The Founders were wary of establishing a standing army: they feared not only that it would become an instrument of domestic tyranny, as in Europe, but also that it would lead to … what we have today: a militarist caste that glories in – and profits from – war. As James Madison, the father of the Constitution, put it:
"Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people…. [There is also an] inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and … degeneracy of manners and of morals…. No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."
Those last phrases – "inequality of fortunes," "opportunities of fraud," and "degeneracy of manners and of morals" – ought to ring like alarm bells going off, especially in the context of recent history. For the last decade or so, we’ve been at war constantly, and this is due in large part to the dominance in American politics – and most particularly in our media – of those who stand to profit from war, materially and otherwise. Whenever a "crisis" is ginned up by the US and its allies – take recent events in Syria as an example – the talking heads start ululating for war, or at least some form of US intervention, and this sets the terms for what is usually a very one-sided "debate."
I always knew, on some level, that these "experts" had some kind of monetary as well as nonmaterial interest in promoting interventionist policies, but even I was shocked to read this report from the Public Accountability Initiative detailing the extent of it. And while the PAI study deals only with the recent national discourse over whether to intervene in Syria, many if not most of the commentators profiled therein played similar roles in the run up to the invasion of Iraq and our ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Africa.
PAI profiled 22 commentators with strong financial ties to the military-industrial complex who, in the course of 111 media appearances (either televised or print), made the case for intervention in Syria in the vast majority of those occasions. Particularly egregious: Stephen Hadley, former Bush administration official, whose membership on the board of Raytheon, a major military contractor, was never disclosed – although his other credentials as a "defense expert" were touted by his hosts on CNN, MSNBC, and Bloomberg TV. An op-ed for the Washington Post somehow neglected to note this little detail. As PAI documents, Hadley makes a pretty penny from his expertise at ginning up wars:
"Hadley earns $128,500 in annual cash compensation from the company and chairs its public affairs committee. He also owns 11,477 shares of Raytheon stock, which traded at all-time highs during the Syria debate ($77.65 on August 23, making Hadley’s share’s worth $891,189). Despite this financial stake, Hadley was presented to his audience as an experienced, independent national security expert."
Raytheon stock rose during the debate over Syria on the prospect that President Obama would soon be lobbing Tomahawk missiles – made by Raytheon – at Bashar al-Assad. Each missile costs $1.41 million: we launched half a billion dollars worth during the Libya adventure. Hadley was for that one, too. Notice that in that last link – an interview with Obama cultist Andrea Mitchell – Hadley is introduced as a former national security advisor "and is currently with the United States Institute of Peace." What Mitchell doesn’t tell her viewers, who may think USIP is a real thinktank, is that the "Institute" is a US government agency devoted to rationalizing American foreign policy.
In these circles, however, the distinction between the public and the private is vague-to-nonexistent. If you take a good look at the PAI report, it charts commentators’ ties to various "consulting groups," the biggest of which involve former US government officials as principals and/or founders. This is the central nexus of the War Party, a crucial network of interlocking elites who perpetuate our interventionist foreign policy and short-circuit – in most cases – opposition outside the Washington beltway.
Take, for example, the Albright Stonebridge Group, founded by Madeleine "Indispensable Nation" Albright, an interventionist nest that sits high up in the tree now that a Democrat is in the White House. Albright’s hyper-interventionist views – she once complained to Colin Powell "what’s the use of having this superb military if we don’t use it?" – are now being parlayed into some nice profits (although ASG doesn’t make their internals public, they do have quite a generous profit-sharing 401k plan).
The Albright component of Albright Stonebridge started out as the Albright Group, which had an affiliate, Albright Capital Management: ACM’s business was securing financing and investment opportunities in "emerging markets" (i.e. precisely those countries likely to find themselves the targets – or beneficiaries – of US intervention). In 2007 Albright was managing $329 million for a Dutch pension fund investor who opined that the former Secretary of State "sees a need for investing to create a middle class … There was an ideological background for Secretary Albright to get involved in this."
There certainly was and is an ideological background, albeit not in the way Jelle Beneen, of PGGM, a multi-billion-dollar pension fund, meant it. The ideology behind the profiteering is crony capitalism, or oligarchical capitalism, as I prefer to call it, in which the coin of the realm is political connections rather than entrepreneurial savvy or technical innovativeness. What the novelist Ayn Rand called the "aristocracy of pull" is now clearly dominant in the US, where the wealthiest counties in the country are those surrounding Washington, D.C., and the amount of corporate welfare being ladled out in the federal budget has reached an all-time high.
This is the way it has always worked in the foreign policy realm: rich backers think up a profit-making enterprise which requires the support of the US government in order to turn a profit – often involving turning the US military into a company’s private police force. Their friends in Washington cook up a "national security" rationale for US intervention in the targeted area, and – bingo! We have the Panama Canal!
Some enterprising libertarian scholar really should do a taxonomy of the American political class: such a weighty subject is far beyond my humble capabilities, but I would venture to say that, if such a study were done, one of the findings would be the discovery of a certain subset that lives at the intersection of corporate and ideological interests in the foreign policy field. The influence of this small but powerful group of self-interested former and present government officials, and their corporate cronies, extends far beyond Washington: indeed, its tentacles encircle the globe, reaching into every parliament, every newsroom, and virtually every political party on earth.
Oh, but this is just a "conspiracy theory," avers the political class and its apologists: there is no there there, they claim, and even if there were it’s pure coincidence, you understand, that the very people pushing our foreign policy of perpetual war just happen to personally profit from US meddling around the world.
It’s impossible to know what motivates people to believe or act in a certain way: oftentimes they don’t even have a clear idea themselves. Yet we can infer motives not only by their actions but by the consequences of those actions, and if the same people saying the same old thing keep getting richer saying it, then it is fair to draw certain conclusions – and if that’s "conspiracism," well then so be it.
In the age of empire, when "the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war" are manifold and "degeneracy of manners and of morals" is the rule in Washington rather than the exception, a political class mired in the last stages of corruption isn’t bashful about the great "inequality of fortunes" – but is none too eager to reveal the sources of both their wealth and the policies that made that wealth possible.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).