The united military-industrial complex

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When it came to the influence of the Pentagon, President Dwight Eisenhower was a realist -- which made him an alarmist at the time he made his farewell address to the nation on Jan. 17, 1961:

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.

"The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist," Mr. Eisenhower said, giving the nation the kind of straight talk about democracy that is difficult to find nearly a half-century later.

Because Mr. Eisenhower was speaking to a country that had only recently jettisoned the encompassing paranoia of the McCarthy era by electing a New Frontier Democrat, he chose his words soberly and carefully:

"We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes," he said. "We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together."

Of course, the corrupting influence of the military-industrial complex came into its own during the Vietnam War, a conflict that Mr. Eisenhower's own administration helped set into motion, ironically enough.

Fast forward to the $3 trillion boondoggle that is the Iraq war in 2008.

Having spent much of the weekend reading Greg Mitchell's "So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq," I was deeply nostalgic for the "alert and knowledgeable citizenry" that Mr. Eisenhower saw as the only bulwark against the kind of creeping militarism that undermines democracy.

By the time I got around to David Barstow's exhaustive three-page expose of the Pentagon's strategy to dictate "expert opinion" about the war and terrorism in Sunday's New York Times, I was close to abandoning hope.

Once again, there is ample evidence that my profession is -- surprise, surprise -- being used to convey misinformation about issues of war and peace.

According to Mr. Barstow's piece, dozens of the 75 military analysts in regular rotation on the major networks and on cable news are pursuing the strategic interests of the Bush administration while also representing weapons manufacturers doing business with the Pentagon.

In other words, these military men were not the honest brokers they tried to represent themselves as. Who'd have thunk it?

Using interviews and 8,000 pages of formerly classified Pentagon e-mails, transcripts and records he sued under the Freedom of Information Act to access, the Times reporter detailed how the Bush administration has turned the military talking heads who flood our TV screens into a "media Trojan horse -- an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks."

Sewickley's own Torie Clarke, the former assistant secretary of defense for public affairs at the Pentagon, is credited with coming up with the strategy dubbed "information dominance" long before the Iraq war actually started:

"Don Meyer, an aide to Ms. Clarke, said a strategic decision was made in 2002 to make the analysts the main focus of the public relations push to construct a case for war," Mr. Barstow wrote. "Journalists were secondary."

These military analysts who spoke so authoritatively about the Iraqi capacity to produce and also hide WMDs were known as "message force multipliers" and "surrogates" at Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon.

The military analysts assured American viewers that Iraq had weapons and that it represented an imminent threat. Then they assured their audience that any war with Iraq would be a quick and decisive "war of liberation" that could be won with minimal troop levels.

When the insurgency began, these experts collectively mocked the idea that it was a serious threat to American interests in Iraq. They mounted "tours" with selected politicians and media to counteract the negative press that was beginning to stream out of Iraq.

When Gen. David Petraeus began talking up the benefits of a "surge" more than a year ago, the military analysts fell into line.

"Please let me know if you have any specific points you want covered or that you would prefer to downplay," retired Army Col. John C. Garrett wrote in an e-mail to the Pentagon uncovered by Mr. Barstow. The surge was being marketed as ruthlessly as any sugared cereal during Saturday morning cartoons.

But even the smoothest running operations end up with a few flies in the ointment. Dissident military experts lost access to Pentagon sources and intelligence, making their expertise of little value to networks addicted to lies and propaganda.

You can almost hear President Eisenhower turning in his grave.


Tony Norman can be reached at tnorman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1631.


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