23 December 2008
With his choice of Admiral Dennis Blair as director of national intelligence, President-elect Barack Obama has now named three recently retired four-star military officers to serve in his cabinet. This unprecedented representation of the senior officer corps within the incoming Democratic administration is indicative of a growth in the political power of the US military that poses a serious threat to basic democratic rights.
As head of the US military’s Pacific command in 1999-2000, Blair was distinguished by his efforts to solidarize the Pentagon with the military of Indonesia as it carried out butchery in East Timor, effectively vetoing the half-hearted human rights concerns voiced by the Clinton administration.
Before tapping Blair, Obama named former Marine Gen. James Jones as his national security adviser and former Army chief of staff Gen. Erik Shinseki as secretary of veterans affairs. It is also reported that the incoming administration may ask retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden to stay on as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The Washington Post last Saturday described this concentration of former senior officers in the administration as “an unusual trend for a Democratic administration and one that has surprised both political camps.”
The appointments follow the announcement that Robert Gates, Bush’s defense secretary, will stay on at the Pentagon, where multiple “transition teams” are at work to assure that continuity is maintained in America’s ongoing wars of aggression and that the immense power of the military remains unchecked.
Earlier this month Obama spelled out his subservience to the Pentagon by declaring, “To ensure prosperity here at home and peace abroad, we all share the belief we have to maintain the strongest military on the planet.” To that end, he has pledged to increase the size of US ground forces by 100,000 soldiers and Marines and made it clear that there will be no significant cuts to a military budget that is gobbling up some $850 billion annually under conditions of soaring deficits and an intensifying financial crisis.
There is no doubt a significant element of political calculation in Obama’s decision to surround himself with military brass and assure that he is seen as “supporting our troops.” There is, after all, the bitter experience of the last Democratic administration. Bill Clinton’s first term was nearly shipwrecked by his confrontation with the uniformed command over his proposal to scrap the ban on gays in the military. For the remainder of his presidency, he was treated with open or barely concealed contempt by much of the officer corps.
The threat of an even uglier confrontation under Obama is very real given the disastrous effects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the military and reports of a growing delusional sentiment within the officer corps that the failures of the US operations in these countries were the result of a “stab in the back” delivered by the civilian authorities, the media and the American people themselves.But there is a more fundamental process underlying both Clinton’s experience and Obama’s bowing before the military today. It is the immense growth in the power of the “military industrial complex” against which President Dwight Eisenhower warned nearly half a century ago....