Why is the US so in love with its military?
Following the first Democratic debate, the name Tulsi Gabbard became the most searched keyword on Google. Why? The first obvious answer is that she is new, doesn’t appear to be in the pockets of some elite corporation, yet, and did really well rebuffing her opponents’ ridiculous claims about Afghanistan, the Taliban and 9/11. She was also smart or savvy enough to appear on Joe Rogan a few weeks ago, garnering millions of views.. So why is it that despite all this attention she also appears to have no answers to the issues of class, income inequality, the wealth gap, student debt and the massive credit debt, among other pressing mainstream issues like the environment, race and gender issues, and so on. Her answer seem to be a rather flat, ‘I’m military, I know what it’s like to be in the military, protracted wars are silly, send everybody home.’ Granted, the trillions the US spends on proxy wars is precisely one of the biggest problems, yet it isn’t the only problem and her focus skirts this issue in favor of simple answers. Somewhat out of step with the other Democrats Gabbard seems to be attached to using the phrase ‘commander-in-chief’ which should give all of us a pause. George W Bush was fond of using that phraseology to apply to himself, the quasi-dictator fantasist, and this should worry us. Bush and his cabinet of neocons started the current trend of wars-for-oil in the Middle East and he was more than happy to adopt the moniker ‘commander-in-chief.’ It made him feel good, despite his rather unclear military service. The president is commander-in-chief during times of war. If the idea is to get out of one or all of the wars we’re currently involved in, using commander-in-chief as a blanket phrase for the office of the president betrays any kind of semblance or willingness to pull out of them.
Gabbard is in the military, so there’s no surprise that she would prefer ‘commander-in-chief’ to ‘president.’ I don’t wish to simply argue semantics. I see a Gabbard as another version of Alexandria Occasio Cortez (AOC), young, zealous, inexperienced yet somehow confident and daring enough to stand up and stand in the way, which is actually commendable and something the country needs at a time of entrenched anti-democratic oligarchy headed by Mr. Trump. But the military?
Hillary Clinton was tied, wrists and ankles, and by her bank accounts to the military-industrial complex. What is so different about Gabbard? One would have to say that she isn’t a part of the ruling elite, yet, but given her inexperience and age, what guarantee is there that she wouldn’t simply keel over or bend over backward once the right kind of pressure is applied on her? There is no guarantee, of course, and nobody says she will cave or won’t cave. But the connection to the military is already telling. As is well known, the military conducts itself under a completely different set of rules of conduct. As a current major, she is beholden to the military and her interests lie there in their entirety. The US is still majority civilian and those same rules of conduct do not apply to them.
I was born and grew up in Central Europe. To many Americans this simply means Eastern Europe. But for the sake of argument let’s just call a spade a spade. I was born in Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic) at a time when Soviet military presence was waning but still palpable in all corners of the state. The secret police was operating as was the regular repressive state police. So my relationship with all things military are, let’s say, at best ambiguous. In all corners of the globe the military is often, but not always, used in conjunction with the police, used as a means of repression, if not downright terror, either of domestic or foreign citizens. The list would be too immense to go into details but let’s at least give some well-known examples: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Russia, Germany, Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, China, North Korea, Iraq, Uganda, South Africa, Liberia, Ivory Coast, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan.
The critic may say that many of these examples were exceptional cases, Germany in the 1930s and 40s, Chile in the 1970s and so on. Surely the military in many of these states is now used primarily for good. And this may be a correct criticism. There are times when the military is used as a peacekeeping force rather than an offensive terroristic one. The problem with the military is its inherent capacity for misuse and when looking back at the examples, it was always precisely the state of exception that led to the misuse. Chile proclaimed a state of emergency to begin its reign of terror and usher in a new economic policy which would otherwise not pass through democratic means. Argentina did the same, so did Brazil. Soviet Russia operated exclusively in a state of emergency from its inception, some 80 years, because the threat of ‘western imperialism’ was always immanent in the eyes of the nomenklatura. Today, the US is operating in a permanent state of exception in the Middle East, a driving force behind the new focus on Iran and Venezuela, and the Democratic party has somewhat unofficially declared a state of emergency in the wake of Donald Trump’s election to the presidency. But the US has a cozy relationship with its own military. Unlike many of those mentioned above, the US military has not engaged in large-scale confrontation with its citizenry. There were exceptions of course, Kent State, Waco, so it makes sense, because the appearance is that the military is keeping its citizens safe. But appearances are seldom reality, given the US military presence all over the world.
Tulsi Gabbard seems like a fine candidate, much better than many of the cardboard cutouts on the dais. Sadly, the glut of zealous enthusiasm had a negative tendential effect, drowning out the reasonable voices of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. In the company of these two, Gabbard is still to the center right, preferring a conservative outlook. How is it that Sanders, an ‘old white man’ by the standards of some NY Times columnists, is still the most radical among this group of self-selected messiahs, when his ideas and policies would be to the center right of any Western European state prior to 1980? Are we that far in the pockets of Google and Facebook, banks and the military-industrial complex? Is there really no way out of this malaise of permanent debt slavery and endless wars? Has the US moved so far right, that it pulled the left along with it into the netherworld of conservatism? Let’s say that Gabbard becomes president and pulls out of Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and so on, what then? Where will the money go? Will it go to the citizens or back to the military contractors and corporations that run this country?
The revelations of the Panama Papers, Wikileaks and Edward Snowden point to a web of power and deceit so large it is virtually impossible to find a way to effectively sever the heads and limbs of this multi-faceted monstrosity. Banks, real estate holding groups, offshore accounts and corporations, the multinationals, they all now have power to police themselves, are able to effectively stonewall and prevent any kind of critical inquiry into their activities, and even if they get ‘caught’ in something illegal, are able to rewrite the laws to benefit them and shift illegality to legality with expeditious speed using the private-public system of lawyers, judges and administrators. When these activities become public, it is just as simple for those caught to come out and outright own up to them, because the authorities either lack any meaningful power to challenge them or are in bed with them. This is how Donald Trump is able to effectively deflect any criticism or accusation of misconduct. What is Tulsi Gabbard’s answer to this problem? I hope there is more than a simple deferral to the military for a solution.