Tom Streithorst / The American Conservative & George D. O’Neill, Jr. / The American Conservative – 2018-07-29 23:31:21
The Plague Of Military Keynesianism
And The Obsolescence Of War
It’s become obsolete,
the days of conquest are behind us,
yet the military-industrial complex grinds on all the same
Tom Streithorst / The American Conservative
(July 19, 2018) — America spends more on its military than all its enemies put together yet it still can’t win wars. Failed adventures in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan have drained America’s power and diminished its prestige. The bloated Pentagon budget actually makes us weaker.
Here’s the weird bit: nobody seems to care. If any other government department spent as much and accomplished as little, the populace would be in arms, complaining about wasteful government spending. Instead we mumble “Thank you for your service” and increase defense appropriations.
War has always been brutal and destructive, but once upon a time it had a purpose. William of Normandy invaded Britain knowing victory would make him rich beyond dreams of avarice. Soldiers followed Genghis Khan, Hernan Cortes, and Napoleon Bonaparte for the opportunity to steal gold, land, or slaves from their defeated enemies. Loot captured in war could transform a man’s life, give him the money he needed to buy land or start a business.
For thousands of years, the opportunities inherent in battle gave many men their only chance to escape their impoverished origins. Success in war could turn a brigand into a king.
Today it is trade and technology, not conquest, that makes us rich. It is a clichÃ© of the left that America went to war in Iraq to take their oil. This is a serious misreading of history. For one thing, had George W. Bush told Saddam to either share his oil wealth with ExxonMobil or face invasion, Saddam would have certainly complied. For another, Korean, Russian, Angolan, and Chinese companies all control more Iraqi oil fields today than do American firms. Had we gone to war to steal Iraqi oil, we might have done a better job of it.
At least in the developed West, conquest is profitable no more. This has been true for over a century. Back in 1910, Norman Angell wrote “The Great Illusion,” a pamphlet proclaiming that war was obsolete. He noted that the intertwined nature of the global economy made war almost as destructive to the victor as the vanquished.
Should they go to war, Angell observed, Germany and England would be slaughtering potential clients, not capturing prospective slaves. And victory in the Franco-Prussian War hadn’t made Germany richer: “When Germany annexed Alsatia, no individual German secured Alsatian property as the spoils of war.”
Angell decided that since war was no longer cost effective, it was obsolete. Of course, World War I proved him wrong and generations of history teachers have mocked his mistimed prophecy. But maybe he was just ahead of the curve. Today, for America, war is nothing but expensive spectacle.
A few months ago, the United States government determined that Bashar al-Assad’s regime used chemical weapons on his own citizens. That is a war crime, so pundits clamored for a response. Several days later, the United States, Britain, and France launched airstrikes against regime targets, firing 105 missiles.
A Tomahawk cruise missile costs almost $2 million, which suggests the expense of the entire operation was probably north of $250 million. It’s hard to believe the Syrian infrastructure we blew up cost nearly as much.
The effect of the well-publicized strike has been negligible. Most likely, that was intentional. Assad is closer than ever to winning the war in Syria so encouraging the rebels would do nothing but prolong the agony. In order to forestall escalation, we gave enough warning to Russia and Iran to get their men out of the way.
The purpose of the strike wasn’t to make a difference on the battlefield, but to “send a message.” We spent a quarter of a billion dollars, blew up some buildings, killed a handful of soldiers, accomplished nothing, and most journalists applauded.
The firepower contained in those multimillion-dollar missiles would have crushed the Carthaginians at Cannae, wiped out Wellington at Waterloo and smashed the Soviets at Stalingrad, but today all they did was generate a few headlines, which by now everyone has forgotten. It all seems pointless, stupid. Do we really spend trillions of dollars just so our leaders can posture and armchair warriors can feel butch?
Maybe there’s a better explanation.
Maybe the extravagant expense of the Pentagon budget is a feature, not a bug. Maybe no one objects when we spend a quarter of a billion dollars ineffectually bombing Syria or several trillion ineffectually invading Iraq because these days war profiteers make their money not by looting their enemies’ cities, stealing their land, and selling their women into slavery, but from their own governments’ spending.
My own life confirms this intuition. The invasion of Iraq has been a disaster for the United States, for the Middle East, and for the long-suffering people of Iraq, but for many of us, it was a cash cow. For a decade, I earned a solid middle-class living working just four months a year as a news cameraman in Iraq. The war on terror bought me my house.
Thousands of Americans (perhaps not coincidentally mostly from red states) worked as contractors for the US military and pulled down salaries much higher than they would have earned in the private sector back home. A truck driver from Mississippi made over $100,000-a-year hauling in supplies from Kuwait. It is shocking how little of the money America spent in that misbegotten conflict ever trickled into the Iraqi economy.
Had our goal been to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis (or even to steal their oil), we would have hired locals to drive the trucks instead of Americans and thus garnered their loyalty. Remember, Saddam Hussein was not popular in 2003, and at least at first, Iraqis were open-minded about the American invasion.
By shoveling money towards ordinary Iraqi citizens, America would have created a local constituency with solid financial reasons to support the occupation. Instead, Iraqis saw little benefit as the trillions spent on the war went straight into American pockets. The Iraqi economy was destroyed between 2003 and 2008. Halliburton’s stock price quintupled.
The Pentagon budget creates jobs in almost every congressional district, giving congressmen solid reasons to support budget increases. Military Keynesianism is the only fiscal stimulus habitually favored by both Democrats and Republicans.
Today the primary purpose of the military is not to win wars but to stimulate the domestic economy and make our leaders look manly. These are pathetic reasons to put our sons and daughters into harm’s way, not to mention slaughter the children of strangers.
Don’t get me wrong: I have huge respect for American soldiers. The military may well be the most meritocratic and least racist large institution in America today. In fixed battle, our soldiers (and their awesome firepower) almost always emerge victorious. There is truth in the jarhead saying “Marines win battles. Politicians lose wars.”
But victory in war doesn’t consist of killing lots of enemy soldiers; it lies in bending their leaders to our will, and that we have not achieved since 1945. Even the bloodthirstiest among us cannot think the wars of the past 50 years have made America stronger.
America doesn’t need a huge army. With Canada to the north, Mexico to the south, and oceans east and west, the United States is more geographically secure than any nation in history. Britain defeated Hitler because it is an island. Russia defeated Hitler because it is a continent. America is both. Our enormous military is unnecessary to protect our homeland.
If we need to stimulate the economy, we can do it better by investing in infrastructure, education, or providing a better safety net. We certainly don’t need a huge military so that our leaders can posture and Beltway strategists can feel macho. War doesn’t make sense anymore. It is time we recognized that. War in America today is nothing but a sorry combination of show business and fiscal stimulus. No wonder we can’t seem to win.
Tom Streithorst covered the Iraq war as a cameraman for Fox News. These days he writes about economics and foreign policy.
For Peace With Putin, End America’s Pointless Wars
Ignore the establishment:
Trump has a huge opportunity at his upcoming summit
George D. O’Neill, Jr. / The American Conservative
(July 9, 2018) — The upcoming summit between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin is an overdue opportunity for the American president’s next bold peace initiative. It is time for the US to stop its wasteful wars, and Russia can be a constructive partner to this end.
The mainstream press on both sides of the Atlantic will howl against any agreement between Trump and Putin — no matter what’s in it. So why not take steps that the American public will instinctively understand and that will provide the support for Trump to end America’s failed interventions?
Besides what are his opponents going to do? Vilify him for seeking peace and starting the process of healing the many wounds of the wars? The American people are not fooled by false claims that Trump is soft on terrorism; they are aware that US military interventions oftentimes can — and do — fuel terrorism.
President Trump should propose a drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan in exchange for a drawdown of Russian troops in Syria (along with a pledge that America has no interest in reengaging in the Syrian Civil War). This would be consistent with Trump’s oft-stated observation that America’s wars (declared and undeclared) in the Middle East have been a waste.
Trump need not “recognize” the Russian annexation of Crimea but he should assert that a resolution to the situation on the ground in Ukraine is a European matter — to be settled by bilateral negotiations between Russia and Europe.
Understanding of this magnitude would obviate the main pretext for the senseless escalation of pecuniary diplomatic sanctions — the defenestration of embassy and consulate staff — on the parts of both Russia and the United States.
The return of the possibility of civilian travel between the two nations would do wonders to lower tensions. (Remember, even at the height of the Cold War, President Eisenhower argued that populations denied contact with each other would tend to be suspicious of each other — and prone to minor conflicts that could escalate into larger wars.)
The American public is not interested in diplomatic and media theater. They know two things to be true: the failing “Trump-Russia collusion” hysteria is proving baseless (and distracting from concerns over economic growth and jobs); and whatever America’s international security interests are in the Middle East, we are all better protected with allies that face similar threats.
Russia has more reason to be concerned over Islamic terrorism than America. Their southern border touches on several Islamic countries: Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Afghanistan.
The instability created by America’s misguided military adventures has, for years, been unsettling to Russia. According to a friend who has long studied Russia, America’s post-Cold War military aggression, starting in the Balkans, began the ascension to power of Russian military hardliners who were skeptical of America’s intentions for peace.
Russia has a significantly better understanding of and influence over most of those countries, including Iran. America’s relationship with Iran has long been hostile due to years of interference and mistreatment. The relationship was seriously complicated in 1953 when our CIA and British intelligence overthrew their democratically elected prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh, and placed the brutal Shah in power. The Washington keyboard warriors never mention this sad chapter in our history. Imagine how we would feel towards a country that interfered with us to that extent.
How much smarter would it be for Russia to work with its neighbor Iran to limit the civil war in Yemen, than for America to continue to provide military support to Saudi Arabia to perpetuate a colossal human tragedy?
The naysayers ridiculed Trump’s peace initiative with North Korea, and yet his denuclearization and pacification of the Korean Peninsula advances (in contrast to the efforts of four previous American presidential administrations). Given that Trump and Kim could sit together, what stands in the way of progress with Putin?
The past year and a half of Russophobia have been driven by the “bitter clingers” of Hillary’s failed national political ambitions, the military-industrial complex, corporate interests, corporate media, the Washington/New York/Hollywood commentariat, and foreign lobbyists. Too many of them profit from an endless state of war — throughout the world and, in particular, with Russia.
Washington and its clients are terrified that the war gravy train will be slowed or stopped. Our NATO clients are afraid of carrying their own national defense burdens. Washington neocons are perfectly willing to continue to waste the lives of our devoted military to protect both their funding and a world order that the West’s victory in the Cold War has rendered moot.
Again, the American people share no such delusions and are overwhelmingly tired of the wars they cannot explain or even locate on a globe. These wars have damaged and destroyed American families. War proponents’ repeated incantations about “supporting the troops” instead of keeping them home to protect their families and our country has worn thin.
We hear stories about parents being separated from their children at our borders, but not a peep about the American children being separated from their soldier parents and parents being separated from their soldier sons and daughters abroad.
The July 16 Trump-Putin summit is an opportunity for the president to act boldly in the face of near-total establishment opposition and work to bring peace to a war-weary world. If he works to reduce America’s involvement in its wars, the Russo-American disagreements will fade.
George D. O’Neill, Jr., an artist, is the founder of The Committee for Responsible Foreign Policy and a board member of The American Ideas Institute, the parent of The American Conservative.
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