By Saul Landau
“The reason we have a Department of Defense is to break things and kill people. The problem we have now is that so much of the money is not going to the people who are breaking things and killing people.” -Ret. Marine General Arnold L. Punaro, Member of the Defense Business Board, to the Washington Post (7-21-11)
As strategic minds of Washington figure out nation building in Afghanistan while undermining the crumbling infrastructure at home, U.S. political culture focuses on gay marriage and debt ceilings.
On his radio show Rush Limbaugh still severely stresses the President’s middle name, “Huuu—ssssein.” Millions righteously titter over Rush’s “subtlety” and, of course, continue to believe the radical Muslim Obama was born in Kenya. For Rush, Obama represents the left, a threat to our rights to choose our own doctors and keep all our money. Left and progressive circles have re-christened Obama: President Disappointing.
In judging the President, both sides tend to overlook or obfuscate the strength of imperial institutions in shaping policy. As dysfunction grabs hold of basic governance and reasonable priorities, much written anti-Obama rhetoric stays personal. “He falls hard for the best and the brightest white guys, “ wrote Frank Rich in New York Magazine (July 3), as if Obama could have instead confronted and changed the white guy pillars of the entrenched institutions and embedded culture.
Obama inherited an imperial legacy, which offers him limited options. Henry Luce’s American Century rules still prevail in policy assumptions and find public voice in editorials in the leading newspapers. God-History-Destiny chose the United States to patrol the world, to define the strategic and economic order, no matter how tattered its economy becomes. Western Europe still has not challenged those assumptions.
As he swore the oath in January 2009, the legacy dropped invisibly but heavily on the President: the permanent and massive military (almost $1 trillion a year worth, counting intelligence, nuclear weapons and unbudgeted wars) would receive unquestioning support from the congressional majority and major news media.
Eisenhower had observed and feared this military-industrial and scientific complex after just one decade. Sixty years later, almost every congressional district contains a “defense-related” project.
Obama’s campaign rhetoric, a President seeking “change,” did not include challenging the establishment of some 400,000 members of the armed forces in nearly 800 bases around the world (40 countries), plus two simultaneous wars underway. In addition, this “defense” industry and its spin offs, the bases that support towns and small cities, account for millions of jobs.
Did Obama imagine that the financial crises would somehow provoke the Establishment, to which he’s beholden, to surrender the rules and costs of empire so the poor and middle class at home would suffer less? Only a cynical wizard would have foreseen that Republicans would decide to prevent Obama’s re-election at all costs. They chose the debt ceiling as their issue to force a crisis, thus dwarfing unemployment, foreclosures, homelessness and the spreading poverty that has attacked the population and forced states and cities shut down school, clinics and libraries – and let infrastructure erode.
Members of Obama’s own party in Congress signed onto the lunatic Republican parade of horrors debt ceiling spin, which far transcends people’s basic needs; therefore Congress must drastically reduced or even eliminate basic social programs.
In the late 1940s, American liberals became major partners in what became the permanent war economy. In 2011, this monster has grown and eaten huge hunks of the national treasure. The unquestioned imperial budget – don’t forget free trade treaties – combines with the constant corporate desire to reduce the socially necessary cost of labor. Verbiage about debt ceilings and government waste cover the proverbial corporate ass.
You don’t hear CEOs complain about costs of empire because empire protects investments and enforces economically advantageous measures. The public, however, receives this message in euphemisms that begin with words like “free,” “security,” “defense,” and “war on terrorism.”
Congress doesn’t ask how to slash hundreds of billions from dubious imperial adventures so as to rebuild the infrastructure. Rather, Republicans (and some Democrats) forged a consensus to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs that cost the effort and blood of American workers to establish. Only the amount remains for debate.
As the consensus hardened against taxing the filthy rich, according to the CIA World Factbook, the USA dropped to 46th in the world in infant mortality – behind Cuba (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_infant_mortality_rate).
A Lancet survey on maternal mortality found Albania ranked 22nd, with 8.1 per 100,000 live births, and the US 39th, with 16.7. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/apr/12/maternal-mortality-rates-millennium-development-goals).
These falling ratings and steadily high unemployment (over 9%) should point the President to a logical agenda. Instead, Obama has ignored the visible erosion in U.S. standards and focused, as he promised in his campaign, his rhetoric and attention on winning “hearts and minds” – never mind the war – in Afghanistan, which remains 181st or last on the list of nations’ basic indicators after a decade of U.S. do-goodism (occupation), exactly the place it occupied when the Taliban ruled.
The empire receives its yearly funding increase to multiply destruction and death – while simultaneously multiplying U.S. enemies in the name of fighting terrorism. Debate on this issue remains minimal, while fire and brimstone emerge over how to cut further funds that sustain the nation’s infrastructure.
“It reminds me of ancient Rome,” said a friend. “Bachman and Palin might rule instead of Nero and Caligula.” As former Harvard President Derek Bok warned, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”
Saul Landau’s new film WILL THE REAL TERRORIST PLEASE STAND UP is available on DVD cinemalibrestudio.com. He is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow. His BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD was published by CounterPunch.