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The Bunker: Playing Tik, Tack, Dough

This week in The Bunker: History has a funny way of repeating itself. Or not so funny, depending on your point of view. And more … 

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This week in The Bunker: History has a funny way of repeating itself. Or not so funny, depending on your point of view. And more …

TIK-TACK-DOUGH

Threats are like the tides

After you’ve been floating amid the national-security flotsam and jetsam for decades, you can see patterns emerge. Here’s the latest.

THE TIKTOK TICK-TOCK

New alarm echoes yesterday’s

The Bunker has been watching Netflix’s new nine-part documentary series,Turning Point: The Bomb and the Cold War. Through historical footage and talking heads, it details nuclear strategy, espionage, and international rivalries, with a liberal slant (as the conservative National Reviewhas pointed out). Nonetheless, The Bunker finds it as valuable as Cold War, CNN’s 1998 24-episode series. That one’s remembered in the Bunker household largely because The Bunker forced his two tweenage sons to watch each broadcast (big deal: just like The Bunker’s old man forced him to watch Walter Cronkite’s The Twentieth Century on CBS during the 1960s). But enough about The Bunker’s knotty family TV tree.

What’s interesting about the Netflix series is the second episode, which details the Red Scare that swept the U.S. in the years after World War II. The era culminated in the creation of the House Un-American Activities Committee, the alleged infiltration of the U.S. government by commies, the blacklisting of Hollywood writers over fear that their fingerprints on silver-spring scripts would turn America pink, and the rise of Senator Joe McCarthy (R-WI). In 1954, McCarthy went after the U.S. Army because of the alleged Reds he said were salted in its ranks. He publicly charged that a young lawyer, in the same firm as Army special counsel Joseph Welch, had been a long-time member of an organization that was a “legal arm of the Communist Party.” Welch, the Army’s special counsel, could contain his ire no longer: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” That nationally broadcast pinprick burst McCarthy’s red balloon, sending him into a drunken spiral that ended with his death three years later. The entire chapter was, like the U.S. response to 9/11, an over-reaction that did more to harm than help U.S. national security.

But now the red menace apparently is seeping back in the U.S. in ways that require Washington to act. The most recent case involves U.S. government efforts(PDF) to force Chinese firm ByteDance to sell its TikTok social media video business, or face expulsion from the U.S. market. TikTok critics maintain that Americans are so feeble-minded that TikTok’s mini-videos can secretly turn them into Manchurian zombies. Or that the data TikTok is gathering on its users will allow Beijing to sow disinformation among its U.S. users.

The issue is simply the latest example of the perpetual U.S. hunt for bogeypeople. Besides which, there is far more domestic disinformation warranting attention.

TACKING BACK TO THE ‘AXIS OF EVIL’

Because it worked so well 22 years ago

President George W. Bush warned us of an “axis of evil” — Iran, Iraq, and North Korea — in 2002. He brandished the broad brush following the 9/11 terror attacks, using it to help to clear the way for the disastrous U.S. invasion of Iraq 14 months later. It flipped the ancient Sanskrit adage — “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” — on its head. Basically, it suggested that the hatred of America by these three second-tier powers forged them into an alliance that threatened Washington.

Well, here you go again, as President Reagan might have said. This time it’s Admiral John Aquilino, outgoing chief of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, warning of growing ties among China, North Korea, and Russia. “We’re almost back to the ‘axis of evil’ when you plug in Iran to this problem set,” Aquilino told the House Armed Services Committee March 20.

But those four states are square pegs that Aquilino and other U.S. officials are trying to pound into round holes. They share no formal alliance, are run by despots fueled by nationalism, and suffer from long-standing inferiority complexes. “There was no axis then, and there still isn’t one now,” Daniel Larison posted on Responsible Statecraft March 22. “The purpose in tying together unrelated adversaries has always been to exaggerate the size of the threat to the United States to scare policymakers and the public into supporting more military spending and more overseas conflicts.”

SO WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT?

More money, of course

That web of threats and a purported anti-U.S. alliance can only be swept away by spending more money to defeat it, U.S. national-security ‘fraidy-cats say. Apparently a defense budget closing in on $1 trillion a year (or nearly double that, according to veteran defense watcher Winslow Wheeler’s more inclusive accounting[PDF]) isn’t sufficient. It’s the same old song we’ve been hearing for the past 75 years. Here are some verses from the latest refrain, which features elements of the military telling Congress that their Pentagon overseers aren’t giving them enough money next year:

These are the so-called “unfunded priorities lists” — a.k.a. “wish lists” — that elements of the U.S. defense establishment have sent to Capitol Hill, as required by law, in recent days. They’ve become annual rites of spring that shred civilian control of the military, lead to unbalanced military forces, and let lawmakers add, to an already bloated defense budget, boom-boom bonbons made in their states and districts.

And they’re not likely to get much congressional pushback. On March 21, for example, lawmakers launched a new Defense Modernization Caucus, joining a battalion of congressional caucuses(PDF) pushing for, among other things, the Air Force, Army, Space Force, lasers, missile defense, hypersonic weapons, F-35s, submarines, drones, and electromagnetic warfare.

Apparently, the permanent armed services committees, never shy about shoveling more money into the Pentagon purse, need reinforcements. When it comes to defending what’s truly important, have you no sense of solvency, America, at long last?

WHAT WE’RE READING

Here’s what has caught The Bunker’s eye recently

Good news, bad news

The F-35’s wayward gun can finally shoot straight, Joseph Trevithick reported March 22 at The War Zone. Unfortunately, the plane can carry just over three seconds’ worth of bullets.

Bull in China shop

A top U.S. Space Force officer told Congress he is concerned about China’s “potential attack vectors” on and around the moon that Beijing could use to destroy U.S. satellites, Audrey Decker reported March 18 at Defense One.

Combat con artists feted

The handful of surviving U.S. troops of World War II’s “Ghost Army” — soldiers who brandished visual, sonic, and radio deception to fool the Nazis — were honored with the Congressional Gold Medal, Jamie Stengle of the Associated Press reported March 21.

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