How to Militarize Your Country--And Not Even Notice
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Last week, the president made a rare appearance at the Pentagon to unveil a new strategic plan for U.S. military policy (and so spending) over the next decade. Let’s leave the specifics to a future TomDispatch post and focus instead on a historical footnote: Obama was evidently the first president to offer remarks from a podium in the Pentagon press room. He made the point himself -- “I understand this is the first time a president has done this. It’s a pretty nice room. (Laughter)” -- and it was duly noted in the media. Yet no one thought to make anything of it, even though it tells us so much about our American world.
After all, when was the last time the president appeared at a podium at the Environmental Protection Agency to announce a 10-year plan for a “leaner, meaner” approach to the environment, or at the Education Department to outline the next decade of blue-skies thinking (and spending) for giving our children a leg- up in a competitive world? Or how about at a State Department podium to describe future planning for a more peaceable planet more peaceably attained? Unfortunately, you can’t remember such moments and neither can America’s reporters, because they just aren’t part of Washington life. And strangest of all, no one finds this the tiniest bit odd or worth commenting on.
Over the last decade, this country has been so strikingly militarized that no one can imagine 10 years of serious government planning or investment not connected to the military or the national security state. It’s a dangerous world out there -- so we’re regularly told by officials who don’t mention that no military is built to handle the scariest things around. War and the sinews of war are now our business and the U.S. military is our go-to outfit of choice for anything from humanitarian action to diplomacy (even though that same military can’t do the one thing it’s theoretically built to do: win a modern war). And if you don’t believe me that the militarization of this country is a process far gone, check out the last pages of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent piece, “America’s Pacific Century,” in Foreign Policy magazine. Then close your eyes and tell me that it wasn’t written by a secretary of defense, rather than a secretary of state -- right down to the details about the “littoral combat ships” we’re planning to deploy to Singapore and the “greater American military presence” in Australia.
Of course, the irony of this American moment is that the Republicans, those supposed advocates of “small government,” are the greatest fans we have of the ever increasing oppressive powers of the biggest of governments. In recent years, have they seen a single enhanced power they didn’t put their stamp of approval on or enhance further? Predictably, no sooner did the president’s Pentagon press briefing end than assorted Republicans began attacking Obama and his relatively modest Pentagon plan for reshuffling military funds -- from House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (“a lead from behind strategy for a left-behind America”) and Senator John McCain (“greatest peril”) to presidential candidate Mitt Romney (“inexcusable, unthinkable”) -- as if it were a program for unilateral disarmament.
So when the U.S. faces a problem in the world -- say, keeping the energy flowing on this planet -- the first thing that’s done is to militarize the problem. It’s the only way Washington now knows how to think. As Michael Klare makes clear in his latest piece, “Danger Waters,” a further militarization of oil and gas policy is underway with an eye to the Pacific, and we have another anxious year on the horizon.
Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, The United States of Fear (Haymarket Books), will be published in November.