Sunday, April 13, 2008
Enemies Foreign, Enemies Domestic
“I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” – from the U.S. military officer oath
In an April 10 speech at the White House, Mr. Bush stated that, “two of the greatest threats to America in this new century” are “al Qaeda and Iran.” For once in his presidency, Mr. Bush is probably right. Al Qaeda and Iran, in fact, may be America’s only two remaining foreign threats.
Russia and China won’t try to beat us militarily; they’ll take us down economically. Europe doesn’t even need to take us down economically because it already has: The European Union’s gross domestic product surpassed ours by about $600 billion in 2007. Australia’s happy the way it is; Japan won’t rock the boat. South America is too corrupt. Africa is far too hot and Canada’s too cold, as the song by Randy Newman says.
Yep, as far as significant foreign enemies go, Iran and al-Qaeda are about it: a country with a gross domestic product and defense budget barely six percent of America’s, and an “organization” with no economy or navy or air force at all, and no proper army to speak of.
Mr. Bush was telling us, in the Freudian fashion he so often utilizes, that the enemies we really need to worry about are of the domestic variety.
In his speech, Mr. Bush admonished that those who complain about the cost of his woebegone wars forget that “during other major conflicts in our history, the relative cost has been even higher.” He noted that our defense budget consumed a higher percentage of America’s GDP during the Cold War than the current level of “just over four percent” (it’s about 4.06). Mr. Bush noted, “the imperative of stopping Soviet expansion justified this expense,” and compared the Soviets to today’s “enemy that is not only expansionist in its aims, but has actually attacked our homeland--and intends to do so again.”
Comparing al Qaeda to the Soviets is equating apples and elephants. The Soviets were a peer military competitor; al Qaeda never will be, nor will Iran for that matter. That a properly sized defense budget must be a certain percentage of the overall economy is a long standing neoconservative mantra, but it makes even less sense that most neocon rhetoric. If the GDP metric were a true measure of a nation’s military might, America would be at the mercy of such notable powerhouses as Qatar, Eritrea and Swaziland (10, 6.3 and 4.7 percent respectively).
The military industrial complex has met and exceeded President Dwight Eisenhower’s dire prediction. No longer merely a potential danger, the “disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist” for as long as regional American economies and political careers wholly depend on defense spending.
Perhaps the most glaring example of runaway arms expenditures driving security strategy amok is our use of nuclear submarines to assassinate terrorists. Maybe I should say our attempted use of nuclear submarines to assassinate terrorists. The last time a nuclear submarine tried to employ its cruise missiles to rub out a terrorist in Somalia, it missed the terrorist but killed at least six other people not known to be terrorists instead. There’s buck-for-the-bang defense spending, huh?
Pavlov’s Dogs of War
Mr. Bush also said in his speech that he has “accepted” the recommendation of General David Petraeus to stop the reduction of troops in Iraq when the five surge brigades redeploy at the end of July. The notion that a four-star general should be dictating foreign policy to a president and Congress upset a few people. Juan Cole remarked that, “Bush has now turned over the decision-making about the course of the Iraq War to Gen. David Petraeus. So Congress abdicated to Bush. Bush has abdicated to the generals in the field. That is not a Republic. That is a military dictatorship.”
America is not a military dictatorship exactly. It’s a more of a militaristic oligarchy with a fascist overtone and a theocratic undercoat. It’s the civilian leaders, not the four-star generals, who want to drag us into war everlasting. American generals like Petraeus are domesticated pets of the truly powerful: the politicians and the one percent of the population that owns the politicians. Petraeus is among the Bush administration generals who rose to four-star rank and operational wartime command by following a revered tenet of military tradition; he found out what the boss wanted and gave it to him. Someone is dictating policy and strategy to George W. Bush all right, but it isn’t David Petraeus. Petraeus gives Bush the advice Bush advises him to give or he wouldn’t be in a position to give Bush advice.
Though the Petraeuses of this world won’t overthrow civilian government, we have much to fear from them. Since taking over as Mr. Bush’s “main man” in Iraq, Petraeus has lived up to his reputation for grandstanding and self-promotion in pursuit of selling America on the notion that his surge is “working.” Among his most deplorable stunts was the Baghdad shopping trip he staged in spring of 2007 for surge supporters and Bush loyalists John McCain and Lindsey Graham, a propaganda event made possible by the 100 plus heavily armed soldiers and five Army helicopters that provided security.
You have to be looking an ostrich in the eye to not see that congressional shopping spree for what it was: a commander putting the lives of his troops at risk to pave to the path to his retirement career in politics. You might think that Petraeus would be reviled among the military officer corps for being, in the reported words of former Central Command chief Admiral William Fallon, "an a**-kissing little chickens***," and you might expect that like Fallon, most officers would “hate people like that."
But no. Petraeus has a cult-like following in the officer corps. Granted, many of his acolytes are the sort of folks who like to brag about how few teeth they have left and who doubtless feel more allegiance to the Republican Party and the Confederacy than they do to the American flag or mom or apple pie. I hear from these yahooligans all the time. One of them, after giving me the standard admonition for disparaging the general’s honor, gave me a lecture about the officer’s oath that I could only follow well enough to figure out that the yahooligan didn’t understand what the oath actually says.
Unlike the oath administered to enlisted personnel, the officer oath says nothing about obeying “the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me.” Officers merely swear or affirm that they will “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” This ensures, among other things, that officers have no moral obligation of obedience or loyalty to any individual in their chain of command--including the commander in chief--that trumps their duty to the Constitution.
The oath also admonishes officers to “well and faithfully discharge” their duties, something Petraeus can hardly be said to have done when, in support of the Bush administration’s disinformation campaign, he blames the Iranians for arming Iraqi militant groups even though he himself was directly responsible for distributing weapons to both Sunni and Shiite factions in Iraq’s Hobbesian civil war.
Petraeus has put his troops at unnecessary risk and deceived the American Congress and public in order to further his ambitions, and supports the policies and strategies of a president who has exercised imperial authority in violation of the Constitution. Some of Petraeus’s supporters within the military, like the one I described earlier, possess insufficient sentience to understand this; but many of the general’s followers are every bit as brilliant—and ambitious—as he is, and share his evident capacity to compartment and rationalize. I’d still like to think that the vast majority of military officers are men and women dedicated to their people, their service and their mission and who put duty above their personal priorities. Lamentably, few of these individuals ever wear stars on their collars, and if David Petraeus becomes the “model” officer, everyone who ascends to the rank of bird colonel or higher will be stamped from his mold.
When that happens, our military will have become a praetorian guard, and the shapers of American policy will be neoconservative elites like Frederick Kagan, who wasn’t elected or commissioned by anyone and who never took an oath of any kind.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword.
"So we can play war…"
"Populated by outrageous characters and fueled with pompous outrage, Huber’s irreverent broadside will pummel the funny bone of anyone who’s served." — Publishers Weekly
"A remarkably accomplished book, striking just the right balance between ridicule and insight." — Booklist
View the trailer here.
at 7:35 AM