Manufacturing External Threats to Ensure War Profits


By Ismael Hossein-zadeh






It is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of their leaders. That is easy. All you have to tell them is that they are being attacked and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.
— Hermann Goering (Nuremberg Trials)


“External threats” and “national interests” have almost always been used as two blades of a metaphorical pair of scissors to cut through any opposition to war and militarism. In his well-known Imperialism and Social Classes, the late economic historian Joseph Schumpeter described the hoary pretext of “threatened national interests” for war and militarism in the following words:

There was no corner of the known world where some interest was not alleged to be in danger or under actual attack. If the interests were not Roman, they were those of Rome’s allies; and if Rome had no allies, then allies would be invented. When it was utterly impossible to contrive such an interest—why, then it was the national honor that had been insulted. The fight was always invested with an aura of legality. Rome was always being attacked by evil-minded neighbors, always fighting for a breathing-space. The whole world was pervaded by a host of enemies, and it was manifestly Rome’s duty to guard against their indubitably aggressive designs.

In a similar fashion, the U.S. military-industrial complex has proven quite resourceful in frequently inventing new “external threats to our national interests,” or “the interests of our allies,” in order to stifle opposition to its militaristic plans that are often designed to justify its colossal apparatus and its lion’s share of national resources. During the Cold War years, the “threat of communism” served this purpose. Since then new substitutes for the threat of communism have been discovered in order to rationalize continued expansion of military spending. These have included “rogue states, global terrorism, axis of evil, militant Islam” and, more recently, “enemies of democracy.” Scrutiny of the claims of such threats to the national security or interests of the United States is the focus of this study.

Communist Threat and Remilitarization after World War II

At the end of World War II hostilities in 1944, the Unites States embarked on a major demobilization of the war-time military structure. Many of the war-time personnel in or connected to the armed forces were sent home. The huge and numerous factories churning out military products during the war were either shut down or drastically downsized, and many people were laid off. The demobilization was altogether in tune with the U.S. tradition of over 150 years of not maintaining large standing armies during times of peace. But the demobilization did not last long. With the onset of the Cold War and the U.S. leap into the Korean War in the late 1940s and early 1950s, remilitarization began anew. What is more, the new remilitarization turned out to be on a permanent basis, which effectively reversed the long tradition of antimilitarism. In constant (2002) dollars, military spending rose from $150 billion in 1950 (the last year of the ephemeral postwar demobilization) to $500 billion in 1953. [1]

To rationalize the institutionalization of the large and growing military apparatus, the American people were told that permanent war mobilization was necessitated by the “threat” of communism. “The Pentagon line,” according to Colonel William H. Neblett, national president of the Reserve Officers Association, “was that we were living in a state of undeclared emergency, that war with Russia was just around the corner.” [2] President Truman played a big part in heightening the “red scare” and expanding the military structure. “Republican senator Arthur Vandenberg told Truman that he could have his militarized economy only if he first ‘scared the hell out of the American people’ that the Russians were coming. Truman obliged. The perpetual war began.” [3] But how real was the “threat of communism”?

There is strong evidence that the U.S.-U.S.S.R. hostilities of the Cold War years were provoked not so much by the alleged Soviet plans to attack the Unites States, or its allies, but by the fact that U.S. guardians of world capitalism simply could not tolerate the presence of a planned economy anywhere in the world—a market fundamentalism or fanaticism that continues to this day. These self-appointed custodians or prophets of the worldwide market mechanism were (and continue to be) intolerant not only of the centrally-planned, Soviet-type economies but, in fact, of any “undue” government intervention in the economic affairs of any country in the world. “Regimented economies,” declared President Harry Truman in a speech at Baylor University (1947), were the enemy of free enterprise, and “unless we act, and act decisively,” he claimed those regimented economies would become “the pattern of the next century.” To fend off that danger, Truman urged that “the whole world should adopt the American system.” The system of free enterprise, he went on, “can survive in America only if it becomes a world system.” [4]

This was an honest acknowledgement of what in effect amounts to a sacred mission that has guided the foreign policy of the United States ever since it emerged as a world power. Although the mission of globalizing the American system has always been carried out in the name of spreading democracy, the essence of that mission is not very different from what Lord Cecil Rhodes, who conquered much of Africa for British imperialism, suggested a long time ago: the simplest way to achieve peace was for England to convert and add the rest of the world to its colonies.

There is convincing evidence not only that Joseph Stalin and his successors in the Soviet Union had no plans to wage war against the United States or its allies but, in fact, that they played a restraining role to contain independent revolutionary movements worldwide. [5] “It is often forgotten,” points out Sidney Lens, “that for a few years after the war, he [Stalin] assumed an exceedingly moderate posture. . . . His nation had lost 25 million people in the war, was desperately in need of aid for rebuilding, and continued for a long time to nurture hopes of coexistence. Far from being revolutionary, Stalin in those years put the damper on revolution wherever he could.” [6] To accommodate the United States and other Western powers in the hope of peaceful coexistence, Stalin often advised, and sometimes ordered, the pro-Moscow communist/leftist parties in Europe and elsewhere in the world to refrain from revolutionary policies that might jeopardize the hoped-for chances of coexistence. The Soviet leader “scoffed at communism in Germany,” writes historian Fleming, “urged the Italian Reds to make peace with the monarchy, did his best to induce Mao Tse-tung to come to terms with the Kuomintang and angrily demanded of Tito that he back the monarchy, thus fulfilling his (Stalin’s) bargain with Churchill.” [7]

Stalin’s collaborationist policy followed from his doctrine of the “possibility of building National Socialism,” that is, “socialism in one country.” According to that doctrine, “socialism can be built on the basis of a national state if only there is no intervention,” explained Leon Trotsky in a critical analysis of the policy. “From this there can and must follow . . . a collaborationist policy toward the foreign bourgeoisie with the object of averting intervention, as this will guarantee the construction of socialism [in the Soviet Union].” The task of pro-Moscow communist/leftist parties in other countries therefore assumes, Trotsky further pointed out, “an auxiliary character; their mission is to protect the U.S.S.R. from intervention and not fight for the conquest of power.” [8] Thus, for example,

The communists dissuaded their followers in North Africa from taking the path of revolution . . . leaving the field to non-Communist nationalists like Ahmed Ben Bella. Stalin ordered Soviet troops out of Azerbaijan—north-west Iran—thereby liquidating the communist regime under Jafar Pishevari. He failed to lift a finger while British forces put down an EAM revolt in Greece, a circumstance for which he won lavish praise from no less a personage than Winston Churchill. Stalin, wrote Churchill, “adhered strictly and faithfully to our agreement of October, and during all the long weeks of fighting the communists in the streets of Athens not one word of reproach came from Pravda or Izvestia.” [9]

A number of leading political figures and statesmen in the United States also acknowledged Stalin’s live-and-let-live policy in the early years following the war. Here is a sample: “It was perfectly clear to anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of the Russia of that day [i.e., of the early Cold War period] that the Soviet leaders had no intention of attempting to advance their cause by launching military attacks with their own armed forces across frontiers” (George Kennan, May 1965). The Soviet government “does not contemplate the use of war as an instrument of its national policy. I do not know any responsible official, military or civilian, in this government, who believes that the Soviet government now plans conquest by open military aggression” (John Foster Dulles, March 1949). The Russians “would not move this summer—in fact, at any time” (James Forrestal, June 10, 1946). In my view “the Russians do not want war” (General Walter Bedell Smith, advisor to the War Council, August 3, 1948). “Our government has kept us in a perpetual state of fear—kept us in a continuous stampede of patriotic fervor—with the cry of a grave national emergency… Yet, in retrospect, these disasters seem never to have happened, seem never to have been real” (General Douglas MacArthur, mid-1957). [10]

Evidence thus clearly suggests that the U.S. policy makers built the gigantic military-industrial complex not out of any genuine fear of Soviet military attack but out of other motives. Top among those motives, as pointed out earlier, was to establish a U.S.-led world capitalist order in which unhindered market forces would flourish, a world no part of which would be excluded from the free flow of trade and investment. William Appleman Williams, documenting U.S. policy makers’ statements at the end of the war, shows how those policy makers believed that the United States’ objective must be to seek “world power as a trustee for civilization.” He also quotes business and government leaders referring to the U.S. role as “missionaries of capitalism and democracy.” More revealing, however, was Undersecretary of State Dean Acheson’s testimony before a congressional committee in 1944: “It is a problem of markets. . . . We have got to see that what the country produces is used and is sold under financial arrangements which make its production possible.” Under a different economic system, Acheson conceded, “you could use the entire production of the country in the United States,” but under our system of market mechanism, the government “must look to foreign markets.” Otherwise, he continued, “it seems clear that we are in for a very bad time . . . having the most far-reaching consequences upon our economic and social system.” [11]

Evidence clearly indicates, therefore, that the Soviet “threat” that the U.S. policy makers frequently invoked as the apparent rationale for the postwar military buildup was not a threat of invasion or military attack, but a threat of “regimented economies,” as President Truman had put it. What concerned the U.S. ruling elite was not the danger of a Soviet military attack; instead, the “danger,” as they saw it, stemmed from the fact that “regimented economies” had restricted global mobility of U.S. capital—it had narrowed the global “elbow room” or “living space” of the United States, as Winfield W. Riefler of the Council on Foreign Relations had put it.

The planned economy of the Soviet Union seemed especially menacing to world capitalism because (a) it remained unscathed by the Great Depression of the 1930s and, therefore, appeared recession-proof by virtue of planning; and (b) it had weathered the harrowing circumstances of the war years better than the more advanced market economies of Europe. As these observations made the leaders of world capitalism nervous, they also prompted them to resolve that “regimented” economies simply could not coexist with “free” economies. Winston Churchill had earlier expressed the fears of the leaders of world capitalism of “regimented economies” in a very succinct and clear fashion. In a letter to Lloyd George, explaining why he promoted the military attacks of 14 foreign armies on Soviet soil from 1918 to 1920, Churchill wrote that the example of the Russian revolution could accelerate revolutions elsewhere and destroy England’s colonial empire: “We may well be within measurable distance of universal collapse and anarchy throughout Europe and Asia.” If the empire was to be saved, he continued, “the baby [Bolshevism/communism] must be strangled in its crib.” [12] While these words were intended to justify the 14-army attack on the Soviet Union, they seem to equally explain what really lay at the heart of the Cold War conflict—what provoked it, and what sustained it. Perhaps more tellingly, they also explain why today the mighty U.S. power is so eager to strangulate the small island country of Cuba.

The End of the Cold War, Demands for “Peace Dividends,” and the “Threat of Rogue States”

So long as the Soviet Union existed, this policy could be presented as “fighting communism,” but that increasingly transparent excuse disappeared entirely with the fall of the Soviet Union a decade ago—and, remarkably enough, the disappearance of the Evil Empire affected US “defense” spending not a whit—because of course it was never the real issue. The USSR was a bete noir, useful to cover US hegemony.

—C. G. Estabrook


The demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War appeared to usher in a somewhat peaceful or, at least, less competitive world. Accordingly, it removed a powerful rationale for the United States to maintain the gigantic military-industrial complex of the Cold War era. By the same token, it also promised what at the time came to be called “peace dividends”—a reference to the benefits that, it was hoped, many would enjoy in the United States as a result of reorienting part of the Pentagon’s budget toward civilian and/or social needs. Proponents of reducing the Pentagon budget of the Cold War era included broad social layers who hoped to benefit from the diversion of part of the military budget into more socially-gainful domestic expenditures. They also included a section of the ruling elite who viewed the huge military spending as a drain on the economy and who, therefore, hoped to divert part of the national resources away from military expenditures toward deficit reduction, infrastructural building, and economic revitalization.

But while the majority of the U.S. citizens celebrated the prospects of what appeared to be imminent “peace dividends,” the powerful vested interests in the expansion of the Pentagon budget felt threatened, as they were (and continue to be) more likely to benefit from war. Not surprisingly, the influential interests vested in the military-industrial complex moved swiftly to safeguard their interests in the face of the “threat of peace.” To this effect, once again, they invoked “national interests” and “external threats.” The American people were told that instead of the “Soviet threat” of the Cold War era “external threat” now came from the “rogue states” of the lesser-developed world. Successful substitution of the “threat of rogue states” for the “Soviet threat” of the Cold War era removed the greatest threat of all to the military-industrial complex—the “threat of peace”!

There are some interesting parallels between the debate over military spending at the end of the Cold War, the debate at the end of World War II, and the debate in the mid-1970s. All three debates were prompted by either an end to a war or a reduction in international (U.S.-U.S.S.R.) tensions that promised military downsizing and, therefore, “peace dividends.” And in all three instances, beneficiaries of war dividends overruled those who called for limits on military spending by resorting to the long-established “golden” tactic of militarism: “external threats to national interests/security.” In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Korean War and the “communist threat” were manipulated by the proponents of military buildup to outmaneuver those who called for downsizing the military structure. In the mid- to late 1970s, as tension-reduction negotiations (détente) with the Soviet Union, in conjunction with budgetary constraints, threatened continued expansion of the Pentagon budget, partisans of militarism, mobilizing around the Committee on the Present Danger, managed once again to revive the specter of the “Soviet threat” and fend off efforts to curtail military spending. Similarly, in the face of the demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, creative beneficiaries of war dividends managed, once more, to invent “new threats to our national interests”.

As noted, those who welcomed the prospects of peace dividends in the wake of the Cold War hostilities included a faction of the ruling elite who viewed the huge Pentagon budget as a drain on the national economy. They also viewed U.S. military adventures abroad as inimical to U.S. exports and investment markets. This view reflected the interests of civilian, or nonmilitary, transnational capital, that is, major banks and corporations with investment, production, and sales on a global scale. Proponents of this view were largely remnants and co-thinkers of the “Trilateralists” who, in the face of the 1970s economic and budgetary challenges, designed a joint multilateral framework for the management of world economic affairs in collaboration with Japan and Western European countries. Trilateralists hailed the mid-1970s tension-reducing negotiations with the Soviet Union, and called for limits on military spending.

Although the Trilateralists’ ideas of joint global economic management, along with their plan of curtailing the Pentagon budget, were defeated by the powerful Cold Warrior forces of the 1975-1985 decade, those ideas began to resurface when the Cold War came to an end. Thus, William Hyland, editor of Foreign Affairs, Organ of the Council on Foreign Relations, which was instrumental in shaping both the immediate post-World War II capitalist world and the Trilateralist strategy in the mid-1970s, argued that:

…the Cold War was a broadly conceived struggle that gave primacy to geopolitics and military preparedness. At the outset, the United States was the most powerful nation in the world. Few questioned that it could afford the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan, the rearmament of NATO, the strategic arms race, the interventions in Korea and Vietnam, or more recently, the build up of armaments in the early 1980s. For the next decade, however, ideological and military issues are likely to recede, economic factors will predominate and other issues (i.e., the environment, terrorism, drug trafficking) will grow in importance. [13]

Theodore Sorenson, also a prominent multilateralist thinker, likewise pointed out the following: “The touchstone for our national security concept—the containment of Soviet military and ideological power—is gone. The primary threat cited over forty years in justification for most of our military budget, bases and overseas assistance is gone.” [14] Arguing along these lines, Robert McNamara, secretary of defense from 1961 to 1968 and president of the World Bank for the 1968-1981 period, suggested a reduction in military spending from 6 percent of gross national product to 3 percent. [15]

But partisans of war and militarism now began to redefine both the “external threats” and “national interests” in accordance with the post-Cold War circumstances. These partisans now defined the U.S. national interests in such broad terms that they required the “stability” of almost all corners of the world, their markets and resources. Accordingly, they required worldwide U.S. military “responsibilities,” or as James Cypher put it, “global militarism.” [16] Champions of militarism also began to redefine the post-Cold War “sources of threat” in the broader framework of the new multipolar world, which goes way beyond the traditional “Soviet threat” of the bipolar world of the Cold War era. The “new sources of threat” are said to originate largely in the “unpredictable” and “unreliable” regional powers of the so-called Third World. “Instead of the Soviet Union, the ‘menace’ of China, Fidel Castro, drug lords . . . and more recently, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and the ‘axis of evil’—Iran, Iraq, and North Korea—would have to do as new enemies.” [17]

Most of the reassessment of the post-Cold War world came from top military brass or civilian proponents of militarism. For example, General Carl Vuno, chief of staff of the U.S. Army, told a House Committee in May 1989, “Much more complex [than any peril posed by the Soviet Union] is the threat situation developing in the rest of the world. Periods of change present a fertile environment for increased instability and increased danger. In this increasingly multipolar world, we face the potential of multiple threats from countries and factors which are becoming more sophisticated militarily and more aggressive politically.” [18] General A. M. Gray, commandant of the Marine Corps, similarly argued:

The international security environment is in the midst of changing from a bipolar balance to a multipolar one with polycentric dimensions. The restructuring of the international environment has the potential to create regional power vacuums that could result in instability and conflict. We cannot permit these voids to develop either through disinterest, benign neglect, or lack of capability. If we are to maintain our position as a world leader and protect our interests, we must be capable of and willing to protect our global interests. This requires that we maintain our capability to respond to likely regions of conflict. [19]

General Gray further argued that poverty and inequality can serve as breeding grounds for social upheavals in various parts of the less-developed world that could “jeopardize” vital U.S. interests abroad, thus “increasing our requirements of forces capable of responding unilaterally”:

The Underdeveloped World’s growing dissatisfaction over the gap between rich and poor nations will create a fertile breeding ground for insurgencies. These insurgencies have the potential to jeopardize regional stability and our access to vital economic and military resources. This situation will become more critical as our nation and allies, as well as potential adversaries, become more and more dependent on these strategic resources. If we are to have stability in these regions, maintain access to their resources, protect our citizens abroad, defend our vital installations and deter conflict, we must maintain within our active force structure a credible military power projection capability with flexibility to respond to conflicts across the spectrum of violence throughout the globe. [20]

General Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, likewise argued before a Senate Committee that despite the collapse of the Soviet Union the United States needed to continue its military buildup because of numerous other obligations: “the ongoing war in El Salvador, the coup attempt in the Philippines, restoration of democracy in Panama . . . [our] worldwide commercial and security interests which require a strong navy.” He further argued: “With all these challenges and opportunities confronting our nation, it is impossible for me to believe that demobilizing or hollowing out the American military is a feasible course of action for the future. The true ‘peace dividend’ is peace itself. . . . Peace comes about through the maintenance of strength.” [21]

Policy prescriptions of these self-fulfilling prophecies were unmistakable: having thus portrayed the post-Cold War world as a place fraught with “multiple sources of threats to U.S. national interest,” powerful beneficiaries of the Pentagon budget succeeded in maintaining military spending at essentially the Cold War levels. (Since the arrival of George W. Bush in the White House the Pentagon budget has been raised beyond the Cold War levels.) Proponents of continued militarism “moved with remarkable speed to ensure that the collapse [of the Soviet Union] would not affect the Pentagon’s budget or our ‘strategic position’ on the globe we had garrisoned in the name of anti-communism.” [22] Shortly after the Berlin Wall went down, Dick Cheney, secretary of defense at the time, recommended increased Pentagon spending. Commenting on Cheney’s budget in January 1990, Michael R. Gordon, military correspondent of the New York Times, reported that “in Cheney’s view, which is shared by President [George H. W. Bush], the United States will continue to need a large Navy to deal with brushfire conflicts and threats to American interests in places like Latin America and Asia.” [23]

Early in 1990, the White House unveiled a new National Security Strategy before the Congress that focused on “unpredictable turbulent spots in the Third World” as new sources of attention for the U.S. military power in the post-Cold War era: “In the new era, we foresee that our military power will remain an essential underpinning of the global balance . . . that the more likely demands for the use of our military forces may not involve the Soviet Union and may be in the Third World, where new capabilities and approaches may be required.” To respond to “turbulences in the most vital regions,” the new situation called for a strategy of “discriminate deterrence”—a military strategy that “would contain and quell regional or local conflicts in the Third World with lightning speed and sweeping effectiveness before they get out of hand.” In the post-Cold War world of “multiple sources of threats” the United States would also need to be prepared to fight “low-intensity” and “mid-intensity” wars. “Low-intensity” or “mid-intensity” does not refer to the level of firepower and violence employed but to its scale compared to an all-out war on a global or broad geographic range. [24]

The post-Cold War agenda of U.S. militarism was elaborate and long-term. Unilateral militarists used the end of the Cold War for propaganda purposes, for U.S. triumphalism, and for the inauguration of a new, aggressive, and imperial role for the United States. Despite the overwhelming evidence that the Soviet Union had begun unraveling in the late 1960s and early 1970s, long before Ronald Reagan became president, its eventual collapse was attributed to President Reagan’s aggressive foreign policy. Intended political dividends of endlessly celebrating “Reagan’s victory over the Soviet Union” went beyond the infusion of heavy doses of gratuitous and hollow pride and patriotism into the American people. More importantly, it was used to convey the militaristic message that aggressiveness pays off, that the United States was no longer one of the two superpowers trying to contain the other superpower, but that it was now an unrivaled imperial power that could go beyond the defensive posturing of the Cold War era and embark, instead, on a unilateral and aggressive foreign policy characteristic of imperial powers.

Accordingly, the militarist forces within the ruling elite began to view the role of the United Nations and other Cold War international institutions as passé. Most of those multilateral institutions were created in the immediate post-World War II years for the reconstruction of the war-ravaged world and restoration of international trade and development; they were part of President Roosevelt’s “benign imperialism” that gave primacy to economic superiority and market efficiency as sources of international power—military power was still considered important, but as a safeguarding measure to keep global markets and resources open to U.S. capital. Partisans of unilateralism and/or militarism within U.S. ruling circles have always been hostile to such multilateralist foreign policies that rely on international consultation and dialogue. But as long as the Soviet Union existed as a balancing power, these partisans had little choice but to (grudgingly) work within the framework of multilateral institutions such as the United Nations. The demise of the Soviet Union, however, removed that “restraining” framework from the militarists’ path of aggression and unilateralism. Soon after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, they began treating the United Nations as obsolete. International disputes could now be settled, they seem to believe, by the new all-powerful and unrivaled world arbitrator: the military might of the United States. “Rather than continuing to serve as first among equals in the postwar international system, the United States would now act as a law unto itself, creating new rules of international engagement without agreement by other nations.” [25] In his well known The Sorrows of Empire, Chalmers Johnson describes this change in the thinking of the military establishment, and the resulting changes in the U.S. foreign policy:

From 1989 to 2002, there was a revolution in America’s relations with the rest of the world. At the beginning of that period, the conduct of foreign policy was still largely a civilian operation, carried out by men and women steeped in diplomacy, accustomed to defending American actions in terms of international laws, and based on long-standing alliances with other democratic nations. There had always been a military component to the traditional conduct of foreign policy, and men from a military background often played prominent roles as civilian statesmen. . . . But, in general, a balance was maintained in favor of constitutional restraints on the armed forces and their use. By 2002, all of this had changed. The United States no longer had a “foreign policy.” Instead, it had a military empire. [26]

Many people believe that the overtly unilateralist and/or militaristic U.S. foreign policy of the past several years started with the arrival of the Bush-Cheney team in the White House. Evidence suggests, however, that broad outlines of the aggressive foreign policy were formulated and projected soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall—although mainly by the same members of the Bush-Cheney team. Indeed, the militarists’ agenda of aggressive unilateral foreign policy goes even further back to the mid- to late 1970s when the militarist forces of the ruling elite effectively challenged and defeated the multilateralist forces and ultimately succeeded in sending Ronald Reagan to the White House as their champion of militarism and aggressive foreign policy. Not surprisingly, the military establishment was euphoric during the first term of the Reagan presidency, as he effectively elevated the ephemerally relaxed tensions with the Soviet Union to such new heights that came to be called the Second Cold War—thereby also drastically increasing military spending. But as realpolitiks “softened” President Reagan during his second term in office, militarists began to search for a new champion and wait for another opportunity. That opportunity arrived with the arrival of George W. Bush in the White House.

Publicly available documents indicate that the designs and projections of the militarist planners for the post-Cold War world, crafted largely in the late 1980s and early 1990s, were quite ambitious. But these planners were also well aware that their elaborate strategic or intellectual blueprints for the new world order would not be very effective unless they managed to keep the American people on constant alert that “threats to our national security/interests” were on the march everywhere. It was to their advantage to create the impression that the post-Cold War world was fraught with multiple sources of danger that threatened the interests of the United States and/or its allies. To this end, they assiduously sought to invent—or to create by deliberate provocation, if necessary—such sources of danger. The ensuing pretexts for relentless Pentagon appropriations and for military adventures abroad have included charges and accusations of supporting, harboring, or condoning terrorism; possessing, or in the process of producing, or having plans and intentions to produce weapons of mass destruction; engaging in drug trafficking, or collaborating with drug traffickers; obstructing democracy and/or free enterprise; and the like.

The drastically increased number of U.S. military operations in various “trouble spots” of the world in the post-Cold War era is a reflection of this aggressive policy. The Federation of American Scientists has recorded a list of U.S. foreign military engagements that shows that in the first decade after the collapse of the Berlin Wall (1989-1999) the United States engaged in 134 such operations, the majority of which are altogether unknown to the American public. The following list is a sample: Operation Eagle Eye (Kosovo), Operation Determined Effort (Bosnia-Herzegovina), Operation Quick Lift (Croatia), Operation Nomad Vigil (Albania), Operation Nomad Endeavor (Taszar, Hungary), Operation Sharp Guard (Adriatic Sea), Operation Desert Thunder (Iraq), Operation Seva Verde (Columbia), Operation Constant Vigil (Bolivia), Operation Fundamental Response (Venezuela), Operation Infinite Reach (Sudan and Afghanistan), Operation Noble Response (Kenya), Operation Safe Border (Peru and Ecuador), Operation United Shield (Somalia), Operation Safe Haven/Safe Passage (Cuba), Operation Sea Signal (Haiti), Operation Provide Transition (Angola), Operation Safe Harbor (Haiti), Operation Desert Storm (Southwest Asia), and many more. [27] As noted, profiteers of war and militarism have managed to launch these capricious military adventures often under false premises and cooked-up pretexts.

Many of these military operations took place during the Clinton administration. President Clinton was known to be a champion of neoliberalism and multilateralism, seeking to advance U.S. interests through unhindered international trade and investment in the context of multilateral economic institutions such as the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank. To insure the success of the policy of global neoliberalism (sometimes called the “imperialism of free trade”), military force was not ruled out but only as the guarantor of the last resort, and in the context of the multilateral, NATO framework. The Clinton administration also managed to slow down the pace of the growth of the Pentagon spending. Nonetheless, as this record of U.S. military operations in the 1990s shows, he did have his own (indeed, large) share of military adventures abroad. This shows that, contrary to popular perceptions, the rise of U.S. militarism did not start with the arrival of George W. Bush in the White House—although he has embraced it quite enthusiastically and has, consequently, elevated it to new heights. It also shows that although on philosophical or political grounds a president might not favor or embrace certain projects of militarism, in practice that president is more likely to be obliged to go along with such projects than to be able to resist or stop them—if not enthusiastically, then grudgingly he would have to go along. Presidents might slightly modify military plans, or offer different justifications for those plans, but they cannot drastically change or put a stop on them. As Howard Swint, Democratic candidate for Congress in West Virginia, put it: “The seat of power for formulating foreign policy and defense strategy is not in the White House but rather in the Pentagon. While a civilian Commander-in-Chief may tweak policy in four-year increments, it’s obvious that military careerists together with major defense contractors effectively control the Congressional budget process and drive defense appropriations.”

Beneficiaries of war dividends sometimes find “external enemies and threats” by definition, “by deciding unilaterally what actions around the world constitute terrorism,” or by arbitrarily classifying certain countries as “supporters of terrorism,” as Bill Christison, retired CIA advisor, put it. [28] They also create international frictions and provoke military entanglements in ways that can best be characterized as bullying, or godfathering. Such war-mongering provocations include labeling certain countries with slanderous and humiliating titles such as “axis of evil” or “rogue states,” imposing economic and other sanctions against “unfriendly” countries, promoting armed insurgencies and other destabilizing forces against such “unfriendly” countries, and so on. Tactics of this sort seem to be part of a cynical strategy of perpetuating the vicious cycle of terrorism and war: provoking anger and violence, thereby justifying war and destruction, which will trigger further acts of terror and violence. Of course, the nefarious driving force behind this self-fulfilling strategy of war and terrorism is to maintain the high dividends of the business of war. Gore Vidal has satirically characterized this wicked need of the beneficiaries of war and militarism to constantly come up with new threats and enemies as an “enemy of the month club: each month we are confronted by a new horrendous enemy at whom we must strike before he destroys us.” [29]

* * *

U.S. foreign policy makers have always harbored expansionist or imperialistic ambitions, even when they shunned large standing armies and militarism. Prior to the rise of militarism, however, foreign policy, including decisions on war and military operations, was made largely by civilian authorities. Furthermore, decisions on war and military engagements were largely prompted by economic, territorial, ideological, or geopolitical pursuits. By contrast, in the post-Cold War era, it has often been the militarists and/or beneficiaries of war dividends who have been calling the shots, so to speak. Moreover, the rationales and objectives of military adventures that have been instigated since the collapse of the Berlin Wall have become increasingly fuzzy, confused, and shifting. With the exception of lucrative dividends for the stock- or stake-holders of war industries, even the economic consequences of these military adventures have been dubious.

The main reason for these pre- and post-Cold War foreign policy differences is that the post-Cold War military engagements seem to have been prompted primarily by a frantic search on the part of the beneficiaries of war and militarism to protect their lion’s share of national treasury in the absence of the “threat of communism” of the Cold War era. A small war here, a small war there, a “low-intensity” war in region x, and a “mid-intensity” war in region y—cynically scripted as “controlled wars”—are strategies that would keep military appropriations flowing into the coffers of the military-industrial complex without causing a major or worldwide conflict that could cripple world markets.

These developments also seem to signify a gradual degeneration of a superpower into military or parasitic imperialism: degeneration from a time when military power was used as a means for economic, territorial, ideological, or geopolitical gains to a time when military establishment becomes an end in itself. When a military establishment thus evolves into a military empire, its military adventures abroad are usually prompted not by a desire to expand the empire’s wealth beyond the existing levels, but by a desire to appropriate the lion’s share of the existing wealth and treasure for the military establishment. This explains, for example, why the Bush administration’s stated “reasons” for invading Iraq have been so woefully muddled, shifting, and purely bogus.

9/11 Attacks and the “War on Terrorism”—Opportunity for Increased Militarism

The threat of “terrorism,” some of it real, most of it invented, is the new Red Scare. The parallels are striking. In America in the 1950s, the Red Scare was used to justify the growth of war industries, the suspension of democratic rights and the silencing of dissenters. That is happening now.

—John Pilger


Against this backdrop the Bush administration’s approach to the heinous attacks of 9/11 as an opportunity for war and aggression should not have come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the vicious needs of militarism. The monstrous attacks were treated not as crimes—which would have required criminal prosecution through coordinated international intelligence-gathering operations, law enforcement actions, and public diplomacy efforts—but as “war on America.” Once it was thus established that the United States was “at war,” military buildup and imperialist aggression followed accordingly. As Chalmers Johnson put it in The Sorrows of Empire, the 9/11 tragedy “served as manna from heaven to an administration determined to ramp up military budgets.” [30]

Many Americans will probably cringe at the thought that their government used the monstrous 9/11 crimes as a pretext to embark on the path of war and militarism. Sadly, however, it is true. There is overwhelming evidence that top officials in the Bush administration viewed the tragedy as an opportunity for war, callously calculating that the traumatized U.S. public would now support significant military interventions abroad. There is also irrefutable evidence that the militarist partisans within and around the administration, who were at the time firmly in control of U.S. foreign policy, had long before the 9/11 attacks contemplated strategies of “regime change” in Iraq and a number of other countries in the Middle East. These partisans had already labeled “unfriendly” governments such as those ruling in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, North Korea, and Cuba as rogues, terrorists, or supporters of terrorism. Before the 9/11 attacks, however, such demonizing labels were apparently not enough to convince the American people to support unilateral wars of preemption. The 9/11 tragedy served as the militarists’ coveted pretext for such wars—hence, the invasion of Iraq.

Partisans of war and militarism can no longer dismiss this indictment as false or speculative; it has been amply corroborated by both official and unofficial evidence. For example, Nicholas Lemann of the New Yorker magazine wrote in an April 2002 issue that Condoleezza Rice told him that, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, she had called together the senior staff of the National Security Council and asked them “how do you capitalize on these opportunities” to fundamentally change American doctrine. “I really think,” Rice continued, “this period is analogous to 1945 to 1947 in that the events so clearly demonstrated that there is a big global threat that has started shifting the tectonic plates in international politics. And it’s important to try to seize on that and position American interests and institutions and all that before they harden again.” Another top official was even more blunt: “Inside government, the reason September 11 appears to have been `a transformative moment’ . . . is not so much that it revealed the existence of a threat of which officials had previously been unaware [but] that it drastically reduced the American public’s usual resistance to American military involvement overseas, at least for a while.” [31]

The view that the Bush administration’s response to the 9/11 attacks was prompted more by dubious considerations or evil calculations than by a genuine effort to reduce or eradicate terrorism is reinforced by the fact that the administration embarked on the path of war almost immediately after the attacks. A number of recently published books and reports, some of them by government “insiders,” make it clear that even as the American people, and indeed the entire world, were still in shock from witnessing the unimaginable and traumatic collapse of the World Trade Center, top U.S. officials were planning war. [32] For example, the Associated Press White House correspondent Ron Fournier wrote in a September 5, 2002 article that barely 12 hours after the terrible strikes, moments after his nationally televised address, President Bush and his national security team decided on war: the president told his national security team, “Get the troops ready. . . . This is a time for self defense. . . . This is our time.” [33]

Indeed, evidence shows that the Bush administration began searching for ways to change Saddam Hussein’s regime soon after arriving in the White House—long before the 9/11 attacks. For example, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ron Suskind’s book, The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House and the Education of Paul O’Neill (2004), reveals that the civilian militarist team of the Bush administration (the so-called chicken hawks headed by Vice-President Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice) was determined to oust Saddam Hussein from “day one.” Suskind reports that at the first National Security Council meeting, ten days after President Bush’s inauguration in January 2001, “regime change” in Iraq was “topic A” on the president’s agenda. On January 10, 2004, Paul O’Neill, President Bush’s treasury secretary until December 2002, told Time magazine, “From the start, we were building the case against Hussein and looking at how we could take him out and change Iraq into a new country. . . . It was all about finding a way to do it. That was the tone of it. . . . The president saying, ‘Fine. Go find me a way to do this.'” [34] O’Neill’s and Suskind’s claims have since been bolstered by a number of other accounts, including those by Richard Clarke, the Bush administration’s national coordinator for counterterrorism, in his Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror; by Michael Scheuer, in the now-retired senior CIA official’s Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror; and by Bob Woodward of The Washington Post in his Plan of Attack.

Cynical manipulation of the 9/11 attacks for purposes of war and militarism makes it clear why those atrocious attacks were labeled as “war on America” instead of criminal acts of mass murder, or crimes against humanity. Only by so labeling, the War Party of neoconservatives could carry out their own, real wars. Calling things by their right name often involves more than just semantics; implications, solutions and consequences can be vastly different. It is not unreasonable to imagine that if, for example, the horrific assaults of 9/11 were logically called criminal acts, and the fight against them were accordingly conducted through an all-out criminal prosecution on an international scale—involving law enforcement actions, coordinated international intelligence-gathering operations, and public diplomacy efforts—the world political scene, especially in the Middle East and the United States, would have looked much different now.

The global outpouring of sympathy for the victims of the 9/11 attacks provided the United States with a unique opportunity to capitalize on all that goodwill to rally genuine international support for a coordinated and effective strategy of finding the planners and abettors of the attacks and prosecuting them through mechanisms of international law. Instead, the administration squandered that opportunity by declaring the 9/11 atrocities as “acts of war against America,” or “against freedom and democracy,” by employing a poisonous narrative of “war between good and evil,” and by dividing the world into two irreconcilable forces and civilizations: “us and them.” The result has been an incredible amount of unnecessary and preventable death and destruction, further sullying of the image of the United States. as global bully, and a dramatic increase in terrorism. “From 1993 through the 9/11 assaults of 2001, there were five major al-Qaeda attacks worldwide; in the two years since then there have been seventeen such bombings, including the Istanbul suicide assaults on the British consulate and an HSBC Bank.” [35]

That the Bush administration’s politically expedient policies of war and militarism—prompted primarily by powerful special interests that are vested in military expansion and the business of war—should have played into the hands of Bin Laden and his co-thinkers should not be surprising. As Michael Scheuer, retired senior CIA official, points out in his Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, “an avaricious, premeditated, unprovoked war against a foe [Saddam Hussein] who posed no immediate threat but whose defeat did offer economic advantage” was bound to create more resentment, and therefore more followers for Bin Laden who, in essence, personifies a movement and a mood that was precipitated by exactly such imperial transgressions. The administration’s professed “war on terrorism” has thus turned out to be, in effect, war for terrorism. The resulting “action-reaction” vicious circle has been expanded by the unfortunate fact that the Bush administration does not seem to be interested in an understanding of what produces terrorism; it seems to be content with its own self-serving explanation that terrorist acts are prompted by “hatred of our freedom.” Nor does it seem to be interested in considering any alternatives to war in the fight against terrorism. The problem with this approach is that, points out Ronald I. Spiers, retired U.S. ambassador, “terrorism is a tool—a weapon—not an actor. Like war, terrorism is the use of violence by groups or individuals to advance a political objective. . . . It is a weapon used by the weak against the strong, the colonial subject against the imperial power, the occupied against the occupier, and the dispossessed and disenfranchised against the oppressor.” The ambassador further points out,

But how do you win a “war” against a tool that, like war itself, is a method of carrying on politics by other means? A “war on terrorism” is a war without an end in sight, without an exit strategy, with enemies specified not by their aims but by their tactics. Relying principally on military means is like trying to eliminate a cloud of mosquitoes with a machine gun. “Terrorism” by its nature can’t and won’t be eradicated or abolished as long as there are grievances that the aggrieved believe cannot be resolved nonviolently. . . . We have not as a nation defined our objective in the specific terms that might make it winnable. Until we do, we risk the diversions that come from being in a struggle against an abstraction. [36]

What is especially remarkable is that, based on historical accounts and precedents, most of the disastrous consequences of the Bush administration’s war on terrorism were predicted not only by the Left and liberals but also by many traditional conservatives, moderate Republicans (also called Rockefeller Republicans), and libertarians. For example, in a policy study for the (libertarian) Cato Institute two days after the 9/11 attacks, Charles V. Peña wrote, “But how exactly will increased defense spending on tanks, airplanes, and ships remedy the situation? The answer is that it won’t . . . a larger military would not have prevented that devastating tragedy. And it won’t prevent future terrorist actions.” [37] Right. But the Bush administration seems to have had its own agenda; and the “war on terrorism” seems to have been a charade to advance that agenda. Besides, as Ambassador Spiers points out, “A war makes the role of commander in chief more dramatic. Our commander in chief seems smitten with the so-called ‘war’ on terrorism. . . . The president has found this ‘war’ useful as an all-purpose justification for almost anything he wants or doesn’t want to do; fuzziness serves the administration politically. It brings to mind Big Brother’s vague and never-ending war in Orwell’s ‘1984.’ A war on terrorism is a permanent engagement against an always-available tool.” [38]

In a similar vein, Brent Scowcroft, who served as the national security advisor to both presidents Ford and Bush Sr., and a number of his co-thinkers in the ranks of moderate Republicans repeatedly warned President Bush Jr. against the dangers of invading Iraq. For instance, in an August 15, 2002 Wall Street Journal Op Ed piece, titled “Don’t Attack Saddam,” Scowcroft wrote, “Our nation is presently engaged in a debate about whether to launch a war against Iraq. . . . It is beyond dispute that Saddam Hussein is a menace. . . . That said, we need to think through this issue very carefully. . . . Our pre-eminent security priority—underscored repeatedly by the president—is the war on terrorism. An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken.” Scowcroft added, “The United States could certainly defeat the Iraqi military and destroy Saddam’s regime. But it would not be a cakewalk. On the contrary, it undoubtedly would be very expensive—with serious consequences for the U.S. and global economy—and could as well be bloody.”

* * *

Led by the United States, military spending on a global level has risen 18 percent since 2001. According to a U.S. congressional study, terrorism has risen 35 percent since then. From the fact that the increase in military spending has coincided with an increase in terrorism, Brandon J. Snider concludes, “With every dollar, the U.S., which accounts for 47 per cent of the spending, manufactures new terrorists, which will, in turn, lead to demands for increased defense spending.” [39] This positive correlation between military spending, war and terrorism is not fortuitous. In his classic book on war and militarism, The Military-Industrial Complex, the late Sidney Lens explained this relationship in these words: “The mere availability of planes and weapons is a temptation to use them. It may be a temptation which is acceded to in a minority of instances, but it is enough to make the preparation for war an independent factor in creating it. . . . Being prepared thus becomes a pressure, a temptation, for being at war. The merry-go-round never stops.” [40] This is an essential dynamic of militarism. Under precapitalist formations, all the military establishment needed to justify and maintain its apparatus and privileges was the specter of war or the environment of fear—not necessarily the actual, shooting war. Under capitalism, where production of military hardware is subject to market imperatives, actual wars are needed in order to generate “sufficient” demand for war-dependent industries and their profitability requirements.

Perhaps more than anything else, it is this combination of private ownership of the means of warfare and market imperatives of profitability that drives the war today. It is also this business imperative of war that, more than any other factor, underlies the U.S. militarists’ constant search for enemies, or new “threats to our national security”. Furthermore, it is this market-driven force behind the war that underlies, at least partly, the Bush administration’s fuzzy and shifting “reasons” for invading Iraq, and the consequent death, destruction, and turbulence in today’s world. Despite its apparent complexity, reducing international acts of terrorism and fostering global peace and stability would not be very difficult in the absence of this perverse dynamics of the business of war. As Brandon J. Snider points out, “Nations like Britain and the U.S. don’t really have to do anything to fight terrorism; they only have to stop doing things that provoke terrorist responses: keep out of the affairs of other nations.” [41]



This article is based on the author’s upcoming book, The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism (Palgrave-Macmillan, July 2006).





Endnotes

1. Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004), 56.

2. Sidney Lens, The Military-Industrial Complex (Kansas City, Missouri: Pilgrim Press & the National Catholic Reporter, 1970), 18.

3. Gore Vidal, Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: How We Got to Be So Hated (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2002), 158.

4. D. F. Fleming, The Cold War and Its Origins (New York: Double Day, 1961), 436.

5. See, for example, W. A. Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (Cleveland: World Publishing Co., 1959); David Horowitz, The Free World Colossus (New York: Hill & Wang, 1965); Lens, The Military-Industrial Complex; Ismael Hossein-zadeh, ‘Perestroika and the Third World’, Review of Radical Political Economics 22, Nos. 2 & 3, 1990, 252-275; Fleming, The Cold War and Its Origins.

6. Lens, The Military-Industrial Complex, 19.

7. Fleming, The Cold War and Its Origins, 1060, as cited in Lens, The Military-Industrial Complex, 19. On this point also see Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire, 33-34.

8. Leon Trotsky, The Third International after Lenin (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970), 66.

9. Lens, The Military-Industrial Complex, 19-20.

10. As quoted in Lens, The Military-Industrial Complex, 21; and in Horowitz, The Free World Colossus, 85.

11. Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, 166-68; as cited by Lens, The Military-Industrial Complex, 22.

12. Lewis Board, Winston Churchill: A Biography; as quoted in Lens, The Military-Industrial Complex, 24.

13. William Hyland, ‘America’s new course’, Foreign Affairs 69, No. 2, 1990, 3.

14. T. Sorenson, ‘Rethinking national security’, Foreign Affairs 69, No. 3, 1990, 1.

15. Sheila Ryan, ‘Power Projection in the Middle East’, in Greg Bates, ed., Mobilizing Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1991), 45.

16. James Cypher, ‘Military spending after the Cold War’, Journal of Economic issues 25, No. 2, 1991.

17. Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire, 20.

18. Quoted in Ryan, ‘Power Projection in the Middle East’, 47.

19. A. M. Gray, ‘Defense policy for the 1990s’, Marine Corps Gazette 74, No. 5, 1990, 19.

20. Gray, ‘Defense policy for the 1990s’.

21. As quoted in Ryan, ‘Power Projection in the Middle East’, 46.

22. Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire, 20.

23. As quoted in Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire, 20.

24. Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire, 20-21.

25. William A. Galston (deputy assistant to President Clinton for domestic policy from 1993 to 1995), ‘Why a First Strike Will Surely Backfire’, Washington Post, 16 June 2002.

26. Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire, 22.

27. Federation of American Scientists, as cited by Vidal, Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, 22-41.

28. Bill Christison, ‘The Disastrous Foreign Policies of the United States’, Counterpunch, 9 May 2002.
http://www.counterpunch.org/christison0806.html

29. Vidal, Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, 20-21.

30. Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire, 64.

31. As cited by Norm Dixon, ‘How the Bush Gang Seized the ‘Opportunity’ of 9/11′, Green Left Weekly, 5 May 2004.
http://www.greenleft.org.au/back/2004/581/581p12.htm

32. Ron Suskind, The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neil (New Jersey: Simon and Schuster, 2004); James Mann, The Rise of Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet (Viking/Penguin Group, 2004); Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack (Simon & Schuster, 2004); Richard Clark, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror (New York: Free Press, 2004).

33. As quoted by Norm Dixon, ‘How Warmongers Exploit 9/11′, Counterpunch, 11 September 2002.
http://www.counterpunch.org/dixon0911.html

34. As cited by Dixon, ‘How the Bush gang seized the ‘opportunity’ of 9/11′.

35. Chalmers Johnson, ‘America’s Empire of Bases’, tomdispatch.com, 15 January 2004.
http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article5537.htm

36. Ronald I. Spiers, ‘How do you know when you win?’, Vermont Rutland Herald, 5 June 2004.
http://rutlandherald.com/Archive/Articles/Article/81009

37. As cited by Brandon J. Snider, ‘Manufacturing Terrorism’, antiwar.com, 14 June 2004.
http://www.antiwar.com/blog/index.php?id=P1050

38. Spiers, ‘How do you know when you win?’.

39. Snider, ‘Manufacturing Terrorism’.

40. Lens, The Military-Industrial Complex, 82.

41. Snider, ‘Manufacturing Terrorism’.











Ismael Hossein-zadeh is Professor Emeritus of Economics, Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa. He is the author of Beyond Mainstream Explanations of the Financial Crisis (Routledge, 2014), The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism (Palgrave – Macmillan 2007), and the Soviet Non-capitalist Development: The Case of Nasser’s Egypt (Praeger Publishers 1989). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press 2012).




























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