Who Is Leading the United States to War?

September 16th, 2022 - by Deborah Veneziale / Tricontinental Institute


The Corporations that Are Leading US to Wars

Deborah Veneziale / Tricontinental Institute

(September 13, 20220 — The world is sensing the United States’ growing rapacious intent for war. Amid the development of the Ukraine crisis, the United States and NATO have been attempting to escalate their proxy war with Russia while continuing to intensify their siege and provocations against China. This intent to go to war was on display during the May 15, 2022 segment of NBC’s Meet the Press, which simulated a US war against China.

It should be noted that this “war game” was organized by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a prominent Washington, DC, think tank that is funded by the US and allied governments, including the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, and an array of US military and technology companies such as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, Boeing, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.3

This simulation is in line with other alarming signals toward war from both Congress and the Pentagon. On April 5, Charles Richard, commander of US Strategic Command, made a case before Congress that Russia and China poses nuclear threats to the United States, claiming that China is likely to use nuclear coercion for its own benefit.4

Shortly thereafter, on April 14, a bipartisan delegation of US lawmakers visited Taiwan. On May 5, South Korea announced that it had joined a cyber defense organization under NATO. In June, at its annual summit, NATO named Russia its “most significant and direct threat” and singled out China as a “challenge [to] our interests”.

Furthermore, South Korea, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand participated in the summit for the first time, which suggests the possibility that an Asian branch may be formed in the future. Finally, on August 2, in a blatant provocation of Beijing, US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi — the third-highest ranking official in the Biden administration — visited Taiwan, escorted by the US Air Force.5

In the face of the Biden administration’s aggressive foreign policy, one can’t help but wonder: among the US ruling elite, who is advocating war? Is there a mechanism to curb such belligerence in the country?

This article comes to three conclusions. First, in the Biden administration, two elite foreign policy groups that used to compete against each other — liberal hawks and neoconservatives — have merged strategically, forming the most important foreign policy consensus within the country’s elite echelon since 1948 and bringing US war policy to a new level.

Second, in consideration of its long-term interests, the big bourgeoisie in the United States has reached a consensus that China is a strategic rival, and it has established solid support for this foreign policy.

Third, the so-called democratic institutions of checks and balances are completely incapable of restraining this belligerent policy from spreading due to the design of the US Constitution, the expansion of far-right forces, and the sheer monetization of elections.

The Merging of Belligerent Foreign Policy Elites
Early representatives of US liberal interventionism included Democratic presidents such as Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson, whose ideological roots can be traced back to Woodrow Wilson’s notion that America should stand on the world stage fighting for democracy. The invasion of Vietnam was guided by this ideology.

After the US defeat in Vietnam, the Democratic Party temporarily reduced calls for intervention as part of its foreign policy. However, Democratic Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (also known at the time as “the senator from Boeing”), a liberal hawk, joined with other anti-communists and staunch interventionists, helping to inspire the neoconservative movement. The neoconservatives, including a number of Jackson’s supporters and former staffers, supported Republican Ronald Reagan in the late 1970s because of his commitment to confront alleged Soviet expansionism.

With the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the rise of US unilateralism, the neoconservatives entered the mainstream in US foreign policy with their thought leader, Paul Wolfowitz, who had been a former aide to Henry Jackson.

In 1992, just a few months after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Wolfowitz, then undersecretary of defense for policy, introduced his Defense Policy Guidance, which explicitly advocated for the United States to maintain a permanent unipolar position. This would be realized, he explained, through the expansion of US military power into the former Soviet Union’s sphere of influence and along all its perimeters with the object of preventing the reemergence of Russia as a great power.

The US-led unipolar strategy, implemented through the projection of military force, guided the foreign policies of George H.W. Bush and his son George W. Bush, as well as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. The US was able to launch the first Gulf War in large part due to Soviet weakness. This was followed by the US and NATO’s military dismemberment of Yugoslavia. After 9/11, the Bush Jr. administration’s foreign policy was completely dominated by the neoconservatives, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

While both liberal hawks and neoconservatives have ardently advocated for foreign military interventions, historically there have been two important differences between them.

First, liberal hawks tended to believe that the United States should influence the United Nations and other international institutions to carry out military intervention, while neoconservatives tended to ignore multilateral institutions.

Second, liberal hawks sought to lead military interventions alongside Western allies, while neoconservatives were more willing to conduct unilateral military operations and flagrantly violate international law. As Niall Ferguson, a historian at Harvard University, put it, the neoconservatives were happy to accept the title of the American Empire and unilaterally decide to attack any country as the world’s hegemonic power.6

Although Republicans and Democrats have historically developed their own policy and advocacy institutions, it is a misconception to think that they have distinct approaches to foreign policy strategy. It is true that think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation are major neoconservative strongholds that have leaned toward Republican policy, while others such as the Brookings Institution and the later established CNAS have been home to more pro-Democratic liberal hawks.

However, members of both parties have worked in each of these organizations, with differences centering around specific policy proposals, not partisan affiliation. In reality, behind the White House and Congress, a bipartisan policy planning network consisting of nonprofit foundations, universities, think tanks, research groups, and other institutions collectively shape the agendas of corporations and capitalists into policy proposals and reports.

Another common misconception is that the so-called progressive side of liberalism will promote social development, provide international assistance, and limit military spending. However, the neoliberal period, which began in the mid-1970s, has been characterized by the state’s subordination to market forces and austerity in social spending in areas such as healthcare, food assistance, and education, all while encouraging unlimited military spending, severely damaging the quality of life for the vast majority of the population.

Both Republicans and Democrats follow the principles of neoliberalism, as exemplified by Biden’s annual budget for 2022, which includes a 4 percent increase in military spending, and the fact that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, $1.7 trillion of the $5 trillion that the US government provided in stimulus funding went directly into the pockets of corporations.

Neoliberalism has had a particularly devastating impact in the Global South, where it has dragged developing countries into debt traps and coerced them into endless debt payments to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

In the field of foreign policy, the most influential US think tank since the Second World War has been the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), which is funded by an array of ruling class sources. Founder-level corporate members of the council include leaders in energy (Chevron, ExxonMobil, Hess, Tellurian), finance (Bank of America, BlackRock, Citi, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Moody’s, Nasdaq), technology (Accenture, Apple, AT&T, Cisco), and the internet (Google, Meta), among other sectors, and the CFR’s current board includes Richard Haass, Bush Sr.’s principal adviser on the Middle East, and Ashton Carter, Obama’s secretary of defense.

The German magazine Der Spiegel described the CFR as “the most influential private institution in the United States and the Western world” and “the politburo for capitalism,” while Richard Harwood, former senior editor and ombudsman at The Washington Post, called the council and its members “the nearest thing we have to a ruling establishment in the United States.”

The CFR’s policy proposals reflect the long-term strategic thinking of the US bourgeoisie, as seen by its proposal to “strengthen US-Japan coordination in response to the Taiwan issue” in January 2022, ahead of Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan in August of the same year.

Regardless of which party’s candidates the staffers of these various institutions support in the elections, this long-standing bipartisan, collaborative network has maintained consistent foreign policy in Washington. This network promotes a US supremacist worldview that denies other countries’ right to be involved in international affairs, an ideology dating back to the 1823 Monroe Doctrine that proclaimed US domination over the entire Western hemisphere.

Today’s US foreign policy elite has extended the doctrine’s application from the Americas to the entire world. Cross-party synergy and party switching are common for this group of foreign policy makers, which is closely tied to the ruling capitalist class and its surrogates within the political power elite that control US foreign policy, as well as to the Deep State (the intelligence services together with the military).

At the turn of the century, neoconservatives, who gathered in the Republican Party, were more concerned with the disintegration and denuclearization of Russia than they were with China. Around 2008, however, forces within the US political elite began to realize that China’s economy would continue its strong rise and that its future leaders would not cave to US influence; there would be no Chinese equivalent of Gorbachev or Yeltsin.

Beginning in this period, the neoconservatives began to take an entirely confrontational approach to China and pursue containment. At the same time, some pro-Democratic liberal hawks founded CNAS, and Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, led the development and implementation of the Pivot to Asia, a strategic shift in US foreign policy that was applauded by the neoconservatives, who were still in the Republican camp at the time.

Clinton was hailed as a “strong voice” by Max Boot, a political commentator and senior fellow at CFR, who, in 2003, wrote that, “[g]iven the historical baggage that ‘imperialism’ carries, there’s no need for the US government to embrace the term. But it should definitely embrace the practice.”9 Today, extending NATO to Ukraine and confronting Russia remains a priority for neoconservatives and liberal hawks alike. Both groups disagree with the realists who propose a détente with Russia in order to strengthen the confrontation with China.

However, the election of Trump in 2016 briefly created turbulence in the CFR consensus. As John Bellamy Foster wrote in Trump in the White House: Tragedy and Farce, the former president rose to power partly through the mobilization of a neofascist movement based in the white lower-middle class.10 Only a small number of people in the big capital elite supported him initially. Among them were Dick Uihlein, the owner of the shipping giant Uline; Bernie Marcus, the founder of the building materials retailer Home Depot; Robert Mercer, an investor in the far-right media outlet Breitbart News Network; and Timothy Mellon, grandson of the banking tycoon Andrew Mellon.

Trump’s tendency to shrink engagement in global affairs — as seen with the withdrawal of troops from Syria and the initiation of the withdrawal from Afghanistan as well as diplomatic contact with North Korea — favored the short-term interests of the lower and middle bourgeoisie and won the support of foreign policy realists, including Henry Kissinger, but it upset the neoconservatives.

A group of elite neoconservatives played a major role in the campaign against Trump, with some 300 officials who had supported the Bush administration backing the Democratic Party in the 2020 election. This included the aforementioned Boot, who has become a thought leader on foreign policy and has had a strong impact on the Biden administration.

Under Biden, the CFR consensus resumed, and the neoconservatives and liberal hawks have become completely aligned on the country’s strategic orientation. Their joint awareness of China’s rise has fostered a unity between these two groups unseen in decades.

This unity is based on the theory of international affairs that stipulates that the United States should actively intervene in other countries’ politics, make every effort to promote “freedom and democracy,” crack down on those states that challenge Western economic and military dominance, remove unwanted governments, and secure global hegemony by all means — with Russia and China as its primary targets.

In May 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken (who previously served as deputy secretary of state under Obama) declared that the US would defend an ambiguous “rules-based international order,” a term that refers to US-dominated international and security organizations rather than broader UN-based institutions. Blinken’s stance suggests that, under the Biden administration, liberal hawks have officially forsaken the pretense of following the UN or other international multilateral organizations unless they bow to US diktat.

In 2019, the prominent neoconservative Robert Kagan co-authored an article with Antony Blinken urging the United States to abandon Trump’s America First policy. They called for the containment (i.e., siege and weakening) of Russia and China and proposed a policy of “preventive diplomacy and deterrence” against America’s adversaries, that is, troops and tanks wherever it is deemed necessary.11Incidentally, Kagan’s wife, Victoria Nuland, served as the assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs in the Obama administration.

Nuland played a key role in organizing and supporting the 2014 Color Revolution/coup in Ukraine and has boasted about the billions of dollars the United States has spent to “promote democracy” in the country.12 She is currently serving as undersecretary of state for political affairs in the Biden administration, the third highest position in the State Department after Secretary Blinken and Deputy Secretary Wendy Sherman. She is also a spiritual heir to her mentor, the liberal hawk leader Madeleine Albright.

The hawkish orientation espoused by Kagan and Blinken was taken a step further by NATO’s think tank, the Atlantic Council, which has advocated for nuclear brinkmanship.

In February, Matthew Kroenig, the deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Snowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, argued for the consideration of the US’s preemptive use of “tactical” nuclear weapons.13

From this small coterie of warmongers, one can easily detect the deep integration of two elite foreign affairs groups, both of which are the real drivers of the Ukraine crisis. The evolution of this crisis reveals the following set of tactics adopted by this belligerent clique:

  • strengthening US leadership over NATO, using the military alliance (rather than the UN) as the primary mechanism for foreign intervention;
  • provoking a so-called adversary to war by refusing to recognize its claim to sovereignty and security over sensitive regions;
  • planning the use of tactical nuclear weapons and conducting a “limited nuclear war” in or around the so-called adversary’s territory; and
  • imposing hybrid warfare in order to weaken and subvert the adversary through unilateral coercive measures and combining economic sanctions with financial, informational, propagandistic, and cultural measures along with a color revolution, cyberwarfare, lawfare, and other tactics.

If the desired results are achieved in Ukraine, the same strategy will undoubtedly be replicated in the Western Pacific.

Strategic alignment does not mean that policy elites are not divided on other issues that they deem to be of lesser importance, such as climate change. Even on this matter, however, the United States is demanding that Europe stop importing natural gas from Russia. John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, is noncommittal about the potential negative environmental impacts of such a move, in part because the United States wants to replace Russian gas sales in Europe with its own.

In recent years, progressive forces around the world have launched several international campaigns to voice their concerns about the aggressive global strategy being pursued by the US, often using the term “New Cold War.” However, the narratives put forth at times underestimate the depravity of some aspects of current US foreign policy.

The “Old Cold War” with the Soviet Union followed certain rules and bottom lines: the United States used a variety of political and economic means to exert pressure and seek to subvert the Soviet state, and the two sides acknowledged one another’s scope of interests and security needs. However, the US did not try to change the national boundaries of nuclear adversaries.

This is not the case today, as seen by The Wall Street Journal’s open declaration that the United States should demonstrate its ability to win a nuclear war, a stance which is undergirded by the foreign policy elite’s claim that Ukraine and Taiwan must be protected as they are both strategic locations within the Western military perimeter.14

Even the Cold War leader Kissinger has expressed concern and opposition to current US foreign policy, arguing that the correct strategy is to divide China and Russia and warning that there will be dangerous consequences if the US directly pursues war against these two nuclear-armed states simultaneously.

US Bourgeoisie Prepares for War with China
Washington has sought to economically decouple the United States from China through trade and technology wars, a process that was initiated by the Trump administration and has continued under Biden’s leadership. However, this policy has spurred unintended consequences.

On the one hand, due to the formation of global supply chains, US and European manufacturing industries rely heavily on imports from China, and Biden has faced domestic opposition with calls to scale back trade war tariffs in order to ease the enormous pressure of inflation in the United States.

On the other hand, although China did not initiate economic decoupling, the pressure of the trade and technology wars has promoted the development of the “internal grand circulation” within the country (reducing reliance on exports and relying more on domestic consumption). Since the pandemic, there has been a superficial phased increase in the trade of merchandise between the US and China.

It must be noted, however, that there is a change underway in the basic logic of US relations with China: the US bourgeoisie has been tightening its alliance against China and supporting the bellicose strategy of Washington. This situation stems from both economic and ideological factors. For one, GDP figures of the US and other countries in the West mask the contributions made by labor in factories in the Global South.

For example, Apple’s highly profitable sales in the United States appear in the US’s GDP numbers, but the actual source of their high returns is the surplus created by the massively efficient and low-cost advanced productive labor force in Shenzhen, Chongqing, and other cities in China where Foxconn factories are located.15

China has come a long way from the era of large factories with low-paid unskilled workers and has developed an extremely sophisticated industrial, logistical, and societal infrastructure that, as of 2019, accounted for 28.7 percent of global manufacturing.16 Moving the whole supply chain from China to India or Mexico would be a decades-long process and cannot be based on just lower wages.

Few sectors of the US economy depend heavily on the local Chinese market for sales, with US chipmakers being the exception. Major firms such as Boeing, Caterpillar, General Motors, Starbucks, Nike, Ford, and Apple (at 17 percent) obtain less than 25 percent of their revenue from China.17 The total revenue of S&P 500 companies is $14 trillion, no more than 5 percent of which is related to sales inside China.18

US CEOs are unlikely to oppose the direction of US foreign policy on China, as they are not being presented with a clear path to increase their long-term access to China’s growing internal market.

This attitude was on display during Disney’s May 2022 earnings call when CEO Bob Chapek expressed confidence in the company’s success even without access to China’s market.19 This approach toward China is visible across key US industries:

Nine of the top ten richest Americans are in the tech/internet industry, the zeitgeist of our time, with the partial exception of Elon Musk, the CEO of the electric automobile manufacturer Tesla, whose first pot of gold also came from the internet industry. Compared to the lists of the richest Americans from past decades, those from traditional sectors such as manufacturing, banking, and oil have been overtaken by a rising tech elite, which is steeped in anti-China attitudes due to the difficulties they have faced in penetrating the Chinese market.

US tech giants such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook have virtually no market in China, while companies like Apple and Microsoft face increasing difficulties. In the past decade, the Chinese technology and telecommunications corporation Huawei surpassed Apple in terms of market share within China, only for Apple to regain the top spot due to US sanctions, which banned the sale of semiconductor chips — a key component in smartphones — to Huawei.

The Chinese government is reportedly embracing indigenous Linux and Office Productivity systems to replace Microsoft Windows and Office software. Traditional IT companies such as IBM, Oracle, and EMC (collectively referred to as IOE) have long been marginalized in the Chinese market by the Alibaba-driven de-IOE wave, which seeks to replace IBM servers, Oracle databases, and EMC storage devices with indigenous and open-source solutions.

US tech giants yearn for a change to the political system in China that would open the door to the country’s massive market, and major actors in this sector are actively working to advance Washington’s hostile foreign policy.

Eric Schmidt, the former CEO and executive chairman of Google, led the establishment of the US government’s Defense Innovation Unit in 2016 and the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence in 2018. His fervent promotion of the “China Threat” theory reflects the prevailing opinion of the US tech community, which also shapes public discourse.

Twitter and Facebook have partnered with US and Western governments to increasingly censor criticisms of their foreign policy and influence discussion around key issues — such as the pandemic, Hong Kong, and Xinjiang — in the name of combatting disinformation campaigns allegedly launched by China and other so-called adversaries.

US manufacturing remains dependent on Chinese production capacity. Consistent investment and technological innovation in US manufacturing were effectively abandoned during the neoliberal period, and, despite Obama’s and Trump’s calls to near-shore manufacturing back to North America, little has been accomplished in this regard. However, US manufacturing investments in China have decreased in recent years, with the notable exception of Tesla’s mega-factory in Shanghai.

Even in this case, however, it is important to note that Elon Musk has won numerous US government and military procurement contracts through his space exploration firm SpaceX, whose Starlink satellite system was criticized by China for its “close encounters” with the Chinese space station on two occasions in 2021.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army warned that the US may seek to militarize the Starlink system. The deployment of Starlink’s services in Ukraine during the war is evidence of this dynamic. Musk’s potential acquisition of Twitter would be unlikely to change the company’s relationship with US and Western governments and orientation toward China and Russia.

The US financial services industry has long expected China’s capital markets to open further to them, their ultimate hope being regime change in China that would lead the country to an outright neoliberal path. The anti-Chinese attitude of the influential Hungarian-born US financial magnate and philanthropist George Soros is well known. In January 2022, Soros tweeted that “China’s Xi Jinping is the greatest threat that open societies face today.”20

These comments came after Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, declared in November 2021 that the multinational bank would outlive the Communist Party of China (though he later apologized for this comment and said he was joking). Dimon also implied that China would suffer a heavy military strike if it attempted to reunify Taiwan, a threat for which made no apology.21

This hostile attitude is a response to the fact that China’s capital markets are not advancing in the direction that Wall Street would prefer, as evidenced by the Chinese government strengthening capital controls and delisting a series of Chinese stocks from the US stock exchange.

At the investing conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholders meeting for 2022, Charlie Munger, vice chairman of the company, stated that China was still “worth” the investment. Even in this case, however, Munger accepted the premise of his interviewer, who characterized the Chinese government as an “authoritarian regime” that commits “human rights violations.” For Munger, China is only worth the extra risk because one can invest in better businesses at lower prices.

Retail and Consumer Sectors
US retail and consumer industries have long been squeezed by their Chinese competitors. In March 2021, Nike and other companies boycotted Xinjiang cotton on the false grounds of forced labor. Shortly thereafter, Nike released an advertisement that was criticized for promoting racist stereotypes about Chinese people, resulting in a further loss of its market share, which had already begun to be outflanked by the Chinese brand Anta.

Furthermore, there is a significant disconnect between the two countries’ cultural and entertainment industries, with domestically produced movies accounting for 85 percent of the Chinese box office in 2021. Marvel superhero movies, once popular among Chinese filmgoers, have been unable to enter the Chinese market due to ideological concerns, with zero box office takings in China in 2021.

The recent Marvel production Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness yet again features anti-Chinese scenes, including a reference to the far-right, anti-government newspaper The Epoch Times. It has not been screened in China. These cases reflect US companies’ trade-offs between commercial interests — reaching the Chinese consumer market — and political ideology — opposing the Chinese political system.

The US Military-Industrial
Complex and the Drive for War

The US military-industrial complex plays a special role in galvanizing cooperation between strategic economic, technological, political, and military sectors toward imperialist interests.

In 2021, the top six military contractors in the world — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon Technologies, BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics — had combined sales of over $128 billion to the US government.22 Big Tech companies including Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Oracle, IBM, and Palantir (founded by the extremist Peter Thiel) have formed close bonds with the US military, signing thousands of contracts worth tens of billion dollars in recent decades.23

The tech industry plays the strategic role of collecting data in the vast US intelligence empire and is at the center of US soft-power media and social media hegemony, ensuring digital domination over the majority of the Global South. As such, this sector has become immune from meaningful regulation or threats of de-monopolization.

The US drive for military supremacy leads to spending sprees in the areas of weapons, computer technology (silicon chips, in particular), advanced communications (including satellite cyber warfare), and biotechnology.

The US government has officially requested $813 billion for the military as part of its 2023 budget (which does not factor in additional military spending that is disguised in other sections of the overall budget), and the Pentagon claims it will need at least $7 trillion in appropriations over the next ten years.24

The privatization of the state under neoliberalism has led to the development of a revolving door between the US government and the private sector over the past four decades. The state has become a vehicle for high level government officials including congresspersons, senators, policy and security advisors, cabinet members, colonels, generals, and presidents from both parties to become multi-millionaires by leveraging their political insider status with private interest groups.25

Within governmental bureaucracy, the phrase “national security” opens the spigot for personal and corporate greed and radical military expansion even wider. Under this prevalent form of First World, legalized corruption, firms often tender payoffs to officials after they leave public office. These legal bribes are essentially payments in arrears for services granted while in office.

For example, upon leaving office, former public officials are frequently hired as paid employees, board members, or advisors with the same firms that they had previously advocated on behalf of, provided favorable voting for, or awarded government contracts to as public officials. Some prominent examples of this pervasive dynamic include the following:

  • Bill Clinton claims to have been $16 million dollars in debt when he left the White House in 2001, but, by 2021, he was worth an estimated $80 million.27
  • With shocking impunity, at least 85 of the 154 people from private interest groups who met or had phone conversations scheduled with Hillary Clinton while she led the State Department under President Obama donated a combined $156 million to the Clinton Foundation.
  • James “Mad Dog” Mattis, a retired four-star general, former secretary of defense under Trump, and former board member of CNAS, had a net worth of $7 million in 2018, five years after his “retirement” from the military. This was earned through significant payments from a wide list of military contractors and included $600,000 to $1.25 million in stock and options in the major defense contractor General Dynamics.
  • Lloyd Austin, the secretary of defense under President Biden, formerly served on the board of directors of several military-industrial companies such as United Technologies and Raytheon Technologies. Austin earned the majority of his $7 million net worth after “retiring” as a four-star general.30

Between 2009 and 2011, over 70 percent of top US generals worked for military contractors after retiring from their position. Generals also double dip by simultaneously receiving compensation from the Pentagon and payments from private military contractors.31

In 2016 alone, nearly 100 US military officers went throug­h the revolving door between the government and private military contractors, including 25 generals, 9 admirals, 43 lieutenant generals, and 23 vice admirals.32

During the Trump administration, many Obama-era officials moved to the private sector, consulting and advising the world’s largest corporations, only to return to the White House under Biden. In a staggering display of this revolving door, the Biden administration has appointed more than 15 senior officials from the corporate consultancy firm WestExec Advisors, which was founded in 2017 by a team of former Obama administration officials and claims to provide “unparalleled geopolitical risk analysis” to its clients (including “Managing China-Related Risk in an Era of Strategic Competition”).33

The firm facilitates cooperation between Big Tech and the US military, with clients including Boeing, Palantir, Google, Facebook, Uber, AT&T, the drone surveillance company Shield AI, and the Israeli artificial intelligence firm Windward. WestExec alumni working in the Biden administration include Secretary of State Blinken, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, Deputy Director of the CIA David Cohen, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner, and former White House press secretary Jen Psaki.34

The WestExec to Biden administration pipeline, part one. Graphic: Soohee Cho/The Intercept. 

The Weakening of Domestic
Resistance to US Militarism

In 1973, the United States abolished military service conscription, or what was known as the draft, after which the US military cleverly and misleadingly referred to itself as an all-volunteer army. This was done to reduce domestic opposition to US wars abroad, especially from the children of propertied and middle-class families who had become vocal against the US war of aggression in Vietnam.

Although the measure was justified in the name of selecting more professional and dedicated soldiers, in reality, the bourgeoisie sought to prey upon the economic vulnerabilities of poorer working-class families, who they recruited into service through offers of technical training and secure earnings. Technological advances in warfare allowed the United States to simultaneously increase its capacity to kill civilians and enemy combatants in invaded countries while reducing the death rate of US soldiers.

For example, in the $2.2 trillion war against Afghanistan between 2001 and 2021, only 2,442 — 1 percent — of the 241,000 people killed (including over 71,000 civilians) were US military personnel.36 The reduction in US death tolls has weakened the domestic emotional connection to US war campaigns, which has further been blunted by the rise of private military contractors. By the mid-2010s, it was estimated that nearly half of the US armed forces in Iraq and Afghanistan were employed by private military contractors. 37

In 2016, the world’s largest private military contractor, ACADEMI (initially founded by Erik Prince as Blackwater) was purchased by the world’s largest private equity firm, Apollo, for an estimated $1 billion.38 Far from an all-volunteer army, today, it is increasingly apt to describe the US military as an all-mercenary army.

The United States is further emboldened in its warmongering by the fact that, while it has invaded or participated in military operations in over a hundred countries, it has never been invaded or experienced large-scale civilian casualties at the hands of foreign governments. The psychology of US exceptionalism is shaped by the fact that the current generation of political elites largely grew up after the end of the Cold War, a period defined as the so-called “end of history”, when their country appeared to be invincible.

The United States had not experienced a serious challenger either abroad or at home until the rise of China. As a result, this elite is particularly ahistorical in its worldview, seized by delusions of grandeur, and consequently feels unconstrained — an extremely dangerous combination.

The military-industrial complex, composed of generals, politicians, tech companies, and private military contractors, is pursuing a massive expansion of US military capacity. Today, nearly all in Washington use China as well as Russia as their pretext for this build up. Meanwhile, many of them have committed or supported war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, and elsewhere.

Few influential individual capitalists in the United States are willing to openly stand against the chorus demonizing China, and those who do are disciplined or ostracized. One rarely comes across publicly dissenting views or calls for restraint in the op-ed sections of The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. During the 2020 presidential campaign, Michael Bloomberg was heavily criticized for being “soft” on China after he stated that the Communist Party was responsive to the public and refused to label President Xi Jinping as a dictator.

Bloomberg appears to have been successfully disciplined; under the Biden administration, he joined the war hysteria and was named chair of the Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Board in February 2022. The global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, which has favored greater economic engagement with China, has faced increasing criticism for these views, being smeared by The New York Times as “help[ing] raise the stature of authoritarian and corrupt governments across the globe.”39

Consequently, McKinsey’s influence in US business circles has been greatly weakened. Though a small number of figures — such as Ray Dalio, billionaire investor and founder of Bridgewater Associates — continue to express optimism about US-China relations, they are outliers.

More critically, those in the current upper echelon of the US bourgeois elite have diversified their investments across a slew of industries, enabling them to overcome the narrow, short-term economic interests of any one industry and to align with the “big picture” of US strategy.

In contrast to millionaires of generations past who were focused on a single industry, the billionaires of today have developed a more shared consciousness and can envision the major long-term returns from a fully liberalized Chinese market that would follow the overthrow of the Chinese state.

Consequently, these billionaires are motivated to support the US containment of China despite the short-term losses they might suffer as a result. As detailed above, this big bourgeoisie funds a large swathe of think tanks and policy groups through non-profit foundations, shaping US policy discussions and proposals.

Among the upper-middle-class elite, there is a small group of far-right libertarian isolationists mainly composed of intellectuals and represented by the Cato Institute. This political network speaks out against the US Federal Reserve System and foreign intervention and is opposed to the US’s role in Ukraine. However, it is marginalized in the US foreign policy arena and does not wield much influence.

As Karl Marx once noted, capitalists have always been a “band of warring brothers.” This band maintains a modern state that has a massive, permanent body of armed men and women, intelligence functionaries, and spies. In 2015, 4.3 million individuals in the United States had security clearance to access “confidential”, “secret”, or “top secret” government material.40

Regardless of any electoral result, this state apparatus is ultimately able to exert its dominance and guide US foreign policy, as evidenced during the Trump administration’s inability to implement its own foreign policy.

The False Nature of Checks and
Balances in the US Political System

The hostility of the US ruling bourgeois elite and middle classes toward China has deep, racist roots. Trump’s four years in office coincided with the formation of a united coalition of populist and white supremacist right-wing movements known as the Alt-Right. Stephen Bannon, a mouthpiece of this movement, is a former chairman of the white supremacist website Breitbart News Networkand is unsurprisingly one of the most active anti-China campaigners in the United States.

The Alt-Right’s support base comes from the lower middle class: mostly white people with annual household incomes of around $75,000. While Bannon and even Trump himself like to boast of the support they get from “the white working class,” their primary support base is in fact the lower middle class — not the working class.

The Republican Party has benefited electorally from the creation of this neofascist voting bloc. The Alt-Right tends to lionize big capitalist personalities and desires upward mobility to join the elite. Meanwhile, this bloc expresses hatred toward both elitist political and cultural leaders for blocking their road to wealth as well as toward the working class. In 1951, the prominent US sociologist C. Wright Mills offered the following characterization of the US middle classes:

They are rear guarders. In the shorter run, they will follow the panicky ways of prestige; in the longer run, they will follow the ways of power, for, in the end, prestige is determined by power. In the meantime, on the political marketplace… the new middle classes are up for sale; whoever seems respectable enough, strong enough, can probably have them. So far, nobody has made a serious bid.41

The Trump administration directed the lower middle class’s resentment of their deteriorating economic situation toward China. The US economy has never fully recovered from the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008, when loose monetary policy enabled big capitalists to reap enormous profits while the working class and the lower middle class suffered great losses. The latter group, angry and frustrated with their situation and in dire need of a spokesperson, was mobilized by Trump to become his key vote bank with the help of white supremacy, racial capitalism, and a New Cold War to suppress China as an opponent in an all-out manner.

Today, hostility toward China has become widespread across the US population. The impression that China is the arch enemy of the free world and the greatest threat to the United States has been emphatically reinforced by mainstream media outlets and internet platforms, while freedom of speech for those who oppose this dangerous trend has been increasingly restricted.

Any acknowledgement of Russian and Chinese perspectives or criticism of US foreign policy toward these countries meets strong public criticism. Public opinion in the United States increasingly resembles the McCarthyist period of the 1950s and, in certain ways, the social climate bears disturbing similarities to that of Germany in the early 1930s.

Outsiders often misunderstand the real nature of checks and balances and the separation of powers in the US political system. Unlike the history of European constitutional reforms that were spawned by social revolutionary movements, the US Constitution, which was originally founded by a group of property holders (including slaveholders), was designed from the beginning to protect the rights of private property owners against what they feared could become mob majoritarian rule. To this day, the constitution allows for the dismantling of most traditional bourgeois social and legal rights.

Measures such as the electoral college, which was originally implemented to protect the interests of southern slave-holding and other smaller rural states, were designed to impede the people’s direct vote for president (one person, one vote). This undemocratic system, which is safeguarded by a difficult and onerous process to amend the constitution, resulted in both Bush Jr. and Trump winning the presidency despite receiving fewer votes than their respective opponents.

Despite the eventual extension of voting rights to Black people, women, and those without property, voter disenfranchisement continues to this day. As of 2021, 19 states had enacted a total of 34 voter suppression laws that could limit the voting rights of up to 55 million voters in those states.42 Meanwhile, the unelected Supreme Court has the power to overturn voting rights legislation, strike down affirmative action, and allow religious organizations to abridge civil rights.

A 2010 Supreme Court ruling known as Citizens United removed limits on private and corporate contributions to elections, making them a contest of financial strength.43 In the 2020 elections, overall spending for the presidential, congressional, and Senate races was $14 billion.44  In addition to financial competition, there is also psychological-technological competition: the persuasive technological tools based on social media, behavioral economics, and Big Data play a huge role in shaping electoral processes.

At the same time, these tools are extremely expensive, helping to ensure that politics is a near exclusive game for the rich. In 2015, the median wealth of US senators exceeded $3 million.45 This is hardly a government that is checked and balanced by the people.

Are We Doomed to War?
In 2014, Xi Jinping, shortly after becoming China’s top leader, told then US President Obama that “the broad Pacific Ocean is vast enough to embrace both China and the United States.”46 Rejecting this diplomatic olive branch, then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton boasted in an private speech that the United States could call the Pacific “the American Sea” and threatened to “ring China with missile defense.”47 In 2020, the UK’s Center for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) predicted that China would overtake the United States to become the world’s largest economy by 2028, a threshold that haunts the US elite. US foreign policy and public opinion in recent years have fixated on preparations to wage a hot war to contain China before that can take place.

The proxy war in Ukraine can be seen as a prelude to this hot war. The ideological mobilization to prepare for war is already in full swing in the United States. The wheels of neofascism are turning, and a new era of McCarthyism has arisen. So-called democratic politics are only a cover for the rule of the bourgeois elite; they will not serve as a braking mechanism for the war machine.

There are 140 million working and poor people in the United States, with 17 million children suffering from hunger — six million more than before the pandemic.48 While a portion of this class does express ideological support for US warmongering policy, this support directly contradicts their interests: the near trillion-dollar military budget comes at the expense of providing funding to guarantee healthcare, education, infrastructure, and other human rights, as well as combating climate change.

Historically, progressive groups in the United States such as Black and feminist movements have had a strong spirit of anti-war struggle, and leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X courageously fought to build a wave of domestic resistance to US aggression in Southeast Asia. Sadly, today, some (but not all) progressive leaders in the United States have been unwilling to challenge Washington’s anti-China campaign or, worse, have even become supporters of it.

There are important moral voices in the United States that speak out. However, it must be noted that the few progressive groups opposed to a New Cold War have been vilified for allegedly justifying genocide in Xinjiang. The US political system ruthlessly works to marginalize voices from this section of society.

Although the United States and its allies are aggressively pursuing global military expansion through NATO, the vast majority of the world does not welcome their war making. On March 2, 2022, the UN General Assembly held the 11th emergency special session, and countries which together constitute more than half of the world’s population voted against or abstained from voting on the draft resolution titled “Aggression against Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, countries which represent 85 percent of the world’s population have not endorsed the US-led sanctions against Russia.49 Washington’s attempts to escalate and prolong the war and to force a decoupling of Moscow and Beijing will lead to massive economic dislocation, which will bring about sizeable negative reactions to US rule. Even countries like India and Saudi Arabia are deeply concerned about the excesses of the United States in freezing Russian foreign exchange reserves and reinforcing the hegemony of the dollar.

Similarly, the presidents of Mexico, Bolivia, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala did not attend the Summit of the Americas hosted by the United States in Los Angeles in June 2022 because of the exclusion of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. Resistance to US rule is growing in Latin America. It should be noted, however, that international platforms such as the UN are not actually capable of restraining the United States from waging wars. Washington refuses to be bound by anything but its own rules-based international order.

In the United States, the Biden administration is providing massive military aid to Ukraine to create a protracted war to weaken Russia to the maximum extent possible and bring about regime change. It is also deviating from the spirit of the three Sino-US joint statements and destabilizing the Taiwan Strait in various ways. Though the United States does have great military power, its current economic strength, while immense, is in a perpetual state of decline and crisis.

As John Ross shows in this study, US economic supremacy is waning and may be ended by the Chinese economic juggernaut. In addition, the United States, along with its NATO allies, face multiple profound economic and ecological difficulties. The US-driven war will exacerbate these problems. The war may doom Europe to lower, possibly negative GDP growth, along with inflation and increased and socially useless military spending.

The United States has effectively abandoned any pretense of a serious strategy to address climate change, not to mention that its unending pursuit of war has exacerbated the climate catastrophe. And, ironically, despite the domestic political consensus for economic decoupling, US firms continue to increase orders to China — substantive decoupling remains a pipedream.

The United States will not just collapse economically, however; Washington’s drive for war, sanctions, and economic decoupling will continue to damage its own economy and jeopardize the world food supply chain. The resulting global social instability will, in turn, further weaken the US economy and generate even more challenges to its rule, including growing opposition to the hegemony of the dollar.

China’s relatively stable social governance, strong national defense, diplomatic strategy of peace, and resistance to succumbing to US power can, as Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi put it, allow the country to proceed “from a position of strength” and eventually force the United States to give up the illusion that it could go to war with China and win.50

It is in the interests of the Global South that China remain a strong socialist, sovereign state and that it continue to promote alternative policies for global governance such as the concept of “building a community with a shared future for humanity” and the Global Development Initiative.

There must be an immediate commitment to reinvigorating viable multilateral projects of the Global South such as BRICS and the Non-Aligned Movement, initiatives in which much of the world shares a common interest. The world population, the vast majority of which is located in Global South, must resist war and call for peace. The United States is not the first empire to overreach with arrogance and hubris, and it, too, will eventually see its power come to an end.

Complete Footnotes Available Online
1 This article was originally written for a Chinese audience and adapted and published in Guancha, a Chinese news website.

2 Meet the Press, “War Game: What Would a Battle for Taiwan Look Like?,” NBC News, May 15, 2022, https://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/video/war-game-what-would-a-battle-for-taiwan-look-like-140042309777.

3 Center for a New American Security, “CNAS Supporters,” accessed August 9, 2022, https://www.cnas.org/support-cnas/cnas-supporters.

4 Roxana Tiron, “US Sees Rising Risk in ‘Breathtaking’ China Nuclear Expansion,” Bloomberg, April 4, 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-04-04/u-s-sees-rising-risk-in-breathtaking-china-nuclear-expansion.

5 North Atlantic Treaty Organization, “NATO 2022 Strategic Concept”, June 29, 2022, https://www.nato.int/nato_static_fl2014/assets/pdf/2022/6/pdf/290622-strategic-concept.pdf.