Catherine Lutz / San Francisco Chronicle Book Review – 2013-01-21 01:25:31
Book Review:National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism
Melvin Goodman (City Lights; 456 pages; $19.95 paperback)
(January 18, 2013) — When our children are most likely to die by automobile, substance abuse or gunfire; when our water, air and food are sickening us; and when natural disasters threaten to make more of us climate refugees, how did it come to be that our government is most consumed with those threats they imagine far over the horizon rather than those realities we live with cheek by jowl?
In “National Insecurity,” former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman, who worked under every administration from Johnson to Bush Sr., takes a dogged look through our history since World War II for the answer. He finds it in militarization, his shorthand for our growing investment in the belief that military force is the best tool for providing national security and that foreign policy is best pursued by the Pentagon.
The value of this concept for understanding contemporary America is revealed in the current federal budget discussions. These discussions have been inexorably led — by the president, Congress and packs of lobbyists — toward the question of whether senior citizens really need all their Medicare benefits or impoverished families really need all their food stamps.
Missing from the debate is the question of whether just one military contractor, Lockheed Martin, needs to take home more federal dollars in one year than the budgets of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation combined.
Although this basic story has been told before, and well, by analysts including Andrew Bacevich, Cynthia Enloe and Rachel Maddow, Goodman’s value added is his focus on the role of the militarization of intelligence. Militarized intelligence has been crucial to establishing that mortal threats to America perennially loom — out there — demanding bloated military budgets and frequent wars.
He tells the stories of constructed phantoms such as yellow cake uranium in Saddam Hussein’s hands, an ever-growing Soviet juggernaut in the 1980s and the sinking of a US naval vessel by Hanoi.
These intelligence figments, we know, were key to the campaigns waged by Presidents George W. Bush, Ronald Reagan and Lyndon Johnson, respectively, to invade Iraq, to overspend wildly on military hardware and to wage war against Vietnam.
The lives laid waste in the decades that followed those misuses of the U.S. intelligence apparatus are counted in the tens of thousands in the United States and in the millions in Vietnam and Iraq. Goodman might have given the reader some greater reminders of this horrible red harvest. He focuses, instead, as a professional in the spy business might be expected to, on the effect on his field.
Goodman bemoans the loss of the original rationalist vision he claims for the intelligence community, which was given the mission of providing policymakers with objective facts about what other actors on the world stage are actually doing.
He notes how militarization’s distorting effect on foreign policy has led to US refusals to sign on to international agreements to limit war or weapons thought particularly heinous, which has aligned us with other militarized outliers, such as Somalia, North Korea and Syria.
With a convincing accumulation of examples, Goodman reveals how our political leadership’s occasional impulse to arms-control accords or defense budget cuts have come to be thwarted by an ever more powerful Pentagon.
“National Insecurity” focuses on other costs: the costs of American disinvestment in all but building the world’s largest sword. The lamentable list is long and familiar: embarrassingly low life expectancy; horrifyingly high imprisonment per capita; precipitously declining college enrollment, research and development spending, and household savings; sharply rising income inequality.
Rather than casting the standard line — these are the ills of a nation that has not competed well in a global marketplace — Goodman attaches this decline in the American quality of life to a metastasizing military budget allowed by our erroneous belief in the ability of force to make the world a better place.
All the evidence from Iraq and Afghanistan is to the contrary. But our ability to shift course faces strong headwinds, Goodman helps us see, blown by a militarized elite that hopes new ginned-up threats will keep us funding war.
Catherine Lutz is at the Watson Institute for International Studies of Brown University and the author of “Homefront” and co-author of “Breaking Ranks.” E-mail: email@example.com
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