"Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny." -- Thomas Jefferson
"We are the last superpower because we stayed out of the great wars of the twentieth century longer than any of the other powers, and we suffered and lost less than any of them." -- Pat Buchanan
"At the age of four with paper hats and wooden swords, we're all generals. Only some of us never grow out of it." -- Peter Ustinov
"We are rapidly becoming prototypes of a people that totalitarian monsters could only drool about in their dreams." -- Steve Tesich, The Wimping of America (Buzzflash)
"America has never been an empire. We may be the only great power in history that had the chance, and refused -- preferring greatness to power and justice to glory." --George W. Bush, November 19, 1999
James Madison, 1799, describing the two "momentous truths" of the American military: "First. That the fetters imposed on liberty at home have ever been forged out of the weapons provided for defense against real, pretended, or imaginary dangers from abroad. Second. That there never was a people whose liberties long survived a standing army." -- quoted by Ian Williams
In 1823 John Quincy Adams warned that America "goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy." Were she to do so, "she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force.... She might become the dictatress of the world. She would no longer be the ruler of her own spirit." -- quoted by Lewis Lapham
Abraham Lincoln, 1846: "Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion...and you allow him to make war at pleasure.... [I]f today he should choose to say that he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him, 'I see no probability of the British invading us,' but he would say to you, 'Be silent; I see it if you don't.'" -- quoted by Lewis Lapham
Instead of facing reality, hubris-soaked US leaders, elites, and media, locked behind an impenetrable wall of political correctness and moral cowardice, act as naive and arrogant cheerleaders for the universal applicability of Western values and feckless overseas military operations omnipotently entitled Resolute Strike, Enduring Freedom, Winter Resolve, Carpathian Strike, Infinite Justice, Valiant Strike, and Vigilant Guardian. While al-Qaeda-led, anti-US hatred grows among Muslims, US leaders boast of being able to create democracy anywhere they choose, ignoring history and, as Stanley Kurtz reminded them in Policy Review [June-July 2002], failing to 'regard Hobbes's warning that nothing is more disruptive to peace within a state of nature than vainglory.... If the world is a state of nature on a grand scale, then surely a foreign policy governed by a "vainglorious" missionizing spirit rather than a calculation of national (and civilizational) interest promises dangerous war and strife." -- Michael Scheuer
Former Clinton security advisor and geopolitical strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski has long advocated a dominant US economic and military presence in what he calls Eurasia: "This huge, oddly shaped Eurasian chessboard -- extending from Lisbon to Vladivostok -- provides the setting for 'the game.' If the middle space can be drawn increasingly into the expanding orbit of the West (where America preponderates), if the southern region is not subjected to domination by a single player, and if the East is not unified in a manner that prompts the expulsion of America from its offshore bases, America can then be said to prevail. But if the middle space rebuffs the West, becomes an assertive single entity, and either gains control over the South or forms an alliance with the major Eastern actor, then America's primacy in Eurasia shrinks dramatically. The same would be the case if the two major Eastern players were somehow to unite. Finally, any election of America by its Western partners from its perch on the western periphery would automatically spell the end of America's participation in the game on the Eurasian chessboard, even though that would probably also mean the eventual subordination of the western extremity to a revived player [Brzezinski is either referring to Russia or China] occupying the middle space."
Brzezinski says that the American political character is inimical to global domination: "It is also a fact that America is too democratic at home to be autocratic abroad. This limits the use of America's power, especially its capacity for military intimidation. Never before has a populist democracy attained international supremacy. But the pursuit of power is not a goal that commands popular passion, except in conditions of a sudden threat or challenge to the public's sense of domestic well-being. The economic self-denial (that is, defense spending) and the human sacrifice (casualties even among professional soldiers) required in the effort are uncongenial to democratic instincts. Democracy is inimical to imperial mobilization." His words perhaps shed some light on the Bush administration's efforts to curb democracy and transform America into an imperialistic quasi-dictatorship. -- Zbigniew Brzezinski
Historian Paul Kennedy concludes of America's military at the dawn of the 21st century: "Nothing has ever existed like this disparity of power, nothing. I have returned to all of the comparative defense spending and military personnel statistics over the past five hundred years [and] no other nation comes close. The Pax Britannica was run on the cheap. Britain's army was mucn smaller than European armies, and even the Royal Navy was only equal to the next two navies -- right now all the other navies in the world combined could not dent American maritime supremacy. Charlemagne's empire was merely Western European in its reach. The Roman Empire stretched farther afield, but there was another great empire in Persia, and a larger one in China. There is, therefore, no comparison." -- quoted by Eric Alterman and Mark Green
Lewis Lapham writes, "Scorned by an American government that Thomas Jefferson characterized as 'a reign of witches,' [Thomas] Paine wouldn't have had much trouble recognizing the Bush administration as Federalist in sentiment, 'monarchical,' and 'aristocratical' in its actions, royalist in its mistrust of freedom, imperialist in the bluster of its military pretentions, evangelical in its worship of property. In the White House we have a president appointed by the Supreme Court; at the Justice Department, an Attorney General who believes that in America 'there is no king but Jesus;' in both houses of Congress, a corpulent majority that votes its allegiance to class privilege and hereditary virtue." -- Lewis Lapham
As William Greider notes, Bush and his cohorts are actively seeking "to roll back the twentieth century." Eric Alterman and Mark Green write, "The draining of the public treasury to benefit the very rich is just the start of an effort designed to reduce government to a size where, as close Bush ally and conservative political organizer Grover Norquist has so memorably said, you can finally 'drown it in the bathtub.' Some of the evident aspects of this historic redirection as Greider identifies it include the elimination of federal taxation of private capital 'as the essential predicate for dismantling the progressive income tax;' the gradual 'phase out [of] the pension-fund retirement system as we know it, starting with Social Security privatization but moving eventually to breaking up the other large pools of retirement savings...and converting them into individualized accounts;' the withdrawal of 'the federal government from a direct role in shousing, health care, assistance to the poor and many other long-established social priorities, first by dispersing program management to local and state government or private operators, then by steadily paring down the federal government's financial commitment;' the restoration of the 'churches, families and private education to a more influential role in the nation's cultural life bu giving them a significant new base of income -- public money;' the strengthening of the hand of business enterprise against 'burdensome regulatory obligations, especially environmental provisions, by introducing voluntary goals and "market-driven" solutions;' and the defenestration of labor unions and all forms of organized labor.
"Abroad, there is an attempt to abandon virtually all international obligations and constraints that in any way impinge on America's unilateral ability to define and act upon its own self-interest in a fashion of its own choosing -- the 'good opinion of mankind,' as Thomas Jefferson defined it, be damned." -- Eric Alterman and Mark Green
Conservative commentator and isolationist Pat Buchanan observes that, while the United States is the world's only remaining superpower because it managed to stay out of the twentieth century's great wars longer than any other of the great powers, and lost less than any of them, before the end of the Cold War, the US began making all of the blunders that cost Britain its own empire decades before, "...from the arrogance of power to the alienation of allies to the waging of imperial wars where no vital US interests were at risk. Spurning the counsel of John Quincy Adams, America now goes abroad in search of monsters to destroy. ...President Bush has declared it to be US policy to launch pre-emptive war on any rogue regime that seeks weapons of mass destruction, a policy today being defied by North Korea and Iran, both of which have programs to produce nuclear weapons. The president has also declared it to be US policy to go to war to prevent any other nation from acquiring the power to challenge US hegemony in any region of the earth. It is called 'the Bush doctrine.' It is a prescription for permanent war for permanent peace, though wars are the death of republics. 'No nation,' warned Madison, can 'preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.'" -- Pat Buchanan
Buchanan also describes the almost abject capitulation of Congressional powers to the executive and judiciary branchs under Bush, a trend encouraged by previous Republican administrations (and to a lesser extent, the Clinton administration as well). Constitutionally, Congress has the sole power to declare war, to raise and spend revenue, to coin money, and to regulate trade, all powers virtually surrendered to the Bush administration. Buchanan writes that neoconservatives "are presidential supremacists and compulsive interventionists, impatient with any restrictions or restraints, constitutional or otherwise, on the commander in chief's authority to take us into war. ...Why has Congress yielded power to presidents, judges, bureaucrats? The dirty little secret is that Congress no longer wants the accountability that goes with the exercise of power. It does not want to govern. Both parties prefer to make only those decisions that will be applauded by constituents and rewarded at the ballot box, and to pass on to others decisions that deeply divide or roil the public. ...Members prefer the perception of power to the reality. They would rather remain in office than risk defeat by governing America. ...'What kind of government do we have?' a lady asked Dr. Franklin when he emerged from the constitutional convention in Philadelphia. 'A republic -- if you can keep it,' said the wise old man. We did not keep it. This generation lost it. America has ceased to be the republic of the Founding Fathers." -- Pat Buchanan
"There are internal reasons why the American empire may not last, the most immediate being that most Americans are not interested in imperialism or world domination in the sense of running the world. What they are interested in is what happens to them in the US." -- Eric Hobsbawm, quoted by Frances Fox Piven
"Military men are just dumb stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy." -- Henry Kissinger
"A confident and carefree republic -- the city on the hill, whose people have always believed that they are immune from history's harms -- now has to confront not only an unending imperial destiny but also a remote possibility that seems to haunt the history of empire: hubris followed by defeat." -- Michael Ignatieff, January 2003, quoted by Michael Scheuer
"The Army is broken. It will take decades to fix. Cheney now seems oblivious to what the military needs. That's because he trusts Rumsfeld." -- a retired Army general, quoted by Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein
"Amazingly, many well-informed people still believe that 'a half-century [of] defense procurement' has somehow been 'an engine of American industrial growth,' or that 'the expenditure on armaments...fuelled the American economy' through the postwar boom. They conclude that devoting all those trillions of dollars to building weapons plants, establishing bases, and stationing hundreds of thousands of troops abroad 'made the affluent America of the Cold War possible' -- or, more foolishly, that 'the Cold War helped make America rich.' The ideologically inclined write of a 'war-sustained US economy,' or even a 'permanent war economy,' in which defense spending elevated aggregate economic activity. 'Military Keynesianism' has been discredited, as has so much of Keynesianism itself. It offered a compelling perspective on 1953 to 1956 only because a few years previously, between the Depression and World War II, government spending had indeed been a crucial stimulus. Sadly, the notion would linger. But even in the early 1950s, it did not make sense. 'Military Keynesianism' is a hypothesis that assumes the fallacy post hoc, egro propter hoc (after this, therefore on account of it): unprecedented economic growth supposedly followed unprecedented military spending in magical consequence. In that case, however, Japan and West Germany should have gone bust, while overarmed Latin America should have been a showcase for the twenty-first century. Today's commonplace notion that Americans had to be willed by government into spending during these years show how distanced many scholars have become from the ways their own country operates. In fact, it was consumption-driven expansion that made US defense outlays at this level possible, rather than the reverse. Amid the 1953-1956 great leap forward into a consumer society, people were clearly going to be buying more and more in any event.
"...Better-invested talent and capital would have been required for the country to have grown faster during these years. Those were precisely the resources being lost, since military spending is a notably inefficient form of investment. If public money has to be spent, it is better directed to building roads and airports, worker training, or anything that reduces the costs of production, as opposed to bombs and bullets, which are virtually useless in terms of productivity. Before people could devote their time and money to other ends, however, Washington was deflecting much of their effort to the struggle for the world. A lot of this sacrifice was necessary, but it was not otherwise beneficial.
"...Although defense spending has been grossly exaggerated as a factor of economic stability after World War II, it did afford a certain underpinning of expectations and confidence in a Depression-damaged generation. We now know that modern economies can generally work efficiently without tax money being pumped into them. Once we distance ourselves from the 1930s-conditioned attitude that government spending was essential to 1950s prosperity, it is clear that the United States was wasting whatever percentage of GDP it was spending on defense above the minimum needed to confront the Soviet Union. Of course, that minimum can never be known, but it was probably a lot less than was spent. So much more could have been accomplished with the difference." -- Derek Leebaert
Like the militaries of every other country in world history, the American military's prime function is to prosecute war. (Whether that function is exercised for the most laudable goals of self-defense and the opposition to tyranny, as in World War II, or less acceptable goals, is the decision of the civilian policy makers.) And, when directed to do so, the American military is the instrument of US imperial designs. "If this were the whole of it," writes Frances Fox Piven, "then the size and power of the [military-industrial] establishment would rise and fall with foreign war, more the consequence of international conflicts than a cause of such conflicts. For much of American history, this seems to have been more or less true. Even the enormous military expansion of World War II was followed by demobilization, both of troops and of defense factories. But the Cold War that rapidly ensued spurred a new buildup of the military that was never reversed. The armed forces and the intelligence agencies grew, as did the industries that supplied them, and their far-flung allies multiplied in research institutions and universities, in think tanks, and in governments. Whatever the initiating motives or the raison d'etre of this establishment, it has now become a major force in its own right, ready and able to generate the ideas and even the events that justify its stability and growth." The Soviet and American military buildups of the Cold War mirrored each other and spurred the other on, resulting in ever-increasing American military spending even in times of peace.
Currently (in 2004, when Frances Fox Piven wrote her book The War at Home), the US has 1.4 million citizens in the armed forces, with a payroll of roughly $80 billion a year. This figure does not include the private companies that have spawned to feed, and to feed from, the American military juggernaut. Some of these are patently mercenaries, hired, trained, and deployed by private companies such as Blackwater and Vinnell to undertake military missions from Iraq to Colombia; currently over two dozen companies operate as private adjuncts and extensions of the military, often paid by government funds but often not under government supervision or law, including huge conglomerates such as Halliburton and DynCorp. American intelligence services spend over $30 billion a year, divided among 15 agencies, most under the aegis of the Defense Department or the CIA. The military establishment also includes the nuclear weapons programs run by the Pentagon and the Energy Department; as of 2004, the US had 5,400 multiple-megaton warheads, 1,750 nuclear bombs and cruise missiles, and 1.670 tactical nuclear weapons, with an additional 10,000 nuclear weapons stored in bunkers. The hugely sprawling missile defense system known as "Star Wars" includes the Pentagon, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing, but also embraces right-wing think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, the Center for Security Policy, and Empower America.
The fortunes of the military are intimately entwined with the fortunes of American business. In 1940, Secretary of War Henry Stimson declared, "If you are going to try to go to war, prepare for war in a capitalist country, you have to let business make money out of the process, or business won't work." Currently nine of the 30 members of Bush's Defense Policy Board have deep connections to companies that received some $76 billion in military contracts between 2001 and 2002. And there are fortunes to be made in Iraq. "some argue that it's too simplistic to say this war is about oil," Nation journalist Naomi Klein observed on April 28, 2003. "They're right. It's about oil, water, roads, trains, phones, ports, and drugs." So far the staggering monies paid out to these private corporations have not come from Iraqi oil sales, as promised before the war by the Pentagon's Paul Wolfowitz, but from American taxpayers. While Halliburton and Bechtel are the two largest recipients of taxpayer largesse, other corporations bellying up to the Iraq gravy train include International American Products, Fluor, Perini, Contrack, Washington Group International, the Research Triangle Institure (which is contracted to provide, among other things, local governance), the International Resources Group, Stevedoring Service of America, and Creative Associates International (primarily responsible for rebuilding and extending Iraq's educational infrastructure). Unsurprisingly, the Pentagon has strictly forbidden almost all non-US companies from securing contracts in Iraq. Piven writes, "It is keeping the plunder for its American corporate friends."
Former Reagan assistant secretary of defense Lawrence Korb testified before the House Budget Committee in late 2003, "The real reason for the increase in this year's [defense] budget is not the war against terrorism or the state of our military. This massive increase is necessary because the Bush administration failed to carry out its campaign promises to transform the military and the secretary of defense failed to make the hard choices that are necessary when formulating a military budget. Rather, he simply layered his new programs on top of the Clinton programs he inherited."
The effect on America reverberates throughout its infrastructure. Entire regions become dependent on defense expenditures. Members of Congress fight to secure defense contracts for their districts. High-ranking military officers have come to expect lavish "retirements" to posts within the defense industries; in turn, defense contractors expect to be given high-level Pentagon appointments. General Tommy Franks, who oversaw the invasion of Iraq, retired in 2004 and immediately joined the board of Free Market Global, a company that trades in oil and gas. Author and historian Chalmers Johnson writes that the result is a "kind of military opportunism at the heart of government, with military men paying court to the pet schemes of inexperienced politicians and preparing for lucrative post-retirement positions in the arms industry or military think tanks." --Frances Fox Piven
"Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business." -- neoconservative Michael Ledeen, Project for the New American Century, April 2002, quoted by Bernard Chazelle
While the US was a major arms exporter for decades, after World War II's end, the US became the "Arsenal of Democracy," supplying arms and materiel to nations and resistance groups around the world in the name of resisting communism. Until the early 1960s, the US's arms sales went primarily to NATO allies, Australia, and Japan, not to third world countries. In the early 1960s, when the US balance-of-payments surplus shrank, the Kennedy administration began encouraging arms exports to smaller countries. In 1968, US arms sales topped $1 billion for the year for the first time, but the big expansion came after the OPEC crisis of the early 1970s, when Washington policymakers unofficially decided that high-priced arms sales to Iran and Saudi Arabia, among others, could make up for some of the monies lost to overpriced oil. The official explanation was that Saudi Arabia and Iran were US "surrogates" in the Middle East's regional defense structure. By 1975, US arms sales had jumped to $10 billion annually, and firms like Lockheed, Northrop, and Boeing were putting away astonishing profits. The balance-of-payments benefit was strong; weapons had become one of the most profitable of US exports. The balloon burst in 1979, when Iranian militants overthrew the Shah, and the new government canceled somewhere between $8 and $10 billion of orders, some already begun by US contractors. Jimmy Carter's administration reversed its pledge to curb arms sales and scrambled to find takers for the orders repudiated by Iran. Israel and Egypt lined up for the arms slated for Iran; Saudi Arabia, too, wanted to get in line, but the US Congress, under pressure from Israel, blocked several deals from being completed. For a brief time in the early 1980s, as arms sales to the Saudis plummeted, the US actually dropped to 4th in global arms sales, behind Britain, France, and China, with the Soviets nearing US export levels. -- Kevin Phillips
Between 1970 and 1979, Middle Eastern countries took in $57 billion in American arms sales, close to two-thirds of the US totals for those years. Soviet arms sales in the region weren't far behind the US totals, rendering the region the world's strongest market for arms and armaments, accounting for about half of all arms transfers to the Third World during the last half of the decade. As CIA director in 1976, George H.W. Bush had been intimately involved in ratcheting up arms sales to the Shah of Iran. The Reagan administrations handled the sag in the sales to the Saudis, and the official ban on selling to the new, extremist Muslim government of Iran, by loosening restrictions on who could buy the most technologically advanced armaments. In 1981, State Department official James Buckley told the Aerospace Industries Association that the Reagan administration refused to accept that military sales were "inherently evil or morally reprehensible," and went on to say that "This administration believes that arms transfers, judiciously applied, can complement and supplement our own defense efforts and serve as a vital and constructive instrument of our foreign policy." Apparently that included massive funding of the Afghanistan mujahadeen who were then battling Soviet occupation forces; US funding for the Afghan militants rose from $30 million in 1984 to $637 million in 1987, and those sums were matched dollar for dollar by the Saudis. George H.W. Bush led the administration's secret funding of Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988. Defense correspondent James Adams wrote that the war sparked "an extraordinary feeding frenzy by the sharks of the arms business. Fifty countries sold arms to the protagonists in the war. Of these fifty, four countries sold only to Iraq, eighteen to Iran, and twenty-eight, including France, China, Italy, South Africa, Britain, the United States and West Germany, sold to both sides." -- Kevin Phillips
Kevin Phillips writes that, excluding Israel and Egypt, "[T]he nations inundated by waves of American arms, military forces, and trainers since the oil-price shocks read like a directory of regional trauma wards: Saudi Arabia (a first wave of arms and trainers in the 1970s, followed by a flood of US servicement and -women, and installations, during and after the Gulf War of 1990-91); Iran (a huge flow of weaponry under the shah in the 1970s; a second, smaller covert supply during the 1980s during the October Surprise and related Iran-Contra machinations); Afghanistan (huge 1980s shipments - given the small population - to rebels fighting the Russians); Pakistan (large-scale military and weapons assistance since the 1970s, plus the nation's 1980s experience as a US weapons and insurgency pipeline to Afghanistan); Iraq (large-scale US military and dual-use equipment assistance during its 1980s war with Iran, followed by the devastation of intermittent bombing, sanctions, and two wars); and the Gulf oil sheikhdoms (a tidal wave of US weaponry and facilities during the 1990s and a lesser one in 2002-03)." What did the US provide for these nations and itself with this tsunami of military supplies? According to Phillips, four things. First, a regional upsurge in corruption promoted by the influx of oil money, arms, covert ops, and arms-dealer commissions, accompanied in Pakistan and Afghanistan by a mushrooming drug business. Second, a broad-based alienation of Muslim religious leaders and the concurrent rise of Islamic fundamentalism. Third, the political nurturing and success of Islamic revolutionary movements, illustrated by the overthrow of the Iranian Shah by extremist Shi'ites, the ascent of the Taliban in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal, Saudi support for al-Qaeda, the success of Pakistani religious parties in the frontier provinces, and the Islamic victories in Turkey. Fourth, America's increasing dependence on alliances with the Saudi royal family and the oil sheikhs of the Gulf states, who all fear being overthrown by the popular fundamentalist forces being unleashed. -- Kevin Phillips
The more involved the United States becomes in the affairs of the Middle East, the more of a terrorist backlash it creates. In 1997, the US Defense Science Board observed in a report, "Historical data show a strong correlation between US involvement in international situations and an increase in terror attacks against the United States. In addition, the military asymmetry that denies nation-states the ability to engage in overt attacks against the United States drives the use of transnational actors [terrorists from one country attacking in another]." -- Kevin Phillips
Chalmers Johnson writes in his 2000 book Blowback, "In many cases, the United States has been busy arming opponents in ongoing conflicts -- Iran and Iraq, Greece and Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel, and China and Taiwan. Saddam Hussein, the number one 'rogue' leader of the 1990s, was during the 1980s simply an outstanding customer with an almost limitless line of credit because of his country's oil reserves. Often the purchasing country makes its purchases conditional on the transfer of technology so that it can ultimately manufacture the item for itself and others. The result is the proliferation around the world not just of weapons but of new weapons industries." -- Kevin Phillips
"Let any nation anywhere on earth even begin to think of challenging the American supremacy (military, cultural, socioeconomic) and America reserves the right to strangle the impudence at birth -- to bomb the peasants or the palace, block the flows of oil or bank credit, change the linen in the information ministries and the hotels. Told that the truth didn't matter, that motive was irrelevant, and that the Bush administration was free to do as it pleased, the heirs and assigns of what was once a democratic republic greeted the announcement with an audible and respectful silence." -- Lewis Lapham
Controlling the Middle East's oil supply is as much to do with global domination as it is about corralling the area's oil reserves for US use. "Controlling Iraq is about oil as power, rather than oil as fuel," says Michael Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and author of Resource Wars. "Control over the Persian Gulf translates into control over Europe, Japan, and China. It's having our hand on the spigot."
Journalist Robert Dreyfuss writes, "Ever since the oil shocks of the 1970s, the United States has steadily been accumulating military muscle in the Gulf by building bases, selling weaponry, and forging military partnerships. Now, it is poised to consolidate its might in a place that will be a fulcrum of the world's balance of power for decades to come. At a stroke, by taking control of Iraq, the Bush administration can solidify a long-running strategic design. 'It's the Kissinger plan,' says James Akins, a former US diplomat. 'I thought it had been killed, but it's back.' Akins learned a hard lesson about the politics of oil when he served as a US envoy in Kuwait and Iraq, and ultimately as ambassador to Saudi Arabia during the oil crisis of 1973 and '74. At his home in Washington, DC, shelves filled with Middle Eastern pottery and other memorabilia cover the walls, souvenirs of his years in the Foreign Service. Nearly three decades later, he still gets worked up while recalling his first encounter with the idea that the United States should be prepared to occupy Arab oil-producing countries.
"In 1975, while Akins was ambassador in Saudi Arabia, an article headlined 'Seizing Arab Oil' appeared in Harper's. The author, who used the pseudonym Miles Ignotus, was identified as 'a Washington-based professor and defense consultant with intimate links to high-level US policymakers.' The article outlined, as Akins puts it, 'how we could solve all our economic and political problems by taking over the Arab oil fields [and] bringing in Texans and Oklahomans to operate them.' Simultaneously, a rash of similar stories appeared in other magazines and newspapers. 'I knew that it had to have been the result of a deep background briefing,' Akins says. 'You don't have eight people coming up with the same screwy idea at the same time, independently. ...Then I made a fatal mistake,' Akins continues. 'I said on television that anyone who would propose that is either a madman, a criminal, or an agent of the Soviet Union.' Soon afterward, he says, he learned that the background briefing had been conducted by his boss, then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Akins was fired later that year. Kissinger has never acknowledged having planted the seeds for the article. But in an interview with Business Week that same year, he delivered a thinly veiled threat to the Saudis, musing about bringing oil prices down through 'massive political warfare against countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran to make them risk their political stability and maybe their security if they did not cooperate.'"
The idea appealed to hawkish, pro-Israeli conservatives in both parties, who became known as "neoconservatives." These neocons played vital roles in Reagan's Defense Department as well as in conservative think tanks and academic policy centers. Dreyfuss writes, "Led by Richard Perle, chairman of the Pentagon's influential Defense Policy Board, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, they now occupy several dozen key posts in the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department. At the top, they are closest to Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who have been closely aligned since both men served in the White House under President Ford in the mid-1970s. They also clustered around Cheney when he served as secretary of defense during the Gulf War in 1991. Throughout those years, and especially after the Gulf War, US forces have steadily encroached on the Gulf and the surrounding region, from the Horn of Africa to Central Asia. In preparing for an invasion and occupation of Iraq, the administration has been building on the steps taken by military and policy planners over the past quarter century."
In January 1980, Jimmy Carter unknowingly took the first step towards implementing the neocons' political agenda by ordering the creation of the Rapid Deployment Force, a small, highly mobile unit expressly designed for operations in the Gulf, as well as declaring the Gulf an area of vital interest to the US. Reagan oversaw the transformation of the RDF into Central Command, a new US military command authority with responsibility for the Gulf and the surrounding region from eastern Africa to Afghanistan. Reagan also attempted, with varying success, to organize a "strategic consensus" of anti-Soviet allies, including Turkey, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. The US sold billions of dollars' worth of arms to the Saudis in the early '80s, from AWACS surveillance aircraft to F-15 fighters. And in 1987, at the height of the war between Iraq and Iran, the Navy created the Joint Task Force-Middle East to protect oil tankers plying the waters of the Gulf, thus expanding a US naval presence of just three or four warships into a flotilla of 40-plus aircraft carriers, battleships, and cruisers. The 1991 Gulf War dramatically escalated the US presence in the Gulf region, reviving a flagging US-Saudi relationship and allowing the US a permanent military presence in Saudi Arabia. After the war, the US sold over $43 billion worth of worth of weapons, equipment, and military construction projects to Saudi Arabia, and $16 billion more to Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates.
Before Desert Storm, the US military enjoyed the right to stockpile, or "pre-position," military supplies only in the comparatively remote Gulf state of Oman on the Indian Ocean. After the war, nearly every country in the region began conducting joint military exercises, hosting US naval units and Air Force squadrons, and granting the United States pre-positioning rights. "Our military presence in the Middle East has increased dramatically," Defense Secretary William Cohen boasted in 1995. The US-imposed no-fly zones in northern and southern Iraq, enforced mostly by American warplanes operating from bases in Turkey and Saudi Arabia, also boosted the US presence. "There was a massive buildup, especially around Incirlik in Turkey, to police the northern no-fly zone, and around [the Saudi capital of] Riyadh, to police the southern no-fly zone," says Colin Robinson of the Center for Defense Information. A billion-dollar, high-tech command center was built by Saudi Arabia near Riyadh, and over the past two years the United States has secretly been completing another one in Qatar. The Saudi facilities "were built with capacities far beyond the ability of Saudi Arabia to use them," Robinson says. "And that's exactly what Qatar is doing now."
The open-ended war on terrorism, and the war in Afghanistan, have also boosted American strength in the region. The Bush administration has won large increases in the defense budget -- which in 2003 stood at about $400 billion, up from just over $300 billion in 2000 -- and a huge chunk of that budget, perhaps as much as $60 billion, is slated to support US forces in and around the Persian Gulf. Military facilities on the perimeter of the Gulf, from Djibouti in the Horn of Africa to the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, have been expanded, and a web of bases and training missions has extended the US presence deep into central Asia. From Afghanistan to the landlocked former Soviet republics of Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, US forces have established themselves in an area that had long been in Russia's sphere of influence. Oil-rich and strategically vital central Asia is now the eastern link in a nearly continuous chain of US bases, facilities, and allies stretching from the Mediterranean and the Red Sea far into the Asian hinterland.
And then there's Iraq. Neoconservative strategist Robert Kagan says that American military bases will remain in Iraq indefinitely: "We will probably need a major concentration of forces in the Middle East over a long period of time," he said. "When we have economic problems, it's been caused by disruptions in our oil supply. If we have a force in Iraq, there will be no disruption in oil supplies." Kagan, along with the Weekly Standard's William Kristol, is a founder of the think tank Project for the New American Century, an assembly of foreign-policy hawks whose supporters include the Pentagon's Perle, New Republic publisher Martin Peretz, and former CIA director James Woolsey. Among the group's affiliates in the Bush administration are Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz; Lewis Libby, the vice president's chief of staff; Elliott Abrams, the Middle East director at the National Security Council; and Zalmay Khalilzad, the White House liaison to the Iraqi opposition groups. Kagan's group, tied to a web of similar neoconservative, pro-Israeli organizations, represents the constellation of thinkers whose ideological affinity was forged in the Nixon and Ford administrations. To Akins, it's a team that looks all too familiar, seeking to implement the plan first outlined back in 1975. "It'll be easier once we have Iraq," he says. "Kuwait, we already have. Qatar and Bahrain, too. So it's only Saudi Arabia we're talking about, and the United Arab Emirates falls into place."
Saudi Arabia is an essential piece to the neocon puzzle. Many neocons echo the thinking of the Rand Corporation's Laurent Murawiec, who stunned the Defense Policy Board in the summer of 2002 with his blunt assertions that Saudi Arabia's government should be overthrown and the Saudi oil fields occupied with US troops. Though Murawiec was officially repudiated, his ideas are privately quite popular with Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle, and other administration neocons. He represents the neocon school of thought that views virtually all of the nations in the Gulf as unstable "failed states" and maintains that only the United States has the power to forcibly reorganize and rebuild them. In this view, the arms systems and bases that were put in place to defend the region also provide a ready-made infrastructure for taking over countries and their oil fields in the event of a crisis. The Defense Department likely has contingency plans to occupy Saudi Arabia, says Robert Ebel, director of the energy program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank whose advisers include Kissinger, former Defense Secretary and CIA director James Schlesinger, and Carter-era security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. "If something happens in Saudi Arabia," Ebel says, "if the ruling family is ousted, if they decide to shut off the oil supply, we have to go in."
With the US and North Sea oilfields nearly depleted, and a third of the world's remaining oil reserves located in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, the Gulf is predicted to supply well over half, and perhaps two-thirds, of the world's oil by 2020, making the region, according to the 2001 National Energy Policy statement, "vital to US interests." In the short term, the US is less dependent on Middle Eastern oil than other countries, with Venezuela, Nigeria, Mexico, and other countries growing in importance for American oil needs. But for Western Europe and Japan, as well as the developing industrial powers of eastern Asia, the Gulf is all-important. Whoever controls it will maintain crucial global leverage for decades to come. But by 2015, most experts believe that two-thirds of the Gulf's oil will flow to Asian countries, primarily to China. China's growing dependence on the Gulf could cause it to develop closer military and political ties with countries such as Iran and Iraq, according to the report produced by Ebel's CSIS task force. "They have different political interests in the Gulf than we do," Ebel says. "Is it to our advantage to have another competitor for oil in the Persian Gulf?" Dreyfuss quotes David Long, a former diplomat to Saudi Arabia and the chief of the State Department's Near East division in its Bureau of Intelligence and Research during the Reagan administration, who likens the Bush administration's approach to the philosophy of Admiral Mahan, the 19th-century military strategist who advocated the use of naval power to create a global American empire. "They want to be the world's enforcer," he says. "It's a worldview, a geopolitical position. They say, 'We need hegemony in the region.'"
Until the 1970s, the US's power in the Gulf was primarily wielded by American oil companies -- Exxon, Mobil, Chevron, Texaco, Gulf, and others -- competing with Britain's BP and the British-Dutch Shell. But in the early 1970s, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the other Gulf states nationalized their oil industries, setting up state-run companies to run wells, pipelines, and production facilities. Not only did that enhance the power of OPEC, enabling that organization to force a series of sharp price increases, but it alarmed US policymakers. Now, more and more Washington strategists are advocating a direct US challenge to state-owned oil companies in oil-producing countries, particularly in the Gulf. Think tanks such as the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and CSIS are conducting discussions about privatizing Iraq's oil industry. Some of them have put forward detailed plans outlining how Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and other nations could be forced to open up their oil and gas industries to foreign investment.
"One of the major problems with the Persian Gulf is that the means of production are in the hands of the state," Rob Sobhani, an oil-industry consultant, told an American Enterprise Institute conference in Washington during the fall of 2002. Already, he noted, several US oil companies are studying the possibility of privatization in the Gulf. Dismantling government-owned oil companies, Sobhani argued, could also force political changes in the region. "The beginning of liberal democracy can be achieved if you take the means of production out of the hands of the state," he said, acknowledging that Arabs would resist that idea. "It's going to take a lot of selling, a lot of marketing," he concluded. "What they have in mind is denationalization, and then parceling Iraqi oil out to American oil companies," says Akins. "The American oil companies are going to be the main beneficiaries of this war." And Exxon's Gerald Bailey, who headed that company's Middle East operations until 1997, says, "Iraqi exiles have approached us, saying, 'You can have our oil if we can get back in there.' All the major American companies have met with them in Paris, London, Brussels, all over. They're all jockeying for position. You can't ignore it, but you've got to do it on the QT. And you can't wait till it gets too far along." -- Robert Dreyfuss
"When carried into the arenas of foreign policy, the belief in America's always-perfect innocence supports the Bush administration's doctrine of forward deterrence and preemptive strike. The immaculate republic invariably finds itself betrayed, and because it has been betrayed, it can justify the use of criminal means to defend itself against the world's wickedness. American armies go forth into the deserts of iniquity on behalf of all mankind, in order to forestall any upstart challenge to America's unblemished moral superiority." The imperialist line of thought was well entrenched in Washington long before the terrorist onslaught of September 11, 2001. In 1993 the Pentagon released a policy paper, "Defense Strategy for the 1990s," that had been drafted two years earlier by Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, and Paul Wolfowitz. The three authors were then serving as senior counselors in the administration of the elder President Bush; the document acknowledges and accepts America's mission to rule the world, clearly setting forth the theory of domination subsequently incorporated into what became known, in the autumn of 2002, as the Bush Doctrine. -- Lewis Lapham
The current US quagmire in Iraq, the near-rabid hatred of America and America's policies by even moderate Muslims, and the general detestation of America's foreign policy by even putative friends such as France and Germany, is a direct result of "blowback": the coming home to roost of problems engendered by decades of US arms sales, air strikes, and covert operations. Kevin Phillips writes, "The Walker and Bush family financial and business agendas over the course of eighty years -- agendas that both Bush presidents brought with them to the Oval Office -- had been secular, indeed Machiavellian: global oil ventures, national security, sophisticated investments, arms deals, the Skull and Bones chic of covert operations, and committed support of established business interests. Until George W. Bush, religious impulses and motivations had not been a factor." Secular Republicans chose to interpret Bush's characterization of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as an "axis of evil" as a sop to his evangelical supporters, not a religious reinterpretation of the case for preemptive war. A combination of near-jihadic fervor for war in the Middle East among Bush's evangelical supporters, and likely in Bush's own beliefs, with the machinations of Machiavellian neoconservative imperialists like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Feith, made US military intervention in Iraq a near-certainty from the moment Bush stepped into office. The blowback caused by years of pouring US weaponry into the region made the subsequent insurgency in Iraq and the resistance of other Middle Eastern countries along with terrorist groups like al-Qaeda just as certain. -- Kevin Phillips
Japan specialist John Dower compares the Bush administration to the World War II-era regime of Emperor Hirohito and General Tojo, a regime defined by imperialist nationalism.. The Japan of Hirohito and Tojo was also bent on suppressing terrorism, oriented towards the military, given to patriotic cultism, and caught up in their own version of Manifest Destiny. Another scholar, Anatol Lieven, compares the Bush administration to that of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, a saber-rattling militarist with a flavoring of megalomania. Kevin Phillips says these two observations counterbalance the Anglo-Roman self-conception of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld. -- Kevin Phillips
"Of course, there is no doubt that if we lived in a police state, it would be easier to catch terrorists. If we lived in a country that allowed the police to search your home at any time for any reason; if we lived in a country that allowed the government to open your mail, eavesdrop on your phone conversations, or intercept your email communications; if we lived in a country that allowed the government to hold people in jail indefinitely based on what they write or think, or based on mere suspicion that they are up to no good, then the government would no doubt discover and arrest more terrorists. But that probably would not be a country in which we would want to live. And that would not be a country for which we could, in good conscience, ask our young people to fight and die. In short, that would not be America." -- Senator Russ Feingold
"Under the chief executive who now purports to be in charge, America has bolted from the path cleared by the Founders, promiscuously violating every tenet of the 'creed' that finally guided Thomas Jefferson and his associates. Most dangerous is this regime's overt hostility to fundamental democratic practice. Empowered not at the polls but by judicial fiat, Bush & Co. has nothing but contempt for 'the right of election by the people,' which they have worked consistently to undermine in the United States, through mob violence, bureaucratic fraud, impetuous gerrymandering, co-optation of the media, and -- a major innovation -- fake electoral 'reform' devised to have the people voting on computerized machines that can be hacked with ease and leave no paper trail -- machines built, programmed, and maintained by firms owned and controlled by ultraright Republicans. Such machines are, as of this writing [late 2003], now set up in nearly thirty states, ready for Bush/Cheney's 're-election.'" [See my own Stolen! page for documentation of the 2004 election theft.] -- Mark Crispin Miller
Neoconservative Michael Ledeen wrote in his 1999 book Machiavelli on Modern Leadership: "In order to achieve the most noble accomplishments, the leader may have to 'enter into evil.' This is the chilling insight that has made Machiavelli so feared, admired, and challenging. It is why we are drawn to him still.... Just as the quest for peace at any price invites war and, worse than war, defeat and domination, so good acts sometimes advance the triumph of evil, as there are circumstances when only doing evil ensures the victory of a good cause." In 2003, William Beeman reported, "Ledeen's ideas are repeated daily by such figures as [Dick] Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz.... He basically believes that violence in the service of the spread of democracy is America's manifest destiny. Consequently, he has become the philosophical legitimator of the American occupation of Iraq." Interestingly, several mainstream news outlets, including the Washington Post and the Asia Times have reported that Ledeen is the only full-time international affairs analyst consulted by Karl Rove. The Post said, "More than once, Ledeen has seen his ideas faxed to Rove, become official policy or rhetoric."
"The [Republican] party has embraced a neo-imperial foreign policy that would have been seen by the Founding Fathers as a breach of faith. It has cast off the philosophy of Taft, Goldwater, and Reagan to remake itself into the Big Government party long championed by the Rockefeller Republicans whom the conservative movement came into being to drive out of the temple. Many Republicans have abandoned the campaign to make America a colorblind society, and begun to stack arms in the culture wars. There is no conservative party left in Washington. Conservative thinkers and writers who were to be the watchdogs of orthodoxy have been as vigilant in policing party deviations from principle as was Cardinal Law in collaring the predator-priests of the Boston archdiocese. ...Pragmatism is the order of the day. The Republican philosophy might be summarized thus: 'To hell with principle; what matters is power, and that we have it, and that they do not.'" -- Pat Buchanan
"There might be a better world a-waiting -- through international law, peaceful cooperation, emphasizing democracy rather than military action -- but for all one can tell from his public statements, none of this has ever even occurred to George W. Bush. That we might consider weapons of mass construction, rather than destruction, is apparently beyond his administration's imagination. Constructive 'weapons' would include vaccines, medicines, health interventions, emergency food aid, farming technology, and a system of microloans modeled on the Grameen Bank [of Bangladesh]. When Bush speaks on foreign policy, he speaks almost exclusively of perils, danger, threat, and risk. 'It is a dangerous world,' he often warns. He never even mentions positive goals. Even his commitment in the 2003 State of the Union address to spend $15 billion over five years to fight AIDS in Africa turns out to be a classic example of the Bush bait-and-switch tactic. If you go through his foreign-policy speeches underlining the words about terror, evil, and danger, you will be struck by how often they appear contrasted to the very occasional, very vague nod to democracy. His foreign-policy rhetoric is also free of the language of sacrifice or even simple cost. Blood, sweat, toil, and tears are never mentioned, nor even using less gasoline. Perhaps one of the greatest missed opportunities of this crisis was Bush's advice about what to do after September 11. The whole country was dying to help -- ready to donate blood, money, sign up for the Marines, ride bikes, anything we could think of. Instead our president told us to shop." -- Molly Ivins and Lou Dubose
It has become all too obvious that Bush/Cheney do not enjoy, nor do they believe in, the limitations of power on the executive branch. Bush was wrong when he told Barbara Walters, "There's only one person who is responsible for making that decision [to invade another country], and that's me." He's dead wrong: that power resides with the Congress, according to Article I of the Constitution. Mark Crispin Miller notes that Bush's belief that "I do not need to explain why I say things" might be more appropriate for "the emperor of China or the founder of his own religion," but not an accountable public official who serves at the pleasure of the people. The day before he was inaugurated into the presidency, he told an audience that "In 24 hours I have the highest honor, and that's to become the commander in chief of the greatest nation in the world." True enough, if the US is perpetually under martial law, but Article II of the Constitution says plainly that the president is not the commander-in-chief of the nation, but only of the armed forces, and that only in time of war.
Miller writes, "When Bush has spoken more or less coherently about 'democracy,' it is because the system he describes is no more democratic than the regimes in Zimbabwe, Pakistan, or Cuba: 'That's the great thing about a democracy: occasionally there is a chance for the voters to express their belief or disbelief. I guess that chance will be coming down the road one of these days.' That 'the voters' have 'a chance,' now and then, 'to express their belief or disbelief' is a feature of dictatorships, which do 'occasionally' hold plebiscites so as ostensibly to let the populace say 'yea' or 'nay' (and somehow, it's always 'yay!'). The same despotic bias is no less apparent in the second sentence, which folksily implies that we just might have such a chance -- i.e. elections -- maybe not on the appointed day but...later, when all 'evildoers' are gone and 'the homeland' is at last secure." -- Mark Crispin Miller
Sociologist and author Frances Fox Piven writes of how crassly (and effectively) the Bush administration and its Republican colleagues have manipulated the citizenry's "war fever" to win elections: "War fever has been useful to the Bush regime in another way. It has helped win elections. The conservative Republicans who now virtually control all branches of the federal government, and many sate governments as well, had to get elected and reelected. Majorities of voters had to pull the lever for Republican candidates, and a war scare helped. ...[P]ublic opinion polls and electoral results show that partisan divisions in the American electorate remain precariously close for the Bush regime, and in the face of close elections, a war on terror and a war on Iraq swayed a good many people to vote Republican." Columnist Perry Anderson wrote in September 2002 that 9/11 gave the new administration, "elected by a small and contested margin...an unexpected chance to recast the terms of American global strategy more decisively than would have otherwise been possible. Spontaneously, domestic opinion was now galvanized for a struggle figuratively comparable to the Cold War itself." Fully 90% of polled Americans said they supported Bush on September 26, 2001. The lesson was not lost on Bush and his fellow Republicans, who have built their entire domestic and foreign policy, and their domination of American politics, on the attacks ever since. Bush's rhetoric continued to escalate, becoming more Biblical and even more apocalyptic as time wore on and his poll numbers begun to sag. Robert Jay Lifton calls the process a "mobilization of public excitement to the point of a collective experience of transcendence. War them becomes heroic, even mythic, a task that must be carried out for the defense of one's nation, to sustain its special historical destiny and the immortality of its people."
The religious rhetoric is deliberate. The code name for the air strikes on Afghanistan in October 2001, and the first appellation for the entire American "war on terror," was "Operation Infinite Justice," a term defined by the US Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry as God's terrible price for the reinstatement of His created humanity to sin-free purity. (It was changed to "Operation Enduring Freedom" because of concerns that the original term might offend Muslims, as Islam teaches that only God can provide infinite justice.) "The odd euphoria of war resembles the jubilant confession of sinfulness at the Great Awakening," wrote Christian historian and author Garry Wills in March 2003. "We are afraid and exhilirated. The multiple items of population are drawn together into a People, God's People. ...[While many] have wondered how the president can so readily tear down structures of international cooperation when, in the fight against terrorism, we need them most," Bush's certainty, "hard to justify in terms of geopolitical calculus" comes from the assurance that he is leading the United States in the path determined by God. "Question that policy," Wills avers, "and you no longer believe in evil -- which is the same, in this context, as not believing in God." So, according to Wills and many other rightist Christians, if you believe in God, you must support Bush and his war.
The war on terror became a linchpin of the Republican electoral strategies in both 2002 and 2004, as documented throughout this site. Piven writes that the 9/11 attacks allowed Republicans to change the direction of discourse throughout the elections from the economy, a bad topic for Republicans to run on, to focus instead on national security. Bush and his congressional Republicans rammed through the October 2002 resolution providing for military force against Iraq just in time for the midterm elections, and Republicans were shameless in tying Democrats to their supposed "weakness" on terror, even running ads juxtaposing images of Democratic candidates with images of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. The Republicans succeeded, of course, gaining a slender majority in the Senate and solidifying their majority in the House. This allowed them to assume the leadership of the Senate and of its various committees, a powerful advantage. And for 2004, even a somewhat resurgent Democratic party found it difficult to retake the Senate, with only 15 seats considered in play, a huge (ten to one) advantage in fundraising for Senatorial candidates, and aggressive, sometimes illegal gerrymandering of electoral districts designed to make key Republican congressmen and women virtually impregnable; Texas is a prime, egregrious example of Republican gerrymandering.
Some powerful Republicans even called into question the Democrats' patriotism for even fielding a presidential candidate in 2004. "Senator Kerry crossed a grave line when he dared to suggest the replacement of America's commander-in-chief at a time when America is at war," said the chairman of the Republican National Committee before the election, apparently feeling that the Constitutional mandate providing for Americans to select a president every four years should be tossed aside in favor of making Bush a semi-permanent head of state similar to, say, Saddam Hussein. -- Frances Fox Piven
Between 1990 and 2006, the oil and gas industry donated $180 million to finance American elections. 75% of that money went either to Republican candidates or the GOP. Since 2000, the top ten oil and gas companies have spent $33 million lobbying Congress, and donated over $3 million to Republican candidates. 79% of the 2004 Bush-Cheney $61.5 million campaign war chest came from donations from oil and gas companies. In return, the Bush administration and the Republican-led Congress have received lavish returns. The 2005 Energy Bill, signed into law by Bush in August 2006, gave the oil and gas companies $6 billion in tax subsidies. In addition, oil companies were forgiven any royalty payments normally due to the US government for pumping oil on federal lands. And the bill even protects the makers of MTBE, a gasoline additive, from being sued by those who got cancer from exposure to the additive. A little-known provision in the 2006 Department of Interior budget gave the same oil and gas companies another $7 billion, largely by not charging them a dime to pump oil and gas from the Gulf of Mexico. Democrat George Miller calls it "one of the greatest train robberies in the history of the world." -- Air America Playbook
The fever and fog of war provides key assistance to Republicans in other ways than "merely" winning elections. Although majorities of Americans are resolutely against many elements of Bush's foreign and domestic policies, many put aside that opposition to support a "war president," not only at the polls, but in other areas. The war works to damp down the incipient splits among various Republican factions, and galvanizes the GOP base. War and national security rationales have been used to argue for virtually every single Bush/GOP policy initiative, from tax breaks for the wealthy to corporate giveaways and what Frances Fox Piven calls "domestic predation." In Iraq, the fog of war is successfully concealing the building of an economic structure that features the worst of unfettered, monopolistic capitalism, with traditionally Iraqi state companies privatized (read, given to American owners), Iraqi banks given over to US business magnates' control, taxes revamped to ensure that Americans working in the country (and wealthy Iraqis) will pay virtually nothing to the government, and the entire structure paid for by American taxpayers. Piven writes that even if, in the future, a new Iraqi government retakes many of the privatized companies now owned by American interests, it is almost certain that the Americans will be bailed out for their losses by the US government -- i.e. US taxpayers. American business owners have reaped a bonanza both in Iraq and the US, at the direct expense of the Iraqi and American citizenries.
Just as importantly, American business interests have succeeded in rolling back the public policies of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. While this trend has been in place since the 1970s, it has never been more successful than under George W. Bush. The prime elements of this agenda have been to roll back taxes (again, primarily on the wealthy and on corporations), deregulating business, weakening unions, and gutting public programs that shore up the economic and social power of workers, particularly by slashing unemployment benefits. While Democratic presidents Carter and Clinton worked to moderate some of this agenda, they did little to derail or redirect it, particularly Clinton, who imposed stringent cuts in government spending, revamped welfare in a manner many liberals considered draconian, and repealed a goodly bit of federal regulations himself. What began under Ronald Reagan is culminating under Bush. But scandal and incompetence prevented the Reaganites from conducting wholesale revisions of Social Security, environmental regulations, and Medicare. That is no longer the case, and Bush has used his position as a "war president" to pursue business-friendly, citizen-hostile initiatives with an enthusiasm never before seen in modern times.
Bush's tax plans are the most infamous of his various and sundry business-friendly policies. In 2001, Bush and his Republican colleagues pushed through over $1 trillion of tax cuts over a ten-year period, most targeted for the wealthiest Americans, with millionaires saving an average of $90,000 a year. Federal taxes on wealthy estates, misleadingly termed the "death tax" by Republicans, were rolled back with an eye towards eliminating them entirely, capital gains taxes were slashed, divident taxes were more than halved, and corporate taxes, formerly a major source of federal revenue, were gutted through both tax cuts and loopholes and an increasingly generous write-off policy. "Republicans are discovering that the conflict [in Iraq] can provide a new tool of persuasion," wrote the New York Times just days after the invasion. Every policy initiative run through Congress has been bolstered by the argument that "supporting this policy supports our president in a time of war," "we don't need to embarrass the president in a time of war by opposing him on this," and so forth.
"If you take the administration's tax proposals as a group," wrote economist Paul Krugman in his 2003 book The Great Unraveling, "they effectively achieve a longstanding goal of the radical right: and end to all taxes on income from capital, moving us to a system in which only wages are taxed -- a system, if you like, in which earned income is taxed but unearned income is not." The idea that the wealthier Americans ought to pay more of their money towards taxes is being abandoned for the conservative dream of only working Americans paying taxes while the wealthy, with their investment and dividend income and inherited fortunes, getting off scot free. "Another significant tax cut could be enough to eliminate progressivity from the US tax system," said economist Brian Roach in late 2003. The Bush administration is moving towards the "flat tax" system first popularized by billionaire presidential candidate Steve Forbes in the late 1980s, a tax system that, on first glance, seems eminently fair -- everyone pays the same percentage in taxes regardless of income -- but in reality is tremendously inequitable, with lower-income citizens paying far more of their real wealth than richer citizens. And, of course, the myriad tax breaks and loopholes that the wealthy can use to hide their money away aren't available for the average working American who makes just enough to survive.
Worse, the IRS has been both grossly underfunded in its ability to pursue what the General Accounting Office called "abusive tax-avoidance schemes," and is operating under a mandate that forces its investigators to spend far more time and effort in investigating tax fraud and dodges by poorer citizens than by the wealthy and the corporations, to the effect that big tax evaders can perpetuate their tax dodges with little fear of reprisal.
Corporate tax revenues fell to a paltry $132 billion in 2003, the lowest since 1983 and almost a third lower than the $207 billion garnered in 2000; corporate taxes represent only 1.2% of the Gross Domestic Product. (In 1983, with the implementation of "Reaganomics," corporate taxes fell to a level not seen since the Great Depression.) The share of federal revenue represented by payroll taxes -- taxes paid by working Americans -- rose to its highest level in the nation's history. Federal revenues are dropping rapidly, and the federal deficit is ballooning to new record heights every fiscal year. Half of the deficit increase of $1.4 trillion (as of 2004) given to the nation by Bush is from his tax cuts.
Besides the tremendous windfall in wealth for the wealthy represented by these tax cuts, the huge losses in federal revenue result in demands for cuts in government spending. Republicans respond, quite eagerly, with proposals to cut social program spending. Ironically, the revenue lost to Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy would more than pay for the shortfalls in both Social Security and Medicare. But the tax cuts are more important, even than the long-term stability of the US economy. Even the International Monetary Fund is now expressing worry at America's long-term economic stability. Krugman calls it "starving the beast:" slashing government programs that help the poor and middle class, using the savings to pump more money into the hands of the wealthy, and continuing the cycle until the programs are all but depleted and the wealthy are drowning in a surfeit of riches. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan's warnings about the deficit's potential devastating effect on Social Security have been twisted by Bush officials for use in their advocacy of the privatization of Social Security, itself another bait-and-switch proposal to strip billions from Social Security that would otherwise go to poorer retirees and instead find their way into the pockets and the bank accounts of the already-filthy rich. Instead of battling the tax cuts and working to preserve Social Security, Greenspan has backed the cuts and has proposed severe cuts in Social Security benefits. "What is being contemplated," writes Piven, "in other words, is in fact the repudiation of government debt, but not the debt held by foreign creditors. Rather it is the debt held by the American public that would be repudiated."
We all remember that the Bush tax cuts were presented as a boon to the poor and middle classes. On February 3, 2001, Bush told a radio audience that "my plan unlocks the door to the middle class for hardworking Americans." Press secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters two days later that "In terms of who will have their life changed the most by a tax cut, it's clearly the people at the low and middle end of the income scale, because this represents a huge surge in their income," apparently believing that the average working American would gain far more benefits from a few hundred dollars in tax cuts than a wealthy American would in gaining tens of thousands in tax cuts. "In 2003, 91 million taxpayers will receive, on average, a tax cut of $1,126 under the Jobs and Growth Act of 2003," the White House Web site claimed. This is true, but highly deceptive, since the paltry sums doled out to millions of working Americans were averaged in with the average $93,000 in tax savings enjoyed by American millionaires. 84% of American taxpayers received far, far less than the claimed $1,126; in fact, using the median average (the number dividing the population in half), the "average" taxpayer received the princely sum of $217 in tax "relief."
"War fever" is also invoked to justify the sweeping deregulation proposals from the Bush administration. Much of the administration's deregulation efforts have taken place "off the radar," in little-known and barely-announced regulation changes, or by sympathetic judges, or through executive orders and funding cutoffs. The EPA announced its decision to allow disposal of sewage sludge as "fertilizer" on New Year's Eve of 2003, a time when the media was sure to pay little attention. Environmental deregulation is particularly of interest to large corporations, especially the oil, gas, coal, nuclear, and utility industries. Of course, these are some of the largest donors to Republicans, giving $13.9 million to GOP candidates and causes since 1998 and only $3.2 million to Democrats. Oil and gas companies lavished funds on the Bush-Cheney campaigns of 2000 and 2004, providing millions in donations, perks, "loans" of corporate jets, financing of campaign events, and more. Top lobbyists from these companies are also Republican heavyweights; just two of dozens of examples are Marc Racicot, who left the governorship of Montana in 2001 to work with a high-powered insurance lobbying firm before joining the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004 and becoming the chair of the Republican National Committee, and Haley Barbour, an oil and tobacco lobbyist (who lost a 1982 bid for the Senate after making jokes about blacks being "coons" and told an aide that if he didn't stop making his own racist remarks, he would be "reincarnated as a watermelon and placed at the mercy of blacks") who became governor of Mississippi in 2004 even after publicly appearing for photos with white supremacist groups.
Cheney's secretive Energy Task Force met 714 times with industry lobbyists and magnates, but only 19 times with conservationists. When the Sierra Club sued the government to force it to reveal the names and nature of the task force's meetings, and the case worked its way to the Supreme Court, Justice Antonin Scalia enjoyed a duck-hunting expedition to Louisiana with Cheney just days before the case was to be heard, refused to recuse himself, and cast one of the deciding votes that allowed the task force's records to remain sealed.
As of mid-2004, when Piven wrote her book, the Cheney energy bill had not yet passed Congress, but it contained a "veritable cornucopia of subsidies, tax breaks, and regulatory rollbacks that revise existing environmental measures, especially the Clean Air Act. Some examples: royalty payments for oil wells on public lands are eliminated; the petroleum industry is offered legislative protection against lawsuits over a cancer-causing additive known as MTBE that has leached into groundwater in hundreds of communities; tax breaks for the energy industry are estimated at about $23.5 billion by the Congressional Joint Commission on Taxation, and the industry gets another $5.4 billion in tax credits for the nuclear power industry; the exemption of oil and gas construction activities from the Clean Water Act; the exemption of drilling companies from the Safe Drinking Water Act; reimbursements to oil and gas companies for the cost of environmental impact studies; the removal of the authority of the secretary of the interior to deny applications to drill on public lands; weakened regulations governing utility mergers and the repeal of the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 that shielded consumers and investors from Enron-like business maneuvers." A lobbyist's dream, the bill was actually written in part by industry lobbyists, consultants, and corporate heads, and the entire bill was presented to Congress as a necessity for fighting the war on terror. And in November 2003, the $401.3 billion defense authorization bill exempted the military from abiding by the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
But the Bush administration has not waited for Congress to act; by executive fiat, "the administration has managed to effect a radical transformation of the nation's environmental laws, quietly and subtly, by means of regulatory changes and bureaucratic directives," as Bruce Barcoff wrote for the New York Times Magazine in April 2004. The administration refused to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol, the first international effort to curb global warming, for two reasons: one, as former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill confirmed that no one cared about the facts or the tradeoffs the protocols entailed because "energy concerns and...industry lobbyists had eclipsed considerations about action on global warming;" two, because the administration was bent on denying the very existence of global warming. Instead, Bush proposed toothless voluntary reductions that few companies were willing to agree to. In the 2000 campaign, Bush painted himself as something of an environmentalist, saying, among other things, that he would oppose legislation (vetoed by Clinton) to allow a nuclear waste site to be built at Yucca Mountain, Nevada; once elected, he rushed to approve the selfsame legislation. In addition, the administration granted electric utilities a 15-year delay in decreasing mercury emissions. It opened the pristine wilderness of Alaska's North Slope for oil drilling. It has gutted cleanup projects mandated under the Superfund legislation. The administration has granted unprecedented access to protected public lands for oil and gas drilling as well as the logging industries, under the deceptively titled Healthy Forests Initiative. The EPA budget for waste treatment and other clean water activities was slashed by 30% in 2005.
Other social programs have been raided as well. The revamping of Medicare includes a wealth of giveaways and perks for the pharmaceutical and health care industries, many included to prepare for the ultimate privatization of Medicare. In return for the $60 million in contributions to the Bush campaign and other Republicans, these two industries have reaped around $139 billion in additional profits. Marc Racicot, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, sent a copy of the drug benefit legislation to Bristol-Myers Squibb, asked if they would like to make any changes, and demanded a $250,000 contribution. And the administration's head of the Food and Drug Administration, Mark McClellan, who spearheaded that agency's opposition to any changes in federal law that would make it easier to import lower-cost pharmaceuticals; in March 2004, McClellan was named head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the Department of Health and Human Services. "[The FDA is] supposed to regulate, not represent, the pharmaceutical industry," said Democratic senator Byron Dorgan during McClellan's confirmation hearings. (McClellan told the assembled senators that he would work with Congress to assure the safety of Canadian drug imports.) And the administration has tried repeatedly to pass laws imposing strict caps on jury awards in medical malpractice lawsuits, part of a larger administration crusade for what they call "tort reform." Although as of the time Piven wrote her book, the efforts had been blocked in Congress, the efforts continue: Senator Elizabeth Dole, a Republican, said frankly, "We're going to keep going until we succeed."
The mainstream media has been rewarded for their cheerleading for the Bush invasion of Iraq with numerous perks and legislation initiatives as well. Regulations prohibiting single companies from owning both newspapers and broadcast outlets in particular markets have been assailed; limits on the number of television stations a single company may own nationally and locally have been challenged. The idea of preventing single behemoth media conglomerates from controlling America's media outlets has been tossed aside in favor of monopolization by companies that often favor Bush and Republican causes. To this end, the administration named Michael Powell, a staunch opponent of any regulation on media conglomerates, to head the FCC. In the spring of 2003, the FCC met 71 times with industry lobbyists and heads of media companies to discuss deregulation; the new rule proposals were drafted with the aid of a Wall Street media stock analyst. Democratic senator Ron Wyden noted caustically that loosening ownership rules "rings the dinner bell for big media corporations who are salivating to make a meal out of the nation's many small media outlets." Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp is a particular beneficiary of the new rules; Murdoch is a powerful supporter of the Bush administration.
The war on terror was invoked to speed the passage of the 2004 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, a bill designed to protect gun manufacturers and dealers from liability suits. The bill is in response to a windstorm of lawsuits against gun manufacturers and dealers attempting to fix some responsibility onto them for criminal shootings. Federal law passed under Bush already requires federal officials to destroy records on gun purchases within 24 hours instead of the older 90-day provision, actually making it much more difficult to track gun purchases by suspected terrorists. Of course, the bill also engenders the support of hard-right gun lobbies like the National Rifle Association. The bill was defeated after Senate Democrats managed to add a number of amendments, termed "poison pills" by Republicans, that extended legislation banning assault weapons and requiring background checks of purchasers at gun shows.
In the fall of 2003, the administration quietly rescinded a Clinton-era ruling that forced mining companies to restrict the dumping of the large amounts of highly toxic wastes they produced. Now those mining companies can use federal lands to dump their wastes at will. The food industry has been quite successful in convincing administration officials to approve products before their safety has been established, including the import of tuberculosis-infected meat from Mexico, fungus-contaminated pears from China, infected meat from Canada, and listeria-infected domestic meat. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman led the administration's charge to keep allowing the importation of foreign beef products from cattle with mad cow disease.; only 40,000 of the 35 million cattle annually slaughtered are now tested for mad cow disease. Japan is refusing to accept American beef exports unless the American beef industry adopts the same regulations used in other countries, but even companies like Creekstone Farms that are willing to adopt the more stringent testing procedures are finding themselves at odds with the USDA who is refusing to allow the testing even on a voluntary basis.
And of course, the myriad instances of Bush officials falsifying scientific studies and issuing deliberately false "scientific" reports to fit their own agendas are legend. The most infamous example may be in the wake of 9/11, when the EPA, against the reports from its own personnel, lied about the safety of the vicinity of the World Trade Center; the agency knowingly lied about the massive amounts of toxins released into the air and water of the area, and as a result, thousands of people, including many first-responders so lionized by the administration, have contracted numerous life-threatening diseases and disorders. One warning from an Agriculture Department official about the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the air surrounding industrial hog farms was scotched after pressure was brought to bear from the National Pork Production Council. At least a dozen scientific studies proving the existence and the ramifications of global warming have either been suppressed in their entirety or falsified to the point of uselessness.
Studies proving the wide-ranging extent of groundwater contamination by oil and gas industries were suppressed after "industry feedback" was received by Bush officials. An independent study proving the detrimental effect of oil and gas drilling on Arctic caribou was switched for a more favorable industry-produced study at the behest of Interior Secretary Gale Norton. Tommy Thompson, head of Health and Human Services, was forced to admit that his department rewrote a report on racial disparities in health services to give the report a rosier glow. After National Fisheries scientists rewrote a report on the impact of diverting water from the Klamath River to benefit Pacific Northwest agribusiness, the area recorded the largest fish kill ever measured. The EPA stalled a report on the effects of mercury on children's health in deference to coal and utility industries primarily responsible for releasing mercury into the environment. And White House staff members rewrote or deleted information accompanying new EPA-developed regulations for coal-fired power plants and the accompanying risks of mercury contamination. Outcries by organizations such as the American Public Health Association and groups of Nobel Prize-winning scientists were dismissed by John Marburger, science advisor to the president, as "preposterous."
Labor rights have been rolled back, again with the justification of the war on terror used for an excuse. Not only does this undermine national security, it undermines the power and influence of one of the largest and most influential groups of Democratic supporters, the labor unions. The assault began well before 9/11, when, in February 2001, Bush issued a spate of executive orders ending labor-management partnerships in the federal government, barring project-wide collective bargaining agreements on federally funded public works projects, and requiring federal contractors to advise their workers of their right not to join a union. Workplace safety rights were under immediate attack; a ten-year study of workplace ergonomics that resulted in a set of new regulations implemented in Clinton's final days in office were reversed in favor of voluntary industry standards that are widely ignored. The budget for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was slashed, the government stepped up its efforts to audit and prosecute labor unions, and announced its intention to privatize and outsource 850,000 government jobs. Overtime rules mandating overtime pay for workers have been revamped, allowing employers to avoid paying overtime by simply reclassifying job descriptions.
Of course, after 9/11, the efforts redoubled. Machinists working for United Airlines found themselves banned from any job actions, and the government invoked the Taft-Hartley Act to suppress a strike on West Coast docks. In January 2002, Bush used national security as an excuse to revoke union representation for employees in the Department of Justice. In June 2002, Bush used the same excuse to strip the nation's air traffic control system of its designation as an "inherently governmental" function, opening the door to privatization and threatening the representation and bargaining rights of 15,000 controllers. Bush threatened to block the December 2002 legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security unless it stripped its 170,000 prospective employees of any rights to unionize; Bush was successful after Republican senators filibustered the Senate in support of the legislation. The newly federalized airline security screeners, some 60,000 employees, were denied the right to collectively bargain for pay and benefit increases. And some 700,000 Pentagon employees are facing similar treatment under the proposed National Security Personnel System. -- Frances Fox Piven
Social spending and social programs are, as noted above, under widespread attack under the rubric of national security. Most of these programs provide much-needed medical, educational, and financial support to the poorest of Americans. The administration justifies its attack on America's poor by not only invoking the war on terror, but by saying that the poor are poor and disenfranchised by choice. As conservative pundit David Brooks wrote for the New York Times on March 2, 2004, "In reality, culture shapes economics. A person's behavior determines his or her destiny. If people live in an environment that fosters industriousness, sobriety, fidelity, punctuality, and dependability, they will thrive. But the Great Society welfare system encouraged or enabled bad behavior." (Brooks himself grew up as a child of privilege in Canada.) Bush, a billionaire's son who grew up in the lap of extreme luxury, echoes Brooks's views. "The new culture [of the Great Society] said if people were poor, the government should feed them," he observed in his ghostwritten 2000 campaign biography A Charge to Keep. "If criminals are not responsible for their acts, then the answers are not in prisons, but in social programs. People became less interested in pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and more interested in pulling down a monthly government check. A culture of dependency was born. Programs that began as a temporary hand up became a permanent handout, regarded by many as a right."
Government spending on social programs has now, under Bush, been targeted as "a new frontier for business profiteering," Piven writes. "The campaign to privatize social programs is unfolding in education, welfare, job training, and most importantly because so much money is involved, in Social Security and Medicare. The Bush administration is working to push this campaign forward."
Employers are traditionally opposed to social spending, as it takes away from their own profits and productivity. In the US, it is only overcome during times of national stress, when civil economic discontent threatens to destabilize the government. The joblessness and hardships of the Great Depression sparked demonstrations and riots across the country, encouraged Franklin Roosevelt to implement his New Deal programs, and led to the defeat of the then-dominant and corporate-aligned Republican Party. Emergency relief programs, and later Social Security, and unemployment programs, provided critical relief for impoverished families and ensconsced Roosevelt's Democrats in power for a generation. In the 1960s, the Kennedy-Johnson "Great Society" programs gave the country Medicare, Medicaid, and other social programs. Even business leaders supported these programs during the 1930s and 1960s.
But in the 1970s, when the economy was in far better shape than during the Depression and riding a postwar boom, the tide once again turned. Businesses demanded a raft of tax cuts, and the Republican leadership in the White House and Congress turned to social programs for the cuts necessary to fund the demanded "tax relief." New business-backed conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the Manhattan Institute issued proposals for "reforms" that actually revived old formulae for cutting means-tested programs such as welfare, food stamps, and Medicaid. Eligibility should be more strictly conditioned by work and marital status, benefits slashed, states given more discretion in distributing benefits, bureaucrats given more leeway in denying benefits, and privatization promoted. "Ironically," Piven writes, "these features actually go part of the way toward explaining popular antipathy toward the means-tested programs. Low benefits and intrusive procedures stigmatize both the programs and their beneficiaries, and this cultural stigma is then mobilized in attacks on the programs."
What began under Nixon, Reagan, and the first Bush (and to a lesser extent Carter and Clinton) is progressing at top speed under Bush II. Bush officials have learned their lesson about publicly opposing the programs and attempting wholesale cuts and reversals; instead, the programs have suffered through six years of steady erosion. In early 2001, cuts for these programs were proposed because of the large economic surpluses predicted; after Bush squandered that surplus, the selfsame cuts were proposed because of the new deficits. Every budget proposes new and deeper cuts. In 1996, the block-grant Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), gutted and revamped the American welfare system, throwing millions off of its rolls and mandating steep educational, job training, and work requirements. Under Bush, TANF is facing deep cuts in its funding, and sharp increases in work requirements. At the same time, unemployment benefits for those thrown out of work or unable to find permanent employment are being savaged. Even the Earned Income Tax Credit, which provides critical tax relief for low-income families, is under attack, both with new application requirements designed to discourage new applicants, and with proposals to reduce EITC allowances for those already on the rolls.
One side benefit of the cutbacks in unemployment programs has been to remove hundreds of thousands of workers from the rolls, effectively making them "disappear" from the numbers. Hence Bush has been able to proclaim that the number of jobless Americans has dropped, when in reality these numbers have sharply risen; these hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers are no longer being tallied.
In echoes of Reagan's infamous proposal to classify ketchup as a vegetable, the federal School Lunch Program is under attack as well. Stiff new documentation requirements drafted in response to a fatally flawed media study that purported to show that 27% of families whose children receive school lunch subsidies are ineligibe are working to throw millions of families off the rolls, ultimately denying over 2 million poor children school lunches.
Low-income housing subsidies, first targeted under Reagan, are again under the gun. In thirty years, housing costs have spiraled dramatically while wages have remained flat, ensuring that millions of poor and working-class Americans have difficulty affording even basic housing. Bush wants to gut what remains of the federal low-cost housing initiatives, particularly the housing voucher program known as Section 8, which allows low-income families to help bridge the gap between what they can afford and rental costs in their neighborhoods. In 2003, Congress refused to pass the cuts, and stalled the administration's attempt to turn the entire program into a block-grant program to be administered by the states. The 2004 budget reinstates those proposed cuts, slashing over $1.6 billion from the programs, resulting in over 250,000 low-income families being denied housing. The worst affected seem to be those extremely poor families who now pay at least half of their family income in rent.
In the 1990s, Clinton, after his overarching health care program was defeated, made incremental increases in Medicaid coverage in attempts to somewhat offset the problems caused by the failure of his health care package to pass Congress. He also attempted to raise Medicare coverage as somewhat of a giveback to those families hardest hit by his revamping of welfare. Now, with over 43 million Americans without health insurance, and many millions of others badly underinsured, Bush is attempting to slash Medicaid to the bone. Privatization of health insurance, accompanied by a huge increase in "scam" insurance programs, is proliferating, to the great profit of health care and insurance companies, and the great loss of American citizens. Bush plans on turning Medicaid into something of a block-grant program similar to TANF, with stringent guidelines and a focus on temporary coverage. It also wants to increase federal oversight on state Medicaid spending, not to ensure that every eligible American receives Medicaid, but to ensure that as little as possible is actually spent. Even widely popular related programs such as after-school care for working parents have been either eliminated or gutted.
"The logic that threads through these social program initiatives is the logic of the labor market," Piven writes. "Programs are being refashioned to make long hours of low-wage work the only option available to many. Even the vein of meanness contributes to this logic, for it heaps insult on those who turn to government support. The Bush administration immigration initiatives should also be understood in this way." In essence, the hundreds of thousands of Mexican, South American, and other poor immigrants who would be given "guest worker" status would become a permanently indigent underclass of worker with no access to any benefits or legal representation, and would give employers tremendous power over the immigrants they employ. In essence, these immigrants would become American serfs. Bush "wants their sweat and labor," said Democratic representative Bob Menendez said in January 2004, but "he doesn't really want them. The proposal will be a rotation of human capital, to be used and discarded, with no hope of permanently legalizing one's status." -- Frances Fox Piven
One of the major reasons behind the Republican attacks on Social Security is the Republicans' realization that Social Security is not just the largest and most comprehensive of the federally funded social programs, but the keystone that holds together an entire network of federal social programs, including unemployment insurance programs, public housing assistance, welfare and other poverty assistance, nutritional supplements, and Medicare. Ultimately, the goal of most corporate Republicans is to eliminate all of these programs as federally-based programs and instead privatize them, making them market-based, for-profit programs largely funded by taxpayer contributions. One methodology has been to work against the continued federal funding of these programs in a process that author Frances Fox Piven calls "devolution," making the arguments that since state and local governments are closer to the needs of the various program recipients, these governments are more suited to run these programs than the federals. The argument has a number of fatal flaws, as Piven points out: "Decision making in state and local bodies is typically even more inscrutable than at federal levels," rendering oversight difficult at the best of times.
Another even more telling difficulty is "the long-standing problem of the structural vulnerability of state authorities to the threat of business disinvestments, which helps account for the leverage that business exerts in state policy decisions. This is the main reason that state goverments are so ready to offer subsidies to companies contemplating new investments. Estimates of the total costs of these giveaways range from $30 billion to $50 billion a year." Because of the regressive structure of state taxation, and because of the gradual shifting of the cost of health care for the elderly and the disabled from Medicare to Medicaid, the costs to the states for these programs has risen sharply over the past few years -- the costs to the states have risen by $185 billion from 2002 to 2005, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. As a result, states, often finding it difficult to raise taxes to make up the huge federal shortfalls, are coping with their fiscal difficulties by slashing their own social spending. Bu the end of 2004, between 1.2 and 1.6 million people lost some or all of their health care coverage from the states; half of these are children. State spending for TANF, the program which replaced AFDC, is dropping sharply and steadily. And the states are cutting their spending for education, both in the K-12 schools and in their state-supported colleges and universities.
As Piven points out, the really big prizes for the Republicans are the enormous streams of federal revenue flowing through the two biggest programs, Social Security and Medicare. While only the most radical of conservatives want to eliminate the programs altogether, most conservatives portray Social Security, essentially a solvent program, as in "dire straits" and in immediate need of rescue. Their solution is, of course, privatization. Not only will privatization fundamentally destabilize Social Security, it will steer huge profits -- monies formerly allocated to recipients -- to the health care, insurance, and financial industries.
Medicare is much less solvent. As of mid-2004, Medicare provided health care coverage for 41 million elderly Americans, paid for by a combination of payroll taxes, general revenues, deductibles, and co-payments. Medicare's increasing financial difficulties is caused by two overarching problems impacting America in general: the soaring costs of health care, and the huge numbers of Americans aging into the Medicare system. Bush's tax cuts have exacerbated the problem. So far, Bush's attempt to address the problem, the ostensibly market-based Medicare Prescription Drug Act, provides for a market saturated with public funds, with generous subsidies for pharmaceutical companies, doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, and for-profit health plans. Of course, Medicare recipients find themselves with increasingly lower standards of care and substantially higher costs. And the legislation provides for a number of pilot privatization programs.
Republicans fought not only to pass the legislation, but to keep Democrats from having any input into its creation. Only two Democratic senators, John Breaux and Max Baucus, who both voted for the legislation, were allowed into the House-Senate conference to finalize the legislation to be sent to the president. On the House floor, Republicans logrolled their own membership in an unprecedented fashion, even threatening one of their own, Nick Smith, with a cutoff of campaign funds if he didn't vote for the bill. (See the February 2004 page of this site for further information about the bill's passage.) Republicans enjoyed huge contributions from the pharmaceutical industry and the HMOs (it is noteworthy that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's family owns millions of dollars' worth of stock in HCA, one of the nation's largest HMOs.) The health care and pharmaceutical companies have a great deal of interest in privatization of Medicare. And, the intention was to allow Republicans to trumpet the achievement of the prescription drug benefit legislation before the 2004 elections; since seniors would not have the chance to see for themselves how the new law would affect them before the elections, the Republicans could, and did, make a raft of specious claims about how much seniors would be "helped" by the bill.
"Social Security is far and away the biggest prize among the social programs," Piven writes, "and it will also be the hardest to grab." Not only is it extremely popular among voters, it has been for decades the most successful of federal social programs, assisting millions of retirees and disabled persons to live healthier, more financially stable lives. But for thirty years, business interests have chipped away at the popularity of the program, arguing, among other things, that the elderly were greedy by using funds that could be better spent on other things, that since people were becoming healthier and longer-lived, they should worker longer and retire later, and, of course, the program isn't financially sound. Some changes are in the works. Retirement age is gradually shifting from 65 to 67. Retirees are being encouraged to continue to work and draw smaller benefits. But the underlying structure of Social Security, a pay-as-you-go system where payroll taxes collected from working Americans paid for the retirement benefits for those who paid into the system years before, is also being challenged. The financial reserves underpinning Social Security are enormous, at least on paper, as debts owed by the federal government in the form of Treasury notes. But even this paper reserve offends many conservatives. They would much rather see that money shunted into private pensions, which would generate staggering profits as they are shunted into individual retirement and stock accounts; Wall Street firms are salivating at the prospects. Unsurprisingly, one of Bush's first actions as president was to appoint a commission to study Social Security. The commission's recommendations, issued in December 2001, included a recommendation for "a system of voluntary personal accounts."
Social Security is not in financial crisis. In part due to the steep increase in payroll taxes from 1983-onward, the program is solvent for the next 75 years, and even then, will not be in dire financial straits. The biggest financial question facing Social Security revolves around the possibility that the federal government will default on the debt it owes to the program. So what does the privatization of Social Security and Medicare have to do with the war on terror? Nothing. And that is a problem in and of itself. "The American public, transfixed by the unfolding invasion of Iraq, may someday look up and discover too late what the Republican Congress did while the world's attention was elsewhere," the New York Times wrote on the eve of the invasion. "Led by the Bush administration, the House and Senate are about to march under the public's radar screen and lead the country into a decade of budgetary disaster." Piven concludes, "War was and is a power strategy, and for awhile at least, it smoothed the way for the implementation of the right-wing domestic agenda." -- Frances Fox Piven
"The Bush economic stimulus plan consists of sharply increased military spending and big tax cuts for business and the affluent. This sort of deficit spending is a variant of Keynesianism that 'has particular appeal for Republican. Instead of growing the government in general -- pumping resources into public works, health care and education, say, which would have an immediate knock-on effect on sorely needed job creation -- the policy focuses on those areas that represent obvious conservative and business-friendly constituencies...that tend to be big contributors to Republican Party funds [Andrew Gumbel in the Independent, January 6, 2004].' James K. Galbraith thinks that 'economic stagnation is to their taste. They don't want a new recession, obviously, and they look set to avoid that. But do they really want full employment and strong labor unions and rising wages? Probably not. The oil, mining, defense, media, and pharmaceutical firms who form the core of their constituency rely on monopoly powers, patents, and the control of public resources for their profits. They do not depend, very much, on strong consumer demand.'" --Frances Fox Piven
"The White House makes claims about championing the well-being of Americans, and dresses those claims in slogans. But its policies have in fact violated the historic bargain that war-making governments have made with their people. War itself cannot be an effective cover for this ruse for long. The costs and ambiguities of continuing war, and the debilitating scandals that war has provoked, are likely to increase popular discontent over the failure of the administration to honor its professed responsibility for the well-being of its own people." -- Frances Fox Piven
"George W. Bush does not think that the rules apply to him, and he thinks that they do not apply to his country, either. An era of hypocrisy and unbridled arbitrary power, domestically and internationally, is not the legacy that either the US military -- who are already paying the price -- nor American civilians -- who will be -- should really want from the new millennium." -- Ian Williams
Former Army intelligence specialist Steve Kangas (now deceased) has written a hard-hitting analysis of the CIA's intervention in global politics, along with a "Veterans' Call to Conscience," linked here.
"[T]he fetters imposed on liberty at home have ever been forged out of the weapons provided for defense against real, pretended, or imaginary dangers from abroad." -- James Madison, 1799
"'We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist,' Eisenhower said in 1961. Well, Ike was right. That's just what's happened." -- Andy Rooney, 2005
"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves money from the public treasure. From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most money from the public treasury, with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy followed by a dictatorship." -- Alexander Tyler, writing on the fall of democracy in ancient Greece
"Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve." -- George Bernard Shaw
"Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will." -- Frederick Douglass