Monday, September 15, 2008

Arms and the Candidates

For the last two weeks, the press has been reporting that defense industries are not looking on John McCain as their preferred winner of the presidential sweepstakes currently be contested. The reason cited is that McCain knows too much about how the military-industrial-congressional-intelligence conglomerate functions, understands not only the “gold-plating” that goes on but also (and perhaps most importantly), what questions to ask the senior admirals and generals and the civilians in charge of overseeing the military acquisition process, Barack Obama, so this line of reasoning goes, doesn’t understand the intricacies of the military acquisition system or how industry and elected officials “play the game” – and thus can be “rolled.”

What is left out of this analysis are McCain’s ties to the military itself, ties which he never misses a chance to highlight and of which he is proud. Already in this long campaign season he has – semi-jokingly – suggested that the U.S. could stay in Iraq for a hundred years if necessary to win. And he is adamant that the U.S. must “win.” As for Obama, the consensus view associated with stories highlighting his lack of military service (which opponents suggest might translate into indecision or “lack of resolve in a crunch,” ignore the fact that no modern president has lacked for top-notch advisors. (What modern presidents seem to have less of these days is top-notch advice from their top-notch advisors.)

That the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth presidents ( in office for the 28 years between 1801 and 1829) were each also secretary of state in a preceding administration offered them the opportunity to formulate and propose to the incumbent president the particulars of U.S. foreign policy that, as president himself, he had to implement. These four – Jefferson and the Louisiana Purchase; Madison and the War of 1812 over freedom of navigation on the high seas; Monroe and the “Monroe Doctrine” asserting America’s special position as the “guardian of democracy in the Western Hemisphere; and John Quincy Adams, called the “consolidator of the American Revolution” by William Seward, set the course that has been ours to traverse to the present day.

These were not perfect men by any stretch, but they all were men who, having lived through and in some way participated in the American Revolution, rejected war as a “natural” way to settle disputes. But then, they were not encumbered with a “war industry” such as we have had since World War II – one that is so important to the county’s economic health that the current administration seems willing to sell as many weapons as it can to foreign nations.

How much? With Fiscal Year 2008 almost over, the total value of the agreements concluded is $32 billion – a jump of $20 billion from Fiscal Year 2005. And what rationale does the Bush White House give to justify this increase. Why “consolidating alliances” and “making the world more secure.”

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