Monday, February 16, 2009

Not a criticism, but something the Obama administration needs to consider about the US military....

I am glad that President Obama is attempting to live up to his campaign promises to end Don't Ask, Don't Tell in the US military.

I would, however, hope the administration pays more attention to the ongoing disentanglement of our military from the American population that began in the 1990s and reached break-neck pace under Dubya. One of the tenets of the American republic has always been the fact that we have a citizen military, with a universal moral obligation to service that cuts across party and class lines. This tradition continued through World War Two, but took a heavy beating in Korea and Vietnam. The re-establishment of an all-volunteer military seemed to return more closely to the Framers' ideal in the late 1970s, but then--after the 1991 Gulf War--something seriously wrong happened.

William Astore covers some of the essential aspects of this breakdown:

A leaner, meaner, higher tech force – that was what George W. Bush and his Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld promised to transform the American military into. Instead, they came close to turning it into a foreign legion. Foreign as in being constantly deployed overseas on imperial errands; foreign as in being ever more reliant on private military contractors; foreign as in being increasingly segregated from the elites that profit most from its actions, yet serve the least in its ranks.

Now would be a good time for President Barack Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to begin to reclaim that military for its proper purpose: to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Now would be a good time to ask exactly why, and for whom, our troops are currently fighting and dying in the urban jungles of Iraq and the hostile hills of Afghanistan.

A few fortnights and forever ago, in the Bush years, our "expeditionary" military came remarkably close to resembling an updated version of the French Foreign Legion in the ways it was conceived and used by those in power – and even, to some extent, in its makeup....

As the Obama administration begins to deploy U.S. troops back to the Iraq or Afghan war zones for their fourth or fifth tours of duty, I remain amazed at the silent complicity of my country. Why have we been so quiet? Is it because the Bush administration was, in fact, successful in sending our military down the path to foreign legion-hood? Is the fate of our troops no longer of much importance to most Americans?

Even the military's recruitment and demographics are increasingly alien to much of the country. Troops are now regularly recruited in "foreign" places like South Central Los Angeles and Appalachia that more affluent Americans wouldn't be caught dead visiting. In some cases, those new recruits are quite literally "foreign" – non-U.S. citizens allowed to seek a fast-track to citizenship by volunteering for frontline, war-zone duty in the U.S. Army or Marines. And when, in these last years, the military has fallen short of its recruitment goals – less likely today thanks to the ongoing economic meltdown – mercenaries have simply been hired at inflated prices from civilian contractors with names like Triple Canopy or Blackwater redolent of foreign adventures.

With respect to demographics, it'll take more than the sons of Joe Biden and Sarah Palin to redress inequities in burden-sharing. With startlingly few exceptions, America's sons and daughters dodging bullets remain the progeny of rural America, of immigrant America, of the working and lower middle classes. As long as our so-called best and brightest continue to be AWOL when it comes to serving among the rank-and-file, count on our foreign adventurism to continue to surge.

Diversity is now our societal byword. But how about more class diversity in our military? How about a combat regiment of rich young volunteers from uptown Manhattan? (After all, some of their great-grandfathers probably fought with New York's famed "Silk Stocking" regiment in World War I.) How about more Ivy League recruits like George H.W. Bush and John F. Kennedy, who respectively piloted a dive bomber and a PT boat in World War II? Heck, why not a few prominent Hollywood actors like Jimmy Stewart, who piloted heavy bombers in the flak-filled skies of Europe in that same war?

Instead of collective patriotic sacrifice, however, it's clear that the military will now be running the equivalent of a poverty and recession "draft" to fill the "all-volunteer" military. Those without jobs or down on their luck in terrible times will have the singular honor of fighting our future wars. Who would deny that drawing such recruits from dead-end situations in the hinterlands or central cities is strikingly Foreign Legion-esque?

Caught in the shock and awe of 9/11, we allowed our military to be transformed into a neocon imperial police force. Now, approaching our eighth year in Afghanistan and sixth year in Iraq, what exactly is that force defending? Before President Obama acts to double the number of American boots-on-the-ground in Afghanistan – before even more of our troops are sucked deeper into yet another quagmire – shouldn't we ask this question with renewed urgency? Shouldn't we wonder just why, despite all the reverent words about "our troops," we really seem to care so little about sending them back into the wilderness again and again?

Where indeed is the outcry?

Unfortunately, there is no outcry, because Americans have by and large passively accepted the idea of continuous US military intervention around the world, of entangling alliances, hundreds of bases on foreign soil across the globe, and of an intellectual model assertig that peace is best purchased with a robust arms trade and US soldiers toting 130-pound packs through the Afghan mountains in the footprints of failed Russian, British, and even Greek soldiers before them.

We are perilously close to have allowed the creation of a true janissary class in this country, and our last (perhaps only) hope to avoid this now lies with the current administration.

From the pressures I have already seen put into place against this administration by defense lobbyists and corporations with foreign interests I am not particularly optimistic.

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