The central front in America’s wars is not in distant lands, but in the US. While America masters the world, the war lobby has so subjugated the American people that they are no longer masters of their own spirit and ideals. “Of all the enemies to public liberty,” James Madison had observed in 1795, “war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes … known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few... No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.” His fears have been realised.
With control over finance and the media, an expanded nexus of what US President Dwight Eisenhower called the militaryindustrial complex, has acquired an “unwarranted influence” over political institutions that has led to the “disastrous rise of misplaced power” against which Eisenhower had warned. Over the last decade, this influence has been used to persuade the American people – a nation that has not fought a war at their borders since 1848 — to part with their hard won liberties, treasure and blood, to wage war not on real enemies but on values, ideas, and ways of life of “non-white” peoples.
Just as Madison foresaw, the results have been disastrous: these wars have diminished security, ruined the economy, eroded civil liberties, and strained the fiction of popular sovereignty that has sustained democracy in America. This may not sit well with President and Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama but he is unable to enforce his will on the military. This was most visible when, despite his well-publicised commitment to limit the military’s mission in Afghanistan and Pakistan to counter-terrorism (“hunt, kill, and disrupt”), the military prevailed and sent in more troops in pursuit of their pet counter-insurgency (“clear, hold and build”) strategy that Obama had publicly rejected.
How did this come to pass? While liberals have looked upon the Vietnam War as folly, an influential section of the US military has always thought that victory was snatched away from them by mismanagement of domestic public opinion. Over the last decade, the military – one of the most politicised and media-savvy in US history, led under Obama by many of the same men who ran it for Bush – has carefully managed public opinion to keep the president and congress in check, while serving the war lobby rather than the American people, in pursuit of perpetual war.
While the military seeks, famously, to “disrupt, dismantle, and defeat” a variety of real and imagined enemies, the US president’s council of economic advisers, in its February 2010 report, offers a plan to “rescue, re-balance, and rebuild” an economy that it says is “in Free Fall” but solutions are constrained by the limits of political acceptability. It is unacceptable to suggest that rising poverty and economic hardship in America may have anything to do with deficit-financed military expenditures.
As a result – after bailing out banks and providing tax cuts to small businesses and workers – the president is out of solutions and has been reduced to announcing the creation of a bipartisan Fiscal Commission to address the crisis. If, as is widely expected, the Republicans make significant gains in the November 2010 congressional and gubernatorial elections, setting the stage to take the presidency in November 2012 (possibly with General David Petraeus as their candidate), the war lobby will be strengthened, not weakened. With congress hostage and the president in chains, unless the American people stop them, the US military’s conquest of America is nearly complete.
In his speech on July 4 1821, John Quincy Adams warned America not to go abroad in search of monsters to destroy, for although “she might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.” He was not wrong.
The writer is a retired economist who blogs at afpakwar.com (firstname.lastname@example.org)