Prisoners of our own delusion

by Chuck Spinney

A recent article by Thomas Powers in the New York Review of Books is a very good analysis of why Mr. Bush’s impulse to attack Iran before he leaves office is sheer madness. And at a deeper level, it well illustrates how perverted the militarization of US grand strategy has become at the dawn of the 21st Century.

But … Powers ignores the deeper forces behind America’s dangerous evolution toward the knee-jerk use of military force. Instead, he seems to attribute the roots of this perversion to the Republicans and neocons. This kind of omission is particularly unfortunate in a landmark election year, where the intelligentsia is scrambling especially hard to capture the mind and thinking of the Presidential candidates, especially that of Barak Obama, who must seem to possess a most inviting tabla rasa on which to imprint a theory of military and foreign policy.

To be sure, blaming the Bushies and neocons for the substitution of force for diplomacy is not without a lot of merit … as the past eight years of madness have shown. But this madness did not come about in a vacuum.

To assume otherwise misses the fundamental point that the militarization of grand strategy is deeply rooted in our political culture. The embedding operation evolved during the entire period of the Cold War. Looking back to the origins of the Cold War, for example, did not George Kennan, the father of the Containment Policy, complain later that the militarization of foreign policy warped containment theory into feeding an arms race that greatly intensified the Cold War? And, oh by the way, long before the Cold War ended, did not President Eisenhower warn us in his farewell speech to the American people about the dangers of excessive political influence posed by the military-industrial complex?

It is especially important to appreciate how the propensity to militarize grand strategy fed back on and magnified itself after we erroneously convinced ourselves that this strategy was responsible for the collapse of the Soviet Union. Indeed, in the 1990s, during the Clinton Administration, this impulse to militarize foreign policy became evident in a particularly pernicious synthesis: a fusing of the theory of coercive diplomacy with the delusional hubristic belief that precision guided weapons could be wired together with an all seeing, all knowing surveillance, decision-making, and targeting system. This system would enable the United States to build a precisely controlled coercion machine, where minutely regulated diplomatic pressure, coupled with precision missile/bombing strikes, could bring about desired political outcomes cleanly, neatly, quickly, and at low cost.

Who can forget how Madeline Albight referred implicitly to this coercion machine when she made the complaint to the effect that “What was the point of having this magnificent military if you are not going to use it?” during early stages of the Yugoslavian crisis in the early 1990s. In the late 1990s, did not the US negotiators insert a poison pill into Rambouillet negotiations, so that Serbia’s refusal to agree to our excessively onerous demands would justify our strategic bombing campaign of Serbia over the Kosovo issue, in the mistaken belief that only two or three days of precision bombing would compel Serbia to acquiesce? (After 79 days of brutal bombing, Russia withdrew its support of Serbia and forced the Serbs to agree the terms they already agreed to before we inserted the poison pill.)

My point is not to criticize Powers’ analysis per se, which is excellent and important, so far as it goes. But to point out that there are deeper forces at work in this very dangerous state of affairs. I believe these deeper causes are rooted in the bipartisan political struggle to maintain and expand the political economy of the military-industrial-congressional complex (MICC), as opposed to being a phenomenon of which political party is in power. These may be forces that the Bushies have exploited to hilt, but he and his henchmen did not create them.

If we are to come to grips with the deeper causes of America’s militarization of grand strategy and the loss of our moral stature in the world, we must deal with the internal issues of our domestic political economy. After all, as Powers says so accurately in his opening line, “At a moment of serious challenge, battered by two wars, ballooning debt, and a faltering economy, the United States appears to have lost its capacity to think clearly.”

No more fitting epitaph for the MICC can be written.

Filed in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Prisoners of our own delusion