In iconoclastic journalist Robert Scheer’s brilliantly titled new book “The Pornography of Power,” we get confirmation– in infuriating black and white—of rumors that have haunted the country on and off since September 11. For some of us, there’s disturbing new information too.
Scheer begins by emphasizing the fear that surrounded neoconservatives as they grew up during the Cold War. “It’s hard to understand the hold an incredibly simplistic fear that something routinely referred to as ‘international communism and its timetable for the takeover of the world’ instilled in our national political imagination.”
These young men felt “deeply traumatic opposition “ to Richard Nixon’s policy of détente with the enemy, especially when they saw photos of Nixon chatting with, and Henry Kissinger meeting with Chinese Communist officials. During the Cold War, even liberals and centrists cooperated with communist witch hunts out of real fear, and out of fear of being attacked for being unpatriotic/soft on communism.
Paranoia Versus Glasnost
Paranoia was intensified by right-wing ideologues constantly inflating the communist danger. Zealots who were also defense contractors kept raising the volume about ever more menacing enemies, so they could snag ever larger contracts.
Eisenhower and Nixon viewed the world as “multipolar”— a world with multiple strong countries, as opposed to just two “bipolar” enemy powers—America/Russia or America/China. Nixon told Scheer in an interview that the more multipolar, the better for the US. Scheer writes that this philosophy summarized the worldview of Ford, Carter, Bush I and Clinton. Though Reagan began his presidency as a hard-line anti-Communist, he softened against the Russian enemy by the end of his administration, because he and Mikhail Gorbachev agreed to abolish nuclear weapons for “a brief moment.”
Following glasnost, Scheer assumed the military budget would be slashed. This perspective was confirmed during President George Herbert Walker Bush’s State of the Union speech in 1992 (even after Desert Storm, the first Iraq war).
Bush I Plans Deep Cuts
The first President Bush announced deep cuts in the Defense Department budget, vowing that by 1997 the budget would be 30% lower than when he first took office. The President said his Defense Secretary had recommended these cuts. That Defense Secretary was Richard Cheney.
The Bipartisan 9/11 Commission estimated it took the hijackers between $400,000 and $500,000 to pull off the attacks. Just days later, our current President Bush demanded 50,000 times that amount from Congress— $20 billion in emergency appropriations. As a study revealed earlier this year, the war in Iraq has already cost several trillion dollars.
Bush II Surrendered
For the federal government, Scheer contends, tragedy can be opportunity. “Bush surrendered his presidency to those who identified national security with a wildly expansive US presence in the world…[it] represented an end to the menace of fiscal restraint.” The Pentagon budget for fiscal 2008 is $625 billion.
The media, of course, hasn’t helped the situation. Instead of asking how these sophisticated weapons systems will help fight the lower-tech Global War on Terror (GWOT), reporters focus on which congress members win bidding wars to get jobs for constituents.
Government Financial Deception
Scheer enlivens his book with tales of shenanigans by arms industry players. In one, an undersecretary of defense writes a resignation letter suggesting that government “industry partners” give as few details on projects as possible to the media, public watchdogs and the public itself.
He expresses concern that foreign terrorists will misuse such “closely guarded” information as how much the project will cost versus how much it should cost. The defense official is not worried about transparency revealing conflicts of interest or illegal activities.
For him, it’s all about concealing financial deception. This undersecretary was about to join a major defense contractor to which he’d funneled jobs during his government tenure.
DOD— Over-Promising, Un-Delivering
And Scheer describes the “rare instance of effective congressional oversight” in which “a very diligent” Senator John McCain exposed defense procurement mismanagement of a tanker deal between the Air Force and Boeing— called the most significant in contemporary history.
For this crime, an Air Force officer and Boeing’s Chief Financial Officer went to prison. The company’s chief executive was forced to resign as was the Secretary of the Air Force. And Boeing itself was fined $615 million. When then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was questioned about whether he signed off on the deal he said he couldn’t remember because he had been preoccupied by the GWOT.
The Comptroller General of the US condemned Department of Defense (DOD) procurement practices, writing “DOD is simply not in a position to deliver high-quality products in a timely and cost-effective fashion… the Pentagon has a long-standing track record of over-promising and un-delivering with virtual impunity.”
There’s a chapter on Richard Perle, the “Prince of Darkness.” His penchant for conflict of interest activities was publicized in a New York Times article. Perle spoke on a conference call sponsored by Goldman Sachs, during which he advised participants about a possible investment opportunity arising from the Iraq war.
Then Scheer writes about liberals/Democrats who supposedly oppose the defense buildup, being perfectly happy to get government contracts for weapons systems. Senator Barbara Boxer scored a $1.6 billion contract for Boeing to build transport planes in the Long Beach area.
The Pentagon had not requested these planes. In fact it had asked for money to “mothball the transport plane production line” and stop making all such planes once the last of some previously ordered units rolled off a Long Beach assembly line. But “some Air Force procurement folks did an end-run around their higher-ups and leaked a wish list to friends of (this project) in Congress.”
It wasn’t just Boxer who campaigned for the contract. Senator Dianne Feinstein, union and Boeing managers, Long Beach City Council members, other pols and business leaders and Governor Schwarzenegger also pushed. They emphasized that 11,000 jobs were at stake, which is true, but so were massive profits for Boeing.
No, Really, We Need These Subs!
There’s an anecdote about Senator Joe Lieberman lobbying hard in Congress to maintain a submarine contract for his state. Scheer writes that “even the Bush Administration drew the line at building more subs” because after the Cold War there was no enemy to battle with under the sea.
So Lieberman tried several arguments which his colleagues didn’t buy. He finally won the contract by threatening that “the Chinese are building new classes of submarines with increased capabilities…” so America better compete in this race or, “we are in serious danger of falling behind…(and) may have to accept dangerous risks…”
Dems Guilty Too
The author discusses pro-war Democrats citing their former government jobs to promote the Iraq invasion. The Democratic war enthusiasts claimed they had access to the most sensitive secret intelligence which thoroughly convinced them that Saddam was hiding WMD.
Scheer reminds us that thanks to modern technology, “foreign” wars are fought on living room screens around the world. Blowback from these adventures can haunt us at home. As the 9/11 Commission pointed out, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked because Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Osama bin Laden met on an Afghanistan battlefield, in a war paid for and directed by our government.
Finally, he recommends behaviors and policies to correct America’s exploitation of military supremacy. Valley Democrats United is hosting an evening with Robert Scheer, Thursday, September 18, 7 pm, State Building Auditorium, 6150 Van Nuys Blvd.,Van Nuys, California 91401.
Besides discussing “The Pornography of Power” the author will give us his take on current political outrages headlining the news just a month and a half before election day. You’re invited!
by Wendy Block
Wendy Block represents the 42nd AD on the DSCC, is a board member and the Recording Secretary of Valley Democrats United, Recording Secretary of the 42nd AD Permanent Precinct Task Force, and a member of the Kitchen Cabinet of Kitchen Table Democracy. She speaks to area groups on behalf of the California Clean Money Campaign. She also volunteers for Barack Obama.
Republished with permission from the Valley Democratics United newsletter, Margie Murray, where it first appeared.