George Monbiot takes up a theme we dealt with here the other day: the centrality of the Pentagon war machine -- and its attendant corporate war profiteers -- in American policy and politics today.
Monbiot's specific subject is the U.S. "missile defense system" -- the greatest boondoggle in human history, and an endless fount of corruption for decades. But he also provides an excellent general description of America's degraded, dysfunctional state, which is never on more naked display than during the quadrennial freak show of a presidential campaign:
If we seek to understand American foreign policy in terms of a rational engagement with international problems, or even as an effective means of projecting power, we are looking in the wrong place. The government's interests have always been provincial. It seeks to appease lobbyists, shift public opinion at crucial stages of the political cycle, accommodate crazy Christian fantasies and pander to television companies run by eccentric billionaires. The US does not really have a foreign policy. It has a series of domestic policies which it projects beyond its borders. That they threaten the world with 57 varieties of destruction is of no concern to the current administration. The only question of interest is who gets paid and what the political kickbacks will be.
I'm afraid this will be the chief question of interest to the next administration as well. As for "missile defense" -- which is now playing a starring role in the new Cold War being avidly fomented by America's bipartisan political elite - Monbiot is worth quoting at length:
The system has been in development since 1946, and so far it has achieved a grand total of nothing....All the trials run so far - successful or otherwise - have been rigged. The target, its type, trajectory and destination, are known before the test begins. Only one enemy missile is used, as the system doesn't have a hope in hell of knocking down two or more. If decoy missiles are deployed, they bear no resemblance to the target and they are identified as decoys in advance. In order to try to enhance the appearance of success, recent flight tests have become even less realistic: the agency has now stopped using decoys altogether when testing its GMD system.
This points to one of the intractable weaknesses of missile defence: it is hard to see how the interceptors could ever outwit enemy attempts to confuse them. As Philip Coyle - formerly a senior official at the Pentagon with responsibility for missile defence - points out, there are endless means by which another state could fool the system. For every real missile it launched, it could dispatch a host of dummies with the same radar and infra-red signatures. Even balloons or bits of metal foil would render anything resembling the current system inoperable. You can reduce a missile's susceptibility to laser penetration by 90% by painting it white. This sophisticated avoidance technology, available from your local hardware shop, makes another multibillion component of the programme obsolete. Or you could simply forget about ballistic missiles and attack using cruise missiles, against which the system is useless.
Monbiot then gets to the corroded heart of the matter: scratch, geetus, moolah, long green. As he notes, the Pentagon and its willing enablers on both sides of the political aisle have come up with a truly artistic budgetary innovation to keep golden goose a-laying: "spiral development." From Monbiot:
The US has spent between $120bn and $150bn on the programme since Ronald Reagan relaunched it in 1983. Under George Bush, the costs have accelerated. The Pentagon has requested $62bn for the next five-year tranche, which means that the total cost between 2003 and 2013 will be $110bn. Yet there are no clear criteria for success. As a recent paper in the journal Defense and Security Analysis shows, the Pentagon invented a new funding system in order to allow the missile defence programme to evade the government's usual accounting standards. It's called spiral development, which is quite appropriate, because it ensures that the costs spiral out of control.
Spiral development means, in the words of a Pentagon directive, that "the end-state requirements are not known at programme initiation". Instead, the system is allowed to develop in whatever way officials think fit. The result is that no one has the faintest idea what the programme is supposed to achieve, or whether it has achieved it. There are no fixed dates, no fixed costs for any component of the programme, no penalties for slippage or failure, no standards of any kind against which the system can be judged. And this monstrous scheme is still incapable of achieving what a few hundred dollars' worth of diplomacy could do in an afternoon.
So why commit endless billions to a programme that is bound to fail? I'll give you a clue: the answer is in the question. It persists because it doesn't work.
US politics, because of the failure by both Republicans and Democrats to deal with the problems of campaign finance, is rotten from head to toe. But under Bush, the corruption has acquired Nigerian qualities. Federal government is a vast corporate welfare programme, rewarding the industries that give millions of dollars in political donations with contracts worth billions. Missile defence is the biggest pork barrel of all, the magic pudding that won't run out, however much you eat. The funds channelled to defence, aerospace and other manufacturing and service companies will never run dry because the system will never work.
Monbiot also points out the obvious: the nation must be kept in a constant welter of fear and indignation in order to keep the pork flowing:
To keep the pudding flowing, the administration must exaggerate the threats from nations that have no means of nuking it - and ignore the likely responses of those that do. Russia is not without its own corrupting influences. You could see the grim delight of the Russian generals and defence officials last week, who have found in this new deployment an excuse to enhance their power and demand bigger budgets.
Yes, there's nothing inherently American about fearmongering and corruption. The Kremlin knows full well that the missile defense system which Bush is installing in Poland doesn't work. But it looks threatening, and is a handy bogey-man to shake at the Russian people. Then again, the missile base is just a beachhead for the coming horde of NATO forces that will soon be bristling on Russia's border, so the Kremlin's alarm at the placement is not just rabble-rousing. And of course, there is also the fact that the missile base could easily accomodate offensive weapons as well as the boondoggled duds. The threat to Russia from U.S. missiles and NATO encroachments is considerably more real and substantial than the idea that Russia poses any kind of genuine threat to America.
To be sure, Russia, and China, do pose a genuine threat to the American elite's idiotic, arrogant agenda of forcing its will on the entire world. Thus the frothing nonsense and belligerent posturing -- and murderous military adventures -- of our bipartisan foreign policy establishment will go on. But as we've often noted here before, none of this has anything to do with the genuine interests or well-being or security of the American people. That is just not "a question of interest" to our moneyed elites and our ludicrous, "purpose-driven" politicians.
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This story was published on August 22, 2008.