How dominance creates megalomanic illusions of insuperable control, and how this illusion in turn is crystallized into a prevailing ideology of dominance.
“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. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. 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.” Dwight David Eisenhower, “Military-Industrial Complex Speech,” 1961,
“My observation is that the impact of national elections on the business climate for SAIC has been minimal. The emphasis on where federal spending occurs usually shifts, but total federal spending never decreases. SAIC has always continued to grow despite changes in the political leadership in Washington.” Former SAIC manager, quoted in Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, “Washington’s $8 Billion Shadow.” Vanity Fair, March 2007
“We make American military doctrine” Ed Soyster, MPRI
The Myth of the Grand Chessboard: Geopolitics and Imperial Folie de Grandeur
In the Road to 9/11 I summarized the dialectic of open societies: how from their energy they expand, leading to a higher level of more secretive corporations and agencies, which eventually weaken the home country through needless and crushing wars. I am not alone in seeing America in the final stages of this process, which since the Renaissance has brought down Spain, the Netherlands, and Great Britain.
Much of what I wrote summarized the thoughts of writers before me like Paul Kennedy and Kevin Phillips. But there is one aspect of the curse of expansion that I underemphasized: how dominance creates megalomanic illusions of insuperable control, and how this illusion in turn is crystallized into a prevailing ideology of dominance. I am surprised that so few, heretofore, have pointed out that from a public point of view these ideologies are delusional, indeed perhaps insane. In this essay I will argue however that what looks demented from a public viewpoint makes sense from the narrower perspective of those profiting from the provision of private entrepreneurial violence and intelligence.
The ideology of dominance was expressed for British rulers by Sir Halford Mackinder in 1919: “Who rules East Europe commands the Heartland; Who rules the heartland commands the World Island; Who rules the World Island commands the World.” This sentence, though expressed after the power of Britain had already begun to decline, accurately articulated the anxieties of imperial planners who saw themselves playing “the Great Game,” and who thus in 1809 sacrificed an entire British army of twelve thousand men in the wilderness of Afghanistan.
Expanded by Karl Haushofer and other Germans into the alleged “science” of geopolitics, this doctrine helped to inspire Hitler’s disastrous Drang nach Osten, which in short order terminated the millenary hopes of the Nazi Third Reich. One might have thought that by now the lessons of Napoleon and Hitler would have subdued all illusions that any single power could command the “World Island,” let alone the world.
Kissinger for one appears to have learned this lesson, when he wrote that: “By geopolitical, I mean an approach that pays attention to the requirements of equilibrium.” But (largely because of his commitment to equilibrium in world order) Kissinger was swept aside by events in the mid-1970s, leading to the triumph of the global dominance mindset, as expressed by thinkers like Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Brzezinski himself has recognized how his gratuitous machinations in Afghanistan in 1978-79 produced the responses of al Qaeda and jihadi terrorism. Asked in 1998 whether he regretted his adventurism, Brzezinski replied:
“Regret what? The secret operation was an excellent idea. It drew the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? On the day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, saying, in essence: ‘We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War.’”
Nouvel Observateur: “And neither do you regret having supported Islamic fundamentalism, which has given arms and advice to future terrorists?”
Brzezinski: “What is more important in world history? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some agitated Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”
When he was asked whether Islamic fundamentalism represented a world menace, Brzezinski replied, “Nonsense!”
In some ways, the post-Afghanistan Brzezinski has become more moderate in his expectations from U.S. power: he notably warned against the Gulf War in 1990 and also Vice-President Cheney’s agitations when in office for some kind of preemptive strike against Iran. But he has never retracted the Mackinderite rhetoric of his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard, which revives the illusion of “controlling” the Eurasian heartland:
For the first time ever, a non-Eurasian power has emerged not only as a key arbiter of Eurasian power relations but also as the world’s paramount power. The defeat and collapse of the Soviet Union was the final step in the rapid ascendance of a Western Hemisphere power, the United States, as the sole and, indeed, the first truly global power.” (p. xiii)
“For America, the chief geopolitical prize is Eurasia… Now a non-Eurasian power is preeminent in Eurasia – and America’s global primacy is directly dependent on how long and how effectively its preponderance on the Eurasian continent is sustained.” (p.30)
“To put it in a terminology that harkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together.” (p.40)
This kind of brash talk is not unique to Brzezinski. Its call for unilateral dominance echoed the 1992 draft DPG (Defense Planning Guidance) prepared for Defense Secretary Cheney by neocons Paul Wolfowitz and Lewis “Scooter” Libby: “We must maintain the mechanisms for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” It is echoed both in the 2000 PNAC Study, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” and the Bush-Cheney National Security Strategy of September 2002 (NSS 2002). And it is epitomized by the megalomanic JCS strategic document Joint Vision 2020, “Full-spectrum dominance means the ability of U.S. forces, operating alone or with allies, to defeat any adversary and control any situation across the range of military operations.”
Such overblown rhetoric is out of touch with reality, dangerously delusional, and even arguably insane. It is however useful, even vital, to those corporations who have become accustomed to profiting from the Cold War, and who faced deep cuts in U.S. defense and intelligence spending in the first years after the collapse of the Soviet Union. They are joined by other groups (discussed below) that also have a stake in preserving the dominance mindset in Washington. These include the new purveyors of privatized military services, or what can be called entrepreneurial violence, in response to defense budget cuts.
The Real Grand Chessboard: Those Profiting from Enduring Violence
The delusional grandiosity of Brzezinski’s rhetoric is inherent above all in the false metaphor of his book title. “Vassals” are not chess pieces to be moved effortlessly by a single hand. They are human beings with minds of their own; and among humans an unjust excess of power is certain to provoke not only resentment but ultimately successful resistance. One can see this easily in Asia, from the evolution of anti-Americanism in Iran to the Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT) in Central Asia: although still ostensibly nonviolent, HT’s rhetoric is now more and more aggressively anti-American.
The notion of a single chess player is equally false, especially in Central Asia, where dominant states (the U.S., Russia, and China) and local states are all alike weak. Here major multinational corporations like BP and Exxon are major players. In countries like Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan they dwarf both local state power and also the U.S. governmental presence, whether official or covert. The true local powers are apt to be two which governments are notoriously inept at controlling: first, the “agitated Muslims” which Brzezinski insanely derided, and second, illicit trafficking, above all drug trafficking.
Ultimately however Brzezinski is not constrained by his chess metaphor. The goal of a chess game is to win. Brzezinski’s goal is quite different: to exert permanent restraints on the power of China and above all Russia. He has thus sensibly opposed destabilizing moves like a western strike on Iran, while supporting the permanent containment of Russia with a ring of western bases and pipelines. (In 1995 Brzezinski flew to Azerbaijan and helped negotiate the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline linking Azerbaijan to Turkey.)
As I have argued elsewhere, Brzezinski (though he no doubt thinks to himself in terms of strategy) thus promotes a policy that very much suits the needs of the oil industry and its backers. These last include his patrons the Rockefellers, who first launched him into national prominence.
In March 2001 the biggest oil majors (Exxon Mobil, Chevron, Conoco, and Shell) had their opportunity to design the incoming administration’s energy strategies, including Middle East policy, by participating secretly in Vice-President Cheney’s Energy Task Force. The Task Force, we learned later, developed a map of Iraq’s oil fields, with the southwest divided into nine “Exploration Blocks.” One month earlier a Bush National Security Council document had noted that Cheney’s Task force would consider “actions regarding the capture of new and existing oil and gas fields.” Earlier the oil companies had participated in a non-governmental task force calling for “an immediate policy review toward Iraq including military, energy, economic and political/diplomatic assessments.”
Of course, oil companies were not alone in pushing for military action against Iraq. After 9/11, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Douglas Feith established the Pentagon’s neocon Office of Special Plans (OSP), which soon “rivalled both the C.I.A. and the Pentagon’s own Defense Intelligence Agency, the D.I.A., as President Bush’s main source of intelligence regarding Iraq’s possible possession of weapons of mass destruction and connection with Al Qaeda.” Neocon influence in the Administration, supported by Lewis Libby in Vice-President Cheney’s office, trumped the skepticism of CIA and DIA: these two false charges against Saddam Hussein, or what one critic called “faith-based intelligence,” became briefly the official ideology of the United States. Some, notably Dick Cheney, have never recanted.
Many journalists were eager to promote the OSP doctrines. Judith Miller of the New York Times wrote a series of articles on Saddam’s WMD, relying, like OSP itself, on the propaganda of Iraqi exile Ahmed Chalabi. Miller’s book collaborator Laurie Mylroie went even further, arguing that “Saddam was not only behind the ‘93 Trade Center attack, but also every anti-American terrorist incident of the past decade, from the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania to the leveling of the federal building in Oklahoma City to September 11 itself.” Many of these advocates, notably Feith, Libby, and Mylroie, had links to Israel, which as much as any oil company had reasons to wish for U.S. armies to become established militarily in Central Asia.
Private Military Contractors (PMCs), Whose Business is Violence for Profit
The inappropriateness of a military response to the threat of terrorism has been noted by a number of counterterrorism experts, such as retired U.S. Army colonel Andrew Bacevich:
the concept of global war as the response to violent Islamic radicalism is flawed. We ought not be in the business of invading and occupying other countries. That’s not going to address the threat. It is, on the other hand, going to bankrupt the country and break the military.
Because of budgetary constraints, America has resorted to uncontrollable subordinates to represent its public power in these remote places. I shall focus chiefly in this essay on one group of these, the so-called Private Military Contractors (PMCs) who are authorized to commit violence in the name of their employers. These corporations are reminiscent of the marauding condottieri or private mercenary armies contracted for by the wealthy city states of Renaissance Italy.
With the hindsight of history, we can see the contribution of the notoriously capricious Condottieri to the violence they are supposedly hired to deal with. Some, when unemployed, became little more than predatory bandits. Others, like the celebrated Farinata whom Dante placed in the Inferno, turned against their native cities. Above all, the de facto power accumulated by the condottieri meant that, with the passage of time, they came to dictate terms to their ostensible employers. (They were an early example of entrepreneurial violence, and the most common way of avoiding their path of destruction was “to buy reprieve by offering bribes.”)
To offset the pressure on limited armed forces assets, Donald Rumsfeld escalated the increasing use of Private Military Contractors (PMCs) in the Iraq War. At one point as many as 100,000 personnel were employed by PMCs in the US Iraq occupation. Some of them were involved in controversial events there, such as the Iraq Abu Ghraib prison scandal, and the killing and burning of four contract employees in Fallujah. The license of the most controversial firm, Blackwater, was terminated by the Iraqi government in 2007, after eight Iraqi civilians were gratuitously killed in a firefight that followed a car bomb explosion. (After much negative publicity, Blackwater renamed itself in 2009 as Xe Worldwide.)
Insufficiently noticed in the public furor over PMCs like Blackwater was the difference in motivation between them and the Pentagon. Whereas the stated goal of Rumsfeld and the armed forces in Iraq was to end violence there, the PMCs clearly had a financial stake in its continuation. Hence it is no surprise that some of the largest PMCs were also political supporters for pursuing the ill-conceived “War on Terror.”
Blackwater was the most notorious example; Erik Prince, its founder and sole owner, is part of a family that figures among the major contributors to the Republican Party and other right-wing causes, such as the Council for National Policy. His sister once told the press that “my family is the largest single contributor of soft money to the national Republican Party.”
Private Intelligence Companies and the Provision of Violence
Blackwater has attracted the critical attention of the American Mainstream Media. But it was a mere knight on the grand chessboard, albeit one with the ability to influence the moves of the game. Far less noticed has been given to Diligence LLC. Diligence, a more powerful company, that unlike Blackwater interfaced heavily with Wall Street, “set up shop in Baghdad [in July 2003] to provide security for companies involved in Iraqi reconstruction. In December, it established a new subsidiary called Diligence Middle East, and expanded its services to include screening, vetting and training of local hires, and the provision of daily intelligence briefs for its corporate clients.”
Certainly the political clout of Diligence outshone and outlasted Blackwater’s. Two of its founding directors (Lanny Griffiths and Ed Rogers) were also founders of the influential Republican lobbying team Barbour Griffiths and Rogers (later renamed BGR). Haley Barbour, the senior founder of BGR, also served as Chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1993 to 1997.
Diligence LLC was licensed to do business in Iraq as a private military contractor (PMC). But it could be called a Private Intelligence Contractor (PIC), since it is virtually a CIA spin-off:
Diligence was founded by William Webster, the only man to head both the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Mike Baker, its chief executive officer, spent 14 years at the CIA as a covert field operations officer specializing in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations. Whitley Bruner, its chief operating officer in Baghdad, was once the CIA station chief in Iraq.
Its partner in Diligence Middle East (DME) is New Bridge Strategies, whose purpose has been described by the New York Times as “a consulting firm to advise companies that want to do business in Iraq, including those seeking pieces of taxpayer-financed reconstruction projects.” Its political clout was outlined in the Financial Times:
New Bridge was established in May  and came to public attention because of the Republican heavyweights on its board – most linked to one or other Bush administration [officials] or to the family itself. Those include Joe Allbaugh, George W. Bush’s presidential campaign manager, and Ed Rogers and Lanny Griffith, former George H.W. Bush aides.
The firm of Barbour, Griffith and Rogers was the initial funder of Diligence, which shares an office floor with BGR and New Bridge in a building four blocks from the White House. The Financial Times linked the success of New Bridge in securing contracts to their relationship to Neil Bush, the President’s brother. When Mack McLarty, Clinton’s White House Chief of Staff, resigned, he became a director of Diligence, and also joined Henry Kissinger to head, until 2008, Kissinger McLarty Associates.
Another Private Intelligence Contractor or PIC is Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), an $8 billion corporation involved in defense, intelligence community, and homeland security contracting. In the words of veteran journalists Donald Barlett and James Steele,
SAIC has displayed an uncanny ability to thrive in every conceivable political climate. It is the invisible hand behind a huge portion of the national-security state—the one sector of the government whose funds are limitless and whose continued growth is assured every time a politician utters the word “terrorism.” SAIC represents, in other words, a private business that has become a form of permanent government….[SAIC] epitomizes something beyond Eisenhower’s worst nightmare—the “military-industrial-counterterrorism complex.”
(Later their article made it clear that SAIC is not a unified bureaucracy, but more like a platform for individual entrepreneurship in obtaining contracts: “at SAIC your job fundamentally was to sell your high-tech ideas and blue-chip expertise to [any] government agency with money to spend and an impulse to buy.”)
Before becoming Secretary of Defense, Robert M. Gates was a member of SAIC’s board of directors. SAIC personnel have also been recruited from CIA, NSA, and DARPA.
Scores of influential members of the national-security establishment clambered onto SAIC’s payroll, among them John M. Deutch, undersecretary of energy under President Jimmy Carter and C.I.A. director under President Bill Clinton; Rear Admiral William F. Raborn, who headed development of the Polaris submarine; and Rear Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, who served variously as director of the National Security Agency, deputy director of the C.I.A., and vice director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.
SAIC helped supply the faulty intelligence about Saddam’s WMD that then generated ample contracts for SAIC in Iraq.
SAIC personnel were instrumental in pressing the case that weapons of mass destruction existed in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and that war was the only way to get rid of them. When no weapons of mass destruction were found, SAIC personnel staffed the commission set up to investigate how American intelligence could have been so disastrously wrong, including Gordon Oehler, the commission’s deputy director for review, a 25-year CIA veteran, Jeffrey R. Cooper, vice president and chief science officer for one of SAIC’s sub-units and Samuel Visner, a SAIC vice president for corporate development who had also passed through the revolving door and back to the NSA. David Kay, who later chaired the Iraq Survey Group (which showed that Hussein didn’t possess WMD, thereby proving that the war was launched under false pretenses), is also an SAIC shareholder and former director of SAIC’s Center for Counterterrorism Technology and Analysis.
Needless to say, this SAIC-stuffed commission did not report that SAIC itself had been a big part of the problem. But according to Barlett and Steele, the same David Kay in 1998 told the Senate Armed Services Committee:
that Saddam Hussein “remains in power with weapons of mass destruction” and that “military action is needed.” He warns that unless America acts now “we’re going to find the world’s greatest military with its hands tied.”
Over the next four years, Kay and others associated with SAIC hammered away at the threat posed by Iraq. Wayne Downing, a retired general and a close associate of Ahmad Chalabi, proselytized hard for an invasion of Iraq, stating that the Iraqis “are ready to take the war … overseas. They would use whatever means they have to attack us.” In many of his appearances on network and cable television leading up to the war, Downing was identified simply as a “military analyst.” It would have been just as accurate to note that he was a member of SAIC’s board of directors and a company stockholder….
9/11 was a personal tragedy for thousands of families and a national tragedy for all of America, but it served the interests of private intellience and military contractors including SAIC. In the aftermath of the attacks, the Bush administration launched its “Global War on Terror” (GWOT), whose chief consequence has been to channel money by the tens of billions into companies promising they could do something—anything—to help. SAIC was ready. Four years earlier, anticipating the next big source of government revenue, SAIC had established the Center for Counterterrorism Technology and Analysis. According to SAIC, the purpose of the new unit was to take “a comprehensive view of terrorist threats, including the full range of weapons of mass destruction, more traditional high explosives, and cyber-threats to the national infrastructure.” In October of 2006 the company told would-be investors flatly that the war on terror would continue to be a lucrative growth industry.
Barlett and Steele could have mentioned that SAIC senior analyst Fritz Ermarth, a long-time associate of Gates from his years in the CIA, is now an official of the Nixon Center. Commenting in 2003 on State Secretary Colin Powell’s briefing to the UN Security Council, Ermarth praised Powell for his charges (repeating one of Judith Miller’s false stories) about Saddam’s acquisition of aluminum tubing “for centrifuges and not rocketry.” Ermarth faulted Powell however for not mentioning two matters: Iraqi involvement in the World Trade Center bombing of 1993 (a charge by Laurie Mylroie now generally discredited), and that “During the 1970s and 1980s…the USSR and its allies supported terrorists in Western Europe and in Turkey,” (alluding to the false charges, promoted at the time by Robert Gates and Claire Sterling, about Mehmet Ali Agça’s attempted assassination of Pope Paul II).
I certainly do not wish to suggest that SAIC single-handedly created the will to fight in Iraq. The combined efforts of defense contractors, oil companies, PMCs and PICs created a mindset in which all those eager for power were caught up, including, I have to say, career-minded academics. In Iraq as in Afghanistan and Vietnam a generation earlier, a sure ticket to consultations in Washington was support for interventions that ordinary people could see would be disastrous.
The yea-saying of academics has approved even the privatization of intelligence which we have just been describing. According to political scientist Anna Leander,
Private firms not only provide, but also analyse intelligence. Private translators, analysts and ‘interrogators’ are hired, as illustrated by the involvement of Titan and CACI in Abu Ghraib. Even more directly, private firms are hired in to assess threats and risks and suggest what to do about them. This involves constructing a security picture as done for example, by Diligence LLC and SAIC, two firms specialised in intelligence gathering and analysis….. This privatisation of intelligence has direct consequences for the relation between PMCs and security discourses. It places the firms in a position where they are directly involved in producing these discourses. They provide a growing share of the information that forms the basis of decisions on whether or not something is a security concern.
Leander concludes that this privatization is beneficial: it “empower[s] a more military understanding of security which, in turn, empowers PMCs as particularly legitimate security experts.”
Another political scientist, Chaim Kaufmann, has noted more critically that arguments for escalation and what he calls threat inflation against Iraq were not adequately disciplined by “the marketplace of ideas.” He gives five reasons for this failure, duly supported by other political scientists. But the obvious reason mentioned by Barlett and Steele – profit – is not mentioned.
What we have been talking about until now is advocacy disguised as expertise. But overseas associates of Diligence LLC and its allies have also been accused of false-flag operations intended to provoke war.
The passage of the Patriot Act generated a new realm of profit for SAIC contractors — domestic surveillance of U.S. citizens – as well as new intelligence fusion centers to carry this out.
“As part of the Pentagon’s domestic security mission, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld created the Counterintelligence Field Activity office in 2002 and filled its staff with contractors from Booz Allen, BAE systems, SAIC, and other suppliers of cleared personnel. CIFA, as we’ve seen, was used against people suspected of harboring ill will against the Bush administration and its policies….At present, there are forty-three current and planned fusion centers in the United States where data from intelligence agencies, the FBI, local police, private sector databases, and anonymous tipsters are combined and analyzed by counterterrorism analysts…. According to the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the project “inculcates the project “inculcates DHS with enormous domestic surveillance powers.”
These fusion centers, “which combine the military, the FBI, state police, and others, have been internally promoted by the US Army as means to avoid restrictions preventing the military from spying on the domestic population.”  Responding to such criticisms, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano stated in March 2009 that the mandate of fusion centers was not to launch independent domestic surveillance operations but connect the dots between lawfully obtained information already in fragmented “siloed” databases. She did not mention that some of this information was from private and even anonymous sources.
One SAIC contractor, Neoma Syke, worked at such a fusion center, wearing two hats:
During 2003-2004, she was “working for SAIC” as a force protection analyst with “SAIC’s” 205th Military Intelligence Battalion. And while she was “a contractor for SAIC”, specifically, “SAIC’s” 205th Military Intelligence Battalion, apparently she served as Counterintelligence Watch Officer at USARPAC’s Crisis Action Center.
 Dwight David Eisenhower, “Military-Industrial Complex Speech,” 1961,
 Former SAIC manager, in Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, “Washington’s $8 Billion Shadow.” Vanity Fair, March 2007,
 The Economist, July 8, 1999.
 Peter Dale Scott, The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America (Berk