Truth through a soda straw
The truth about American politics is this: disguised by the theatrics of squabbling Democrats and Republicans, Washington governs according to limits prescribed by a fixed and narrow consensus. The two main parties collaborate in preserving that consensus. Doing so requires declaring out-of-bounds anything even remotely resembling a fundamental critique of how power gets exercised or wealth distributed.
Barack Obama has two serious leak problems.
One is a real leak -- of oil from the bowels of the Earth into the Gulf of Mexico and onto the shores of the Gulf States. The other is a metaphoric leak -- of information from the vast reservoir of secrecy our military and its wars have become.
Dishonesty, the notion of “too big to fail” and Bacevich’s consensus are at the core of both leak problems.
In the case of British Petroleum and the Deepwater Horizon explosion, we know how a back-slapping, good ol’ boy network has led to a lack of oversight and regulation. As we learned from the financial disaster, the arrogant single-focus drive for profit leads to corners being cut and, in the case of BP, the absence of any kind of Plan B to deal with great gobs of uncontrollable orange goo gushing from a hole over a mile beneath the sea’s surface.
The secrecy leak is different. In this case, President Obama is trying to stop leaks that tap into the too-big-to-fail corruption and dishonesty within a huge enterprise directly under his control: The Pentagon.
The United States Military is the largest self-contained, self-aggrandizing enterprise in the world. As militaries everywhere tend to do, it protects itself as an institution and uses its power to co-opt whatever elements of the culture it feels it needs or can benefit from.
Central America is the perfect small-scale model. In Guatemala, the military is an institution that always trumps elected civilian leadership. In El Salvador, military officers are deeply involved in banks and business ventures. In Honduras, the general who mounted the 2009 coup has been appointed to run the lucrative Hondutel phone system. In fact, the much-ballyhooed one-term limit for presidents in Honduras exists precisely to limit a civilian politician’s power vis-à-vis the more stable military institution.
Only naiveté or delusional patriotism explains why Americans do not realize this dynamic also exists here in the US.
Since the Iraq debacle circa 2007, General David Petraeus has taken over the US military by storm. He is clearly a very brilliant man. His highly-touted counterinsurgency doctrine saved the war in Iraq from disaster and, then, made continuing the war politically possible.
Disciples of the COIN Doctrine assure readers of Newsweek, in one preposterous example, that, had it been employed in Vietnam, we could have won that war. It is a doctrine based on seeing the military, not as Karl von Clausewitz saw it – “a continuation of political activity by other means" – but rather as politics itself, with a special focus on humanitarian outreach and “nation-building.”