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Americans may feel more distant from war than at any time since World War II began. Certainly, a smaller percentage of us — less than 1% — serves in the military in this all-volunteer era of ours and, on the face of it, Washington’s constant warring in distant lands seems barely to touch the lives of most Americans.
And yet the militarization of the United States and the strengthening of the National Security Complex continues to accelerate. The Pentagon is, by now, a world unto itself, with a staggering budget at a moment when no other power or combination of powers comes near to challenging this country’s might.
In the post-9/11 era, the military-industrial complex has been thoroughly mobilized under the rubric of “privatization” and now goes to war with the Pentagon. With its $80 billion-plus budget, the intelligence bureaucracy has simply exploded. There are so many competing agencies and outfits, surrounded by a universe of private intelligence contractors, all enswathed in a penumbra of secrecy, and they have grown so large, mainly under the Pentagon’s aegis, that you could say intelligence is now a ruling way of life in Washington — and it, too, is being thoroughly militarized. Even the once-civilian CIA has undergone a process of para-militarization and now runs its own “covert” drone wars in Pakistan and elsewhere. Its director, a widely hailed retired four-star general, was previously the U.S. war commander in Iraq and then Afghanistan, just as the National Intelligence Director who oversees the whole intelligence labyrinth is a retired Air Force lieutenant general.
In a sense, even the military has been “militarized.” In these last years, a secret army of special operations forces, 60,000 or more strong and still expanding, has grown like an incubus inside the regular armed forces. As the CIA’s drones have become the president’s private air force, so the special ops troops are his private army, and are now given free rein to go about the business of war in their own cocoon of secrecy in areas far removed from what are normally considered America’s war zones.