Saturday, December 8, 2012

Wright: Push the Pentagon off the Fiscal Cliff!

(I)n the event that our military resources really did shrink significantly, how much damage would that do to our national security?
Here's my initial estimate: zero. (from "Why not push the Pentagon off the Fiscal Cliff" in The Atlantic, December 7, 2012, below)
Not surprisingly, I agree with everything Wright includes in his brief, yet cogent essay. And I would also add, from a wider perspective, this.
Not only is the U.S. military not protecting the U.S. from specific threats, but it is generating a culture, including both pop-culture and video games, but also a political culture, an academic culture, an economic culture and even a scientific culture, not to mention a corporate culture that is based almost exclusively on a military model.
Count the billions (at least $2 billion) that were used as competitive talking points in the recent presidential election, another of those "war games" that like an open cancerous tumor in the heart of the body politic infects and infests the rest of the culture with the language, the temperament and the pursuit of war strategies, war tactics, public relations "military" releases that demonize the enemy, demonize the surrogates of the enemy, in fact turn the body politic into a re-enactment of the civil war, some of it even bending toward libel, slander, lies and character assassination. And the dirtier the strategies and tactics, the more the public consumes it.
So there is an internal cultural anthropology that provides the rest of the culture with "open conflict" rather than negotiation and reconciliation as its operating motif.
The courts in the U.S., the most litigious country in the world bar none, also adopt a military stance, pitting the complainant, the plaintiff, often the state against the defendant, often an individual, who, no matter the official outcome of the litigation, finds that his life is in ruins merely because he was charged. So habeus corpus is often seen merely as another sanctimonious "cover" for what is really going on, a revengeful, vindictive, mean-spirited and quasi-military pursuit of the "enemy" within.
And then, there is far too quickly, a cover for those, like the Republican Senators who voted down a resolution, sponsored by the United Nations that would have provided access for disabled American veterans to be able to travel around the world more easily and with fewer obstacles to their physical movements. However, because the United Nations was supporting the resolution, and because the United Nations is a hated enemy of a large group of Republican Senators, they voted the resolution "down" while the champion of the resolution for the last decade plus, Bob Dole, a American war hero and former presidential candidate sat looking on from the floor of the Senate, with his wife.
It was president Dubya  (Bush) who declared, in his simplistic way, "You are either for us or against us!" in his manichean, and American cultural language and mind set, that comes straight from the war literature, going back as far as the Chinese war manuals. This approach does not permit middle ground, given that everything is presumed to be "black" or "white" in the pursuit of absolute clarity.
As a frequent listener to the NPR radio program, On Point with Tom Ashbrook, to an interview with a guest from the University of Toronto talking about the internet conference in Dubai this past week. He must have used the word "nuanced" two dozen times, pointing to the likelihood that the conference itself was unlikely to result in dramatic changes to internet practice and policy, in the light of many already implemented national restrictions on internet use and access. Ashbrook, the U.S., Boston-based host, himself one of the more "nuanced" minds and sensibilities among American broadcast journalists, grew impatient with his guest's perspective, presumably because he needed to generate more American "frenzy" and angst, in his native pursuit of his desired "globally free use and access to the new communication medium."
Americans, even some of the most poetic and sensitive among them, sometimes are completely unaware of their inbred tendency to dominate, no matter the issue, and this dominance stems directly back to the Pentagon and its "uniform's status" among the ordinary people, including its magnetic attraction of young women when pursuing a mate, its magnetic attraction of voters when choosing a political candidate, its magnetic attraction to corporate recruiters when selecting the new class of apprentice-executives.
And we have not even mentioned the fact that U.S. military spending tops the total of the next ten most powerful countries COMBINED in the world. If that fact itself does not prove the fear that underpins American militarism, then I do not know what, if anything, would.
The American military is the "finishing school" for all young men and women who wish some form of post-secondary school education, especially those whose economic status may make university or college unaffordable. While the pursuit of such training has many merits, there is no doubt that cutting the Pentagon budget by at least 10% would not curtail the fundamental educating edge provided by its surrogates, and would certainly not render the U.S. less protected.
Why not push the Pentagon off the Fiscal Cliff?
By Robert Wright, The Atlantic, December 7, 2012
The Pentagon is bracing for the fiscal cliff. This week the White House Budget Office directed it to plan for $500 billion in cuts it may have to make over the next ten years if cliff-averting negotiations fail. The negotiations may of course not fail, but it's still worth asking: in the event that our military resources really did shrink significantly, how much damage would that do to our national security?
Here's my initial estimate: zero.
I mean, what actual threat to America's security is the military currently fending off? Are there any countries that would invade the United States if the Pentagon's budget were 10 percent smaller than it is--which is roughly what $500 billion in cuts over 10 years would amount to?
The main threat to national security you hear about is terrorism. And, so far as I can tell, a big chunk of the money spent by the military to address that problem has made the problem worse. The invasion and occupation of Iraq provided massive propaganda for terrorist recruiters (and the consequent regime change created a new ally for Iran, which is said to be our nemesis and a backer of terrorists). The war in Afghanistan has also been a Godsend for Jihadist propagandists--while, in the bargain, destabilizing Pakistan and making its nuclear weapons more likely to fall into the hands of extremists.
And even if you believe that drone strikes in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, etc., are making us safer from terrorists (I personally think the opposite), they don't account for that much of the military budget--and in fact many of them are conducted by the CIA, not the Pentagon.
As for the navy: What threat to America are American ships half a world away from our shores fending off? If the navy were 90 percent--or even 80 or 70 percent--of its size, who exactly would attack us? What vital interest would be threatened?
Some people say Middle Eastern oil is a vital national interest, so we must be poised to intervene if it is somehow threatened. But what form would that threat take? Even if oil-rich Arab nations were taken over by regimes so hostile to the US that they wouldn't sell it oil, that wouldn't much matter. The market for oil is global, and so long as oil producers sell their oil to someone--which is something oil producers tend to do--that will keep the price America pays for oil more or less unchanged.
There is, to be sure, one way our naval presence in the Middle East could affect our national security--but not in a good way. The fact that the Fifth Fleet is headquartered in Bahrain leads the American government to look the other way when the Bahrainian government suppresses dissent. And, as you may recall, siding with authoritarian Arab regimes is one thing that fomented enough hatred of America to turn terrorism into a national security threat in the first place.
And what exactly is our Pacific Fleet for? Don't get me wrong. It would bother me if China used its muscle to take possession of a few islands that rightfully belong to some other nation (assuming they do). And if our ships are discouraging that (which they may or may not be doing--I honestly don't know), I guess that's a good thing. But it's not a thing with direct bearing on our national security. And right now I'm just asking how much of what our military does actually makes the United States of America safer.
I want to emphasize that I'm literally just asking this question. I haven't conducted a big study on the subject or systematically thought the matter through. Maybe people will reply to this post in ways that convince me that, actually, something close to the current level of Pentagon funding is critical to our national security. Or maybe they'll fail to. Either way, it's a debate worth having, and if the fiscal cliff causes us to have it, then there's something to be said for fiscal cliffs.

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