Brave New World Order

There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.

Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527)

by Jeff Huber

A new world order began when the Berlin Wall came down in late 1989.The next new world order began when the U.S. Army staged the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue after the fall of Baghdad in late 2003.A brave new world order, the one we’re now in the early stages of, began in late 2008 when the U.S. economy dropped down a rabbit hole that may go all the way to China.The trajectory should look familiar; it traces a path taken by hegemons throughout the ages, straight to the cliff they fell from.As with great powers before us, the military might that created our empire has become became the instrument of its downfall.

Niccolo Machiavelli, who served as secretary to Florence and had extensive dealings with the infamous Caesar Borgia, is probably history’s premier political scientist.Machiavelli insisted that “A prince ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war and its rules and discipline.”So we can see that the guy was no hand-wringing peace pansy.Conversely, however, he said of war that, “a well established republic or kingdom would never permit its subjects or citizens to employ it for their profession.” Machiavelli asserted that, “…as long as [the Romans] were wise and good, never permitted that their citizens should take up this practice as their profession.”It was only when Pompeii and Caesar established the institution of Emperor as professional warrior that Rome’s republic began to erode.Eventually the army’s elite Praetorian Guard “became formidable to the Senate and damaging to the Emperor” and “gave the Empire and took it away from anyone they wished.”

In his 1961 farewell address, President Dwight Eisenhower warned America to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence” by the “military industrial complex” for the same reason Machiavelli cautioned heads of state of his day to beware of advisers who “in times of peace, desire war because they are unable to live without it.”In ’61, Eisenhower admonished that the “economic, political, even spiritual” influence of America’s new war industry was “felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government.”A decade into the new American century, militarism has woven itself into the very fiber of our society.Political careers and regional economies are wholly dependent upon it.The defense industry has transformed America into warfare welfare state, and it doesn’t bother making a secret of it.

Witness the recent uproar over Secretary Robert Gates’s proposed defense budget “cutbacks” that are actually an increase.Lipstick neocon Joe Lieberman led the protest over Gates’s refusal to expand the F-22 stealth fighter purchase.At $360 million a pop, the F-22 is a cold war albatross that was designed to go toe-to-toe with the Russkies in the skies over Europe.Now, its mission involves air-to-air combat against jumbo jets armed with box cutters; but it’s built in Joe’s state of Connecticut, so it’s of vital importance to national security.

Even more deplorable than the persistence of Lieberman and other congressional war mongrels at investing in what defense analyst William Lind calls “a military museum” is their willingness to let the Pentagon dictate policy.From the beginning of our Mesopotamian mistake, the generals, supposedly, were calling the shots.When then Army chief of staff Eric Shinseky said we weren’t taking enough troops into Iraq, then defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld handed him a Purple Heart for the bruise he got where the door hit him on his way out.From then on, all the generals said we didn’t need any more troops in Iraq than we already had there, so we didn’t need any more troops in Iraq.

Then the GOP lost the 2006 election, and Rumsfeld got his Purple Heart.Young Mr. Bush decided it was time to go on a surgin’ safari, and General David Petraeus signed on to play Bwana.Even the once credible Thomas E. Ricks, who has done more than anyone to exalt Petraeus, admits that his idol has been pulling a confidence game on the American Congress and public since he assumed command of forces in Iraq. In a February 2009 Washington Post article, Ricks wrote that Petraeus’s agenda was “not to bring the war to a close, but simply to show enough genuine progress that the American people would be willing to stick with it even longer.”Congress, the public, and Petraeus’s critics in the military largely failed to recognize what he was up to, mainly because he patently misled them when he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee, “We’re after conditions that would allow our soldiers to disengage.”

He was, in fact, after conditions that would never allow his soldiers to disengage, at least not during his lifetime, and possibly not during theirs.Throughout his tenure in Iraq—first as commander in Mosul (where he made his reputation as a counterinsurgency “genius” thanks to Ricks’s fabrications), then as the general in charge of training Iraqi security forces, and finally as commander of international forces in Iraq—Petraeus has achieved short term results by handing out guns to everybody and bribing them not to use the guns against U.S. troops or Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki’s forces.As a result, Ricks admits, “we have poured “a lot of gasoline on the fire,” and if we leave, “it will be much worse than it was when Saddam was there.”So we can never leave.

What Petraeus deserves for his perfidy would cauterize his exit ramp.He has been, instead, elevated to five-star deity status.David Petraeus is the Douglas MacArthur of the 21st century—a general so dangerous that he challenges the commander in chief’s constitutional authority.As MacArthur did with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, Petraeus poses the threat of challenging Barack H. Obama for his job come the next general election.Don’t think for a minute that a Petraeus/Palin ticket is too absurd to come to pass.Look what’s happened so far in the new American century.

In April 2008, Mr. Bush announced that his “main man” Petraeus would be the decider of when and how U.S. troops would withdraw from Iran, and “King David,” now in charge of Central Command, has been the de facto commander in chief of the U.S. military ever since.Now, President Obama’s decisions must be sanctioned by Petraeus and the rest of the long war generals.

Petraeus, his pet ox Ray Odierno and Joint Chiefs chairman Mike Mullen all publicly opposed withdrawal timelines (and the Obama candidacy) during the 2008 presidential race.Individually and as a group, they have waged an information campaign to desensitize the American public to the reality that their country may always be ensnared in counterproductive wars.Babe Odierno is on record as wanting to keep more than 30,000 troops in Iraq until 2015 or so.If you’re watching, you’ll see that they’re blaming the resurgent violence in Iraq on the pending withdrawals from Iraqi cities, i.e. the “timelines.”When the 2012 political season rolls around, the reasons we’re still in Iraq will be as slippery and amorphous as the reasons we invaded in the first place.

The Petraeus patrol is steering us into the same trap in the Bananastans, and President Obama either doesn’t see that the road ahead looks identical to the one in the rear view mirror, or he figures he’s powerless to reverse America’s vector toward self-immolation, or he’s dumber than he looks, or he just doesn’t care.

These generals of ours, whose authority is too formidable for either the president or the Congress to oppose, don’t have a clue how to win their wars.They don’t know their centers of gravity from their elbows, but that’s okay.They’re not supposed to win their wars.In fact, that would be counter to the real objective: to keep the gravy boat afloat and the cash caisson rolling along for as long as they possibly can.That they’re leaving tire tracks all over the Constitution they took an oath to support and defend by subverting the president’s authority matters little to them.Whether they’re Manchurian Candidate true believers, or Orwellian double thinkers, or simply take the Machiavellian position that ends justify means, I just can’t say.I knew officers of all those flavors during my career.I also knew officers of genuine moral vision and clarity (as opposed to the Ann Coulter/Pat Robertson version of moral vision and clarity), but few of them were invited into the generals’ club, and the few who managed to sip past the doorman have by now earned their Purple Hearts the way Shinseki did.The generals we have left lie like other people eat, sleep and go to the bathroom, all for the sake of preserving an institution that will never again have a peer competitor and will never be capable of defeating an ism of any kind.

I believe we still have a window of opportunity to become the “kinder gentler nation” and that “shining city on the hill” of a brave new world order, but the window is dwindling rapidly.Our generals, openly disdainful of their commander in chief and the legislature, have stolen our country.The zombie Republicans in Congress think it’s patriotic to back the generals against the president, and the Democrats have folded like the Chicago Cubs in August.

Obama needs to step up to the plate, fire all of his four stars and that bureaucratic dimwit Gates, and take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy(Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff’s novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America’s rise to global dominance, is on sale now.

18 replies »

  1. Jeff:

    Thanks for this piece. Let me first say that I agree, in principle, that a professional military like the one we have now is dangerous to any republic. I would like to add a few modifications and observations, however, as points of potential, further discussion.

    I feel strongly that Machiavelli was wrong about the republican Romans (and I believe he got his quote almost directly from Suetonius). They were neither wise (at least not most of the time) nor good. Far from it. They had a system that changed over time but was, for the most part, based on old-family oligarchy, plus influence from the very wealthy equestrian order, with a sprinkling of widespread (if badly weighted toward the oligarchs) suffrage that occasionally played a role in making or unmaking important law. And it wasn’t Pompey and Caesar that eroded the Republic. They just put it out of its misery (and it’s quite possible that Caesar intended to restore it on more stable ground, and would have if he hadn’t been assassinated). The Republic began to crumble when the unifying fear of Carthage was no longer an issue, and the Roman oligarchs turned their considerable energies toward internecine competition that, eventually, erupted into political, legal, and outright military warfare.

    I think the best place to trace the initial signs of the erosion is with the Gracchi brothers, who ushered in the age of strong-arm politics, internal fragmentation, and assassination. From that point on, reforms that were desperately needed to address structural cracks in the Republic most often led to death for the would-be reformer, and so reformers began to adopt more violent means to their ends. The conservative backlash was so profound that it led to bleeding the Republic of the landed yeoman that had once made up its armies and even dispossessing those legionaries who hadn’t died with a too-cozy relationship between those making law and those who profited off dispossessing the wives and children of soldiers away giving battle to Rome’s enemies.

    It was Marius who found there were no yeoman left to build Rome’s legions and convinced the SPQR to allow landless city-dwellers to man and equip their armies, making them the first fully professional Roman soldiers. And it wasn’t Pompey Magnus who marched on Rome in the early years of the erosion, but his father, Pompey Strabo along with Marius, Sulla, and then a bewildering host of others.

    I’ve gone the long way ’round and I apologize for that, but the point I’m trying to make is that the crumbling of the Roman Republic had the rise of the military as a symptom, not a root cause. The root cause was the internecine struggle over the spoils of success, as men sought power and wealth for themselves at the expense of Rome, itself. Political factions bought and sold elections, making leaders subject to their moneyed masters. Legal charges were brought to punish political enemies, and juries and judges (praetors) were bought right along with the leaders.

    In the end, Gaius Julius Caesar marched on Rome with his paltry force because he was given no choice. Had he returned to Rome without his army, he would have been tried and stripped of all his power and wealth by his political enemies; perhaps even being put to death.

    I believe there are many parallels between the US and the late Roman Republic, but my fears have more to do with the political win-at-all-costs behavior in Washington, the interference by the Bush White House in Justice Department prosecutions of political enemies (such as Don Siegelman),and the stunning cost of elections and the power this gives wealthy contributors. To me, these are the causes that may very well see my children waking up one day to find US tanks under some tinpot general surrounding the Capitol and the White House … with guns pointed inward.

    Once again, good article. And thanks.

  2. The merits, if merits there be, of military adventurism aside, Pentagon spending is the wrong scapegoat for America’s quasi-Romanesque decline as a potent global force. Department of Defense spending consumed 16% of the 2008 federal budget, but Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid together accounted for 41%. The current Secretary of Defense, Bob Gates, is leading a laudable shift in defense spending priorities towards a cheaper “smallball” strategy — we need more Navy SEALS and fewer aircraft carriers and bomber fleets. But nobody in Washington dares apply the same realpolitik test to domestic entitlement spending, which is the real crippling force.

    The United States is declining — and heading toward inevitable economic default in 20 to 50 years’ time — not because of military excess but because neither leaders nor people will step up and fund the benefits they themselves consume. Spiraling Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid spending, coupled with interest payments on the national debt, already eat up more than fifty cents of every tax revenue dollar, and statutory increases insure that their share cannot help but grow — while the defense budget, on the other hand, is inherently more manageable; you can, and we do, trim or shut down spending programs as military strategy and available funds both demand.

    George Will observed that taxpayers naturally like deficit spending because for every tax dollar they fork over, they get more than one dollar’s worth of government — and they tend to want it in guaranteed entitlement program payments. No politican dares articulate the natural endgame: an ultimately unservicable national debt that will literally propel us or our children into a kind of foreclosure, wherein the term “full faith and credit of the United States” becomes a hollow mockery. This will not be because of military spending; it will be because of our collective immaturity re: wanting a safety net we don’t care to pay for.

    The Roman Empire was characterized not only by an overextended military but a decadent, self-regarding and finally irresponsible citizenry, and if you seek parallels between Rome and Washington, look first at the character of the people.

    The comeuppance we all have coming is not the generals’ fault. As a better writer than I once said: the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.

  3. Ah. We’re going to hell in a bucket because one night all those black and Hispanic people defaulted on $700 billion worth of loans the liberals made the banks give them.

    Thanks for setting us straight.


  4. Tom:

    I agree that military spending isn’t the only reason the US economy is in dire straits right now. I would like to point out, though, that excessive military spending is a bit different from spending on entitlements. The money that is spent on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid is almost entirely pumped back into the US economy (except for SS checks that go to expats). There’s drag on the economic circulation, of course, for the percentage that goes into tax collection and administration, but that’s negligible, I believe.

    Military spending is a bit different, I think, since a good deal of it goes to make products that other people can’t buy, and that are often used up in battle or in everyday wear and tear. The payments that go to people that make these things cannot be spent to buy what they make, so military spending is inflationary and is generally not put back into infrastructure to make more products and services that people can buy. Of course, others might point out (and rightly) that military spending reduces societal risk to nations like the US, and that reduction in risk leads to cheaper capital and higher levels of investment, so there’s a balance there somewhere.

    As for Medicare and Medicaid, they will not increase at the same rate of spending they have in the past. In fact, I expect sheer economic necessity to bring that spending under control in the next 20 years, if not sooner. SS is a tougher nut, since it was never set up to be self-funding, but I think we’ll find that people work longer and, thus, contribute more in SS taxes in the future before taking benefits, and I think the cost will be brought under control with means testing and a more progressive benefit calculation.

    Jeff: Really, if I were asked to come up with two causes of the current recession, I’d choose rising energy costs which tend to constrain growth, coupled with a bizarre, systemic credit scheme whereby cheap credit increased demand for real estate, which drove up prices for real estate, which inflated prices were used to securitize cheaper and more available credit., which drove up prices of real estate even more, etc. I think military spending definitely had an impact, but wasn’t a primary cause of the current mess.

    But, then, I could be wrong.

  5. And when you speak of the “character” of the American people, I assume you’re talking about whether or not they have to character to support endless, pointless wars. Am I wrong?

  6. Hello JS:

    You make fair points. I am hopeful that “sheer economic necessity” applies a brake to Medicaid and Medicare growth in years to come. But that will require extraordinary political will and a certain imperviousness to public sentiment. As the population ages — without the personal assets they had expected to take with them into retirement, thanks to the current meltdown — Medicare in particular will face a larger, more demanding client base.

    I would gently suggest that quite a lot of military spending goes to contracted private-sector suppliers who in turn are able to employ large numbers of people at good salaries. Military procurement dollars naturally leach back into the economic infrastructure — ask any General Dynamics or Boeing worker how badly they want that tanker contract — and in contrast to Social Security payouts, the government usually gets a useful good for its money. (Not always, of course. Some military spending is wasted, often at the behest of legislators who vote to fund programs, aircraft, etc. the Pentagon doesn’t want because their production means good jobs in their districts. This is military spending as welfare.)

    As for the cause of the current recession, I think you’re mostly right — although energy prices were stable until recently. This train wreck has been coming since well before $4 gas. The root causes, I think, were housing speculation and indiscriminately offered credit. Historically cheap oil (until 2008) probably spurred consumers to overspend in other categories. Ironically, had the price of gas been pegged at $5, either through market forces or government policy, we would probably be in much better shape today — it would have nudged automakers towards efficiency drives and left consumers less money to blow on fripperies.

    Jeff: I have no idea what you’re talking about.

  7. Whoa, whoa, whoa. The 16% for the DoD that TomF quotes A. doesn’t include funding for the “global war on terror” (which is another 9%= $145B) B. does not include all the other places that the DoD squirrels their money away in, like nuclear arsenal maintenance being budgeted under the DoE and C. does not include a red cent towards operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    More importantly, it’s nothing but funny government numbers that puts the SS expenditures into the budget as a whole. Those taxes are collected separately. Using Tom’s number of 41%, let’s factor in that of $2.66T in estimated tax revenues, SS and other payroll taxes contribute 927B. That’s not too far from 41%, is it?

    Remove SS (both cost and revenue) from the picture and we’d have a clearer idea of just what percentage of our tax dollars go to the MIC.

    And Ian’s right.

  8. TomF:

    I think I must not have made my point clear about military spending. The issue with military spending is that it tends to be inflationary. For example, 100 people produce goods worth $1 million, and all that money comes back to them in compensation (simplified I know, but bear with me). They can ordinarily buy each other’s products/services with that money, but they can’t in this case because ten of them make products that can’t be bought by the other workers. So, instead of having $1 million among them to spend on $1 million worth of goods, they have $1 million to spend on $900,000 worth of goods. As a result, the available dollars bid up the prices, which is inflation. Then, since the products built for the military are degraded very quickly, the 10 who make military hardware must constantly make more and more, all of which the other 90 workers can’t buy.

    Make some sense?

  9. Shouldn’t we also ask the question: what do we get for all the military spending? Sure, we get some jobs and economic activity, but the end result of all that spending is death and destruction that requires more spending to rebuild what we blew up with the first round of spending and more even more spending to replace all the stuff we used in blowing whatever up.

    I’m all for small government, but let’s start by chopping the biggest government down to size before we worry about taking food out of the mouths of grandmothers, eh?

  10. Lex,

    I think we spend way to much on the US military, considering that there are no threats on the horizon that would require such spending. Having said that, there are certainly things the American taxpayer gets from having a powerful military. These include Pax Americana, which make for more stable markets, promoting trade and enriching those countries that can benefit from trade. We also get great leverage when our State Department assists US businesses in acquiring contracts around the world, whether that leverage comes from security guarantees, weapons sales, or (occasionally) direct threats. In addition, the US gets favorable diplomatic treatment from allies that depend on its military to maintain order, allowing the US great leverage in crafting and passing international law, resolutions, fishing rights agreements, etc.

  11. “These generals of ours, whose authority is too formidable for either the president or the Congress to oppose”

    I can’t be the only one to snigger every time Petraeus shows up before congress in his Government issued clown suit.

  12. JS:
    With all the analogies between post Caesar Rome and “new age” US being tossed around in this forum, I cant help but find the introduction of the “pax americana” as slightly ironic. Are we not falling into the same philosophical and ideological trap of short lived gains, (as JS comprehensively outlined above), for long term pain, put forth by Lex ?

    The outrageous and inequitable benefits garnered by global hegemonic military might will come back to bite us, and indeed, in many ways already have. While in Panama just a few days ago, I was apprehended by police armed with assault rifles with a new found Swedish friend for absolutely nothing other than enjoying a pretty night on the beach. Once they realized I was a US citizen, the officers’ contempt was painfully obvious. They refused to speak to me and instead only would address my Swedish friend, “F.”, – who simply repeated what I said. I could have bribed my way out if I had cash, but I am a young student and had just enough money to get home. We ended up getting out of it, because I demonstrated that I was leaving the next day (and also made it clear that I was not going to an ATM. )

    Early the day I had been studying 20th Century Panamanian history, and with this event it was clear that I was almost a young victim of my country’s history. Our Country’s 20th century relationship with Panama and Columbia is dominated by a hugely inequitable canal treaty that robbed the Panamanians and Columbians while providing massive profits and political leverage for the US and the western world.

    I know the state department could have come to my rescue eventually, but where was it that night? I couldn’t flash it in the faces of the 4 armed Panamanians?

    If we continue along our militaristic and short sighted path, what will it be like for my infant nephew in 20 years when he leaves the bosom of our nation to find himself?

    We cant expect an immediate peaceful global family, I have never been a Utopian-ist, but we also cant go on in the same path as history laid before us.

    The question then becomes, how to break our- (human not just US) dependence on “might = right” epistemology.

  13. John:

    Note that I did NOT say the benefits outweigh the advantages. So, you are taking me to task over something I did not say and did not mean. I was simply responding to Lex’s assertion that all we get from military spending are a few jobs and some economic activity. And as I pointed out earlier, these are not jobs and economic activity that give as much back as other sorts of jobs would.

    I’m someone who believes that when a decision is to be made, it is a good idea to consider all the ramifications. One ramification of greatly reducing military spending is to reduce the US’s clout in the world in some ways. Is this a price worth paying? I suspect it is, but I don’t think it does us any good to ignore all the potential negative and positive consequences of decisions we make so that we have a shot at gauging, as best we can, the net gain or loss of those decisions.

    As for your Panama experience, that sounds rather frightening, and I’m glad there were no long-term negative consequences for you.. Yes, I know there are places in the world where at least some people despise Americans, as they did Romans, Brits, and many others before us. I don’t believe your anecdote negates my points, though.

  14. John:

    As another clarification, nothing I have said above applies to post-Caesar Rome, if you are talking about JC Caesar. It is all pre-Caesar Rome or contemporary with GJC.