Tomgram: Aziz Huq, Imperial Pretensions and the Financial Crunch

October 17, 2008

Don’t trust me as a gambler. You’d probably make more by putting your money into credit-default swaps. Nonetheless, I’d like to make a small wager on who the single significant holdover from the Bush administration might be should an Obama presidency actually happen. Keep a close eye on Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. He was clearly sent into the Rumsfeld breach back at the end of 2006 to begin the clean-up of the Bush administration’s foreign policy mess and — my guess — to prevent Dick Cheney and pals from attacking Iran. And this, with a little help from onrushing reality, he seems to have accomplished. He remains the singular adult in the Bush foreign policy playpen, a skilled bureaucratic maneuverer from his CIA days, who claims he plans to leave Washington in January but would never say “never” to an offer ahead of time.

Like Obama, he’s plunked for an intensified Afghan War and, just last week, a key national security advisor to the candidate, former Navy Secretary Richard Danzig, praised Gates, suggesting he had been a splendid secretary of defense and adding that “he’d be an even better one in an Obama administration.”

So, when Gates gives a speech aimed at the Pentagon’s future, it’s worth listening carefully. On September 29th, he went to the National Defense University and offered a peek into that future as he imagines it. Now remember, the U.S. financial meltdown was already underway and, after seven unbelievably fat years, Pentagon weapons contractors were starting to express worries about possible future cutbacks. Nonetheless, Gates offered a vision of a U.S. military-plus. There was the usual support for a range of conventional weapons systems for wars that will never be fought and their futuristic equivalents, as well as for a larger Army, a larger Marine Corps, and a larger Navy. (The Air Force, except for unmanned aerial vehicles, looks to be in trouble in Gatesworld.) But above all, the once and (possibly) future secretary of defense wants to invest in “institutionalizing counterinsurgency skills, and our ability to conduct stability and support operations.” Backed by a growing lobby eager to put ever more warm bodies in the military, he’s opting for a major build-up to deal with future insurgencies out there in the global badlands. Think… gulp… “nation building.” Think, as well, future Afghanistans and Iraqs.

Though Gates has also claimed of late that the Pentagon’s gargantuan budget will no longer outpace inflation, that growth in military spending is “probably a thing of the past,” this is still a recipe for a relatively unrestrained imperial future that, as Aziz Huq, author of Unchecked and Unbalanced: Presidential Power in a Time of Terror, points out below is a disaster waiting to happen. It is, in fact, a potential recipe for American bankruptcy. Tom

Use It or Lose It?

How to Manage an Imperial Decline

By Aziz Huq

Do empires end with a bang, a whimper, or the sibilant hiss of financial deflation?

We may be about to find out. Right now, in the midst of the financial whirlwind, it’s been hard in the United States to see much past the moment. Yet the ongoing economic meltdown has raised a range of non-financial issues of great importance for our future. Uncertainty and anxiety about the prospects for global financial markets — given the present liquidity crunch — have left little space for serious consideration of issues of American global power and influence.

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Tariq Ali: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power (VIDEO)

September 17, 2008

Watch this two-part Tom Dispatch VIDEO by Pakistani-born journalist and writer Tariq Ali and you will better understand the US-Pakistani relationship and its consequences in Afghanistan:

Part 1: The Tangled U.S.-Pakistani relationship on the edge of war
Part 2: Barack Obama’s disastrous plans for Afghanistan and Pakistan


Tomgram: Nick Turse, The Future of Death at the Pentagon

August 27, 2008

[Note for TomDispatch Readers This is the second post in a pre-Labor Day “best of TomDispatch” series. The first was Chalmers Johnson’s 2005 “Smash of Civilizations.” Now, we backpeddle another year to 2004 and reconsider the Pentagon’s ceaseless efforts to dream up and build ever more effective, ever more invasive and destructive weaponry not just for 2010, but for 2020, 2030, 2040, and beyond. The new model car or the next version of the iPhone has nothing on the Pentagon, which fully expects to roll out the next version of destruction until Hell freezes over. This makes TomDispatch Associate Editor Nick Turse’s 2004 piece — in those distant days he still signed his posts “Nicholas” — on ways the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was planning to weaponize the wild kingdom as shiny new as tomorrow’s HDTVs.

A version of this piece would later became part of Turse’s 2008 book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, which will someday be considered a classic on the militarization of American society and should be in your library — yes, I mean you! It’s a shame, really, that TomDispatch pieces, now collected in a new book, The World According to TomDispatch, America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), hold up so well. If only a better world had made them obsolete — but no such luck. As Chalmers Johnson did, so here Turse provides a new introduction to his old post, reconsidering a world in which, however new its weaponry, the Pentagon is starting to look its age. Tom]

The Pentagon: Some-Things-Never-Change Department

What a difference four and a half years makes. When I first penned “The Wild Weapons of DARPA,” in March 2004, I was a new TomDispatch writer; the war in Iraq was not yet a year old; the war in Afghanistan had been bubbling for less than two and a half years, and I suggested that “what’s left of the USSR is a collapsed group of half-failed states, while the U.S. stands alone as the globe’s sole hyperpower.” Today, I’m the long-time associate editor of TomDispatch.com; the United States, now far from a “hyperpower,” continues to be bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan with no end in sight in either occupation; and a resurgent Russia, now an energy superpower, has only recently invaded the hardly-failed state of Georgia.

Similarly, at that time, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon’s blue-skies research outfit, still looked young and vigorous. Today, DARPA is beginning to show the stresses of age. The agency turned 50 this year and, as Sharon Weinberger reported at Wired Magazine’s Danger Room last month, “its birthday present appears to be another $100 million in budget cuts, according to a Defense Department document…” — and this was on top of a $32 million loss the month before.

Still, much remains the same. Despite current budget cuts, the agency is still “both intellectually and financially, a fabulous and alluring gravy train,” and its funding for the life sciences still offers “a fertile area to further the science of death and destruction.” For example, back in 2004, I wrote that “DARPA has been creating insect databases while increasing efforts to ‘understand how to use endemic insects as collectors of environmental information,'” and I asked: “How long until they start thinking about weaponizing insects as well?” Earlier this year, I answered my own question. Not long was the reply. I reported that DARPA was now working to create cyborg insects for surveillance purposes, and — an even more frightening prospect — “that such creatures could be weaponized, and the possibility, according to one scientist intimately familiar with the project, that these cyborg insects might be armed with ‘bio weapons.'”

I wish I could claim some special prescience, but that prediction was a total no-brainer. After all, this is just the way the Pentagon operates, whatever changes or budget cuts come down the pike. Four years later, plenty of people have written about various DARPA projects, but most still fail to ask the most salient question: Why does the U.S. government foster unfettered, blue-skies creativity only in the context of lethal technologies (or those that, indirectly, enhance lethality by aiding the functioning of the armed forces)? Some things never change. Nick Turse, August, 2008

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