Puppets of Paranoia

The Mighty MIC and the Neoconservatives: What Happened to the ‘Peace Dividend’?

Jim Lobe of the Asia Times in a review of America Alone: The Neo-Conservatives and the Global Order, argues that oil wasn’t the primary reason for the Second Gulf War–neoconservative ideology was.

Big Oil, to the extent it took any position at all on the war, opposed it. As evidence, they cite the unusually public opposition to a unilateral invasion voiced quite publicly by such eminent oil and ruling class-related influentials as former president George H W Bush’s national security adviser Brent Scowcroft and secretary of state James Baker.While they do not deny that some economic interests – construction giants, such as Halliburton and Bechtel, and high-tech arms companies – may have given the push to war some momentum, the decisive factor in their view was ideological, and the ideology, “neo-conservative”.

Powered by both Jewish and non-Jewish neo-conservatives centered in the offices of Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney and by White House deference to the solidly pro-Zionist Christian Right, the neo-conservative world view – dedicated to the security of Israel and the primacy of military power in a world of good and evil – emerged after September 11, 2001, as the driving force in President Bush’s foreign policy, as well as the dominant narrative in a cowed and complacent mass media.

He–and the authors–may have a point, though both seem to have interpreted Big Oil’s silence as opposition when it was most probably nothing of the sort. If they were opposed to it, why were representatives of Chevron, Shell, British Petroleum, and other international oil corporations in Dick Cheney’s office in October ’03 pouring over maps and divvying up Irag’s oil fields?

If it’s too simplistic to say the SGW is about oil alone, it’s way too simplistic to say it’s about ideology alone, but Lobe and the authors have nevertheless done some necessary work to redress an imbalance and give the neocons more of the responsibilty they’ve earned for the mess we’re in. The authors–Stefan Halper, a Scowcroft Reaganite, and Jonathan Clarke, a retired British diplomat now at the libertarian Cato Institute–detail the history of neoconservatism from its roots in a reaction to the Holocaust to its development as the most fear-ridden and militaristic world view since Naziism itself.

To Halper and Clarke, the neo-conservative world view revolves around three basic themes: that “the human condition is defined as a choice between good and evil”; that military power and the willingness to use it are the fundamental determinants in relations between states; and that the Middle East and “global Islam” should be the primary focus in US foreign policy.These core beliefs create certain predispositions: analyzing foreign policy in terms of “black-and-white, absolute moral categories”; espousing the “unipolar” power of the United States and disdaining conventional diplomacy, multilateral institutions or international law; seeing international criticism as evidence of “American virtue”; regarding the use of military power as the first, rather than last, resort in dealing with the enemy, particularly when anything less might be considered “appeasement”; and harking back to the Ronald Reagan administration (1981-89) as the exemplar of “moral clarity” in foreign policy.

While all this is true, what it overlooks is the rather neat way the neocon ideology fits into the needs and goals of both Big Oil and the MIC–the Military-Industrial Complex. Eisenhower warned us of its power, its ruthlessness, and its determination to keep the world in turmoil in order to keep itself in business and its profits high in his famous Farewell Speech, but he was talking mainly about the MIC of the late 50’s–a mostly American phenomenon centered on controlling the US govt’s foreign policy in ways that would keep the money flowing from our Treasury to theirs. Since then, the MIC–like every other big corporation–has gone global.

Why the Great ‘Peace Dividend’ Wasn’t Allowed

With the collapse of the Soviet govt in ’89, the end of the Cold War was supposed to mean the end of massive defense budgets in the Free World, defense budgets that were eating up Western treasuries, and a subsequent reapportioning of that money to domestic priorities that had gone begging–literally–in order to feed the MIC. But when Clinton tried to take advantage of that opening, conservatives–and not just the neo kind–started wailing and gnashing their teeth, claiming that Clinton was ‘weakening our military’ and endangering the country. The defense budget was cut somewhat the first two years of his first admin, but when the Republicans–led by arch-neocon Newt Gingrich–took control of the House in ’94, they made bringing the defense budget back up to previous levels a top priority.

They did better than their promise–they increased it over previous levels, mainly by championing large-scale and incredibly expensive-to-develop-and-build military hardware of dubious value that even the Pentagon didn’t want. $$$BILLIONS$$$ were pissed away on white-elephant projects like Star Wars and the B1 bomber. The latter took 20 years before we even saw a prototype; the former has taken a full quarter-century and experts are saying the same thing they were saying 25 years ago: ‘It’s a pipe-dream. It can’t be done.’ Yet Star Wars is still in the budget and a few B1’s have rolled off the assembly line at a cost of a cool $1Bil per copy despite the fact that the USAF has yet to find a legitimate use for them.

As late as last march, Lobe was writing of a study just released by the Center for Defense Information that concluded that more than 20% of the US military budget could be cut without any undue harm whatsoever to our military preparedness.

The report charges that some of the most expensive items in the budget have little or nothing to do with the threats the US confronts in the world today, and calls for a much more integrated approach to determining defense priorities that would include non-military – such as economic assistance and peacekeeping – as well as strictly military programs.The report, “A Unified Security Budget for the United States”, concludes that some US$51 billion of the proposed $230 billion 2005 budget could be saved by reallocating funding within military accounts, while the savings could be used on non-military initiatives that could substantially boost overall security.

“Cutting the Comanche [helicopter] program was a good start,” said Marcus Corbin, a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information (CDI), citing one weapon the administration has already said it will cut.

“But our report identifies 10 other programs, including the F-22 fighter and DDX destroyer, that could be safely cut or reconfigured to free up resources for other neglected security priorities, such as diplomatic operations, weapons of mass destruction [WMD] non-proliferation and port container inspection,” he said.

The 23-page report, co-sponsored by CDI, Project for Defense Alternatives (PDA), the Center for Arms Control and Proliferation (CACP), and Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF), among others, comes amid growing public concern over build up of unprecedented fiscal deficits and the impact on them of the rapidly rising defense budget.

From 2000 to 2004, the Pentagon’s budget ballooned by more than 50 percent, bringing it to a level comparable to that of the world’s next 25 biggest military spenders combined, according to the CACP. Moreover, its current proposal for 2005 does not include expenditures for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the Pentagon is spending nearly $70 billion this year alone. (emphasis added)

The ‘peace dividend’ got turned over to the military anyway, despite an almost surreal lack of identifiable enemies. Why? The answer is complicated, involving political realities, recent and not-so-recent history, economic imperatives, and imponderable intangibles like fear, anger, and guilt, but the major strands can be identified fairly simply: WWII and the MIC.

The neocons aren’t the only ones whose ideological dogma comes straight out of a response to Germany’s treachery. Much of the hysteria over the Soviets’ imaginary desire for ‘world domination’ stems from a pathological need, mostly of conservatives, to never again be caught napping while a threat builds. The MIC has proven to be extraordinarily adept at exploiting that latent paranoia and aiming it toward concrete objectives: weapons. For 50 years, their most powerful argument has been as bare and as bald as this: ‘Your enemies are everywhere. Buy this weapon and you’ll be safe from them.’

In the same way that African and South/Central American dictators could count on and manipulate US support no matter what heinous crimes they committed, up to and including mass murder, as long as they claimed to be ‘anti-Communist’, the MIC could frighten and bully the US govt into funding their weapons no matter how many ‘cost overruns’, accounting scandals, pricing outrages ($400 for the same hammer that you could buy in a hardware store for $20), or convictions for corruption tainted their record as long as they claimed that what they were doing made the country ‘safer’.

We have fallen so far down the rabbit hole that we allowed the neocons to drive their paranoid fantasies right into the heart of American policy, and we did so because we have been hearing so many different versions of the MIC’s doomsday scenarios over the past half-century that it hardly registers any more who exactly the enemy is, only that there is one. It didn’t matter to us that Saddam had norhing to do with 9/11 or that he was a US ally before the First Gulf War–an ally that we supported with money and, of course, arms, including chemical weapons–only that yet another ‘enemy’ had been identified.

The MIC’s need for enemies and the neocons’ unreasonable fear of them worked together to produce the atmosphere that allowed, encouraged, even required our intense over-reaction to the 9/11 attack, an over-reaction that the neocons and the MIC then channeled into the bogus war that they’d been promoting since the early 90’s. The SGW has two primary directives:

1) To position us to protect Israel;
2) To position us to control and protect the Middle East oil supply.

Those prime directives, fueled ideologically by the neocons and for purely practical purposes by the MIC and Big Oil, have resulted in our now having the largest military budget in our history by any measure you care to use.

NEW YORK – After declining in the post-Cold War era of the early 1990s, global military spending is on the rise again – threatening to break the US$1 trillion barrier this year, according to a group of United Nations-appointed military experts.The 16-member group estimates that military spending will rise to nearly $950 billion by the end of 2004, up from $900 billion in 2003. By contrast, rich nations spend $50 billion to $60 billion on development aid each year.

The 2004 estimates would be “substantially higher if the costs of the major armed conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq were included”, the experts say in a 30-page report released in New York. The US Congress has authorized spending of about $25 billion for Afghanistan and Iraq in 2004, but that is expected to more than double by the end of the year. US Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the Senate in May that war spending in Afghanistan and Iraq was approaching about $5 billion a month. He predicted that total costs for 2005 would be $50 billion to $60 billion.

“With the end of the Cold War, global military expenditure started to decrease,” the report said. “Many expected that this would result in a peace dividend as declining military spending and a less confrontational international environment would release financial, technological and human resources for development purposes.”But that never materialized, say the experts, who included retired Brigadier Richard Baly of the UK Department for International Development; Friedrich Groning, deputy commissioner of Germany’s Arms Control and Disarmament Department; Catharina Kipp, director of the Department for Global Security in Sweden; and Prasad Kariyawasam, director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka.

“Despite decades of discussions and proposals on how to release resources from military expenditure for development purposes, the international community has not been able to agree on limiting military expenditure or establishing a ratio of military spending to national development expenditure,” they write.

At the height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union in the 1970s, global military spending rose above $900 billion. But with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, it kept declining, to about $780 billion in 1999. The recent increases are due primarily to a significant rise in the US military budget.

“The United States now accounts for about half of world military spending, meaning that it is spending nearly as much as the rest of the world combined,” said Natalie J Goldring, executive director of the program on global security and disarmament at the University of Maryland. “This is difficult to justify on the basis of known or anticipated threats to US national security.” (emphasis added)

Not ‘difficult’. Impossible. This reckless spending isn’t about ‘known’ or even ‘anticipated’ threats; it’s about threats that have been specially and specifically created out of whole cloth to justify the continued domination of the MIC and the imperial dominance of American hegemony which the neocons insist is the only path to ‘safety’ for both Israel and the US–safety from Islamic terrorists, safety from threats to the oil supply.

As long as we insist on reacting with fear instead of common sense when manipulators and psychopaths try to sell us their nightmares, there will always be another ‘enemy’. If we don’t have any real ones, they’ll make some up. As long as we’re consumed with fighting the last war, whether it be WWII or Viet Nam (itself a reaction to WWII), instead of realistically asssessing the dangers that face us now, not 50 years ago, we will be nothing but puppets of the paranoia and greed that have been leading us by the nose for their own enrichment for the past five decades.

Hussein isn’t Hitler, GWB isn’t FDR, Paul Wolfowitz isn’t Winston Churchill, the neocons aren’t entirely sane, and the MIC cares about nothing but its profits. It’s time to shake the sand from our eyes and wake up.

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