U.S. national media have been lazy in their treatment of our military—pandering to the military itself and using retired general officers with ties to the military-industrial complex as spokesmen. The United States is largely in an arms race with itself, but the media typically ignore bloated defense spending. It is past time to reinforce Martin Luther King’s address to the Riverside Church in 1967 that linked chronic domestic poverty and military adventurism.
Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Department of Defense has been playing an outsize role in the implementation of U.S. foreign policy and has too much clout in the production of intelligence analysis. The administrations of Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump have given the Pentagon an unprecedented position of power and influence, including huge increases in defense spending and a dominant voice in the making of national security policy. The media, relying for the most part on retired general officers, have been insufficiently critical of this militarization.
The news on cable television relies on retired general officers to analyze and assess the military actions of the United States. Nearly all of these retired generals and admirals have high-level positions at various arms manufacturers, but this is rarely noted. General Jack Keane, one of Donald Trump’s favorite generals, is a frequent analyst on Fox News, but it is never mentioned that the retired general is executive chairman of AM General, a leading defense contractor, best known as the manufacturer of the Humvee and other tactical military vehicles. Keane obviously has a direct financial interest in the use of force.
NBC News and MSNBC, the so-called liberal voice of cable television, rely on a former student of mine at the National War College, retired Admiral James Stavridis, who is described as the networks’ “chief international security analyst.” The networks never mention that Stavridis, the former supreme allied commander at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, currently works for the Carlyle Group, advising Carlyle on its multibillion-dollar portfolio of defense companies.
According to a recent article in the Washington Post, CBS’s in-house military expert is retired Admiral James Winnefeld Jr., a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but also a member of the board at Raytheon, a major defense manufacturer. CNN relied on retired General James Marks in the early years of the Iraq War, without mentioning Marks’ role in obtaining military and intelligence contracts for McNeil Technologies. Marks is back at CNN, but the network never mentions that now he is a venture partner and adviser to a company that invests in military companies.
The Washington Post is guilty of the same kind of enabling of the military. In the wake of the killing of Qassim Soleimani, Stephen Hadley, President George W. Bush’s national security adviser, endorsed the actions of the Trump administration, arguing that the killing could open the door to diplomacy. The Post needed to mention that Hadley is a director at Raytheon, which manufactures components of the drone that killed Major General Soleimani. In other words, it should be noted that Hadley has a vested financial interest in the war. As a letter writer to the Post noted, drone targeting systems aren’t cheap.
In the field of intelligence reporting, MSNBC relies almost entirely on the views of former CIA director John Brennan and deputy director John McLaughlin. Brennan is a peculiar choice because he supported the policy of torture and abuse while serving on the executive staff of the Central Intelligence Agency as well as aiding in the cover-up of the CIA’s role in shooting down a missionary plane over Peru in a botched mission to stop drug trafficking. Brennan was also responsible for the order to CIA lawyers and technicians to hack into the computers of the Senate intelligence committee to remove sensitive documentary evidence of the sordid acts of CIA officers.
McLaughlin is a bizarre choice as an intelligence analyst because he led the effort to craft the spurious speech that Secretary of State Colin Powell gave to the United Nations only six weeks before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The speech was designed to convince a domestic and international audience of the (non-existent) weapons of mass destruction in Iraqi inventories. The speech was particularly successful in fooling the editorial and oped writers of the Washington Post, who claimed they were “convinced” that Iraqi WMD justified Bush’s war.
The U.S. reliance on military force has damaged U.S. national interests at a time when the global community is facing severe economic stress. The Iraq and Afghan wars have cost trillions of dollars and have not made America more secure. The war on terror has created more terrorists than it has eliminated, and recent secretaries of state have failed to question the strategic and geopolitical implications of a wider war in Southwest Asia. The budget of the Department of Defense, exceeding levels reached during the worst days of the Cold War, receives overwhelming bipartisan support.
Even so-called liberal organizations are attracted to these policies. The Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and their scholars—Michael O’Hanlon and Robert Kagan, respectively—have advocated the use of military force in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the media largely ignore the loss of civilian life as they do the destruction of civilian economies, including hospitals, schools, and infrastructure.
Nearly sixty years after President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex, the United States must come to terms with its elevation of the role of the military; its cult of military spending that has become sacrosanct; and the culture of militarism that has placed U.S. bases all over the globe. The American public is in danger of knowing only those military policies and actions that the government wants it to know, and the media are insufficiently aggressive in uncovering the nature of U.S. militarism the world over.