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    The Enemy-Industrial Complex

    From right-wing think tanks to Homeland
    Security to the “drone lobby,” a lot’s riding on the constant threat of global terrorism. Here’s how it all started.   

    This article originally
    appeared at TomDispatch.

    The communist enemy, with the “world’s
    fourth largest military
    ,” has been trundlingmissiles around and threatening the United States
    with nuclear obliteration. Guam, Hawaii, Washington: all, it claims, are targetable. The coverage in
    the media has been hair-raising. The U.S. is rushing an untested missile defense system to Guam,
    deploying missile-interceptor ships off the South Korean coast, sending “nuclear capable” B-2 Stealth bombers thousands of
    miles on mock bombing runs, pressuring China, and conducting large-scale war games with its South Korean ally.

    Only one small problem: there is as yet little evidence that the enemy with a few nuclear weapons
    facing off (rhetorically at least) against an American arsenal of 4,650 of them has the ability to miniaturize and mount even one on a missile, no
    less deliver it accurately, nor does it have a missile capable of reaching
    Hawaii or Washington, and I wouldn’t count on Guam either.

    It also happens to be a desperate country, one possibly without enough fuel to fly a modern air force, whose
    people, on average, are inches shorter than their southern neighbors thanks to
    decades of intermittent famine and malnutrition, and who are ruled by a bizarre
    three-generational family cult. If that other communist, Karl Marx, hadn’t once
    famously written that history repeats itself “first as tragedy, then as farce,”
    we would have had to invent the phrase for this very moment.

    In the previous century, there were two devastating
    global wars, which left significant parts of the planet in ruins. There was
    also a “cold war” between two superpowers locked in a system of mutual
    assured destruction
    (aptly acronymed as MAD) whose nuclear arsenals were
    capable of destroying the planet many times over. Had you woken up any morning
    in the years between December
    7, 1941
    , and December 26, 1991, and been told that the leading
    international candidate for America’s Public Enemy Number One was Kim Jong-un’s
    ramshackle, comic-opera regime in North Korea, you might have gotten down on
    your hands and knees and sent thanks to pagan gods.

    The same would be true for the other candidates for that
    number one position since September 11, 2001: the original al-Qaeda (largely
    decimated), al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula located in poverty-stricken areas
    of poverty-stricken Yemen, the Taliban in poverty-stricken Afghanistan, unnamed
    jihadis scattered across poverty-stricken areas of North Africa, or
    Iran, another rickety regional power run by not particularly adept theocrats.

    All these years, we’ve been launching wars and pursuing a
    “global war on terror.” We’ve poured money into national security as if
    there were no tomorrow. From our police to our borders, we’ve up-armored everywhere. We constantly
    hear about “threats” to us and to the “homeland.” And yet, when you knock on
    the door marked “Enemy,” there’s seldom anyone home.

    Few in this country have found this
    striking. Few seem to notice any disjuncture between the enemy-ridden,
    threatening, and deeply dangerous world we have been preparing ourselves for
    (and fighting in) this last decade-plus and the world as it actually is, even
    those who lived through significant parts of the last anxiety-producing, bloody

    You know that feeling when you wake up and realize you’ve
    had the same recurrent nightmare yet again? Sometimes, there’s an equivalent in
    waking life, and here’s mine: every now and then, as I read about the next move
    in the spreading war on terror, the next drone assassination, the next
    ratcheting up of the surveillance game, the next expansion of the secrecy that
    envelops our government, the next set of expensive actions taken to guard us —
    all of this justified by the enormous threats and dangers that we face — I
    think to myself: Where’s the enemy? And then I wonder: Just what kind of a
    dream is this that we’re dreaming?

    A Door Marked “Enemy” and No One Home

    Let’s admit it: enemies can have their uses. And let’s
    admit as well that it’s in the interest of some in our country that we be seen
    as surrounded by constant and imminent dangers on an enemy-filled planet. Let’s
    also admit that the world is and always will be a dangerous place in all sorts
    of ways.

    Still, in American terms, the bloodlettings, the
    devastations of this new century and the last years of the previous one have
    been remarkably minimal or distant; some of the worst, as in the multicountry
    war over the Congo with its
    more than five million dead have passed us by entirely;
    some, even when we launched them, have essentially been imperial frontier
    conflicts, as in Iraq and Afghanistan, or interventions of little cost (to us)
    as in Libya, or frontier patrolling operations as in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia,
    and Northern Africa. (It was no mistake that, when Washington
    launched its special operations raid on Abbottabad,
    Pakistan, to
    get Osama bin Laden, it was given the code name “Geronimo” and the message from the SEAL team
    recording his death was “Geronimo-E KIA” or “enemy killed in action.”)

    And let’s admit as well that, in the wake of those wars
    and operations, Americans now have more enemies, more angry, embittered people
    who would like to do us harm than on September 10, 2001. Let’s accept that
    somewhere out there are people who, as George W. Bush once liked to say, “hate us” and what we stand for. (I
    leave just what we actually stand for to you, for the moment.)

    So let’s consider those enemies briefly. Is there a major
    state, for instance, that falls into this category, like any of the great
    warring imperial European powers from the sixteenth century on, or Nazi Germany
    and Imperial Japan in World War II, or the Soviet Union
    of the Cold War era? Of course not.

    There was admittedly a period when, in order to pump up
    what we faced in the world, analogies to World War II and the Cold War were
    rife. There was, for instance, George W. Bush’s famed rhetorical construct, the Axis of
    (Iraq, Iran, and North Korea), patterned by his
    speechwriter on the German-Italian-Japanese “axis” of World War II. It was, of
    course, a joke construct, if reality was your yardstick. Iraq and Iran were then enemies. (Only in
    the wake of the U.S.
    invasion and occupation of Iraq
    have they become friends and allies.) And North Korea had nothing whatsoever
    to do with either of them. Similarly, the American occupation of Iraq was once regularly compared to the
    U.S. occupations of Germany and Japan, just as Saddam Hussein had long been presented as a modern Hitler.

    In addition, al-Qaeda-style Islamists were regularly
    referred to as Islamofascists, while certain military and neocon types
    with a desire to turn the war on terror into a successor to the Cold War took
    to calling it “the long war,” or even “World War IV.” But all of this was so wildly out of whack
    that it simply faded away.

    As for who’s behind that door marked “Enemy,” if you
    opened it, what would you find? As a start, scattered hundreds or, as the years have
    gone by, thousands of jihadis, mostly in the poorest backlands of the
    planet and with little ability to do anything to the United States. Next, there were a
    few minority insurgencies, including the Taliban and allied forces in Afghanistan and separate Sunni and Shia ones in Iraq. There
    also have been tiny numbers of wannabe
    Islamic terrorists
    in the U.S.
    (once you take away the string of FBI
    sting operations
    that have regularly turned hopeless slackers and lost
    teenagers into the most dangerous of fantasy Muslim plotters). And then, of
    course, there are those two relatively hapless regional powers, Iran and North Korea, whose bark far exceeds
    their potential bite.

    The Wizard of Oz on 9/11

    The U.S.,
    in other words, is probably in less danger from external enemies than at any
    moment in the last century. There is no other imperial power on the planet
    capable of, or desirous of, taking on American power directly, including China. It’s
    true that, on September 11, 2001, 19 hijackers with box cutters produced a
    remarkable, apocalyptic, and devastating TV show in which almost 3,000 people died. When those giant towers in
    downtown New York
    collapsed, it certainly had the look of nuclear disaster (and in those first days, the
    media was filled was nuclear-style references), but it wasn’t actually an
    apocalyptic event.

    The enemy was still nearly nonexistent. The act cost
    bin Laden only an estimated $400,000-$500,000, though it would lead to a series
    of trillion-dollar wars. It was a nightmarish event that had a
    malign Wizard of Oz quality to it: a tiny man producing giant
    effects. It in no way endangered the state. In fact, it would actually
    strengthen many of its powers. It put a hit on the economy, but a passing one.
    It was a spectacular and spectacularly gruesome act of terror by a small,
    murderous organization then capable of mounting a major operation somewhere on
    Earth only once every couple of years. It was meant to spread fear, but nothing

    When the towers came down and you could suddenly see to
    the horizon, it was still, in historical terms, remarkably enemy-less. And yet
    9/11 was experienced here as a Pearl Harbor
    moment — a sneak attack by a terrifying enemy meant to disable the country.
    The next day, newspaper headlines were filled with variations on “A Pearl Harbor of the Twenty-First Century.”
    If it was a repeat of December 7, 1941, however, it lacked an imperial Japan or
    any other state to declare war on, although one of the weakest partial states
    on the planet, the Taliban’s Afghanistan, would end up filling the bill
    adequately enough for Americans.

    To put this in perspective, consider two obvious major
    dangers in U.S.
    life: suicide by gun and death by car. In 2010, more than 19,000 Americans killed themselves using guns. (In the same
    year, there were “only” 11,000 homicides nationwide.) In 2011, 32,000 Americans
    died in traffic accidents (the lowest figure in 60 years, though it was again on the rise in the first six months of 2012). In other
    words, Americans accept without blinking the equivalent yearly of more than six
    9/11s in suicides-by-gun and more than 10 when it comes to vehicular deaths.
    Similarly, had the underwear bomber, to take one post-9/11 example of
    terrorism, succeeded in downing Flight 253 and murdering its 290 passengers, it would have
    been a horrific act of terror; but he and his compatriots would have had to
    bring down 65 planes to reach the annual level of weaponized suicides and more
    than 110 planes for vehicular deaths.

    And yet no one has declared war on either the car or the
    gun (or the companies that make them or the people who sell them). No one has
    built a massive, nearly trillion-dollar car-and-gun-security-complex to deal
    with them. In the case of guns, quite the opposite is true, as the post-Newtown
    debate over gun control has made all too clear. On both scores, Americans have
    decided to live with perfectly real dangers and the staggering carnage that
    accompanies them, constraining them on occasion or sometimes not at all.

    Despite the carnage of 9/11, terrorism has been a small-scale American danger in the years since, worse than
    shark attacks, but not much else. Like a wizard, however, what Osama bin Laden
    and his suicide bombers did that day was create an instant sense of an enemy so
    big, so powerful, that Americans found “war” a reasonable response; big enough
    for those who wanted an international police action against al-Qaeda to be
    laughed out of the room; big enough to launch an invasion of revenge against
    Iraq, a country unrelated to al-Qaeda; big enough, in fact, to essentially
    declare war on the world. It took next to no time for top administration
    officials to begin talking about targeting 60
    , and as journalist Ron Suskind has reported, within six days of the attack, the CIA had
    topped that figure, presenting President Bush with a “Worldwide Attack Matrix,”
    a plan that targeted terrorists in 80 countries.

    What’s remarkable is how little the disjuncture between
    the scope and scale of the global war that was almost instantly launched and
    the actual enemy at hand was ever noted here. You could certainly make a
    reasonable argument that, in these years, Washington has largely fought no one — and
    lost. Everywhere it went, it created enemies who had, previously, hardly
    existed and the process is ongoing. Had you been able to time-travel back to the Cold
    War era to inform Americans that, in the future, our major enemies would be in
    Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Mali, Libya, and so on, they would surely have
    thought you mad (or lucky indeed).

    Creating an Enemy-Industrial Complex

    Without an enemy of commensurate size and threat, so much
    that was done in Washington
    in these years might have been unattainable. The vast national security building and spending spree — stretching from the Virginia
    suburbs of Washington, where the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
    erected its new $1.8 billion headquarters, to Bluffdale, Utah, where the
    National Security Agency is still constructing a $2 billion, one-million-square-foot data center for storing
    the world’s intercepted communications — would have been unlikely.

    Without the fear of an enemy capable of doing anything,
    money at ever escalating levels would never have poured into homeland security,
    or the Pentagon, or a growing complex of crony corporations associated with our
    weaponized safety. The exponential growth of the national security complex, as
    well as of the powers of the executive branch when it comes to
    national security matters, would have far been less likely.

    Without 9/11 and the perpetual “wartime” that followed,
    along with the heavily promoted threat of terrorists ready to strike and
    potentially capable of wielding biological, chemical, or even nuclear weapons,
    we would have no Department of Homeland Security nor the lucrative mini-homeland-security complex that surrounds it; the
    17-outfit U.S. Intelligence Community with its massive $75 billion official budget would have been far less impressive;
    our endless drone wars and the “drone lobby” that goes with them might never have
    developed; and the U.S. military would not have an ever growing secret military, the Joint Special Operations Command,
    gestating inside it — effectively the president’s private army, air force, and
    navy — and already conducting largely secret operations across much of the

    For all of this to happen, there had to be an
    enemy-industrial complex as well, a network of crucial figures and institutions
    ready to pump up the threat we faced and convince Americans that we were in a
    world so dangerous that rights, liberty, and privacy were small things to
    sacrifice for American safety. In short, any number of interests from Bush
    administration figures eager to “sweep it all up” and do whatever they wanted in the world
    to weapons makers, lobbyists, surveillance outfits, think tanks, military intellectuals, assorted pundits… well, the whole
    national and homeland security racket and its various hangers-on had an
    interest in beefing up the enemy. For them, it was important in the post-9/11
    era that threats would never again lack a capital “T” or a hefty dollar sign.

    And don’t forget a media that was ready to pound the
    drums of war and emphasize what dangerous enemies lurked in our world with
    remarkably few second thoughts. Post-9/11, major media outlets were generally
    prepared to take the enemy-industrial complex’s word for it and play every new
    terrorist incident as if it were potentially the end of the world. Increasingly
    as the years went on, jobs, livelihoods, an expanding world of “security”
    depended on the continuance of all this, depended, in short, on the injection
    of regular doses of fear into the body politic.

    That was the “favor” Osama bin Laden did for Washington’s national
    security apparatus and the Bush administration on that fateful September
    morning. He engraved an argument in the American brain that would live on
    indelibly for years, possibly decades, calling for eternal vigilance at any
    cost and on a previously unknown scale. As the Project for the New American
    Century (PNAC), that neocon think-tank-cum-shadow-government, so fatefully put
    it in “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” a year before the 9/11 attacks:
    “Further, the process of transformation [of the military], even if it brings
    revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and
    catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor.”

    So when the new Pearl Harbor
    arrived out of the blue, with many PNAC members (from Vice President Dick
    Cheney on down) already in office, they naturally saw their chance. They
    created an al-Qaeda on steroids and launched their “global war” to establish a Pax
    , in the Middle East and then perhaps globally. They were aware
    that they lacked opponents of the stature of those of the previous century and,
    in their documents, they made it clear that they were planning to
    ensure no future great-power-style enemy or bloc of enemy-like nations would
    arise. Ever.

    For this, they needed an American public anxious,
    frightened, and ready to pay. It was, in other words, in their interest to
    manipulate us. And if that were all there were to it, our world would be a
    grim, but simple enough place. As it happens, it’s not. Ruling elites, no
    matter what power they have, don’t work that way. Before they manipulate us,
    they almost invariably manipulate themselves.

    I was convinced of this years ago by a friend who had
    spent a lot of time reading early Cold War documents from the National Security
    Council — from, that is, a small group of powerful governmental figures
    writing to and for each other in the utmost secrecy. As he told me then and
    wrote in Washington’s China, the smart book he did on the
    early U.S. response to the establishment of the People’s Republic of China,
    what struck him in the documents was the crudely anti-communist language those
    men used in private with each other. It was the sort of anti-communism you
    might otherwise have assumed Washington’s
    ruling elite would only have wielded to manipulate ordinary Americans with
    fears of Communist subversion, the “enemy within,” and Soviet plans to take
    over the world. (In fact, they and others like them would use just such
    language to inject fear into the body politic in those early Cold War years,
    that era of McCarthyism.)

    They were indeed manipulative men, but before they
    influenced other Americans they assumedly underwent something like a process of
    collective auto-hypnotism in which they convinced one another of the dangers
    they needed the American people to believe in. There is evidence that a similar
    process took place in the aftermath of 9/11. From the flustered look on George
    W. Bush’s face as his plane took him not toward but away from Washington on September 11, 2001, to the image of
    Dick Cheney, in those early months, being chauffeured around Washington in an armored motorcade with
    a “gas mask and a biochemical survival suit” in the backseat, you could
    sense that the enemy loomed large and omnipresent for them. They were, that is,
    genuinely scared, even if they were also ready to make use of that fear for
    their own ends.

    Or consider the issue of Saddam Hussein’s supposed
    weapons of mass destruction, that excuse for the invasion of Iraq. Critics
    of the invasion are generally quick to point out how that bogus issue was used
    by the top officials of the Bush administration to gain public support for a
    course that they had already chosen. After all, Cheney and his men cherry-picked the evidence to make their case, even formed their own secret intel outfit to give them what they
    needed, and ignored facts at hand that brought their version of events into question.
    They publicly claimed in an orchestrated way that Saddam had active nuclear and WMD
    programs. They spoke in the most open ways of potential mushroom clouds from (nonexistent) Iraqi nuclear weapons
    rising over American cities, or of those same cities being sprayed
    with (nonexistent) chemical or biological weapons from (nonexistent) Iraqi
    drones. They certainly had to know that some of this information was useful but
    bogus. Still, they had clearly also convinced themselves that, on taking Iraq, they
    would indeed find some Iraqi WMD to justify their claims.

    In his soon-to-be-published book, Dirty Wars, Jeremy Scahill cites the conservative
    journalist Rowan Scarborough on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s growing
    post-invasion irritation over the search for Iraqi WMD sites. “Each morning,”
    wrote Scarborough, “the crisis action team had
    to report that another location was a bust. Rumsfeld grew angrier and angrier.
    One officer quoted him as saying, ‘They must be there!’ At one briefing, he
    picked up the briefing slides and tossed them back at the briefers.”

    In other words, those top officials hustling us into
    their global war and their long-desired invasion of Iraq had also hustled themselves
    into the same world with a similar set of fears. This may seem odd, but given
    the workings of the human mind, its ability to comfortably hold potentially
    contradictory thoughts most of the time without disturbing itself greatly, it’s

    A similar phenomenon undoubtedly took place in the larger
    national security establishment where self-interest combined easily enough with
    fear. After all, in the post-9/11 era, they were promising us one thing:
    something close to 100% “safety” when it came to one small danger in our world
    — terrorism. The fear that the next underwear bomber might get through surely
    had the American public — but also the American security state — in its
    grips. After all, who loses the most if another shoe bomber strikes, another
    ambassador goes down, another 9/11 actually happens? Whose job, whose
    world, will be at stake then?

    They may indeed be a crew of Machiavellis, but they are
    also acolytes in the cult of terror and global war. They live in the Cathedral
    of the Enemy. They were the first believers and they will undoubtedly be the
    last ones as well. They are invested in the importance of the enemy. It’s their
    religion. They are, after all, the enemy-industrial complex and if we are in
    their grip, so are they.

    The comic strip character Pogo once famously declared: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
    How true. We just don’t know it yet.

    Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American
    Empire Project
    and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the
    Cold War,
    The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com.
    His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is
    Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare,

    Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check
    out the newest Dispatch book, Nick Turse’s The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Proxy
    Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare

    Copyright 2013 Tom Engelhardt

    Image by ISAF Media,
    licensed under Creative

    Published on Apr 18, 2013


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