If there’s one area of bipartisan agreement today, it’s politicians’ professed love of the U.S. military. Consider George W. Bush. He said the US military is the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known. Consider Barack Obama. He said that same military is the finest fighting force the world has ever known. Strong praise, indeed.
Today’s politicians are not to be outdone. This past weekend at Camp David, Paul Ryan praised the military for keeping America safe. Mike Pence noted the military remains “the strongest in the world,” yet paradoxically he said it needs rebuilding. He promised even more “investment” in the military so that it would become “even stronger still.”
Apparently, no matter how strong and superior the US military is, it must be made yet stronger and yet more superior. All in an effort to “keep us safe,” to cite Paul Ryan’s words. Small wonder that the Pentagon’s budget is soaring above $700 billion.
At TomDispatch.com, Tom Engelhardt has a revealing article on the truly global nature of America’s war on terror, accompanied by a unique map put together by the Costs of War Project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. The map reveals that America’s war on terror has spread to 76 countries, as shown below:
This metastasizing of “counterterror” efforts is truly paradoxical: the more the U.S. military works to stop terror, the more terror spreads. “Progress” is measured only by the growth of efforts to stem terror networks in more and more countries. But the notion of “progress” is absurd: That 76 countries are involved in some way in this war on terror is a sign of regress, not progress. After 16 years and a few trillion dollars, you’d think terror networks and efforts to eradicate them would be decreasing, not increasing. But the war on terror has become its own cancer, or, in social-media-speak, it’s gone viral, infecting more and more regions.
General Robert Neller, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, is in the news since he told Marines to get ready for a big fight. This doesn’t really alarm me. A military exists to be ready to fight, and the Marines place a premium on combat readiness. No – what bothers me is the nine rows of ribbons General Neller is sporting on his uniform.
And compared to the other services (Army, Navy, and Air Force), the Marines are usually the most reluctant to hand out ribbons freely.
I wrote about this back in 2007: why medals and metrics in the U.S. military mislead. A big offender back then was General David Petraeus, whose uniform was festooned with ribbons and badges of all kinds, most of them of the “been there” rather than “done that” variety.
Vice President Mike Pence made a surprise visit to Bagram air base in Afghanistan, reassuring the assembled troops that they are winning the war there, despite evidence to the contrary. For the occasion he donned a spiffy-looking leather military flight jacket, customized for him, as have other presidents and VPs going back at least as far as Ronald Reagan.
I’ve written about this before, this adoption of military clothing by civilian commanders. It’s an insidious blurring of the lines between the civilian chain of command – and the crucial idea of civilian control of the military – and the military chain. You don’t see generals and admirals on active duty showing up to testify before Congress in civilian coat and tie: they wear their uniforms because that’s who they are – commissioned military officers. Similarly, our civilian leaders, whether Ronald Reagan or Barack Obama or Donald Trump, should wear their “uniform,” typically civilian coat and tie, for that is who they are. They should never wear military flight jackets and similar items, no matter how “cool” or “supportive” they think they look. It sends the wrong sartorial and political signals.
Once again, the USA leads the world in weapons sales, notes SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The 100 biggest arms producers accounted for $375 billion in weapons sales in 2016, with US firms having by far the largest share at $217 billion. That’s right: the US accounts for roughly 58% of the global arms trade. We’re #1! We’re #1!
Not only do we arm our friends but our foes as well, notes FP: Foreign Policy, which has the following SitRep (situation report) for today:
U.S. weapons used by ISIS. A new report from Conflict Armament Research, a U.K.-based weapons tracking group, outlines in fascinating detail the industrial-scale weapons manufacturing capabilities the Islamic State boasted of in its prime… But what might be most notable are the American-supplied weapons found amid the ruins – the aftermath of secretive American efforts to provide small rebel groups with anti-tank rockets and other guided munitions. The transfer of the rockets, purchased from European countries, violated end-user agreements signed by the United States pledging not to transfer the weapons to third parties. In some cases, it took only a few weeks for the weapons to end up in the hands of Islamic State fighters after being delivered to allegedly friendly forces.
Let’s face it: $217 billion is an enormous amount of money, and the weapons trade is enormously profitable to the US. America’s wars are not coming to an end anytime soon: there’s simply too much money being made on manufacturing and selling war.
The U.S. government still keeps 41 prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp in Cuba. Incredibly, some of these so-called alien enemy combatants have been imprisoned for up to 15 years without benefit of trial; indeed, without even being charged with a crime. How is this possible in a democracy? What does it say about our country?
I happen to own an old map of Cuba from 1897 that shows Guantánamo Bay, which is along the southeastern coast of Cuba. Here’s a photo of a segment of my old map that shows the Bahia de Guantánamo:
Who could have predicted that when our government, in an imperial land grab, “leased” this base from Cuba in 1903, it would become a century later the site of a loathsome prison for Muslim men snatched mostly from central Asia in a “global war on terror”?