FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Military-Industrial Complex Gets Its Man

President Barack Obama has bungled the job of appointments to key national security positions for the past six years, and the nomination of Ashton Carter will allow him to maintain his streak. Carter is the classic example of the defense intellectual who has labored in the halls of academe, and then becoming extremely hawkish as he or she attains status and influence in the halls of the Pentagon.  An important example is Carter’s views on national missile defense over the past three decades.  In the 1980s, while on the faculty of Harvard University, Carter wrote a study for the Office of Technology Assessment that assailed the effectiveness and usefulness of President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative.  As a defense department official in the Clinton and Obama administrations, however, Carter became a strong supporter of both national missile defense in the United States and even the ridiculous idea of installing a regional missile defense in Eastern Europe against the possibility of a threat from Iran.  The latter idea at least displays a certain amount of imagination.

Carter, however, has displayed a consistency in recommending the use of force.  Although there has been a persistent misuse of military force in U.S. national security policy over the past several decades, which has costs tens of thousands of lives and trillions of dollars, you would be hard pressed to find an example of Carter offering any criticism of how military policy has been used and misused.  Fortunately, his advice to use military force has been ignored on several important occasions.  President Bill Clinton ignored Carter’s recommendation to use air power against North Korea in 1994, and wisely resorted to diplomacy.  As a result, the State Department helped to arrange the Agreed Framework with Pyongyang that led to a freeze in the North Korean nuclear program.  Carter recommended a similar use of force to the Bush administration to prevent the test of a North Korean long-range missile that failed in less than 40 seconds.  President George W. Bush ignored Carter’s recommendation, which predictably had the support of Vice President Dick Cheney.

Carter has been disingenuous in challenging the notion that there are savings to be had in reducing spending on strategic weaponry.  As recently as last year, then Deputy Defense Secretary Carter argued that “you would be surprised to know that
nuclear weapons don’t actually cost that much….  It is not a big swinger of the budget.  You don’t save a lot of money by having arms control and so forth.”  In fact, one of the best-kept defense secrets of the past sixty years has been the high cost of producing and maintaining nuclear weapons, somewhere between $5-6 trillion, which represents more than one-fourth of overall defense spending.  A great deal of this money is in the budget for the Department of Energy, and therefore defense intellectuals such as Ashton Carter can say that it is not part of the defense budget.

When Senator John McCain (R-AZ) gets around to confirmation hearings for Carter, he should pursue the nominee’s role in the huge cost overruns for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.  There is no better example of President Eisenhower’s warning regarding the military-industrial complex than the procurement history of the F-35.  Senator McCain has referred to the program as a “train wreck and has noted that the total cost of building and operating the F-35 fleet was a “jaw-dropping” $1 trillion.  The dirty secret with fighter aircraft and bomber programs is that operating and supporting costs tend to double the initial costs of production and procurement.  McCain should use the confirmation hearings to press Carter on his support for allowing each service (Air Force, Navy, and Marines) to have its own version of the F-35, begging the question of why, given our dominant and unchallenged Air Force, the separate services need their own advanced aircraft.

Over the past several years, Carter has advanced and supported the bromides that have substituted for strategic thinking in U.S. foreign policy.  There was the “reset” with Russia that must be seen in the context of the Cold War environment that now exists between Washington and Moscow.  There was the “pivot” to Asia, which suggested a containment policy against China as a substitute for diplomacy.  And there was this or that “surge” in Iraq and Afghanistan, which only delayed the inevitable with regard to our fool’s errands in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

In the field of national security, with the exception of Secretary of State John Kerry, President Obama has appointed individuals with no special expertise in their appointed assignments (Hillary Clinton, Leon Panetta, Tom Donilon, and General James Jones) or those who misused their positions to advance their own agendas (Robert Gates, General David Petraeus, and John Brennan).  With Ashton Carter, the president has nominated a so-called defense intellectual whose support for the use of force over the past twenty years is counter to the policies and positions that President Obama has advanced, particularly over the past two years.

There were many reasons why Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was not up to the task of managing the stewardship of U.S. national security policy.  Nevertheless, Secretary Hagel did not subscribe to Pax Americana and U.S. triumphalism, and appeared to be a pragmatist.  Conversely, one of Carter’s closest confidants is Bob Gates who allowed too many general officers to become the spokesmen for U.S. policy and failed to exercise civilian control over the military.  Once again, the Pentagon is in the hands of someone who believes in American exceptionalism and that the United States has a moral obligation to make the world over in our image.

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  He is the author of “Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA” (Rowman and Littlefield) and “National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism” (City Lights Publishers) as well as the forthcoming “The Path to Dissent: A Whistleblower at the CIA” (City Lights Publishers, 2015). Goodman is a contributing editor to CounterPunch on National Security.  

 

 

 

More articles by:

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA and National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism. and A Whistleblower at the CIA. His most recent book is “American Carnage: The Wars of Donald Trump” (Opus Publishing), and he is the author of the forthcoming “The Dangerous National Security State” (2020).” Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
December 13, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Elliot Sperber
Dollar Store 
December 12, 2019
Ramzy Baroud
Money, Power and Turf: Winning the Middle East Media War at Any Cost
Martha Rosenberg
How Does One of the Most Hated Industries Stay Profitable?
Steven Salaita
Renouncing Israel on Principle
Basav Sen
Most Americans Support Phasing-Out Fossil Fuels…Isn’t That Worth a Headline?
George Ochenski
Pride Goeth Before the Fall
Ted Rall
The U.S. Government Lied about the Afghanistan War, They Couldn’t Have Done It Without Media Lapdogs
Daniel Falcone
How Working Class Atomization and the Mohawk Valley Formula Gave Us Centrist Democrats
Lawrence Wittner
A Boss is a Boss: Nurses Battle for Their First Union Contract at Albany Medical Center
Kris De Decker
We Can’t Do It Ourselves
James A Haught
Zealots in High Office
Robert Fisk
When You Follow the Gun Trail, You Can End Up in Expected Places
Jerome Irwin
No Israeli Peace, Joy or Goodwill at Christmastime for Palestinians
George Wuerthner
Goat Grazing is No Solution to Wildfires
December 11, 2019
Vijay Prashad
Why the Afghanistan Papers Are an Eerie Reminder of Vietnam
Kenneth Surin
Australia’s Big Smoke
Sameer Dossani
Ideology or Popularity: How Will Britain Vote?
John W. Whitehead
Who Will Protect Us From an Unpatriotic Patriot Act?
Binoy Kampmark
Interference Paranoia: Russia, Reddit and the British Election
Scott Tucker
Sure, Impeach Trump, But Let’s be Honest
Nyla Ali Khan
Homogenizing India: the Citizenship Debate
Thomas Knapp
Congress: The Snail’s Pace Race
Shawn Fremstad
Modern Family Progressivism
Joseph Essertier
Julian Assange, Thanks for Warning Japanese About Washington
William Minter
How Africa Could Power a Green Revolution
December 10, 2019
Tony McKenna
The Demonization of Jeremy Corbyn
John Grant
American Culture Loves a Good Killer
Jacob Hornberger
Afghanistan: a Pentagon Paradise Built on Lies
Nick Licata
Was Trump Looking for Corruption or a Personal Favor?
Thomas M. Magstadt
What’s the Matter With America?
Brian Tokar
Climate Talks in Madrid: What Will It Take to Prevent Climate Collapse?
Ron Jacobs
Where Justice is a Game: Impeachment Hearings Redux
Jack Rasmus
Trump vs. Democracy
Walden Bello
Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics
Binoy Kampmark
A Troubled Family: NATO Turns 70
Brian Horejsi
Citizens Are Never Trusted
Michael Barker
Self-Defense in the Civil Rights Movement: the Lessons of Birmingham, 1963
John Feffer
Soldiers Who Fight War
Howie Wolke
Willingness to Compromise Puts Wilderness at Risk
December 09, 2019
Jefferson Morley
Trump’s Hand-Picked Prosecutor John Durham Cleared the CIA Once, Will He Again?
Kirkpatrick Sale
Political Collapse: The Center Cannot Hold
Ishmael Reed
Bloomberg Condoned Sexual Assault by NYPD 
W. T. Whitney
Hitting at Cuban Doctors and at Human Solidarity
Louisa Willcox
The Grizzly Cost of Coexistence
Thomas Knapp
Meet Virgil Griffith: America’s Newest Political Prisoner
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail