|tags:||Politics & Economics|
AS ANYONE WHO’S TRIED to do antiwar work over the last few years knows, not only can the President pretty well get away with murder any time he wants to these days, but it can sometimes be hard to find many people who seem to care about it when he does. As Rachel Maddow sees it, this is anything but an accident. Her first book, Drift, tells the story of a decades-long effort to “cure” the country of “Vietnam Syndrome,” which, the popular television host argues, also means supplanting the war-aversive structures on which the nation was founded in a drift toward an imperial presidency under which war becomes a routine aspect of American life.
When Lyndon Baines Johnson asked Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Richard Russell whether he thought he needed to call a joint session of Congress on the occasion of his first escalation of the Vietnam War, Russell responded: “Not as long as you don’t call up any Reserves and all, I wouldn’t.” Johnson took the chairman’s advice and did neither. Even when he’d sent 535,000 troops over there, no more than one percent were National Guard and Reserves. In the past, when the US had fought wars, the reservists had gone. But back then, the American public had largely believed that the country needed to fight the wars it had fought. Perhaps it was delayed reaction to the murky rationale for the Korean War, but as the Vietnam War grew it became clear that the government was not going to get a free pass on another war it did not obviously need to fight. So, rather than tap reservists who voted, the government ultimately decided to go with draftees who would be shipped off at age 19 before they ever really knew what hit them.
By the time it was over, everyone knew what “Hell no, we won’t go” referred to. LBJ was dead, his successor, Richard Nixon, politically destroyed, and Congress had reasserted itself as the body with the ultimate responsibility to decide questions of war and peace with its passage of the War Powers Act. Nor would military operations remain unchanged by the disaster. Appointed Army chief of staff in 1972 after presiding over the withdrawal of the bulk of American forces from Vietnam, General Creighton Abrams put in place a “Total Force Policy” designed to firmly embed the country’s reserves in any major future military operation. The policy was so successful that in 2005, the third year of the Iraq War, Maddow writes, “more than half the soldiers in Iraq were from the National Guard. This was a first in American history.” And yet, the country’s policy makers have still managed to wage war without the informed consent and involvement of the population at large. How? Privatization, secrecy and concentration of presidential power.
Maddow dedicates her book to former Vice-president Dick Cheney, with the plea: “Oh, please let me interview you.” He’s that central to the story. Shortly before the end of the first George Bush administration, the Brown & Root Services Corporation became the first private contractor signed on for the Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) introduced by Secretary of Defense Cheney. Four years later, citizen Dick Cheney was prospering as the CEO of Brown & Root’s parent corporation, Halliburton, even as then Vice-president Al Gore hailed LOGCAP for “Outsourcing or privatization of key support functions, with the strong prospect of lowering costs and improving ...read more