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Wars, Militarization and Empire









Military Industrial Complex

In his 1961 farewell speech, President Eisenhower warned Americans of the growing influence of a corporate-military alliance that could undermine our democracy and plunder our nation’s resources for the sake of profit and power. We failed to heed this warning, and today the U.S. exists in what Columbia University Professor Seymour Melman terms a “permanent war economy,” where more than half of all U.S. tax dollars are spent on military operations.

The Department of Defense, with the support and encouragement of hundreds of private defense companies, has eliminated the distinction between corporations and government. Together they operate outside of competitive markets and constitute the largest system of corporate welfare the world has ever known. In 2010 the Pentagon doled out nearly $300 billion of taxpayer money to private defense companies, with nearly half of that, or $140 billion, given in no-bid contracts to corporations like Halliburton, Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman. Huge campaign contributions and the intentional placement of defense industry facilities in nearly every congressional district ensures the collaboration of elected officials.

How much of this military spending is unnecessary? How much of the so-called “war on terror” is really about rationalizing defense industry profits and securing Middle East oil for Western corporations?

U.S. foreign aid is also a form of corporate welfare, because foreign countries are required to purchase American weapons systems in return for the aid. Egypt, for example, is required to spend $1.3 billion, or almost half of the approximate $3 billion a year given to it in foreign aid, on American-made weapons (including crowd control weaponry their military uses to suppress the pro-democracy movement). This guarantees huge profits for private defense corporations.

The enormous amount of resources and capital spent on sweetheart deals for private military corporations reduces our nation’s ability to manufacture useful products, repair societal infrastructure and produce sustainable jobs. As the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan approach $2 trillion, our levees and bridges are collapsing and millions of Americans are out of work. Federal government spending on defense is more than double that of education, science, transportation, and housing and urban development combined.

Do the Pentagon and private defense corporations serve the American people or do they serve one another at our expense?

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Drone Attacks

Since 2001, unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), also known as drones, have been used by the military and CIA for the targeted killing of individuals around the world accused of being “terrorists” or “militants.” These extrajudicial assassinations have taken place in six countries, including Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, where the U.S. isn’t officially at war. Between 2004 and 2012, the CIA has conducted over 330 drone attacks in Pakistan alone, killing approximately 3,000 people, including 175 children.

Drone attacks deny those targeted a fair trial and amount to illegal, summary executions, violating U.S. and international law. Targets are chosen from a “kill list” compiled by the CIA and approved by the President in secret meetings with no transparency or oversight of any kind. Due process is completely absent. As Medea Benjamin writes in her book, Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control, “The US government need not be formally at war with any country in which it carries out these killings, nor need it present any evidence—in a civilian trial, a military tribunal or the court of public opinion—that the target has committed a crime.” The CIA and President thus become judge, juror and executioner.

Drone attacks kill non-combatants, including women and children. Many non-targeted individuals are killed with every successfully killed target, and while the Obama Administration claims the vast majority of these people are militants, administration officials admitted in May, 2012 that they use the CIA’s definition of a “militant,” which is simply “any military-age male in a strike zone.” Furthermore, most drone strikes are actually what are called “signature strikes,” where a drone operator thousands of miles away targets an unknown individual based merely on a perceived pattern of behavior. The CIA’s criteria for determining the “behavior signature” of a terrorist, however, has been criticized by State Department officials as too lax. Faulty intelligence, misidentifications and malfunctions are also common occurrences that have led to the killing of dozens of non-targeted individuals.

Drone attacks violate national sovereignty, anger local populations, stoke anti-American sentiment and prompt violent acts of revenge. While the corporate media loves to emphasize the high-profile al-Qaeda members the strikes have killed, it is foolish to believe drone attacks, which kill so many non-combatants, make us safer from terrorism. As former Army officer Andrew McDonald Exum writes, “Every one of these dead noncombatants represents an alienated family, a new desire for revenge, and more recruits for a militant movement that has grown exponentially even as drone strikes have increased.”

Drones have become a primary weapon of United States foreign policy, a policy designed to maximize profits for transnational corporations. The areas where killer drones are being used—the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa—are all places that either have large oil reserves, are key oil transportation routes, or have other resources being sought by transnational corporations. One must ask whether the so-called “War on Terror” is really about keeping us safe, or as retired Lieutenant Colonel William Astore writes, about feeding the “web of crony corporations, lobbyists, politicians and retired military types who pass through Washington’s revolving door … engorged by untold trillions devoted to a national security and intelligence complex that dominates Washington.”

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The National Defense Authorization Act

On December 31, 2011, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law. Along with imposing new sanctions against Iran and allocating $662 billion in funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Act authorizes the military to detain, indefinitely and without trial, anyone it deems to be a terrorist or supporter of terrorism, including any U.S. citizen. The Act defines those subject to military detention as anyone who has “substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.”

The law’s vague definition of those subject to detention as well as its application to U.S. citizens has fueled widespread concern and condemnation. And while the Act’s sponsors claim the provision merely codifies powers that congress already approved shortly after 9/11 in the joint resolution entitled Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF), the provision clearly broadens the definition of those subject to military detention. Where the AUMF allowed only for the detention and rendition of “enemy combatants,” the NDAA now introduces “associated forces” and anyone who has “committed a belligerent act” or “substantially supported” terrorism. Similarly, President Obama dismissed the indefinite detention provision as superfluous and “unnecessary,” yet at the same time the Senate voted to reject an amendment by Dianne Feinstein (D-Cal) that would have specifically excluded U.S. citizens from the provision.

While President Obama issued a signing statement saying he would not personally authorize the military to detain American citizens using the new law, the statement does not apply to subsequent administrations, nor is it legally binding. And given that the Obama administration recently defended the military assassination of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaqi, can Obama’s promise even be trusted?

Also, the NDAA specifically redefines the “battlefield” in the War on Terror to include U.S. soil. Why now? Could the government be preparing the way to use the military to quell social unrest? Former New York Times war correspondent, Chris Hedges, who is suing the Obama administration over the NDAA’s indefinite detention provision, thinks it’s possible. “I suspect the real purpose of the bill is to thwart internal, domestic movements that threaten the corporate state,” he writes. “I spent many years in countries where the military had the power to arrest and detain citizens without charge. I have been in some of these jails. I have friends and colleagues who have ‘disappeared’ into military gulags. I know the consequences of granting sweeping and unrestricted policing power to the armed forces of any nation.”

The militarization of police, the expansion of the State’s surveillance and security apparatus, and the broadening of the U.S. military’s role to include domestic operations against U.S. citizens will likely accelerate the growth of popular movements of protest and civil disobedience.

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