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The Military, One of Your Most Experienced Drivers Along the Road

April 17, 2011

For the past year of so I have been examining the evolution of military dictatorships, primarily in South Asia. During that time stumbled upon an uncomfortable parallel with the changes I perceive occurring in the organization of the military in the United States in the name of national defense.

In South Asia and especially Southeast Asia many of the countries with strong military traditions have for quite some time now found themselves governed, more often than not, by some form of military dictatorship. Throughout this period the military general staff would throw its support behind whatever political faction advocated the maintenance of the military’s perception of its prerogatives, whether or not that faction was leftist or rightist, religious or secular, royalist or democratic.

In Thailand, for example, ever since the 1932 military coup that overthrew the absolute monarchy, with a few notable exceptions, Thailand has been ruled by a military dictatorship of some sort or another. During that time the military has had no problem switching political sides when necessary to preserve their power.

In 1945, the military dictatorship that overthrew the absolute monarchy and was staunchly anti-royalist and which supported the Japanese occupation of Thailand was itself overthrown by an anti-japanese civilian government. Nevertheless by 1947 it was back in absolute power by the simple expedient of switching to the royalist cause.

Over the past 50 years or so the military in these countries (including its dawning awareness in Myanmar) slowly learned that the direct management of the institutions of government was no longer the optimum method of preserving power. The suppression of challenges from the right or left, religious or civil political forces was too draining on domestic military resources as well international good will.

The modern military seems to have realized that they needed only a few essential things to preserve their prerogatives. They are:

Absolute control of the military budget.
Control over personnel in the chain of command.
Exemption from civilian judicial oversight.
Control of so-called military secrets.

And finally, a credible gun to the head of any government who may attempt to reform this system.

The military will ally itself with any political entity in opposition to any government that threatens this system.

For the past fifty years or so, the US military has undergone a similar evolution. Beginning with the end of World War II and gradually gaining steam during the presidency of the last traditionally liberal President of the United States, Dwight Eisenhower, the military ascendency in American Politics has continued at an ever accelerating pace.

After the Eisenhower Administration the traditional fabric of American politics began to unravel. The Democratic Party abandoned its long-established economics based liberal politics in favor of the fractious interest group politics that eventually alienated large portions of the population and that even now still represents its soul.

The Republican Party on the other hand, rejected its fiscally conservative roots and its incremental social policy and degenerated into the insanity of pursuing a political ideology based upon an amalgam of disparate single issue and sectional interests guided by the least savory elements of the population, lobbyists and political consultants, for their own self advancement.

Into the vacuum of bickering pseudo-ideologies stepped the new American Military – but with a twist. It was not the military general staff that called the tune, but the military contractors that assumed the mantle of patriotic defenders of things military and saw it as their duty to support politically with money and rhetoric any group that defended the prerogatives of this new military organization. After all, in this case patriotism was good business.

And what is it that these military contractors, this new military organization, will want that would lead them to support the political aspirations of any group, no matter how implausible or despicable their politics, that agrees to support their goals?

1. Absolute Control of the Military Budget.

This is essential so that the purchase by the government of increasingly expensive (and profitable) military weapons and other systems is continued and expanded despite not being needed (nor particularly effective) to protect the country from any of the presumed list of enemies that have emerged over the past 30 years.

This is accomplished by two means. The first is the creation of enemies against whom military action on foreign soil (almost exclusively in non-industrialized countries) may be required that then requires an increase in the military budget. A budget that in a time of presumed national emergency is usually poorly analyzed and understood. A budget by the way, greatly influenced and often written in part by the military contractors themselves for their own benefit.

The second means to control the budget is by outsourcing military services to private contractors. It is little understood by the general public, but by law when a multi-year contract is entered into by a private entity with the government, the rights of the private party vests so that payments in future years under the contract do not normally get reviewed in the budgetary process.

It is in the interests of  this new military establishment to promote by whatever means available constant wars of attrition against enemies either who do not actually exist or if they do exist are relatively immune to the costly high-tech weaponry, often for no other reason then to field test the weaponry and secure its destruction in combat so that replacement orders can be assured.

Without either an internationally competent military power or constant wars of attrition the economics and thereby the political power of the military contractors will collapse.

2. Control Over Personnel in the Chain of Command.

This is accomplished by lobbying in favor of promotions for sympathetic military personnel (who in turn work to promote like-minded successors), encouraging the policy of hiring retired military officers by private military contractors (the strong prohibition of this revolving door policy will probably do more to end this baleful influence on military policy than any other single thing) and finally by the outsourcing the military services, the contractor gains virtually absolute authority over the chain of command for that service, free of civilian governmental control.

3. Exemption from Civilian Judicial Oversight.

This goal is forwarded by the expansion of the role of military tribunals through restricting access to civilian courts for review of actions, including violations of constitutionally protected civil rights, committed by the military, military personnel or at the request of the civilian authorities  (e.g. Guantanamo) and in the case of military procurement contracts and outsourcing of military services, limiting judicial oversight to arcane issues of contract law.

4. Control Over Military Secrets.

This has always been a difficult issue in both times of war and in peace time. What makes what is going on now different, is the accelerating accretion of authority by civilian military contractors to decide for themselves which of their actions are governmental secrets. When one adds to that the normal privacy rights accorded private entities in the conduct of their businesses, one has created a significant and growing threat to civil liberties and political freedom.

5. The Gun to the Head of the Leaders of the Government in a Democratic Society.

By the unlimited ability to invest funds (much of which in the case of military contractors comes from the American taxpayer) without review or accountability into political campaigns of individuals and organizations expected to support their prerogatives, the modern military institution, at least in the US has the ammunition that a civilian elected official in a democratic society can ignore only at the peril to his or her political life.


One Comment
  1. So, what kind of government does the USA have these days? Is it a democracy? Is it a republic? When a government’s democracy evolves into electing kings and queens to Congress instead of senators and representatives we have a problem, eh?

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