21 April 2012

An Obscene Value System

Hardware Over People at the Pentagon (Again)
by FRANKLIN C. SPINNEY, Counterpunch APRIL 19, 2012
For a good example of the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex’s (MICC’s) value system — which is hardware before ideas and people — read this New York Times column by Nicholas Kristof.
Note his opening paragraph:
Here’s a window into a tragedy within the American military: For every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 veterans are dying by their own hands.
And here is Kristof’s penultimate paragraph:
We refurbish tanks after time in combat, but don’t much help men and women exorcise the demons of war. Presidents commit troops to distant battlefields, but don’t commit enough dollars to veterans’ services afterward. We enlist soldiers to protect us, but when they come home we don’t protect them.
In between, Kristof supports these statements with horrific detail.
Kristof’s op-ed is symptomatic of a deeper problem — one that evolved in the MICC’s cultural DNA during the give and take of budget battles fought over 40 years of Cold War and the subsequent 20 years of warmongering since 1991. This DNA shapes the MICCs behaviour, as I explained in The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War, in Challenge: The Magazine of Economic Affairs (January-February 2011).
The proper order of priority in any military force should always be People – Ideas – Hardware, in that order — the opposite of that implied in Kristof’s penultimate paragraph
But you won’t won’t see P-I-H value system reflected in the actual decisions made in the Pentagon, the defense companies, or on Capitol Hill, or the mass of the juiciest stories in the defense media (like Aviation Week, Armed Forces Journal, Inside The Pentagon, etc. (or much of the mainstream media, to boot). By far, most of the energy, money, words, and time is spent debating the merits of the individual weapon systems, like the problem plagued, $500 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
During my 33 years in Department of Defense, this warping of values became steadily worse over time, notwithstanding the empty flag-waving rhetoric of supporting our troops. At the same time the nation has become ever more dependent on an the higher personnel costs needed to support an all volunteer force — a standing permanent military, something the Framers of the Constitution would have abhorred.
The growing costs of the all-volunteer force eat into the budget and displace money needed for new weapons. So, there is constant pressure to reduce the size of the force and training tempos, and reallocate the money to higher priority items, like the ever-more-expensive Joint Strike Fighter.
In the 1997 and 1998, the insensitivity of these priorities became transparently obvious. Secretary of Defense William Cohen, in one of stupidest faux pas I have ever witnessed — and I have seen many — approved a poster celebrating Armed Forces Day that inadvertently became a metaphor for the MICC’s deeply entrenched, perverted value system.
What is missing?

Think of it. A day set aside to acknowledge the valor and sacrifices of our servicemen was announced by an official Defense Department poster that celebrated Hardware and ignored people.
If you think this mentality was an artifact of the Clinton Administration or the Democrats, think again. It was and remains bi-partisan. Ironically, Cohen was formerly a pro-defense Republican Senator from Maine (read shovel money to the warship builders at Bath Iron Works). After leaving the Spendagon, he flew through the revolving door and today, he is a high-powered consultant and ‘senior stateman’ making money by helping to lubricate the flow of funds through the halls of Versailles on the Potomac.  He was and remains an advocate of monstrous defense budgets.
When he took the job in 1997, Cohen promised to oppose President Clinton, if Cohen felt the Defense Department was being short shrifted. Moreover, in the 1980s, as a Republican senator, Cohen claimed to be a a member of the bi-partisan Military Reform Caucus. Of course, like most Senators, he never attended its meetings, because if he had, he might have realized the motto of the Reform Caucus was People – Ideas – Hardware — in that order!
But Cohen was not alone in poster obscenity. Significantly, at the time, no general or admiral in any military service objected publicly to this slanderous poster. In fact, it was not even noticed by anyone in the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill, or in the press, for a very simple reason:  The poster accurately accurately reflected the business-as-usual, core values of the MICC. After the second poster came out in 1998, Colonel GI Wilson, then an active duty Marine and close friend, and I went ballistic. We raised holy hell in emails, on the Internet, in meetings, in the halls, with news reporters, and any one who would listen.
We both can say with satisfaction that the poster outrage ended up in the dustbin of history, and by 1999, we had a poster with people on it.  When you consider the fact that we are proud of the fact that helped to people back on the Armed Forces Day poster, you get an idea of how deep the rot is.
If you think this is ancient history, read Kristof’s article carefully, in its entirety, and you will see that the value system that produced the obscene 1998 Armed Forces Day poster remains in place.   Then go on the Internet and google articles describing the current round of service downsizing plans (which means pushing people out the door) to make room for high cost cold-war inspired turkeys like the Joint Strike Fighter, nuclear submarines, ballistic missile defense systems, etc., simply because the rate of growth in the defense budget is being cut back.
And the next time you hear someone in the MICC waving the flag and saying the MICC’s top priority is supporting the grunts, slugging it out in mud and dust of war, remember the poster — and follow the money.
So I ask you, can there be any wonder why we neglect our veterans trying to cope with PTSD in the manner that Kristoff described or the ominous problems of moral hazard described by Major Tyler Boudreau in this paper?
Franklin “Chuck” Spinney is a former military analyst for the Pentagon and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. He be reached at chuck_spinney@mac.com

08 April 2012

Wait Till the War Really Comes Home

The Afghan Disaster
The PR disasters over the last three months — including pictures of American troops urinating on Afghan corpses, the burning of Qurans, and the massacre of Afghan civilians, including women and children, by at least one deranged American soldier — have morphed into a grand strategic debacle.  From the perspective of the Afghan insurgency, these are gifts that will keep on giving.
Why do I use the modifier grand strategic?
Because these incidents have (1) increased the moral strength of the Afghan insurgents by handing them a coup to rally supporters and attract the uncommitted to their cause.  They also widen the existing rift between the United States military and the Karzai government, which in any case is viewed by many Afghans as a corrupt, illegitimate, quisling lapdog of the US.  And (2), they are visibly weakening the rapidly crumbling solidarity at home.  Recent polls in America, for example, suggest the already overwhelming majority of Americans who now think it is time to exit the Afghan enterprise is growing again.  Moreover, an increasing number of politicians and editorial boards are now beginning to reflect the views of the majority of American people.  These incidents have magnified the already widespread perceptions among Afghans of a grotesque mismatch between the ideals we profess uphold  and what we do.
Readers unfamiliar with the idea of grand strategy and the central importance of moral effects in any kind of conflict will find brief introduction to the criteria of a sensible grand strategy here.  Use these criteria to judge for yourself whether or not our dismissal of these incidents as isolated occurrences and apologies will counter the damage described above.
You will see that these shifts at the moral level of conflict are about as bad as it gets when it comes to grand strategy.  The emerging moral asymmetries between the US and its insurgent adversaries go well beyond trite comments about staying the war weariness and make a mockery of Defense Secretary Panetta’s wildly optimistic claim that we reached a turning point thanks to the 2011 surge.  The US is leaving Afghanistan, the only questions left are how soon and how messy the departure will be?
Two recent essays help one grapple with some implications of these questions:
The first is an op-ed, “Why the Military needs to leave Afghanistan, and Soon,” by Phil Sparrow in the Sydney Morning Herald.  Sparrow explains why people who argue we should remain in Afghanistan, because the Afghan people don’t want us to leave, simply don’t know what they are talking about.  Certainly, the one per cent living in fortified compounds who have profited from the corruption unleashed by the torrent money we have poured into that impoverished country have been enriched by our presence want us to stay, but what about the other 99 per cent?
In addressing this question, Sparrow demolishes the argument for staying the course.  Bear in mind, it is written by a man who has lived in Afghanistan in local housing since 1999.  He explains why the time to leave has arrived, and the sooner we depart the better. Sparrow’s op-ed was emailed to me by a highly educated Afghan friend from a distinguished Pashtun family, a man who is working for the restoration of a multicultural neutral Afghanistan, sans warlords and kleptocrats, whatever their ethnicity.  He prefaced it by saying, “Finally, the truth.”  Bear in mind, the individual making this comment is a longtime admirer of America, going back to our aid in the Helmand River irrigation project during the Eisenhower Administration.  Read Sparrow’s essay and make your own judgement … then compare it to other points of view which can be found here and here, and ask yourself who is making the strongest argument.
Afghanistan: A Gathering Menace” is a deeply troubling essay by Neal Shea in the current issue of the American Scholar.  Shea has been writing about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2006, where he has been spent most of his time embedded with NATO units.
He paints a grim portrait of how the confrontation dynamics of the Afghan guerrilla war are evolving violent psyches in some of the American troops who are being tasked to carry out the endless patrols and night raids.  These search-and-destroy operations have morphed the aim of winning hearts and minds into a futile attrition strategy aimed at of killing insurgents faster than the local population can replace them … and according to Shea, the unfocused violence emerging from this strategy is having frightening side effects on the psychology of some of our soldiers.
If Shea is close to being right, the reality at the pointy end of the spear is very different from that perceived by the lounge lizards and neoconmen inside the beltway think tanks who calling for more time because our strategy is slowing winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people
Left hanging, but implicit in the title of his essay, is the question of what this menacing acculturation implies for the future of America.  That is … what will happen when those afflicted return home, with no wars to expend their aggressive energies on?  Add in the numbers of returning American mercenaries laid off by American contractors as their Afghan honey pot dries up, and the prospect becomes ominous indeed.
To be sure, Shea is only one observer at the microscopic level of organization, but he has been around, and if his observations are close to being right, the leaders of our military and government, who are debating when to leave, had better start thinking about how to contend with the kinds of post-combat stress problems posed by acculturation Shea describes, whatever its magnitude.
But that kind of contingency planning is not going to happen any time soon.  The politicians and generals are too busy scrambling to save their reputations by devising some kind of face-saving exit strategy from a quagmire of their own making. (Shades of Nixon’s promise of ‘Peace with Honor’ in Vietnam?)
No one in Versailles on the Potomac is thinking about how to ameliorate the potentially explosive domestic blowback from the targeted killing strategy that landed America in this pickle.  What will have happen, for example, to our demobilized young veterans, after they are downsized by the milcrats in the Pentagon to make budget room for cold-war inspired turkeys like the $500 billion F-35 fighter program?  Many of these soldiers and marines joined the all-volunteer professional military, because they needed a job — this is their profession.  What skills can be transferred to the private sector?  Guarding gated communities or serving in private armies owned by the super rich banksters, speculators, and globalization titans who helped so much to reduce their job prospects to begin with? What does this dilemma tell us about the wisdom of maintaining a large professional all-volunteer military in a democratic republic?
History has seen this peculiar kind of unemployment affliction before — for example, the unemployed hoplites in ancient Greece, selling their killing services to the highest bidder, or the unemployed German soldiers after World War I donning the brownshirts — and the results are never pretty.

07 April 2012

Goodbye Occupy: Political Engineering the Police State

The politics of fear in insecurity are now the staple of American politics.  They were used habitually during  the Cold War to create powerful vested interests in a permanent war economy.  These interests are clearly reflected in the pattern of political practices of the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex (MICC) that maintains and increases the flux of money flowing through the MICC.  It is this flux that gives the MICC its form and vitality.

By 1990, the MICC's political practices had been honed to the point that they became self-sustaining and the cold-war-level defense budget proved impossible to turn off when the Cold War ended and the grossly inflated Soviet threat evaporated in 1991. In the Pentagon, we sarcastically referred to the unstoppable budget steamroller as the Pentagon's self-licking ice cream cone.[1]  

The self-licking ice cream cone was in place, morphed, and survived.   An after some some fits and starts in alternative threat inflation options during the 90s (e.g., the wars of the Yugoslav Succession, theories of being a indispensable power and humanitarian intervention), 9-11 provided the MICC with a political cover to morph its marketing appeal into fighting what it called the long war on terror.   But 9-11 was also exploited cynically as a justification to create another political cash cow, which can be though of as domestic spinoff to the MICC, since many of the same players are involved -- the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), thus expanding the MICC's network of vested interests and bringing them more directly into the domestic arena. The attached op-ed in the Guardian by Naomi Wolf gives a hint of where this evolution is headed -- and if you think she is being alarmist, note particularly her brief description of DHS's emerging self-licking ice cream cone (highlighted in yellow near the end of her essay). 

The long war in terror may be winding down, and the alleged need for a DHS is evaporating, but like the MICC, the 'DHS self licking ice cream cone' is likely to exhibit the kind of adaptability needed live on in a pathological mutation of its supposed intent. [2] 

For those readers with a synthetic bent of mind, think about the implications of Wolf's op-ed in the context of the questions I will pose at the end of the next blaster.

[1] New readers will find detailed albeit overlapping explanations of how the MICC's self-licking ice cream cone operates hereherehere, and here.

[2] There is another, more subtle dimension to the these political-economic evolutions: Over time, the economically pathological but politically expedient practices of the MICC undermined the commercial competitiveness of the manufacturing companies involved in weapons making.  The employees and owners of these companies became ever more dependent on government money flows for their survival and growth.  But, as Seymour Melman correctly predicted in his 1983 book Profits Without Production, the MICC's practices also contributed materially, together with deleterious effects of financialization, deregulation, speculation, and globalization, to deindustrialize and hollow out the high-income US economy.  This political-economic evolution led directly to the Wall Street Casino that crashed in 2007-8.  It is now clear that the pathological transformation of the great American economic engine took off in the late 70s, and it produced the  stagnation of middle class wages and the grotesque inflation of the income disparity between and poor and rich, especially the super rich that lies at or very near root of our economic problems.  So, the politics of fear are now melded seamlessly with the politics of economic insecurity (reflected in dependency, anger, and scapegoating) to shape the political discourse of the lower 80% (who are struggling to make ends meet and provide a future for their children while paying off a huge debt burden) as well as the super rich who fear the masses will rise up against them to take their wealth ... it is this melding that is feeding the political and legal selection pressures underpinning the kind of evolution described by Ms. Wolf.

Sexual Humiliation, a Tool to Control the Masses
By Naomi Wolf, Guardian UK
06 April 2012

n a five-four ruling this week, the supreme court decided that anyone can be strip-searched upon arrest for any offense, however minor, at any time. This horror show ruling joins two recent horror show laws: the NDAA, which lets anyone be arrested forever at any time, and HR 347, the "trespass bill", which gives you a 10-year sentence for protesting anywhere near someone with secret service protection. These criminalizations of being human follow, of course, the mini-uprising of the Occupy movement.
Is American strip-searching benign? The man who had brought the initial suit, Albert Florence, described having been told to "turn around. Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks." He said he felt humiliated: "It made me feel like less of a man."
In surreal reasoning, justice Anthony Kennedy explained that this ruling is necessary because the 9/11 bomber could have been stopped for speeding. How would strip searching him have prevented the attack? Did justice Kennedy imagine that plans to blow up the twin towers had been concealed in a body cavity? In still more bizarre non-logic, his and the other justices' decision rests on concerns about weapons and contraband in prison systems. But people under arrest – that is, who are not yet convicted – haven't been introduced into a prison population.
Our surveillance state shown considerable determination to intrude on citizens sexually. There's the sexual abuse of prisoners at Bagram – der Spiegel reports that "former inmates report incidents of … various forms of sexual humiliation. In some cases, an interrogator would place his penis along the face of the detainee while he was being questioned. Other inmates were raped with sticks or threatened with anal sex". There was the stripping of Bradley Manning is solitary confinement. And there's the policy set up after the story of the "underwear bomber" to grope US travelers genitally or else force them to go through a machine – made by a company, Rapiscan, owned by terror profiteer and former DHA czar Michael Chertoff – with images so vivid that it has been called the "pornoscanner".
Believe me: you don't want the state having the power to strip your clothes off. History shows that the use of forced nudity by a state that is descending into fascism is powerfully effective in controlling and subduing populations.
The political use of forced nudity by anti-democratic regimes is long established. Forcing people to undress is the first step in breaking down their sense of individuality and dignity and reinforcing their powerlessness. Enslaved women were sold naked on the blocks in the American south, and adolescent male slaves served young white ladies at table in the south, while they themselves were naked: their invisible humiliation was a trope for their emasculation. Jewish prisoners herded into concentration camps were stripped of clothing and photographed naked, as iconic images of that Holocaust reiterated.
One of the most terrifying moments for me when I visited Guantanamo prison in 2009 was seeing the way the architecture of the building positioned glass-fronted shower cubicles facing intentionally right into the central atrium – where young female guards stood watch over the forced nakedness of Muslim prisoners, who had no way to conceal themselves. Laws and rulings such as this are clearly designed to bring the conditions of Guantanamo, and abusive detention, home.
I have watched male police and TSA members standing by side by side salaciously observing women as they have been "patted down" in airports. I have experienced the weirdly phrased, sexually perverse intrusiveness of the state during an airport "pat-down", which is always phrased in the words of a steamy paperback ("do you have any sensitive areas? … I will use the back of my hands under your breasts …"). One of my Facebook commentators suggested, I think plausibly, that more women are about to be found liable for arrest for petty reasons (scarily enough, the TSA is advertising for more female officers).
I interviewed the equivalent of TSA workers in Britain and found that the genital groping that is obligatory in the US is illegal in Britain. I believe that the genital groping policy in America, too, is designed to psychologically habituate US citizens to a condition in which they are demeaned and sexually intruded upon by the state – at any moment.
The most terrifying phrase of all in the decision is justice Kennedy's striking use of the term "detainees" for "United States citizens under arrest". Some members of Occupy who were arrested in Los Angeles also reported having been referred to by police as such. Justice Kennedy's new use of what looks like a deliberate activation of that phrase is illuminating.
Ten years of association have given "detainee" the synonymous meaning in America as those to whom no rights apply – especially in prison. It has been long in use in America, habituating us to link it with a condition in which random Muslims far away may be stripped by the American state of any rights. Now the term – with its associations of "those to whom anything may be done" – is being deployed systematically in the direction of … any old American citizen.
Where are we headed? Why? These recent laws criminalizing protest, and giving local police – who, recall, are now infused with DHS money, military hardware and personnel – powers to terrify and traumatise people who have not gone through due process or trial, are being set up to work in concert with a see-all-all-the-time surveillance state. A facility is being set up in Utah by the NSA to monitor everything all the time: James Bamford wrote in Wired magazine that the new facility in Bluffdale, Utah, is being built, where the NSA will look at billions of emails, texts and phone calls. Similar legislation is being pushed forward in the UK.
With that Big Brother eye in place, working alongside these strip-search laws, – between the all-seeing data-mining technology and the terrifying police powers to sexually abuse and humiliate you at will – no one will need a formal coup to have a cowed and compliant citizenry. If you say anything controversial online or on the phone, will you face arrest and sexual humiliation?
Remember, you don't need to have done anything wrong to be arrested in America any longer. You can be arrested for walking your dog without a leash. The man who was forced to spread his buttocks was stopped for a driving infraction. I was told by an NYPD sergeant that "safety" issues allow the NYPD to make arrests at will. So nothing prevents thousands of Occupy protesters – if there will be any left after these laws start to bite – from being rounded up and stripped naked under intimidating conditions.
Why is this happening? I used to think the push was just led by those who profited from endless war and surveillance – but now I see the struggle as larger. As one internet advocate said to me: "There is a race against time: they realise the internet is a tool of empowerment that will work against their interests, and they need to race to turn it into a tool of control."
As Chris Hedges wrote in his riveting account of the NDAA: "There are now 1,271 government agencies and 1,931 private companies that work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States, the Washington Post reported in a 2010 series by Dana Priest and William M Arken. There are 854,000 people with top-secret security clearances, the reporters wrote, and in Washington, DC, and the surrounding area 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2011."
This enormous new sector of the economy has a multi-billion-dollar vested interest in setting up a system to surveil, physically intimidate and prey upon the rest of American society.
Now they can do so by threatening to demean you sexually – a potent tool in the hands of any bully.