Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Wednesday, December 20th, 2006.


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Bush Administration, Democratic Party, Republican Party

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Republic or Empire?

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American History, big picture stuff, Bush Administration, Iraq War

This morning I read the first paragraph of this article by Peter Baker in today’s Washington Post:

President Bush acknowledged for the first time yesterday that the United States is not winning the war in Iraq and said he plans to expand the overall size of the “stressed” U.S. armed forces to meet the challenges of a long-term global struggle against terrorists.

After which enough alarm bells went off in my head to wake the dead.

The January 2007 issue of Harper’s (the cover art is a photograph of a rubber duckie) has an article by Chalmers Johnson titled “Republic or Empire: A National Intelligence Estimate on the United States.” It’s not online and won’t be for awhile (once again, Harper’s policy about not putting articles online until they’re a couple of months old makes me crazy), but reading the article in light of Baker’s news story is guaranteed to scare the living bleep out of you.

In the article, Chalmers discusses “military Keynesianism,” in which “the flow of the nation’s wealth — from taxpayers and (increasingly) foreign lenders through the government to military contractors and (decreasingly) back to the taxpayers.” As a result, “the domestic economy requires sustained military ambition in order to avoid recession or collapse.” Then, he ties military Keynesianism to the “unitary executive” theory and Bush’s increasingly unchecked power. Meanwhile, citizens and media dutifully “abet their government in maintaining a facade of constitutional democracy until the nation drifts into bankruptcy.”

Note that Chalmers is a serious guy with sterling Establishment credentials. Among other things, from 1967 until 1973, Chalmers was was a consultant to the Office of National Estimates (O.N.E.) within the CIA. In that capacity he mostly dealt with issues involving communist China and Maoism. There’s more about Chalmers and his work here.

In 2004 Chalmers told an interviewer he wasn’t always so concerned about military adventurism:

Johnson thought antiwar demonstrators during the Vietnam were naive. He voted for Ronald Reagan. In retrospect, Johnson told John Wilkens of the San Diego Union-Tribune, he was “a spear carrier for the empire.” …

… “I fear that we will lose our country,” Johnson writes in his latest book, “The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic.”

Bush and the Pentagon are bankrupting the nation, dismantling the Constitution, and leading us down the path to endless war. America is afflicted with the same “economic sclerosis of the former USSR,” Chalmers explains in a ZNet interview. But at least Mikhail Gorbachev tried to reform the Soviet Union before it imploded. No such luck with Bush and the neocons. “The United States is not even trying to reform, but it is certain that vested interests here would be as great or greater an obstacle. It is nowhere written that the United States, in its guise as an empire dominating the world, must go on forever. The blowback from the second half of the twentieth century has only just begun.”

In this TomDispatch interview, Chalmers explains how he evolved from being a loyal, spear carrying Cold Warrior to a being a prophet of doom howling in the wilderness. Max B. Sawicky of MaxSpeak wrote of Chalmers,

Johnson remains a conservative, staunchly pro-capitalist, limited government. No goofy Buchanan-type xenophobia. There’s a fair amount of overlap with Chomsky. People type the latter as “left” but I would argue that both of their approaches to U.S. foreign policy are empiricist and Madisonian. I’m no expert, but neither are the loons running this government.

The Johnson analytical framework harkens back to New Left treatments of “Pentagonal capitalism” and “military Keynesianism.” It emphasizes the brute fact of U.S. military outposts around the world, the breadth of resources devoted to imperial overstretch, and the impacts on the locals. I tend to discount the money aspect — what’s $450 billion in a $13 trillion economy? To me the ideology — the thirst for influence, control, and dominance — is most important.

The part about “limited government” sets some alarm belts off, too, but I respect anyone who’s actually thinking. Unlike some of our recent libertarian commenters.

Marc Cooper interviewed Chalmers in 2004 (emphasis added):

So where does that leave today’s authentic patriots?

The role of the citizen now is to be ever better informed. When Benjamin Franklin was asked, “What have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” he replied: “A republic if you can keep it.” We’ve not been paying attention to what we need to do to keep it. I think we made a disastrous error in the classic strategic sense when in 1991 we concluded that we “had won the Cold War.” No. We simply didn’t lose it as badly as the Soviets did. We were both caught up in imperial overreach, in weapons industries that came to dominate our societies. We allowed ideologues to capture our Department of Defense and lead us off — in a phrase they like — into a New Rome. We are no longer a status quo power respectful of international law. We became a revisionist power, one fundamentally opposed to the world as it is organized, much like Nazi Germany, imperial Japan, Bolshevik Russia or Maoist China.

Indeed, your thesis is that since September 11, the U.S. ceased to be a republic and has become an empire.

It’s an extremely open question if we have crossed our Rubicon and there is no going back. Easily the most important right in our Constitution, according to James Madison, who wrote much of the document, is the one giving the right to go to war exclusively to the elected representatives of the people, to the Congress. Never, Madison continued, should that right be given to a single man. But in October 2002, our Congress gave that power to a single man, to exercise whenever he wanted, and with nuclear weapons if he so chose. And the following March, without any international consultation or legitimacy, he exercised that power by staging a unilateral attack on Iraq.

The Bill of Rights — articles 4 and 6 — are now open to question. Do people really have the right to habeas corpus? Are they still secure in their homes from illegal seizures? The answer for the moment is no. We have to wait and see what the Supreme Court will rule as to the powers of this government that it appointed.

Going back to the Harper’s article — Chalmers writes,

Military Keynesianism … creates a feedback loop: American presidents know that military Keynesianism tends to concentrate power in the executive branch, and so presidents who seek greater power have a natural inducement to encourage further growth of the military-industrial complex. As the phenomena feed on each other, the usual outcome is a real war, based not on the needs of national defense but rather on the domestic political logic of military Keynesianism …

… George W. Bush has taken this natural political phenomenon to an extreme never before experienced by the American electorate. Every president has sought greater authority, but Bush … appears to believe that increasing presidential authority is both a birthright and a central component of his historical legacy. …

… John Yoo, Bush’s deputy assistant attorney general from 2001 to 2003, writes in his book War By Other Means, “We are used to a peacetime system in which Congress enacts laws, the President enforces them, and the courts interpret them. In wartime, the gravity shifts to the executive branch.”

Let’s go back to Peter Baker’s article for a moment:

A substantial military expansion will take years and would not immediately affect the war in Iraq. But it would begin to address the growing alarm among commanders about the state of the armed forces. Although the president offered no specifics, other U.S. officials said the administration is preparing plans to bolster the nation’s permanent active-duty military with as many as 70,000 additional troops.

A force structure expansion would accelerate the already-rising costs of war. The administration is drafting a supplemental request for more than $100 billion in additional funds for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, on top of the $70 billion already approved for this fiscal year, according to U.S. officials. That would be over 50 percent more than originally projected for fiscal 2007, making it by far the costliest year since the 2003 invasion.

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Congress has approved more than $500 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as for terrorism-related operations elsewhere. An additional $100 billion would bring overall expenditures to $600 billion, exceeding those for the Vietnam War, which, adjusted for inflation, cost $549 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Now, what will Bush not do to pay for all this expansion? Raise taxes, that’s what. Instead, he’s going to borrow more money from China and Japan and who knows who else. In other words, this is a major expansion of military Keynesianism. Which, once again, is what happens when “the flow of the nation’s wealth — from taxpayers and (increasingly) foreign lenders through the government to military contractors and (decreasingly) back to the taxpayers.” As a result, “the domestic economy requires sustained military ambition in order to avoid recession or collapse.”

And I think Chalmers is right about not losing the Cold War as badly as the Soviets did. We could still lose, however. Although a great many factors contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union, my understanding is that the collapse came about primarily because the Soviet economy just plain couldn’t support the cost of their military, their secret police, and their subsidies to client states like Cuba. Soviet citizens increasingly depended on a black market economy to survive, and Gorbachev’s reforms came way too late to do any good. Eventually the whole business fell like a house of cards.

Now, our economy might be able to pay for all the stuff Bush wants to spend money on — I honestly don’t know — but the plain fact is that it is not paying for those things because of Bush’s tax cuts. Instead, we are borrowing money from foreign countries and going deeper into debt every time we breathe.

And, frankly, this scares the bleep out of me.

It’s probably the case that the military does need the expansion because of the strain Bush’s War has put upon it. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that we must haul our asses out of Iraq to save ourselves. Yes, that will leave a nasty mess behind, and that’s too damn bad. But Bush’s War is itself the greater danger.

See also: Digby, Robert Scheer, and xan at Corrente.

Update: Via Digbythe Associated Press reports

The Pentagon is still struggling to get a handle on the unprecedented number of contractors now helping run the nation’s wars, losing millions of dollars because it is unable to monitor industry workers stationed in far-flung locations, according to a congressional report.

The investigation by the Government Accountability Office, which released the report Tuesday, found that the Defense Department’s inability to manage contractors effectively has hurt military operations and unit morale and cost the Pentagon money.

“With limited visibility over contractors, military commanders and other senior leaders cannot develop a complete picture of the extent to which they rely on contractors as an asset to support their operations,” said the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress.

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