Via: Asia Times:
As in the Soviet Union before its collapse, the exaltation and feeding of the military at the expense of the rest of society and the economy had by now become the new normal; so much so that hardly a serious word could be said – lest you not “support our troops” – when it came to ending the American way of war or downsizing the global mission or ponying up the funds demanded of the US Congress to pursue war preparations and war-making.
Even when, after years of astronomical growth, Gates began to talk about cost-cutting at the Pentagon, it was in the service of the reallocation of ever-more money to war-fighting. Here was how the New York Times summed up what reduction actually meant for America’s ultimate super-sized institution in tough times: “Current budget plans project growth of only 1 percent in the Pentagon budget, after inflation, over the next five years.” Only 1% growth – at a time when state budgets, for instance, are being slashed to the bone. Like the Soviet military, the Pentagon, in other words, is planning to remain obese whatever else goes down.
Meanwhile, the “anti-war” president has been overseeing the expansion of the new normal on many fronts, including the expanding size of the army itself. In fact, when it comes to the “war on terror” – even with the name now in disuse – the profligacy can still take your breath away.
Consider, for instance, the $2.2 billion Host Nation Trucking contract the Pentagon uses to pay protection money to Afghan security companies which, in turn, slip some part of those payments to the Taliban to let American supplies travel safely on Afghan roads. Or if you don’t want to think about how Americans tax dollars support the Taliban, consider the $683,000 the Pentagon spent, according to the Washington Post, to “renovate a cafe that sells ice cream and Starbucks coffee” at its base/prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Or the $773,000 used there “to remodel a cinder-block building to house a KFC/Taco Bell restaurant”, or the $7.3 million spent on baseball and football fields, or the $60,000 batting cage, or a promised $20,000 soccer cage, all part of the approximately US$2 billion that have gone into the American base and prison complex that Obama promised to, but can’t, close.
Or what about the US Embassy in Baghdad, that 104-acre (42 hectares), almost three-quarters-of-a-billion-dollar, 21-building homage to the American-mall-as-fortified-citadel? It costs more than $1.5 billion a year to run, and bears about as much relationship to an “embassy” as McDonald’s does to a neighborhood hamburger joint. According to a recent audit, millions of dollars in “federal property” assigned to what is essentially a vast command center for the region, including 159 of the embassy’s 1,168 vehicles, are missing or unaccounted for.
And as long as we’re talking about expansion in distant lands, how about the Pentagon’s most recent construction plans in Central Asia, part of a prospective “mini-building boom” there. They are to include an anti-terrorism training center to be constructed for a bargain basement $5.5 million in … no, not Toledo or Akron or El Paso, but the combustible city of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan. And that’s just one of several projects there and in neighboring Tajikistan that are reportedly to be funded out of the US Central Command’s “counter-narcotics fund” (and ultimately out of American taxpayers’ pockets).
Or consider a particularly striking example of military expansion under Obama, superbly reported by the Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe in a piece headlined, “US ‘secret war’ expands globally as Special Operations forces take larger role.” As a story, it sank without a trace in a country evidently unfazed by the idea of having its forces garrisoned and potentially readying to fight everywhere on the planet.
Here’s how the piece began:
Beneath its commitment to soft-spoken diplomacy and beyond the combat zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama administration has significantly expanded a largely secret US war against al-Qaeda and other radical groups, according to senior military and administration officials. Special Operations forces have grown both in number and budget, and are deployed in 75 countries, compared with about 60 at the beginning of last year.
Now, without opening an atlas, just try to name any 75 countries on this planet – more than one-third, that is, of the states belonging to the United Nations. And yet US special operatives are now engaging in war, or preparing for war, or training others to do so, or covertly collecting intelligence in that many countries across Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. Fifteen more than in the Bush era.
Whatever it is or isn’t called, this remains Bush’s “war on terror” on an expansionist trajectory. DeYoung and Jaffe quote an unnamed “senior military official” saying that the Obama administration has allowed “things that the previous administration did not”, and report that Special Operations commanders are now “a far more regular presence at the White House” than in the Bush years.
Not surprisingly, those Special Operations forces have themselves expanded in the first year-and-a-half of the Obama presidency and, for fiscal year 2011, with 13,000 of them already deployed abroad, the administration has requested a 5.7% hike in their budget to $6.3 billion.
Once upon a time, Special Operations forces got their name because they were small and “special”. Now they are in essence being transformed into a covert military within the military and, as befits their growing size, reports Noah Shachtman of the Wired’s Danger Room, the army Special Forces alone are slated to get a new $100 million “headquarters” in northern Afghanistan. It will cover about 17 acres and will include a “communications building, Tactical Operations Center, training facility, medical aid station, Vehicle Maintenance Facility … dining facility, laundry facility, and a kennel to support working dogs … Supporting facilities include roads, power production system and electrical distribution, water well, non-potable water production, water storage, water distribution, sanitary sewer collection system, communication manhole/duct system, curbs, walkways, drainage and parking.”
This headquarters, adds Shachtman, will take a year to build, “at which point, the US is allegedly supposed to begin drawing down its forces in Afghanistan. Allegedly.” And mind you, the Special Operations troops are but one expanding part of the US military.
The first year-and-a-half of the Obama administration has seen a continuation of what could be considered the monumental socialist-realist era of American war-making (including a decision to construct another huge, Baghdad-style “embassy” in Islamabad, Pakistan). This sort of creeping gigantism, with all its assorted cost overruns and private perks, would undoubtedly have seemed familiar to the Soviets. Certainly no less familiar will be the near decade the US military has spent, increasingly disastrously, in the Afghan graveyard.
Drunk on war as Washington may be, the US is still not the Soviet Union in 1991 – not yet. But it’s not the triumphant “sole superpower” anymore either. Its global power is visibly waning, its ability to win wars distinctly in question, its economic viability open to doubt. It has been transformed from a can-do into a can’t-do nation, a fact only highlighted by the ongoing BP catastrophe and “rescue” in the Gulf of Mexico. Its airports are less shiny and more Third World-like every year.
Unlike France or China, it has not a mile of high-speed rail. And when it comes to the future, especially the creation and support of innovative industries in alternative energy, it’s chasing the pack. It is increasingly a low-end service economy, losing good jobs that will never return.
And if its armies come home in defeat … watch out.
In 1991, the Soviet Union suddenly evaporated. The Cold War was over. Like many wars, it seemed to have an obvious winner and an obvious loser. Nearly 20 years later, as the US heads down the Soviet road to disaster – even if the world can’t imagine what a bankrupt America might mean – it’s far clearer that, in the titanic struggle of the two superpowers that we came to call the Cold War, there were actually two losers, and that, when the “second superpower” left the scene, the first was already heading for the exits, just ever so slowly and in a state of self-intoxicated self-congratulation.
Nearly every decision in Washington since then, including Obama’s to expand both the Afghan War and the “war on terror”, has only made what, in 1991, was one possible path seem like fate itself.
Call up the politburo in Washington. We’re in trouble.
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