .

"As the 20th century draws to an end, it is time that military commanders and the policy makers to whom they report wake up to the new realities. In today's world the main threat to many states, including specifically the US, no longer comes from other countries. Either we make the necessary changes, or what is commonly known as the modern world will lose all sense of security and dwell in perpetual fear."

Perpetual fear

Of course, the irony of such declarations is that a search for security based on such principles is the shortest route to a state of perpetual fear. Imagine, for example, what might have happened to England during the Blitz had it succumbed to the paranoia that now grips so many of America's military and civilian elite. Alternatively: what really would happen if we were to provide our president with the same modest level of protection as, say, a British prime minister? What if, wonders of wonders, we actually tried to deal honestly with some of the problems that lead to insurgencies in the first place?

In a recent article in National Defense, Major General David Grange and Colonel Paul Munch declare that "after reviewing the carnage of the bombs at New York City's World Trade Center and Okla-homa City's Federal Building, Tokyo's poisonous gas attack and other recent events, Congress concluded the United States is no longer immune from a catastrophic terrorist attack."

General Grange has an interest in making it seem thus. He is Director of Military Support, and in charge of training and assisting cities in coping with a guerilla attack. Some 120 cities will undergo this training in the next few years.

In fact, however, last year recorded the world's lowest number of terrorist incidents in 25 years. Only 311 people were killed -- that's one person for every 16 million persons on the planet. You stand a far better chance of being murdered in an American city than you do of being bombed for any reason (by terrorist, spouse or Mafia) anywhere in the US.

Obviously, if there is going to be a nuclear, biological or chemical attack in of these cities it makes sense to be prepared. But there are other approaches that would probably be much more successful than that of General Grange. Such as seeking the consent of the governed rather than just their containment. Such as changing American policy to support without equivocation the creation of a Palestinian state -- not at the end of some interminable "peace process" but now. Such as not replacing simple democracy, which can not be bombed away, with over-glorified and over-powered national leaders who can. The most effective anti-terrorism policy -- both in cost and lives -- is to ameliorate divisions that lead to undesired insurgencies in the first place and to have your country run by scores of low-risk democrats rather than by one easily targeted regent. That's what is called for by the Constitution. But that's not part of the current game plan.

The game plan of America's mandarins absolutely assumes a widening gap between the governed and the governing and between rich and poor, one that will have to be met by force of one sort or another. Those in power are prepared to do business with most favored nations abroad and to suppress least favored citizens at home.

This is a policy without redemption. It is not only economically cruel and profoundly anti-democratic, it is deeply subversive and destructive of Ameri-can ideals and culture. Those who run the country, whether in government, business or media, seldom any-more speak of this land with feeling, affection or under-standing. They carry forth their affairs unburdened by place, history or culture -- without conscience, without country and without any sense of the pain they have caused.

America is no longer for them a place to serve and to love. And because they have, in the name of global glories, cut themselves off from their own land, it is becoming for them increasingly a place of danger -- a place of long, grim shadows, the sort of shadows that too often conceal a foe.