War has become so easy these days, at least for most of us. With the exception of the tiny number of families who have sons or daughters in the military, the rest of us can just sit back behind the safety of our keyboards and opine about whether or not we should bomb Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Pakistan or whatever other country catches our fancy.
War is also big business and Simon Jenkins has an interesting article in the Guardian. Here’s an exerpt:
Why do we still go to war? We seem unable to stop. We find any excuse for this post-imperial fidget and yet we keep getting trapped. Germans do not do it, or Spanish or Swedes. Britain’s borders and British people have not been under serious threat for a generation. Yet time and again our leaders crave battle. Why?
Last week we got a glimpse of an answer and it was not nice. The outgoing US defence secretary, Robert Gates, berated Europe’s “failure of political will” in not maintaining defence spending. He said Nato had declined into a “two-tier alliance” between those willing to wage war and those “who specialise in ‘soft’ humanitarian, development, peacekeeping and talking tasks”. Peace, he implied, is for wimps. Real men buy bombs, and drop them.
It is not democracy that keeps western nations at war, but armies and the interests now massed behind them. The greatest speech about modern defence was made in 1961 by the US president Eisenhower. He was no leftwinger, but a former general and conservative Republican. Looking back over his time in office, his farewell message to America was a simple warning against the “disastrous rise of misplaced power” of a military-industrial complex with “unwarranted influence on government”. A burgeoning defence establishment, backed by large corporate interests, would one day employ so many people as to corrupt the political system. (His original draft even referred to a “military-industrial-congressional complex”.) This lobby, said Eisenhower, could become so huge as to “endanger our liberties and democratic processes”.
I wonder what Eisenhower would make of today’s US, with a military grown from 3.5 million people to 5 million. The western nations face less of a threat to their integrity and security than ever in history, yet their defence industries cry for ever more money and ever more things to do. The cold war strategist, George Kennan, wrote prophetically: “Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military-industrial complex would have to remain, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented.”
The devil makes work for idle hands, especially if they are well financed. Britain’s former special envoy to Kabul, Sherard Cowper-Coles, echoed Kennan last week in claiming that the army’s keenness to fight in Helmand was self-interested. “It’s use them or lose them, Sherard,” he was told by the then chief of the general staff, Sir Richard Dannatt. Cowper-Coles has now gone off to work for an arms manufacturer.
There is no strategic defence justification for the US spending 5.5% of its gross domestic product on defence or Britain 2.5%, or for the Nato “target” of 2%.
These figures merely formalise existing commitments and interests. At the end of the cold war soldiers assiduously invented new conflicts for themselves and their suppliers, variously wars on terror, drugs, piracy, internet espionage and man’s general inhumanity to man. None yields victory, but all need equipment. The war on terror fulfilled all Eisenhower’s fears, as America sank into a swamp of kidnapping, torture and imprisonment without trial.
The belligerent posture of the US and Britain towards the Muslim world has fostered antagonism and moderate threats in response. The bombing of extremist targets in Pakistan is an invitation for terrorists to attack us, and then a need for defence against such attack. Meanwhile, the opportunity cost of appeasing the complex is astronomical. Eisenhower remarked that “every gun that is made is a theft from those who hunger” – a bomber is two power stations and a hospital not built. Likewise, each Tomahawk Cameron drops on Tripoli destroys not just a Gaddafi bunker (are there any left?), but a hospital ward and a classroom in Britain.
As long as “big defence” exists it will entice glory-hungry politicians to use it. It is a return to the hundred years war, when militaristic barons and knights had a stranglehold on the monarch, and no other purpose in life than to fight. To deliver victory they demanded ever more taxes for weapons, and when they had ever more weapons they promised ever grander victories. This is exactly how Britain’s defence ministry ran out of budgetary control under Labour.
Incoming Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has said outright that the U.S. is going to be in Iraq for a very long time, as if we needed to be told that given we have an embassy there that is larger than Vatican City.
Then last week Secretary Clinton held a round-table where she urged U.S. businesses to invest in Iraq because capitalism brings democracy!:
Iraq is open for business, and American companies should make an effort to invest there, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Friday.
“President Obama and I and our government believe strongly that expanding economic opportunity is as essential as building democratic institutions,” Clinton said while surrounded by executives from companies as far-ranging as Occidental Petroleum, JP Morgan Chase, General Electric, Microsoft and Lockheed Martin, in a round-table discussion aimed at getting companies focused on commercial opportunities in Iraq despite its current “tough environment.”
With one of the largest customer bases in the Arab world, along with one of the best-educated work forces in the region, Clinton said, Iraq poses significant opportunities for American companies. The International Monetary Fund has projected for Iraq to grow faster than China over the next two years, she said.
The United States, through its embassy and consulates throughout the country, stands ready to assist American companies “to help create the conditions for investment and growth that will be broadly spread and create a ladder of economic opportunity for those willing to work hard,” Clinton said. “Iraqis are looking to rebuild every sector of their economy, not only their oil sector but agribusiness, transportation, housing, banking and many others.”
Now those who know me know I am a Hillary fan, but looking at this objectively, imagine how the rest of the Arab world would view such statements. Then look at Af-Pak and our potential business interests (oil and minerals) there should the security situation stabilize (a big if). Think long-coveted oil pipelines. Is there any reason people in the Middle East shouldn’t be cynical when it comes to perceived U.S. interests in the region?