Monday, July 28, 2008

Chalmers Johnson on the Continued Rise of the Military-Industrial Complex

Professor and author Chalmers Johnson has written a new piece in which he continues to warn us about the ever present build-up of the military-industrial complex within the United States. The term "military-industrial complex" was first coined in the farewell address of President Dwight Eisenhower:

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence-economic, political, even spiritual-is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Johnson argues that while this portion of Eisenhower's speech may be well known, it is the warning of the "unwarranted influence" that has been ignored.

Johnson starts in the 1940's where there was still a great deal of public distrust of the private ownership of industrial firms due to the fallout from the Great Depression. This led to a new kind of "public-private relationship" with this industry, which was sponsored by FDR and worked to rearm the United States as well as other allied nations against the forces of fascism. This not only led to the public approval of such a relationship, but it also found private sector approval since it would gain the public trust and hide profits that were made during wartime. Hence, this new relationship between government and corporate officials was born.

Found in the creation of these "public-private relationships" were some of the protections that are often afforded to private corporations yet not to public institutions. Critics pointed to this as a major problem but these criticisms were never fully explored due to the enthusiasm for the WWII efforts and the economic boom that followed. Johnson writes:

Beneath the surface, however, was a less well recognized movement by big business to replace democratic institutions with those representing the interests of capital. This movement is today ascendant...Its objectives have long been to discredit what it called “big government,” while capturing for private interests the tremendous sums invested by the public sector in national defense. It may be understood as a slow-burning reaction to what American conservatives believed to be the socialism of the New Deal.

Today, we find the continued privatization of governmental activities and as Sheldon Wolin believes, such privatization is not only undercutting our democracy but leaves us with a government that is incapable of performing its duties at all. Wolin writes in his new book:

“The privatization of public services and functions manifests the steady evolution of corporate power into a political form, into an integral, even dominant partner with the state. It marks the transformation of American politics and its political culture, from a system in which democratic practices and values were, if not defining, at least major contributory elements, to one where the remaining democratic elements of the state and its populist programs are being systematically dismantled.”

Today, we see various departments within the United States government that are dependent on private contractors in order to do their job. Companies like KBR and Blackwater receive large, no-bid contracts in order to provide necessities to troops as well as security to various officials that operate within Iraq. Johnson states:

The end result is what we see today: a government hollowed out in terms of military and intelligence functions. The KBR Corporation, for example, supplies food, laundry, and other personal services to our troops in Iraq based on extremely lucrative no-bid contracts, while Blackwater Worldwide supplies security and analytical services to the CIA and the State Department in Baghdad. (Among other things, its armed mercenaries opened fire on, and killed, 17 unarmed civilians in Nisour Square, Baghdad, on September 16, 2007, without any provocation, according to U.S. military reports.) The costs — both financial and personal — of privatization in the armed services and the intelligence community far exceed any alleged savings, and some of the consequences for democratic governance may prove irreparable.

The "consequences" that Johnson references in the above quote are as follows:

1. The sacrifice of professionalism within our intelligence services
2. The readiness of private contractors to engage in illegal activities without compunction and with impunity.
3. The inability of Congress or citizens to carry out effective oversight of privately-managed intelligence activities because of the wall of secrecy that surrounds them.
4. The loss of the most valuable asset any intelligence organization possesses — its institutional memory.

The sacrifice of professionalism within intelligence services can easily be seen in the lead up to the Iraq War, when (by the Bush Administration's claims) the intelligence was so wrong that it led us into a war on false pretenses. No one lost their job at the CIA because of this. In fact, George Tenet was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The readiness of private contractors to engage in illegal activities without compunction and with impunity can be seen in Blackwater's role in the Nisour Square massacre. In this incident, Blackwater employees gunned down 17 unarmed civilians without provocation and as of this writing, no one has been charged with a crime and Blackwater's contract was renewed.

The inability of Congress to carry-out any effective oversight can be seen by the circumstances surrounding the DARPA program. Johnson states:

For example, following 9/11, Rear Admiral John Poindexter, then working for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the Department of Defense, got the bright idea that DARPA should start compiling dossiers on as many American citizens as possible in order to see whether “data-mining” procedures might reveal patterns of behavior associated with terrorist activities.

On November 14, 2002, the New York Times published a column by William Safire entitled “You Are a Suspect” in which he revealed that DARPA had been given a $200 million budget to compile dossiers on 300 million Americans. He wrote, “Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every web site you visit and every e-mail you send or receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book, and every event you attend — all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as a ‘virtual centralized grand database.’” This struck many members of Congress as too close to the practices of the Gestapo and the Stasi under German totalitarianism, and so, the following year, they voted to defund the project.

However, Congress’s action did not end the “total information awareness” program. The National Security Agency secretly decided to continue it through its private contractors. The NSA easily persuaded SAIC and Booz Allen Hamilton to carry on with what Congress had declared to be a violation of the privacy rights of the American public — for a price. As far as we know, Admiral Poindexter’s “Total Information Awareness Program” is still going strong today.

This is a prime example of the inability of Congress to effectively oversee such programs.

Chalmers Johnson believes that the most dangerous consequence could indeed be the loss of institutional memory. It has been stated that at the turn of the century, much of the institutional memory of the United States can now be found in the private sector. Johnson:

This means that the CIA, the DIA, the NSA, and the other 13 agencies in the U.S. intelligence community cannot easily be reformed because their staffs have largely forgotten what they are supposed to do, or how to go about it. They have not been drilled and disciplined in the techniques, unexpected outcomes, and know-how of previous projects, successful and failed.

All of this, is greatly alarming for the future of American democracy. Chalmers Johnson, along with others, have been warning us for some time now that the United States has been slowly slipping away from a democracy and towards more of a corporatist state and the continued privatization of some of the industries discussed above, are clear cause for concern. All Presidential candidates need to make their views clear on this issue. Barack Obama, when questioned by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, stated that if we drew down the over 140,000 contractors in Iraq, then we would have to replace them with US troops. He states in the video that he wants to draw down their numbers like he wants to draw down the troop level, but he does not go so far as to say that he will ban them. This exchange is telling in the reliance that the United States has on such contractors and is a prime example of just how far we have come since the days of FDR.

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