We should thank our national gods, Mars and Mammon, that we’re doing everything we can to make the world safe for democracy. Let’s see if we have it straight. First of all, a CIA-backed assassination squad was poised to terminate Saddam Hussein with extreme prejudice. Instead, Saddam’s security forces terminated the squad with extreme prejudice. Outraged because Saddam was sending troops to northern Iraq where 3.5 million plucky Kurds had established an enclave, American forces cruising the gulf launched over $50 million worth of missiles at Baghdad. We must protect the plucky Kurds, right? Well, no, because when the Turks claimed those troublesome Kurds were making incursions into Turkey, the Turks, with Washington’s blessings, sent their troops over their southeastern border and into the northern Iraqi Kurdish enclave. The Iranians didn’t even bother to get Washington’s blessing before they made their forays into northern Iraq.
There has been no public outcry, so inured are Americans to brazen CIA-sponsored coups and assassinations. As for United Nations Resolution 688 expressing respect for Iraq’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, it’s regarded as just another scrap of paper. The rhetoric about protecting “our” oil supply rings hollow because Iraq would like nothing so much as ending the embargo that has kept Iraqi oil off the market for the past five years. Is it only a coincidence that world oil prices are steep and now bound to be steeper?
Besides making the world safe for the multinational oil companies, what else do our rulers have in mind? Another Gulf War? Another Panama? Another Grenada? Another Haiti? Maybe we’ll recognize a Kurdish republic, even though the Kurds are still busy fighting each other and laying claim to territory in five other countries. Maybe we’ll go the Cuba route and lease northern Iraq for use as a military base. Maybe we’ll nuke Iran, reconstruct it and leave our bases there. A half century after defeating Japan and Germany in World War II, we’re maintaining bases on the territory of our former enemies. There must be a reason, right? Or maybe we’ll go the Vietnam route and split Iraq into two parts, evil South Iraq and democratic North Iraq. Then we could send military advisors into North Iraq and-- No. Not again, please. What’s really going on here?
Without a plausible enemy in sight, the military establishment got $7 billion more than it requested this year. The Pentagon doesn’t think much of the B-2 bomber, but Congress is charging this white elephant to our account because defense contractors will spread the work over 88.5% of all congressional districts. The sly congresspersons were voting jobs, not defense. But Marian Anderson of Employment Research Associates estimates that although 21,000 to 24,000 jobs are created from every $1 billion in Pentagon funding, the same sum invested in education would create 35,000 jobs. Defense contractors received special treatment from the government after the Cold War ended. From 1990 to 1992, American arms merchants provided 50% of the arms sold to third world countries for the impressive sum of $15.7 billion annually. Donella H. Meadows of Dartmouth College says that tax dollars subsidizing weapons exports create only 16,000 jobs per $1 billion, but that the same $1 billion would create 30,000 jobs if spent on mass transit, 36,000 jobs if spent on housing, 41,000 jobs if spent on education, and 47,000 jobs if spent on health care.
It’s no secret that defense contractors have more clout with Congress than advocates of mass transit, housing, education, or health care. When Boeing sends a consultant to the Pentagon, the negotiator is frequently a retired military officer who knows the ropes and speaks the language. When General Electric talks to Congress, it alludes to its plants, its workforce, its stockholders, its retailers. Congress listens. In 1990, The New York Times reported that General Electric was among the 25% of the top hundred big defense firms found guilty, sometimes repeatedly, of criminal fraud during a seven year period. The penalty in every case was a slap-on-the-wrist fine. Although the contractors defrauded the government of millions of dollars, not a single official did time. That’s power.
In his farewell address, President Eisenhower told America to beware of, in his words, “the military-industrial complex,” but even he probably never envisioned how invincible Mars and Mammon would be as a team. For fifty years, the military-industrial complex battened on the cold war against the Soviet Union and its allies. During the 8-year Reagan administration, the government slashed corporation taxes, lavished billions of dollars on the military-industrial complex, borrowed money (mostly from Germany and Japan), and ran up the largest budget deficit in our history. In 1981, the interest on the national debt was $96 billion. By 1988, it had climbed to $216 billion. The Bush administration, that made its offering to Mars with the Gulf War and its offering to Mammon with the taxpayer-financed savings and loan bailout, pushed it up to $290 billion.
The Clinton administration managed to cut the budget deficit in half, but after eliminating some military bases, it increased Pentagon funding. Health and welfare took the big hits, with Mars and Mammon again calling the shots. Clinton’s plans to stimulate the economy, creating jobs and projects to benefit the public sector, collided with the Federal Reserve’s big bank mentality. Fearing that public investment schemes (but not military expenditures?) trigger inflation, the Fed threatened to raise interest rates. But as we know from experience, high interest rates equate with recessions.
No longer the world’s largest creditor nation, we are now the world’s largest debtor nation. Our rulers, through their hired mouthpieces, tell us we can’t go on this way. We need to give a big tax break to the rich to stimulate the economy. But after Reagan did that, he was forced to enact the largest tax increase in history. Somehow corporations managed to hang on to their lower brackets. Yet the mouthpieces are talking about eliminating taxes on capital gains contributions and raising taxes paid into the Social Security trust fund, which is already pouring its contributions and annual surplus into the treasury. Does that make sense?
The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Berliner and Biddle sum up the situation in The Manufactured Crisis:
Why are there so many more poor people in the United
States? Maldistribution of income in this country results
from many forces, among them the fact that for the
past two generations Americans have spent much more
of their tax dollars on the military than on the social
services that taxes support elsewhere. (Did you know
that Americans spend from two to four times as much,
per capita, on armaments as do citizens in other
Western countries, that ours is the only Western
country that does not have a national health care
system, that most other Western countries provide a
basic wage for all unemployed people as a matter of
right, and that most Western countries support free
day-care services for infants and mandate paid
maternity leave?) Indeed, given the paucity of citizen
services supported in this country, it is surprising
that America's income maldistribution is not worse
than it is.
In 1988, the best-selling The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers created a sensation. Yale historian Paul Kennedy compared America’s situation with that of late sixteenth century Spain, eighteenth century Holland, and early twentieth-century England. Like those countries, America finances frenzied military expansion with an immense burden of debt. The moral, that overeblown military establishments portend the downfall of nations, went unheeded. On September 23, 1996, President Clinton signed a bill authorizing $256.6 billion for defense, $11.2 billion more than he requested for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 1996.
It's time that we heed Eisenhower's dire warning about the power of an entrenched military-industrial complex. We must shrink the military establishment. Pull back the bases on foreign soil. Have the General Accounting Office peruse military contracts. No more stealth bombers. No more star wars. If the troops need exercise, don’t send them into Haiti to collect garbage. There are things the military can do here at home. The Army Corps of Engineers could rebuild roads and bridges, for a start.
William Greider, in Who Will Tell the People, suggests that the U. S. military’s experience in educating and building be put to use training workforces to construct facilities, to clean up polluted sites, to administer drug therapy.
Greider says, ”the military institution exists, a huge and expensive reality that permeates the national political life. After four decades in place, the national-security state is not going to go away any time soon. The daunting question is how the components might be reintegrated-- in productive ways--with the concerns and institutions of a regular democratic order.
“Otherwise, if nothing much changes, there will be a continuing political imperative to seek out new conflicts that justify the existence of the national-security state. The CIA, if it remains independent and secretive, will keep churning out its inflated assessments of new ‘threats.’ The armed services, if not restructured and reduced in size, will inevitably be dispatched to fight again on dubious battlefields. The presidency, if its warrior prerogatives are not rescinded, will be free to continue the Cold War under some other name.”
Nobody has said it better. Is anybody listening?