The Bush Administration's Militarism

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The
word "militarism" – which refers to a reverence for military
ideas and policies – seems to have fallen out of favor in recent
years. But perhaps it should be revived, for it tells us much about
the Bush administration’s national security policy.

In
the year 2000, the United States was militarily supreme throughout
the world, with a military budget that surpassed that of all its
potential rivals combined. Nevertheless, George W. Bush, campaigning
for the presidency, castigated the Clinton administration for allegedly
letting the U.S. armed forces deteriorate, criticized nuclear arms
control treaties negotiated by his Democratic and Republican predecessors,
and called for a military buildup. Once elected, Bush and his advisors
began putting their militarist priorities into effect.

In
fact, as U.S. intelligence reports repeatedly warned the Bush administration,
the greatest threat to U.S. national security did not come from
foreign military forces, but from stateless terrorists. And, as
we now know, the Bush administration largely ignored such warnings.
Instead, its top priority remained preparation for a military confrontation
with other nations, particularly Iraq. Ultimately, nineteen men,
armed only with box-cutters, succeeded in murdering thousands of
Americans on September 11, 2001. Against this kind of attack, the
U.S. government’s vast military machine proved useless.

Nevertheless,
the president quickly declared a "war on terrorism." War,
after all, was what the Bush administration had the resources and
desire to fight. But would war really address the issue of terrorism?
Wasn’t terrorism best dealt with on an immediate basis by law enforcement
(including sophisticated intelligence work and police action) and
on a long-term basis by overcoming the hatred and sense of grievance
that motivated terrorists?

Given
the Bush administration’s militarist mentality, it brushed aside
any doubts about military solutions to U.S. problems and quickly
plunged into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Afghanistan, at least,
there were terrorist training centers, and so some justification
for war could be assembled. But, in Iraq, there were none, and so
the administration leaned heavily on misleading claims about weapons
of mass destruction.

Nor
was the aftermath of war in either nation conducive to creating
a world free of terrorism. In Afghanistan, where the Bush administration
relied on little more than a military campaign by local warlords
and the U.S. armed forces, terrorist groups are making headway once
again. In Iraq, where there was no terrorist campaign in the past,
that nation is now flooded with terrorist acts, increasingly directed
against U.S. occupation forces. Meanwhile, around the world, large
numbers of angry Muslims, infuriated by these bloody U.S. wars against
their co-religionists, are gravitating to extremist positions, including
terrorism.

Of
course, there has been some progress against terrorism. U.S. airport
security, for example, is much better than in the past, and as a
result there has been no repetition of the tragic events of 9/11
or even of the airplane hijackings that occurred over the years.
But this enhanced security has no connection whatsoever with U.S.
military action or with the expansion of U.S. military might.

Yet,
despite the lack of any evidence that U.S. military power has effectively
countered terrorism or that the United States faces a serious military
threat from other nations, the Bush administration’s militarist
priorities continue. Its latest budget slashes spending on domestic
programs while increasing military spending to a record $421 billion – more
money than the next twenty-five countries combined devote to their
armed forces. Furthermore, this budget does not include spending
for the ongoing costs of the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan
or the cost of announced plans to expand the U.S. army. These additional
items could bring total U.S. military spending for fiscal 2005 to
$520 billion or more.

At
the insistence of the Bush administration, one of the items funded
by this budget is the development of new nuclear weapons. How, exactly,
are these new nuclear weapons going to be used against terrorism?
Isn’t it possible that their development, testing, and deployment
will increase dangers from terrorist acts and, in addition, spur
the development of nuclear weapons in other nations? Wouldn’t the
United States be safer if there were fewer nuclear weapons, rather
than more?

Such
questions, however, do not seem to unsettle the Bush administration.
After all, if one believes fervently that military might solves
all national security problems, then one remains free of doubt.

But
does it?

May
1, 2004

Lawrence
S. Wittner [send him mail]
is Professor of History at the State University of New York/Albany.
His latest book is Toward
Nuclear Abolition: A History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement,
1971 to the Present
(Stanford University Press).

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