Sunday, June 25, 2006

Mark Hyman's Scare Tactics

In his latest “Point,” Mark Hyman offers an alarmist reading of the most recent Pentagon report to Congress on the Chinese military. According to Hyman, China is on the verge of becoming the next global superpower.

There are a couple of points to be made here, one concerning Hyman’s selectivity in the data he uses, and a wider issue of motivation.

As to the content of the argument, Hyman throws out numbers of Chinese forces (4.6 million active, reserve, and paramilitary) and spending percentages (15% growth in the past year) that indeed sound intimidating. And these are numbers that are coming right from the Pentagon report itself. Hyman says the report’s findings indicate that China has military goals that go far beyond the long standing issue of Taiwan.

And if one only looks at the first few pages of the Pentagon’s report, it does indeed sound like a reasonable conclusion. The problem with Hyman’s argument, however, is that he hasn’t read, or doesn’t bother to mention, other of the report’s key findings.

Fred Kaplan at noted, the Pentagon’s report in its entirety offers a different picture. Even with the 15% increase in defense spending, China still only spends 1.5 percent of its GNP on its military. Compare that with the 4 percent spent by the U.S. In raw numbers, the U.S. defense budget is 15 times that of China. In fact, the U.S. spends approximately the same amount on its military as the rest of the world combined.

Even more telling, after painting a picture of a swelling Chinese military threat, the Pentagon’s own report concludes that China is mainly concerned with Taiwan-related issues. And even Chinese aggression in that arena is doubtful, according to the report, because of the devastating political and economic fallout such an attack would bring, to say nothing of the military forces it would run up against, including the U.S. as well as Japan and South Korea (both countries that also have larger defense budgets than China).

So, Hyman’s argument is based not only on selective use of the facts, but on a selective reading of his primary source. And
as more than a few observers have noted, this is a source that already has an inherent bias in it. It is in the Pentagon’s interest to play up the military threat China poses (the better to secure Congressional funding of big-ticket weapons systems, my dear). Given that, the report’s rather muted conclusions about the significance of the uptick in China’s defense spending become even more significant.

It shouldn’t surprise us that Hyman, a former navy man who has worked for the military in a number of capacities, would mouth the party line that China is big and scary and we need to rev back up to Cold War defense spending (of course, did we ever really rev down?).

But my suspicion is that this goes beyond Hyman’s own personal attachment to the military. His is only one of a broader range of voices, many of which are more influential and closer to the center of power than he is, that are making similar arguments.

This concerns me not simply because the military has a powerful lobby that, with arguments such as Hyman’s, can pull down huge amounts of money that could be much better invested in other sectors of the economy, but because it’s an example of the growing influence of the military in all aspects of the government, particularly in foreign policy.

If you didn’t have the chance to see the recent Frontline special on Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld’s roles in the buildup to the invasion of Iraq, I recommend you take a look at it. (
It’s available for free viewing via streaming video from PBS).

In addition to offering interviews with any number of former officials in the government who let us know in no uncertain terms that, yes, the intelligence was “fixed around” a preexisting desire to invade Iraq and that there was absolutely no evidence of any link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, the report also tells the story of the growing militarization of the intelligence gathering capabilities of the United States. Bluntly put, the post-9/11 foreign policy decisions ended up becoming an in-house pissing match between the Pentagonophiles (most notably Cheney and Rumsfeld) and the CIA.

The result, as we know, is a big win for the folks who work in the five-sided building. This victory has recently been consolidated with
the appointment of a military man to head up the CIA.

At a time when national security depends more than ever on finding things out, getting eyes on the ground in remote parts of the world, and being smart and subtle, our intelligence gathering apparatus has been marginalized and/or subsumed by an organization that is defined by blowing stuff up.

And that’s why false arguments like Hyman’s should trouble us so much. It’s not just because they offer highly self-interested and distorted readings of the facts about China, but because they represent just a small part of a much larger push to militarize our foreign policy and to make the gathering of intelligence simply a tool to serve that militaristic thrust.

In short, there’s a concerted effort on the part of many in the neo-con/Pentagon crowd to turn us into a nation whose foreign policy amounts to “Shoot first, ask questions later.”

And as tough as that talk might sound, the fact is that it’s an attitude that makes us demonstrably less safe in a world where the right bit of intelligence can be far more important than any ballistic missile system.

And that’s The Counterpoint.

Hyman Index: 4.85


At 9:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your analysis, Ted.

Anyone who thinks that an empire can be maintained indefinitely against all other forces, particularly when the government has become corrupt, is certainly no student of history.


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