By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
|Illustration by Peter Bennett|
Thousands of Marines have been given a pamphlet called "A Christian's Duty," a mini prayer book which includes a tear-out section to be mailed to the White House pledging the soldier who sends it in has been praying for Bush.
—ABC News Online, March 30
Several days after Fox News began accusing anti-war protesters of betraying our troops, yet before that network's Geraldo Rivera got bounced by the 101st Airborne for revealing its movements, a friend called from the East Coast. He began ranting about how the war coverage was being distorted by military analysts — from lucid ABC zombie Tony Cordesman to CNN's politically ambitious General Wesley Clark — who would never talk honestly about U.S. policy. "Watching TV," he growled, "you'd think that everybody in America worked for the Defense Department."
This bitter joke was not without its truth. In the 42 years since President Eisenhower offered his dark warning about "the military-industrial complex," that baleful spider web has only grown bigger and stronger. Certainly, the end of the Cold War did nothing to stop it. Today, Americans budget for more defense than the next top 15 defense spenders combined; we not only have a new $75 billion war and new Department of Homeland Security, born of a "war on terrorism" that Dick Cheney says may last 50 years, but our approach to the world is increasingly defined by the military.
Now such a claim might sound odd amidst this week's flood of leaked reports about how Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld messed with Tommy Franks' war plans. Yet such in-house bickering doesn't change the underlying facts. The clunkily named Operation Iraqi Freedom is the brainchild of defense establishment "visionaries" (including Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle), who are busy wresting control from the effete diplomats over at the State Department. Their success is no surprise, for, aside from the president, who went AWOL from his Air National Guard commitment during the Vietnam War (no unpleasant call-ups for him), the Bush administration's top dogs have long been servants of the Pentagon. Rumsfeld is in his second tour at Defense, Cheney ran the department during Desert Storm, and even Secretary of State Colin Powell, widely seen as the voice of peaceful reason (before he rolled over), is himself the former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — a good soldier who invariably stays with the program, whether it's helping to whitewash My Lai or lying about Iraqi arms buildups.
Not that the National Security State (as Gore Vidal terms it) began with Bush's election. Our military's gradual seizure of power is set out in The Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace With America's Military, a superb new book by Washington Post reporter Dana Priest, who boasts the weird distinction of being the only woman I've seen who's taken seriously as a pundit on the Iraq war. (Sure, battle is a guy thing, but still . . .) Priest details how, over the last quarter-century — especially during the Clinton years — money and authority were siphoned away from State Department officials and handed over to the Pentagon.
These days, the real power belongs to what Priest memorably dubs the "Proconsuls to the Empire": the Pentagon's five regional commanders in chief (or CinC), each controlling a huge swath of the world. Filling the void left by an enfeebled State Department, these rulers of so-called CinCdoms shape policy, steamroll ambassadors and spend money with no fear of rebuke. (For his wartime press conferences, CinC Tommy Franks spent $250,000 on a flashy set that was FedExed from Florida to Qatar.) In one of The Mission's best stories, Priest tells how, at a big regional conference in Bahrain, America's seven Persian Gulf ambassadors stayed in ordinary hotel rooms, while then-CinC Anthony Zinni and his staff commandeered an entire wing, including a suite the size of a house. The Proconsul's bill for two weeks? $550,000.
Of course, this is milk money to the defense establishment, whose members have been embedded in Fortune 500 corporations and boast a sense of entitlement the size of an aircraft carrier. By now, we're all familiar with the seamy litany of the Bush administration's corporate links: Halliburton, the Carlyle Group — why, Chevron even named a tanker after Condoleezza Rice. Two weeks ago, superhawk Richard Perle threatened to sue Seymour Hersh for a New Yorker article suggesting that he was using his plum (albeit unpaid) position as chairman of the Defense Policy Board to promote his business interests. Last week, Perle gave up the chairmanship — though not his place on the board — once other publications began spotlighting the ethical conflicts in taking several hundred grand from corporations obviously banking on his connections. Naturally, Perle insists he's done nothing wrong, by which he means nothing illegal. I believe him. But such cronyism of the well-connected is still profoundly corrupt, and what's shameful is that administration bigwigs are so steeped in this culture of corporate back scratching that they don't grasp how rotten it smells to the rest of us.
How else to explain the Defense Department's ignominious decision to give Cheney's old company Halliburton a contract for helping restore Iraq's oil fields? As Newsweek's Christopher Dickey noted last week on Fresh Air, the Halliburton contract instantly became front-page news all over the Middle East. It fueled the Arab world's furious conviction that the U.S. is fighting in Iraq on behalf of corporate interests tied to Bush, not for the people's liberation. So much for supporting our men and women overseas.