FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Other Kiss

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

Gore’s famous embrace of Tipper before his speech at the Democratic convention may pale beside his prospective ecstasies with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In AD 193 the Roman Praetorian Guard murdered the Emperor Pertinax and proceeded to auction off the imperial throne to the highest bidder. Until this year the most strenuous emulation of this feat by the US military came in 1980, when the Joint Chiefs of Staff took bids on the White House from the ramparts of the Pentagon. Despite fierce bidding by Jimmy Carter, the Chiefs had no hesitation in accepting Republican pledges and in proclaiming that only Ronald Reagan would keep the Empire strong.

We are in the climactic moments of the 2000 auction. By now the ritual is well established. Stage One: senior Praetorians and associated intellectual prostitutes repine the pitiful condition of America’s fighting folk and the decrepitude of the US military arsenal. Frank Gaffney Jr., a Defense Department official in the Reagan years, set the tone in an article in the Washington Times in early August: “Future defense capabilities may be seriously inadequate. History suggests that the consequence of such a practice is a vacuum of power that hostile nations often feel invited to fill.” Then Gaffney relayed the Praetorians’ reserve price on the imperial throne: “A nation with a projected $1.9 trillion budget surplus can afford consistently to allocate a minimum of 4 percent of its gross domestic product to ensure its security.”

Already on July 21, Adm. Jay Johnson had said, as he stepped down from his post as the Navy’s top officer, that national security requires a defense expenditure of 4 percent of GDP. On August 16 Gen. James Jones, Commandant of the Marine Corps, used the occasion of an interview with Defense Daily to call for a “gradual ramp up” in defense spending “to about 4?4.5 percent of the US gross domestic product.” Two days after Jones’s comments, Gen. Gordon Sullivan, formerly Army Chief of Staff and now president of the 100,000-strong Association of the US Army, confirmed the Praetorians’ floor demand: “We must prepare for the future of the security of our nation. We should set the marker at 4 percent.”

The Praetorians have avoided spelling out what 4 percent actually means in dollar terms. The latest figures from the Office of Management and Budget project GDP at $10.9 trillion in 2002, rising to $13.9 trillion in 2007. So a military budget set at 4 percent of GDP in 2002 would amount to $438 billion, and in 2007 $558 billion. This year’s budgetary tribute to the Praetorians is just on $300 billion. The combined spending of all putative foes of the United States-Russia, China and our old friends the rogue states, including Iran, Syria, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Serbia, Cuba and Sudan-amounts to a little over $100 billion.

It is not well understood that though the number of ships, planes and troops available to guard the nation has declined sharply, the actual flow of dollars into the pockets of the Praetorians and their commercial partners has remained at cold war levels. It is true that in the immediate aftermath of the cold war, US military spending under George Bush I diminished slightly. Clinton reversed this trend with enough brio to allow Gore, speaking to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in the 1996 campaign, to declare that the Democratic bid to the Praetorians that year was far superior to that of the Republicans.

In his offer to the Praetorians this year, George W. Bush has offered Star Wars plus a pay raise for the armed forces. This is scarcely enough. An August 23 Washington Post editorial relayed the Praetorians’ contempt: “It is Mr. Bush who, despite some muscular rhetoric, is sounding weak on defense.” In other words, “George, it’s your bid.” The Praetorians know well that the missile defense scheme endorsed by Bush is a fantasy and that missile defense spending has been more or less constant since the early sixties.

The appeal of a pay raise from a Republican emperor is undercut by lavish disbursements such as the recent 10 percent raise enacted by Emperor Clinton, who further solidified the loyalty of the senior officer class by smoothing out wrinkles in the practice of double dipping. These days, an officer can retire on full pension and then return to work at the Pentagon in civilian capacity at a hefty salary, with pension unimpaired. “There are retired colonels in this building,” a Pentagon number cruncher remarked recently, “who are taking home $200,000 a year.” “I’m proud,” Gore told the VFW five days after he kissed Tipper, “that we won the largest military pay increase in twenty years.”

Gore’s commitment to the Praetorians was well advertised by his choice of running mate. Senator Joe Lieberman has been the faithful errand boy of Connecticut’s arms firms. The Praetorians are licking their lips at the prospect of a delightful bidding war stretching over the presidential debates. We can look forward to Lieberman chastising Dick Cheney for his temerity, as President Bush’s Defense Secretary, in cutting the military budget and even canceling such egregious boondoggles as the A-12 Stealth fighter.

There may be a deeper reason for the 4 percent solution. The military share of the economy has been going down. There are no convincing external enemies, and it’s been getting harder to claim a prime role for military R&D in setting the agenda for technological innovation. Thanks to Hollywood and our militarist heritage, the Pentagon still has a powerful cultural hold. The Democrats had Tom Hanks, the rescuer of Private Ryan, in camera view in the Staples Center, when Lieberman extolled the most powerful military force on earth. But as the Pentagon’s weight in the overall economy diminishes, so too does the clout of the Praetorians, and there may come a day when their bluff is called.

For now, let us await the next bid, probably against a backdrop of October surprises-saving Montenegro from Slobo, or settling accounts one more time with Saddam. Oh, and by the way, if the Praetorians get their 4 percent out of a bidding war between Gore and Bush, Pentagon analyst Franklin Spinney accurately remarks, “The 4 percent defense solutionwould be tantamount to a declaration of total war on Social Security and Medicare in the following decade. Such a war could be justified only if our nation’s survival were at stake.” CP

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 28, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Slandering Populism: a Chilling Media Habit
Andrew Levine
Why I Fear and Loathe Trump Even More Now Than On Election Day
Jeffrey St. Clair
Mountain of Tears: the Vanishing Glaciers of the Pacific Northwest
Philippe Marlière
The Neoliberal or the Fascist? What Should French Progressives Do?
Conn Hallinan
America’s New Nuclear Missile Endangers the World
Peter Linebaugh
Omnia Sunt Communia: May Day 2017
Vijay Prashad
Reckless in the White House
Brian Cloughley
Who Benefits From Prolonged Warfare?
Kathy Kelly
The Shame of Killing Innocent People
Ron Jacobs
Hate Speech as Free Speech: How Does That Work, Exactly?
Andre Vltchek
Middle Eastern Surgeon Speaks About “Ecology of War”
Matt Rubenstein
Which Witch Hunt? Liberal Disanalogies
Sami Awad - Yoav Litvin - Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
Never Give Up: Nonviolent Civilian Resistance, Healing and Active Hope in the Holyland
Pete Dolack
Tribunal Finds Monsanto an Abuser of Human Rights and Environment
Christopher Ketcham
The Coyote Hunt
Mike Whitney
Putin’s New World Order
Ramzy Baroud
Palestinian, Jewish Voices Must Jointly Challenge Israel’s Past
Ralph Nader
Trump’s 100 Days of Rage and Rapacity
Harvey Wasserman
Marine Le Pen Is a Fascist—Not a ‘Right-Wing Populist,’ Which Is a Contradiction in Terms
William Hawes
World War Whatever
John Stanton
War With North Korea: No Joke
Jim Goodman
NAFTA Needs to be Replaced, Not Renegotiated
Murray Dobbin
What is the Antidote to Trumpism?
Louis Proyect
Left Power in an Age of Capitalist Decay
Medea Benjamin
Women Beware: Saudi Arabia Charged with Shaping Global Standards for Women’s Equality
Rev. William Alberts
Selling Spiritual Care
Peter Lee
Invasion of the Pretty People, Kamala Harris Edition
Cal Winslow
A Special Obscenity: “Guernica” Today
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey’s Kurdish Agenda
Guillermo R. Gil
The Senator Visits Río Piedras
Jeff Mackler
Mumia Abu-Jamal Fights for a New Trial and Freedom 
Cesar Chelala
The Responsibility of Rich Countries in Yemen’s Crisis
Leslie Watson Malachi
Women’s Health is on the Chopping Block, Again
Basav Sen
The Coal Industry is a Job Killer
Judith Bello
Rojava, a Popular Imperial Project
Robert Koehler
A Public Plan for Peace
Sam Pizzigati
The Insider Who Blew the Whistle on Corporate Greed
Nyla Ali Khan
There Has to be a Way Out of the Labyrinth
Michael J. Sainato
Trump Scales Back Antiquities Act, Which Helped to Create National Parks
Stu Harrison
Under Duterte, Filipino Youth Struggle for Real Change
Martin Billheimer
Balm for Goat’s Milk
Stephen Martin
Spooky Cookies and Algorithmic Steps Dystopian
Michael Doliner
Thank You Note
Charles R. Larson
Review: Gregor Hens’ “Nicotine”
David Yearsley
Handel’s Executioner
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail