Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Conflict As Commodity

Welcome to the world of strategic analysis where we develop
weapons that don’t work to meet threats that don’t exist
--Pentagon planner Ivan Selin, 1966

Thanks to Romania, those of you haunted by vague fears might finally get a so-so night’s sleep. It was claimed on a recent day, purportedly in Bucharest, that Romania has agreed to help ward off unspecified threats to indeterminate countries by allowing unproven U.S. anti-missile systems on its territory. With the alleged news, something like a sigh of relief is rumored to have wafted across various lands.
The proposal that Romania stand athwart the moot menace came, it is said, from President Obama. He had previously nixed the installation of a grander but more problematic missile defense in Poland that would have been reliant on radars based in the Czech Republic. That system would have putatively protected northern Europe, including Iceland and the Faeroes, from improbable assault by incipient Iranian rockets.
In writing ads, as I once did, basic products like salt and sugar are classified as commodities, meaning one brand is as good as another, and therefore minimally promoted. War has become a commodity in America. It used to be heavily advertised, with scary images and copy warning us of specific threats from certain countries or ideologies supposedly out to get us.
Gen. MacArthur put this eloquently back in 1957: “Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear--kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor--with the cry of grave national emergency...Always there has been some terrible evil to gobble us up if we did not blindly rally behind it by furnishing the exorbitant sums demanded. Yet in retrospect these disasters seem never quite to have happened, seem never to have been quite real.”
But that was many wars ago. By now the basing of troops and weapons at preposterous cost in remote parts of the world to meet nebulous threats has become quotidian. Resort to violence in yet another country unknown to most Americans is hardly noticed.
The Romanian deployment, relegated to the inside pages of the print press and all but ignored by the electronic media, is just one of such sallies. The Pentagon has established a new Africa Command to conduct “military operations as directed to promote a stable and secure African environment in support of U.S. foreign policy." It’s beefing up its presence in Latin America, patrolling the coasts with a revived Fourth Fleet, and adding bases in Colombia and Peru. The original message of purpose it sent to Congress contemplated “full spectrum operations” against “anti-U.S. (i.e., disobedient) regimes”.
All agree that the country is insolvent, but almost all also agree that pumping up the Pentagon budget, no matter our economic plight, has become like breathing. Endless scandals about botched and lost wars, incomprehensible incompetence, and revelations of vast corruption have as much effect on Americans as blowing spitballs at tanks.
Conservatives, who say they hate the government because it’s too big, bossy and bureaucratic, nevertheless adore and indulge the military, which happens to be the biggest, bossiest and most bureaucratic part of the government. Liberals worried about being branded “wimpy on defense,” likewise give the Pentagon carte blanche. Thus we vote war budgets with lopsided majorities typical of tinpot dictatorships.
Is it Iran that annoys us this week? Are the Russkies riling us? The Venezuelans vexing us? The Chinese challenging us? The names hardly matter anymore. Let's just say that the other 95 percent of the world is filled with disobedient ingrates who can only be stopped by stuffing the Pentagon's maw with money we don't have.