Thursday, April 2, 2009


The High Cost of Neocon Porn

By James Mamer

Robert Scheer's powerful new book, The Pornography of Power (How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America), examines what happened after an inattentive and largely apolitical public, led by a poorly prepared, intellectually insecure, and petulant president was confronted by deadly attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It's a frightening story, but it is crisply told, well researched, and convincing. After decades of incisive investigative reporting, including extensive interviews with five presidents, Scheer is unrivaled in his ability to explain the complex interactions that have created this perfect (political) storm.

As Scheer tells it, the Cold War probably began to unravel with Richard Nixon's policy of détente, but the definitive end had to wait until the disappearance of the Soviet enemy. Unfortunately, what was seen as an opportunity for most was perceived as a disaster by others, especially defense executives and neocon ideologues. No Cold War meant no superpower enemy and that meant the end of unlimited military spending. Then came 9/11 and, as Scheer observes, unlimited military spending was back stronger than ever. Thus the focus of the book: the unlikely and illogical linkage between terrorist attacks accomplished by hijacking commercial airliners with box-cutters and annual military spending that has exceeded that spent during the Cold War.

In the aftermath of 9/11 the neocons were ready with a fully developed theory for a 21st century Pax Americana. They had a fully developed answer for whatever problems Bush saw emerging in the wake of 9/11. Scheer meticulously lays out how Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle "went to work on an untutored president." Their agenda had clearly been laid out in the 1997 founding statement of the Project for a New American Century which, as Scheer illustrates, was to boost military spending to create a world "favorable to American interests." At its center were plans for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Never mind that there was no connection between Hussein and al Qaeda.

Scheer's convincing evidence demonstrates that little attempt was made, by Bush and company, to identify the nature of the problem presented by the attacks on 9/11. Instead, the President and his neocon advisors used 9/11 as justification for "solutions" that featured expensive weapons originally meant to counteract technical advances by the old Soviet Union. If you wonder why the United States continues to build the F-22 Raptor (at $65 billion) or the F-35 joint fighter (at $300 billion) Scheer explains in precise detail. Never mind that the terrorists have no air force. Never mind that the F-16 flys perfectly well. If you wonder why the Congress has funded new Virginia class submarines (at $2.5 billion each) to fight terrorists who don't have a navy Scheer makes it distressingly clear.

But the executive branch cannot spend all this money without congressional approval and, from the beginning, congress was cooperative. A critical mass of Republicans and Democrats alike are shown to be open to the influence of the likes of Lockheed, Halliburton and Boeing. Such influence, Scheer shows, does not stem from campaign contributions alone, but from the promise of jobs. It is not for nothing that the various facets of military production are spread into as many congressional districts as possible. All of this, the author concludes, is "proof that when it comes to the defense budget, there is bipartisan support for endless waste."

Gore Vidal once observed that the United States is no longer a "serious country." What he meant is that we have become a nation with little sense of our own past and with little commitment to political discourse. What one learns from The Pornography of Power is that such apathy comes at a price. That price is an American foreign policy that has become little more than the search for new enemies.

The Pornography of Power is a compelling investigation into senseless war, greed, congressional pork, neocons, neoliberals, and seemingly limitless debt. It is the story of a republic turned empire. But underlying Scheer's reporting is a conviction that it doesn't have to be this way. Understanding is the first step and he clearly lays out, for all willing to read, what is driving trillions of dollars in illogical and unnecessary spending for Bush's global war on terror.

This is essential reading for anyone who cares about the future, or who wonders why we can't take care of our sick, repair our bridges, or fix our schools. Buy this book, read it, and find a way to discuss it with your friends and neighbors.

[reposted from customer reviews for Pornography of Power]