Denial Hurts the Military


Tom Engelhardt in his Dispatch titled ‘State of Denial: AbuGrabbed in Washington’ is taken by the level of denial in Bush’s ‘lackluster Iraq speech’ as illustrated by his promise (spurned by the IGC) to tear down the offending building as if it were the building that was at fault.

In terms of the President’s speech, the strangest thing about his prison offer is that he’s so ready to shuck blame for our torture regime (though not Saddam’s) off on the building itself.


The essence of whatever was “new” in his speech lay in odd lines that popped up every now and then and were clearly meant to pass for a reckoning with Iraqi reality. In half an hour of otherwise forward-thrusting turns of phrase, all few of these swipes at reality were cast in the passive tense as if, out of a blue sky, something — call it history, call it chance — had done George in. Our own President, it seemed, had been Abugrabbed.Here are more or less all of those lines:

“There are difficult days ahead, and the way forward may sometimes appear chaotic….In the last 32 months, history has placed great demands on our country and events have come quickly… History is moving and it will tend toward hope or tend toward tragedy.”

In other words, if it goes wrong, history’s what done me in.

Apparently they’re running out of individuals to blame and Rove has now decided to just blame ‘history’. ‘History’, after all, can’t talk back. History can’t defend itself or go on tv or testify in front of a Congressional committee or write a book explaining how the Bush Administration ignored its advice, denied its reality, and twisted its facts. From the Rove perspective, ‘history’ is the perfect scapegoat, especially if you’re busy re-writing it in your favor almost as soon as it happens.

When the President didn’t shift the blame for events to Abu Ghraib or history in the speech, he unerringly found someplace else for it to lie. On troop levels in Iraq, for instance, he had this curious comment:”Our commanders had estimated that a troop level below 115,000 would be sufficient at this point in the conflict. Given the recent increase in violence, we will maintain our troop level at the current 138,000 as long as necessary.”

Here he repays history for its indignities with a good, stiff jab to the jaw. At the Army War College, in front of an audience of military men some of whom must have been squirming with anger, he managed to wipe out his administration’s rejection of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki’s prewar suggestion that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to occupy Iraq. Now, it’s the “[military] commanders” themselves who made the only real mistake he manages to acknowledge, however indirectly — not Donald Rumsfeld or Paul Wolfowitz who laughed Shinseki out of the service. As it turned out, I guess, history (division of rewriting) had its uses after all.

The damage of denial grows by the hour and spreads from one area to another like weeds in a neglected garden. One of the most serious–and least talked-about–of its effects is liable to be on the state of the US military itself. When Generals like Tony Zinni and Eric Shinseki get fired for their honest evaluations and are promptly replaced by yes-men like Myers and Kimmet who will faithfully regurgitate the political-party line without questions, express no doubts, refer to no reality in their assessments beyond the capacity of the ‘presidential bubble’ to understand, you inevitably create a military unable to respond effectively to anything.

History has desperately tried to teach the Bushies a lesson or two, and it has been spurned like a clueless CEO spurns his tech expert because she’s an ‘egghead’ who doesn’t understand the cold realities of the business world; refuse to listen, though, and before long all your systems crash.

There are, as Wanda wrote, new stirrings about the necessity for a draft again to keep America’s many adventures around its empire stocked with a steady supply of cannon fodder, and it may come. But the alternative–and it’s happening right now–is even worse: a privatized army–highly paid mercenaries hired to do the dirty work in our colonies around the world as another George hired Hessians 240 years ago to put down the insurgency in that other upstart colony full of terrorists who fired at you from behind trees and then blended back into the population so you couldn’t tell who was who. Using mercenaries is a tacit admission of empire as well as an unavoidable signal that government has become a corporation and war is now a business expense.

The proud tradition of the US military, while inevitably marred from time to time by the political uses to which it has been put (see Gen Smedley Butler for detailed examples), has by-and-large been able to believe that it serves the nation’s interests for love of country, not love of money. What happens to that belief when it sees itself replaced by much higher-paid mercs in the field? when its logistics are serviced by corporate contracts given without a bidding process to companies that have ties to govt officials? when more money is thrown at the latest unworkable high-tech battlefield gadget while their health care, travel expenses, death benefits, hazardous duty pay, combat pay, and personal equipment budgets are being cut to the bone and their families are having bake sales to buy their body armor for them?

Recruitment apparently remains at its usual levels but the number of re-ups is diving toward the cellar. The call to help protect and defend our country is as strong as it ever was but when soldiers see how the Bush Administration is mis-using and abusing their sacrifices, many more than ever before decide they want out after a single hitch. The National Guard–a home-grown, part-time militia intended, like the Minutemen, for defending against an invasion–has become little more than the maid service for a stretched-thin military, filling in gaps, cleaning up after it, and getting no respect.

Once again, what has happened is the result of standard corporate attitudes held by the ex-CEO’s and high-level corporate flunkies with which Bush has filled the govt, men–and women, at least one–who see the military as they have always seen it: a corporate asset whose only legitimate use is to further their business interests, and to do so as cheaply as possible and shut up about it. Can it really surprise anyone that when young men who join believing they are serving their country discover that in fact they’re serving Halliburton, they turn away in disgust?

We are looking at the potential creation of a privatized, corporate military serving at the exclusive pleasure of the business interests of the dominant companies, a sort of US East India Company that is expected to function according to the highest corporate values: No military analysis is to contradict stated corporate policy; no military department is to exceed its budget and every budget is to be cut; anyone dissenting from the corporate goals will be considered disloyal, negative, and ‘not a team member’ and will be disciplined accordingly; no military employee is allowed to express a personal opinion not in line with the corporate agenda; all military employees must sacrifice any and all benefits for the good of the corporation; no corporate goal, agenda, or business plan is to be discussed by the employees in public or private; no employee below the executive level has any rights whatever beyond those granted by the corporation–and the corporation grants NO rights.

In short, we are witnessing the US military being turned into Wal-Mart, which Dick Cheney called ‘one of our nation’s best companies’, blithely ignoring little things like ‘its poverty-level wages, mistreatment of workers and repeated violations of…law.’

He claimed the company “exemplifies some of the very best qualities in our country—hard work, the spirit of enterprise, fair dealing and integrity.” He failed to mention the 60 federal complaints against the company for workplace violations, Wal-Mart’s decisions to lock workers into stores and charges that it doctored hourly employees’ time records in order to skimp on wages. Instead, he parroted the Wal-Mart executives, the same ones who are bankrolling the Bush-Cheney campaign, and called for “litigation reform,” saying the problem afflicting America is pesky workers who have the nerve to challenge corporate malfeasance in court.

If the BA is allowed to continue the way it’s going, the US military may well become the equivalent of Wal-Mart security guards. Does that make you feel safer?

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