Sometime over the next 30 days, the amount of money the American government will have spent on making war in Iraq, and Afghanistan, will exceed one trillion dollars. You can watch the expenditure totals increase in real time at costofwar.com. The overall U.S. “defence” budget for 2010 is about $2 billion a day, greater than during the Vietnam or Korea wars (after inflation).
Spending that amount on the military, and their hopeless adventures, might seem like an act of collective insanity on the part of the U.S., especially when so many problems cry out for better uses of the money. However it would be a mistake to attribute U.S. military spending — the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of humanity — to collective craziness. There is an explanation for this apparent folly: follow the money.
In January the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that governments could not limit the right of corporations to spend money on political campaigns. This ruling legitimizes the main practice of American electoral politics: candidates seeking money for campaigns — from corporate sponsors. Corporations make political “investments” in candidates and expect something in return: public spending, and legislative votes to protect, and advance corporate interests. Influence peddling, and bribery are at the heart of the U.S. political process.
Corporations looking to “manufacture consent” funnel money through trade associations to lobby the public. The balance of political forces in the U.S. is overwhelmingly skewed to corporate America. Hardly any elected official outside of Bernie Sander of Vermont defends an alternative perspective. Pollsters find the American public recognizes the corruption of politics by corporate donations, but also that citizens are apathetic, and disengaged from politics. U.S. corporations want the war economy, the world gets the American war economy.
In a seminal 2008 work, published fully two decades after his official retirement from Princeton, legendary U.S. political scientist Sheldon Wolin has called the U.S. system “inverted totalitarianism.” In totalitarian Germany, under Hitler, the state controlled business; in the U.S., business controls the state. Under fascism, the public were mobilized in support of war; in the U.S. the public is demobilized, distracted from public life. In the totalitarian states (Stalinist, or Fascist), the centrally controlled media emitted the propaganda; under inverted totalitarianism, the privately controlled commercial media play that role.
In Democracy Incorporated, the 87-year-old Wolin calls the role played by corporations in American politics “managed democracy.” He identifies the military-industrial complex as “superpower.” The money corporations make from the arms trade supports Imperial America, though no American political figure (except Ralph Nader) ever mentions the American Empire. According to Wolin, universities play an important role in managing democracy, while the American left is too feeble to oppose surperpower.
Wolin wrote largely about the Republicans and the Bush era but told Chris Hedges his analysis applies to the Democrats under Obama as well. Jeff Cohen explained to the Real News how after the Vietnam War the Democratic party came under control of big money. Corporate funding of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) produced Bill Clinton, Al Gore (and his 2000 running mate Joe Lieberman). In 2006, then relatively unknown Senator Barack Obama was the only political leader to speak at the launch of the Alexander Hamilton Project (stepchild of the DLC), Wall Street funded and housed at the Brookings Institute. According to Cohen, the Obama association with the Hamilton project headed by Robert Rubin (Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, formerly of Goldman Sachs, and Citigroup, and mentor to current Obama Treasury Secretary Geithner, and economic advisor Larry Summers) explains why he could out fundraise Hillary Clinton on Wall Street.
Obama is now being advised by a conservative to bomb Iran in order to save his presidency. Citing five opinion polls favourable to the use of force, author Daniel Pipes, who has been making virulent attacks on Obama (including accusing him of lying about his religion) says if the president were to destroy the Iranian “nuclear” capacity he would regain his standing with the American public.
Duncan Cameron writes from France.