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The Destination of Democracy
In a democracy, the job of government is to serve the public, right? That’s the idea anyway. And indeed, despite all the bickering and inefficiencies of government, most of our governments’ actions seem intended for the public good. But I think a deeper truth is lurking out of sight. I think the long term trajectory for any democracy is toward a military dictatorship. By my calculation, we’re about halfway there.
The halfway point between a civilian-led military and a military dictatorship would have these key markers:
1. The military would appear oversized despite budget problems. (check)
2. Top generals would have lavish lifestyles. (check)
3. The country would be in a state of continuous serial warfare. (check)
4. Generals would get rich upon retirement. (check)
5. Civilian leadership in military matters would be mostly cosmetic. (check)
Realistically, I can’t imagine a situation in the United States in which a president would go against the advice of top generals on any important military decision. A president always needs political cover in case things go wrong. Essentially, the military decides and the president pretends it was his decision. That’s what passes as a civilian-led military.
On a more basic level, the military has the big guns. If a civilian government pisses off the military, it could end up a smoking pile of embers. We’re nowhere near the point at which the military might turn on the government in the United States, but that’s because top generals are getting most of what they want. That’s what keeps us halfway between a civilian-led government and a military dictatorship. But what sort of situation might cause the military to grab full control?
The minimum requirement for a military takeover is that some future war produces a celebrity general, such as General Patreaus, and that general goes on to become President. Obviously General Patreaus is out of the running for president, but every war creates new celebrity generals. If Iran goes ugly in the next year, we’ll all be reading about the awesomeness of whatever general leads the military action.
Once a general gets elected to the presidency he can use his military connections to consolidate power. He would also have access to vast private wealth via the defense companies that would happily do his bidding in return for contracts. That’s a lot of money available to buy influence.
A general can serve as president for eight years, then step aside to let a puppet take over for another eight years, Putin-style. It might take a full generation before people realize democracy has become window dressing.
Eisenhower warned us about the military-industrial complex. One assumes he knew what he was talking about.
Just to be clear, I believe 99.9% of military personnel are true patriots who support democracy and are willing to risk their lives to defend it. My scenario only requires a few bad generals. And as we know, generals are sometimes flawed. It’s also a truism that power corrupts. So the seeds are all in place. I’m just connecting the dots.