Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Theaters of War at the White House

As a group protesting military spending put on a puppet show on the White House steps today to show how money spent on war could be better used to create jobs, fight poverty and fund education, some living breathing puppets were inside the People's House* to put on a show of support for military families.  

A Military-Industrial Complex policy group creepily called the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) is funding Michelle Obama's signature initiative, called "Joining Forces." And joining her today to head the team was fired and formerly disgraced Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal, now embarking on a political version of the Celebrity Rehab Tour in an unpaid (directly) gig to ostensibly lend support to our abused and overused troops.  However, according to an article by Nathan Hodge in The Nation last month called "Coalition of the Shilling", the core purpose of CNAS is anything but altruistic. Founded in 2007 by a group of centrist Democrats, defense contractors and retired military brass, its sole purpose is to keep the wars going and the profits flowing to the MIC.  One of its  trustees is the former CEO of Lockheed Martin, which profits mightily from its military hardware and fighter jet sales - both domestically and to foreign armies.

Hodge writes, "Two former Clinton administration officials, Michèle Flournoy and Kurt Campbell, founded CNAS in 2007 as a way for centrist Democrats to reclaim a place in the national security debate ahead of the 2008 presidential race. It was an expert triangulation: Flournoy, Campbell and their associates staked out a hawkish (or, as they would term it, a “pragmatic and principled”) position on Iraq, opposing early deadlines for withdrawal. After Obama’s election, CNAS would emerge as a key feeder for the new administration’s national security team. No fewer than fourteen CNAS grads would land slots in the Defense and State departments. Flournoy now occupies the number-three post at the Pentagon, and Campbell is the head of the State Department’s Asia bureau.

"How exactly did Flournoy and Campbell conjure up a think tank out of thin air? In addition to support from foundations like the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Ploughshares Foundation, CNAS received heavy backing from the military industry. Its list of donors includes major weapons manufacturers like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon and BAE Systems. It also receives contributions from private security firms like Aegis Defence Services, as well as from KBR, the logistics support contractor notorious for overbilling the Pentagon for its services in Iraq and Afghanistan. And it generates income from research contracts with the Pentagon and intelligence agencies, as do others like the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments."

As military families are struggling to get by on their relatively meager paychecks, defense contractors are getting obscenely rich on weapons systems and military hardware.  And as the troops struggle through tour after exhausting tour in Iraq and Afghanistan, with no end in sight, the White House is utilizing the warm and smiling Michelle Obama as the face of a ramped-up PR campaign of showing the troops our love (and also to make us feel kind of bad for bitching about our own petty problems?) Keep drumming it in: they are sacrificing and getting killed to keep "us" all safe.  Would that it were true and they were not just being used as warm expendable flesh to enrich a few wealthy corporations and defense contractors.

(A sidenote - one of the original alleged participants in the White House project to improve the health of the troops was a former Gitmo psychologist who oversaw the "enhanced interrogations" of prisoners. He was disinvited by the First Lady's staff after Glenn Greenwald wrote an expose on his self-proclaimed participation).

Meanwhile, the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive activist think tank in Washington DC, was one of the sponsors for today's lunchtime event on the White House steps to mark the first Global Day of  Action on Military Spending. (GDAMS - love the acronym).  This protest, along with hundreds of other demonstrations nationwide and worldwide, comes  one day after the release of the 2010 figures for global military expenditures by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. In 2009, the world spent more than $1.5 trillion on the military. Even in the middle of a global economic crisis, military spending has increased, with the United States responsible for nearly half of all such expenditures, worldwide. As IPS director John Feffer explains, what the American defense industry doesn't make for our own wars it gladly sells overseas -- to our allies and enemies alike.  A dollar is a dollar, despite what any treaties might stipulate.

The noontime White House protest  featured poetry, puppets, and graphic  representations of military spending. Representatives of national and local peace and human needs organizations presented "flash facts" to demonstrate how the money spent on defense could be used for other things, such as education, jobs and anti-poverty programs.

We don't know if Barack and Michelle Obama,or Joe and Jill Biden,or Stanley McChrystal,or the CNAS crowd looked out the window at the protesters in a break from their own military love-in, lunch and photo ops, or had any thoughts or comments on the bloated defense budget.  Nothing was said about our brave men and women in uniform coming home, permanently. We do know that the President smiled a lot and Michelle hugged everybody. And Michelle made the big announcement that military family members who work at Walmart will get transferred to another Walmart store if their spouses are transferred. Yippee. Way to go, Walmart!  Hire American and support our troops, but sell Chinese!  And Goodwill promised to hire military families to help sell used clothing to other poor people!  And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will hold military family job fairs.  Fairs, mind you -- no jobs quite yet, all that trickle-down from their record profits and tax breaks hasn't quite reached down that far.  But it'll be fun, and maybe now Obama won't pick on them and their anonymous political donations so much.

We also don't know if Mary Tillman, who tried and failed to have McChrystal held accountable for the cover-up of her son Pat's death by friendly fire, had any reaction to his big White House comeback as a caring father figure of the troops. She was not included on today's guest list.  Nor was Anti-War Mom in Chief Cindy Sheehan -- who should maybe think about setting up a new campsite on the White House lawn as a refreshing change from Bush's ranch.

There is now every sign that all those supposedly noncombat troops in Iraq will be on permanent assignment. And especially now that the U.S. is being kicked out of Pakistan after the CIA murder scandal and the collaterally damaging drone attacks, Afghanistan is not only the longest war in U.S. History, it's aiming to be one of the longest in world history, too.  There is money to be made, weapons to be manufactured to boost the economy Military Industrial Complex, political offices to win, billions of dollars worth of minerals in those mountains, poppy fields to keep populations anesthetized and cartels in the black, private security firms to profiteer.
Les Screwed-Up Priorities
 Is it any coincidence that the 2012 Democratic National Convention is being held a stone's throw from Fort Bragg, North Carolina?  This is one war-loving Administration with one hell of an ironic Nobel Peace Prize winner.

* Update/Correction 4/13 -- Since writing this post, I learned that the "Joining Forces" Obama event was actually held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, not the White House as originally announced. I apologize for the error -- and will add that it now seems obvious the officials could not and did not see the demonstrations.

Update II 4/14:  Mary Tillman has told Jake Tapper of ABC that she is outraged at McChrystal's appointment, and she thinks it makes Obama look "silly."

"I’ve come to learn through this journey that there are many other families that have been lied to by the military about their sons and daughters and so we feel that what happen to Pat is pertains to other people, not just us. I think it’s a slap in the face to all soldiers to appoint this man, to be on this committee," she said.

 Amir Bar-Lev, the director of the critically-acclaimed documentary "The Tillman Story" was nothing if not blunt: “Putting Stanley McChrystal in charge of a commission on military families is a little like putting Bernie Madoff in charge of a commission on pensions," he told Tapper.


Anne Lavoie said...

In the book 'Lockheed-Martin, Prophets of War' it is clear that the MIC does indeed want endless wars, and they spare no effort to ensure they get them. We can add Libya to the list now.

The MIC has intentionally metastasized into nearly every Congressional District in the country, thus ensuring no Congressional cuts to funding which would threaten job losses. The economy absolutely depends on continued huge military expenditures.

Like a cancer, this malignant beast is starving the life of the host by trying to take everything for itself in order to keep growing. The question now is whether it will end with it destroying the host and thus itself, or will this immortal Citizen (United) simply turn us into a Zombie Nation?

"Cat" will do said...

I LIKE this gal! I like her style and I like her insight and I like the way she writes It's refreshing, and that ain't easy to achieve these days. Smart, witty and I wonder why I don't have neighbors like this...

keep it up, Karen.

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

Excellent post, Karen! I look forward to reading your blog (and your NYT comments) daily!

Valerie Long Tweedie said...

Last December I was visiting a friend in D.C. My hotel offered a free shuttle to Walter Reed and I hitched a ride to get to the subway. During our trip I spoke to a young woman (maybe 18) whose brother had been in the hospital for three months. It didn't sound like he was going to come home any time soon and she bravely talked about his positive attitude and that he had taken a few steps down the hall with her help.

Sitting quietly next to me, was a former marine (between 50 and 60). When asked, he stoically admitted that his son, also a marine, had been at Walter Reed for six months. He and his wife had rented an apartment nearby so that they could take turns helping their son. Without giving details, it sounded like their son's situation was bad.

The father quietly voiced an opinion, "We need a draft." And I couldn't agree more. Until the hawks and those more interested in American Idol than world events have "skin in the game," our government will continue to send other people's sons and daughters, mostly those with no economic options, into hell so that Americans can continue to drive their S.U.V's and the Military Industrial Complex can rake in billions of dollars for their “services.”

In Australia, the military gives those in Afghanistan and Iraq combat pay - and it is quite a lot. When a soldier dies, it is covered by all the media outlets. During the campaign for Prime Minister, both candidates agreed to halt their campaigns for a day in order to attend a soldier's funeral.

Quite the contrast, isn't it?

Karen Garcia said...

Thanks for all your comments, guys! I notice that after his ostentatious photo op at Andrews AFB more than a year ago to greet the caskets of the war dead, our president has not been back, nor has he attended a funeral. These wars are making me twice as ill as normal, due to the domestic cuts at home, aimed against the poor. And these White House photo ops are getting so over the top and are such blatant attempts at propaganda. I don't think there was any coverage of the anti-war demonstration there by the msm, but I could be wrong. Maybe Al Jazeera covered it, I haven't checked the foreign press yet.

Anonymous said...

Outstanding article. Thanks, and I'm sending around and around.