Much of the commotion as the Trump administration takes shape, policy ideas are floated, and budgets are rolled out, is fueled by anxiety. The anxiety flows from fear within parts of the regime that we affectionately call the Blue Empire. The State Department and CIA have been anxious since election night, not just because of the threat of a change of policy, but because these agencies now face an existential threat on some level.
As Trump’s cabinet was assembled in late fall, the nervousness grew as Blue Empire realized how many generals and former generals would serve in high-ranking positions. Unbeknownst to most Americans, the fear is based on change within Red Empire. The Pentagon’s growth into a one-stop shop for policy formulation and implementation threatens Blue’s existence and at a minimum, influence.
Since the planes flew into the Twin Towers, the Department of Defense has been in a steady growth mode not strictly limited to increases in spending and budgets. The very scope and nature of the DOD has changed. America’s wars of choice, the imperial wars after World War II, have forced the Pentagon to send a first-world military into regions with zero infrastructure. The U.S. military had to change and find ways to support such a military in many undeveloped areas from scratch. Random reports by American media outlets repeat the same phrase over and over. The Pentagon has become a one-stop shop for the presidency to seek advice, consider policies, and execute plans. For all the recent talk of a Deep State, the Pentagon has grown into a fully operational imperium in imperio.
If the president inquires, the Pentagon offers a soup to nuts service for policy that extends beyond warmaking. As one of the largest users of oil and oil products, the Pentagon needed to focus on securing oil, and therefore energy policy advisers and researchers sprung forth. The Pentagon has a budget and a literal army of individuals to enact policy with speed that other departments can only dream of enjoying. The need to defend America’s computer networks has had secondary consequences of a private ex-military IT network of contractors and systems experts.
Mission creep has created recent open reactions from rivals at State and CIA. CIA’s fear of former national security adviser Michael Flynn was not due to his supposed Russia connections, but rather because of his approach to intelligence. Flynn voiced concerns and criticism with the CIA’s approach. Flynn also built the Defense Intelligence Agency up to integrate intelligence units and analysis directly with Army units for faster, more efficient operations. CIA was out to get Flynn as part of a turf battle and legitimate fear of reform. If not reform, simple reorientation of who is used when and where in the empire.
Defense has also spent a generation pushing its officers into furthering their education. This is not simple credentialism, but also creating a corps of officers that could rival their mirror images in State. The empire of bad assumptions not only used academics in State, but in guiding our military in Iraq and Afghanistan. The functions State provides, from analysis to in-country agents and figures, can be duplicated by Defense. Before one rejects the notion of a soldier with a masters degree somehow piloting policy, consider the reverse.
The State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls has the explicit mission statement of ensuring “commercial exports of defense articles and defense services are consistent with U.S. national security and foreign policy objectives”. One of the division chiefs of “Regional Affairs and Analysis” is Judd Stitziel. Who is Stitziel? He is an academic that did not get tenure but guides USG policy with arms deals within the empire. Stitziel’s qualifications are graduate degrees, so one would think that his expertise must be in arms, war, etc. His one academic text is Fashioning Socialism, which covers consumer culture, fashion, and clothes from the East German era. Stitziel is a trained progressive given legitimacy within the institution of the State Department.
How might his credentials stack up against a decorated military officer with graduate degrees in regional affairs and arms deals? How much gravitas does Fashioning Socialism have compared to tours in hot zones? Adding fuel to the problem of comparisons is the ever easy Defense Department’s reliance on safety and security to justify ever-expanding budgets. This is all with the tailwind of the last institution in America with overwhelming support (the military) being set against State and CIA reeling from the debacles in the Middle East and North Africa.
The expanding scope of the Pentagon’s policy formulation affects even domestic policy. As one of the one stop shop articles notes, Defense even has advice and guidance on domestic threats not just to the American government, but to its long-term health. If the deportations of the Trump administration create a backlash along our border, the Pentagon will then be called upon to handle whatever may flare up along our border. Police and military liaisons were a fixture in the occupation of Iraq, so who shall have the expertise if border clashes grow, State or Defense?
A hint at how a change, and State’s anxiety, are real happened recently with a visit by a foreign dignitary. Mexico’s foreign minister came to Washington, D.C. for a visit. While in D.C., Minister Videgaray spoke with Jared Kushner, Gary Cohn, and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. When asked if there was any State Department meeting with the Mexican foreign minister, the official spokesman for the State Department answered, “I was unaware that he was -the foreign minister was in town. And I’m not sure – I can’t speak to whether there’s going to be any meetings at the State Department at any level.” The State Department was completely cut out of what one would consider its primary function.
This is why the supposed budget cuts to State have sparked such a reaction. It is not merely the threat of some money being removed. It is the combined threat of money being siphoned away from its pet projects and revolution-funding, while a rival that can replace them waits in the wings. While the battle between the Red and Blue Empires has been called a battle between the empire of bases and empire of consulates, the game has slightly changed. The Blue Empire can call upon jihadis to act as a ground game for fomenting insurrections, but now the Red Empire has a suite of technical, educated officials to advise, guide and legitimize any policy a commander-in-chief may choose.