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The Militarization of the National Security State

Mel Goodman. (Photo: City Lights Books)

Part of the Series

“National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism” explores the fundamental question of whether the US military and CIA are now serving foreign policy or actually driving the policy itself.

“In this impassioned expose of the astronomical costs of America’s defense policy, former CIA analyst Goodman demonstrates how post–cold war neoconservatives . . . promoted a pugnacious militarism that has led to a string of foreign policy debacles and unprecedented levels of military spending. Few will finish this precisely argued polemic without the uneasy feeling that military spending is out of control.” — Publishers Weekly

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Truthout talked with Melvin Goodman about the military and intelligence network machine that maintains America’s empire:

Mark Karlin: Almost every political and American history follower knows of President Dwight Eisenhower’s warning against the growing threat of an expanding “military industrial complex.” He issued this alarm in a speech as he was ending his second term. What caused the supreme allied commander during WW II, a military man to the core, to come to such a conclusion. After all, it was the ramping up of US military capacity toward the end of the depression that was essential in winning the Second World War. What changed the mind of this West Point Grad and veteran of two world wars?

Melvin Goodman: Ike didn’t have to change his mind. He warned about the military-industrial complex, and knew that Congress was the real problem. He warned about the “cross of iron,” which meant that spending on the military hurt all domestic spending. And he knew that his successors would have no idea about the difficulty of dealing with the professional military. He knew how to end a terrible war in Korea without victory, and how to avoid Vietnam despite the pressures from his right-wing advisors, including VP Nixon, SecState Dulles, and CIA director Dulles.

Mark Karlin: Isn’t our modern militaristic foreign policy, ironically, an outgrowth of winning World War II? We became a nation that represented approximately 25 % of the world’s wealth, isn’t it the tacit reality that our military and intelligence services are, in part, protecting our market position, relative standard of living for the privileged, and access to fossil fuels and mineral resources?

Melvin Goodman: I don’t agree with this Marxist interpretation of US military policy. Again, Ike had it right. We created a huge military-industrial complex, which relied on exaggerated threat perception and constantly expanding military budgets. The power of the Pentagon expanded under Ronald Reagan despite the decline of the Soviet Union. And presidents such as Clinton and Obama seemed intimidated by the military and much too willing to bow to pressure from the Pentagon on arms control and international agreements.

Mark Karlin: Given your 24-year career as a CIA analyst, you write about how the Bush administration militarized intelligence. We know about Cheney’s visits to Langley to coerce intelligence reports favorable to making the case for an invasion of Iraq. What are some of the other ways that the administration leaned on the intelligence community to make the “facts” fit the game plan?

Melvin Goodman: Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld forced CIA analysis to the right by creating an intelligence shop in the Pentagon, pressure CIA director George (“slam dunk”) Tenet, and essentially commissioned CIA estimates and white papers by Robert Walpole and Paul Pillar, respectively, to make the case for war against Iraq. The Pillar white paper in 2002 was particularly onerous because it violated the CIA charter against using intelligence to have an impact on a domestic audience.

Mark Karlin: You detail how Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice and Bush all point fingers at each other in their memoirs for the failed claims that launched the Iraq War, and the disastrous months after the occupation. But the drive to overthrow Saddam Hussein really goes back to the Project for the New American Century, which Cheney and Rumsfeld supported in the ’90s.

Melvin Goodman: This period points to the role of 9/11 as a pretext (and not a cause) for the Iraq War. Bush wanted to conduct a war and bring the “success” that his father could not; Cheney wanted a war to expand the power of the president; and Rumsfeld wanted a war to demonstrate that a small close-to-the-bone invasion force could be far more successful that the elder Bush’s huge force in Desert Storm.

Mark Karlin: Is the growth of the military-intelligence community-industrial complex a bi-partisan Capitol Hill affair? Are the differences between the two parties on the growth of the Pentagon-CIA assertion of a militarized foreign policiy significant or just relative?

Melvin Goodman: The support for the military is bipartisan. Good examples are the so-called liberal Senators from California who support all weapons systems that are produced in any way in California. By and large, the Senates look at defense procurement as a massive jobs programs for their states.

Mark Karlin: Why did you oppose Robert Gates, who later became secretary of defense, as nominee for CIA director in 1991? In your mind did Gates represent a new era of senior intelligence officials who would fix intelligence to achieve administration political goals?

Melvin Goodman: CIA director Bill Casey and deputy director Bob Gates were primarily responsible for the politicization of intelligence in the 1980s, the first time there was institutionalization of politicization at the CIA. Gates’s emphasis on relevance to policy led to many senior Agency officials who walked away from “telling truth to power” and the CIA’s moral compass in order to be relevant. Walpole and Pillar, for example, put too much stock in relevance and ignored the need for objectivity and scrutiny of intelligence sources.

Mark Karlin: In chapter seven, you state that “no boondoggle has been around longer and will end up wasting more U.S. taxpayer money than national missile defense.” Then why is it still an active project?

Melvin Goodman: Again, the military-industrial complex wins. National missile defense is the illusion of security that has been around since the 1950s despite the consistent failure to develop a system that can tell the difference between an actual missile and a decoy. Now, we are spending $10 billion annually on this “Star Wars” illusion.

Mark Karlin: What do you mean when you refer to the “militarization of the national security state”?

Melvin Goodman: The key player in the foreign policy process and the national security process has become the Pentagon. The State Department has declined in influence over the past twenty years as we have not had an effective secretary of state since James Baker. John Kerry has the potential to reverse this decline in the foreign policy process, although the wish may be father to the thought in this case.

Mark Karlin: Given the behemoth power of the military-industrial complex, is it safe to say that if we didn’t have an enemy, the Pentagon would invent one.

Melvin Goodman: The Pentagon needs an enemy to conduct its war gaming; its preparedness; its culture; its spending demands. Since the demise of the Soviet Union, the enemy has been China, which could be a classic example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. For the past seven decades, we have exaggerated all threats, including international communism and the Soviet Union, and now China and international terrorism. The more things change; the more they stay the same.

Mark Karlin: At the end of chapter six, you close with the biblical inscription in the front of CIA headquarters: “The truth will set you free.” How ironic is that?

Melvin Goodman: Actually, there have been brave CIA analysts who have lived by the inscription and fought the good fight to justify arms control; to counter the conventional wisdom on Vietnam; and to prepare premonitory intelligence on the Soviet decline. The CIA’s corporate culture today is far less independent minded and far less contrarian in nature.

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