Monday, 3 November 2014

AMERICAN MILITARISM: Last Hope for Greatness or Road to Decline?

Introduction: “The End of History” That Never Ended

In a recent article published in The Guardian on 29 October 2014, there was a rhetorical question and critical analysis about the current global climate of post-Cold War instability that regional conflicts are causing. Where is the end of history now? Across three continents, conflicts are multiplying. An arc of war, foreign intervention and state breakdown stretches from Afghanistan to north Africa. In Iraq and Syria, the so-called Islamic State – mutant offspring of the war on terror – is now the target of renewed US-led intervention. In Ukraine, thousands have died in the proxy fighting between Russian-backed rebels and the western-sponsored Kiev government. And in the far east, tensions between China, Japan and other US allies are growing.

Four years ago, even The Economist ran an article entitled “The End of the End of History”, trying to analyze the nonsense in Francis Fukuyama’s politically motivated book about the end of the Cold war that was supposed to deliver fundamental changes with the triumph of the capitalist West. The issue is not a politically-motivated book that does not reflect the realities of the post-Cold War global power structure. After all, there are many such books peddling all kinds of political agendas, and authors have the right to present their views in pluralistic societies.

The larger question is how entrenched interests in the US either actively supporting or simply going along with the anachronistic Cold War power structure, political economy, aggressive foreign policy, and defense policy as though nothing has changed in the world in the last three decades. When it comes to foreign affairs and defense policy, “the Washington establishment“, which includes everyone from elected officials, to lobbyists and consultants, operates essentially under the same assumptions and solutions in 2014 as it did throughout the early Cold War.

In fact, because the assumption is that the US “won the Cold War”, it is simply impossible for the various policymaking elements, including private analysts, to go beyond that framework and assess the current world structure and US position on their merits today and not on the basis of what took place under Truman and Eisenhower. In other words, policymakers and molders of public opinion are “entrenched in the past”, because it represents bygone glory they wish to recapture.

In this short essay, I will analyze some of these issues, looking back at Cold War paradigms on which Republicans and hawkish Democrats, the media and defense lobbyists along with an assortment of militarists are basing their arguments when they equate a “strong America” with a militarized interventionist America. Advocates of old-style militarism under new rhetoric serve old defense corporate interests. They have failed to grasp and to accept the reality of the new global power structure where military solutions have severe limitations and undermine the civilian economy, social structure and democratic institutions. Living a romantic messianic dream of a powerful America having its way as it once did under Truman and Eisenhower, the militarists of our time want to freeze time in the past. Their road to American greatness is more money for defense, while the few critics who have a faint voice in society argue that militarism is the road to disaster. Which road to greatness is the one to carve out and which is to be avoided?

1.      Is the Defense Budget Adequate for Current Global Challenges?  

According to critics of the Obama administration’s foreign and defense policy, the US is militarily underprepared and the US is losing prestige and influence on a world scale because of it. After all, why are Russia, Syria, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, to mention just a few countries troubling Obama critics, not submitting to US demands for integration into the international capitalist economy under US guidelines and limit their foreign and defense policies to what Washington dictates?

Such arguments about military weakness not yielding the desired political leverage with friends and foes alike have been around from the Truman administration until the present, because no one has ever been criticized in the US for supporting greater spending on defense as opposed to health and education, or social programs for impoverished children. To be a patriot means to be an advocate of ever-higher defense spending in a culture that has always supported strong military regardless of the consequences to the civilian economy and social fabric.

Because of similar out cries to strengthen the military in the late 1970s-early 1980s, the US defense budget skyrocketed under Reagan, taking along with it on an upward trend the defense budgets of the entire world. A slow decline of defense allocations started in the 1990s and the civilian economy expanded substantially in the middle of the decade until the contraction of the late 1990s related to stock market and corporate abuses that governments never addressed until a decade later and the recession of 2008.

Reversing course after 9/11 and reaching a peak in 2010, Department of Defense (DoD) suffered reductions from 2011 until 2013. In 2004, the US defense budget was $623 billion, while the defense budgets of the world stood at $1.1 trillion. In 2009 global military expenditures amounted $1.531 trillion, or 2.7% of world GDP. Led by the US, which spends about half (46.5%) of the above figure, world defense spending was 49% higher in 2009 than in 2000. This is despite the economic crisis and Obama who pledged to the American voters that he would change course from the previous administration. While the public debt stood at one trillion dollars when Reagan took office, it reached $5.7 trillion under Bush, adding 28% to debt-GDP ratio, while Obama added another 18% - debt-to-GDP in 2013 at 103%. Exactly much more “effective deterrent” does an extra $300 billion buy for a nation with the most effective deterrent on the planet?

One reason for the reductions after 2011 has been the attempt to bring costs under control so that the public debt does not explode and the dollar as a reserve currency becomes even weaker against other currencies, thus making the sale of US treasuries less attractive for the Chinese, Japanese, Arabs, and other investors. In short, DoD has not been singled out for cuts under Obama, but it is part of an overall government policy to cut costs across the board in order to contain the public debt, strengthen the economy and then spend more when the balance of payments deficit looks a bit better than today. Even with the Obama cuts that are relatively light, the US and Europe combined spend nearly 60% while Asia spends one-third the US-EU amount of the world defense budget.  

According to critics of defense, the US has nothing to show for defense expenditures in terms of greater safety and security around the world, in terms of greater stability in the Middle East, in terms of reducing the war on terror that is only becoming broader in scope, in terms for tangible results in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in terms of utilizing defense spending as leverage to secure more global influence, for in that area China seems to have the upper hand. Despite the absence of any tangible results of the greater defense spending under Bush and the interventionist foreign policy, the US is on the brink of a new wave of militarism, greater foreign policy tilt toward unilateralism – a policy of going alone without first consulting allies and securing their approval – and greater overt and covert operations, direct and indirect intervention in various parts of the world. 

2.      Does the New Cold War Demand Old Militarism?

Is the US preparing to launch another arms race, although the Cold War is over, even now that the Communist threat has been transformed into a nationalist threat by Vladimir Putin? While it was easy to justify a war against Communism because of the ideological demonizing of the latter, how does the US justify creating an enemy that is nationalistic and demands to protect its regional influence threatened by NATO encirclement as though the Russian Federation is still the USSR? 

Not just Russians, but many people around the world are wondering if the US ever wished to abandon the Russian-American confrontation that Truman and Stalin started over the “Northern Tier” (Greece, Turkey and Iran) as strategic buffer zone protecting the Arab and Iranian oil fields to secure energy for the US and the West. In short, the struggle for energy and minerals during the Soviet-American confrontation is continuing today when there is no Communism, thus exposing the myth that the US as the world’ policeman was defending freedom and democracy.

To what degree will the militarism of the 21st century help achieve US goals of retaining its “superpower status”, even if Russia abandons the struggle to maintain some influence in Eastern/Southern Ukraine and in other former Soviet republics? Even if Russia, which has an interdependent economic relationship as much with Europe as with China, agrees to everything the US wants and it is reduced to a mere Western satellite serving Western geopolitical and economic interests will the US reduce its defense budget? In the late 1980s, there was a great deal of rhetoric in the US about how the end of the Cold War would mean major savings from defense cuts.

 Although there were indeed some cuts, the new Cold War with the “war on terror” meant a return to militarism under Bush. We had Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) in 1991, which resulted in the limitation of long-range nuclear arms for both the US and former USSR republics to 6,000 warhead. We also had START II in 1993, which limited each side to 3,500 warheads by 2007, and agreement to prohibit MIRVing of missiles (multiple independent reentry vehicles on intercontinental ballistic missiles.) A year after the 9/11 attack in New York and Washington, Russia agreed to strategic offensive reductions, which was then amended by another treaty signed in 2010 to limit strategic nuclear warheads. All of these were significant, but the question is the degree to which they contributed to the “peace dividend”. When we look at the US defense budget from the early 1980s until the present, do we notice a lasting peace dividend or a temporary one? If not, then we have the advocates of militarism arguing that the reason is for the US to maintain its global influence. 

Will militarism strengthen US political, economic and military influence around the world? Or will militarism hasten the road to economic decline in a world of decentralized power structure in which China holds enormous economic leverage and it is bound to enjoy even greater leverage, regardless of a US decision toward militarism. Has the foreign policy, intelligence and defense establishment allowed ideology to become so important that Republicans and some Democrats are crying out for massive defense spending, oblivious to what harm the civilian economy would endure? Will the application of science and technology in defense help the US maintain its military dominance? If so, can science and technology applied to defense solve international political crises, and what domestic problems would the country confront by the asymmetry between strong defense and weakening economy? 

If the American people elected Obama on an anti-war platform, a multilateral foreign policy rather than unilateral and militarist, are critics now manufacturing one crisis after the other in order to set the stage to reinforce the anachronistic Cold War policy of “containment militarism”? This was a policy that prevailed for most of the post-WWII era and Washington maintains because it is inconceivable to the advocates of the military-industrial complex, ideologues and those living in the culture of militarism to transcend the militaristic past. In the late 1980s, Georgy Arbatov, Kremlin advisor on Soviet-American affairs, sarcastically warned the US military and political establishment that depriving America of its arch-enemy was the worst thing Moscow could do. At the time, it seemed that Arbatov was enjoying his witty sarcasm. Today, I am sure he was wrong to be so optimistic because the US rediscovered its old enemy and in the process created new ones where none existed before.

The road the militarists are advocating, no different than during the Reagan, Bush I and Bush II presidencies, may be the only way to achieve greatness to which they aspire for America. However, that road may be one closer reflecting the realities of today’s US economic strength and prospects in the multi-polar global power structure in where China has a central role. Without wishing to delve into the domain of historicism, my guess is that the militarist road will hasten the decline of the US. 
3.      Republicans and other Advocates of Militarism

Campaigning for Republican candidates, and trying to fire up the party “faithful” in Iowa, on 27 October 2014 Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner said:
"Does anybody think that Vladimir Putin would have gone into Crimea had George W. Bush been president of the United States? No! Even Putin is smart enough to know that Bush would have punched him in the nose in about 10 seconds!" Trying to bring some balance to such statements, journalists noted that Bush was president when Putin invaded Georgia but nothing happened, despite the US claiming Georgia as a key ally. Speaker Boehner’s statement was almost a carbon copy of one that Ann Romney made, claiming that: “I believe Putin would have known there would've been consequences to that." Mitt Romney also stated that the US military has shrunk substantially under Obama along with US “involvement” in the world.  

The Republican Speaker of the House and the Republican House Speaker and Mrs. Romney are passing the message across to the American people and the world that the issue of foreign affairs comes down to personalities, politicians committed to military solutions, rather than institutional decisions made on the basis of interests as the White House defines them based on disparate interest groups that provide input. It is true that in authoritarian societies where there are no checks and balances and no congressional oversight, the head of state can do as he or she wishes without any accountability, except to a small inner circle of power. Not that the circle of influence regarding defense spending is democratic in the US, but the advocates of militarism wish to make it even less so in a society that has already sacrificed many of its civil rights in the name of national security.

The Republicans are engaged in hyperbole because it is campaign season and one could easily dismiss the rhetoric as meaningless. However, pro-defense advocates are invoking rhetoric of the early Cold War and the Reagan era. Despite the massive rise to the budgetary deficits and rising public debt as a result of so much capital absorbed by defense, the militarists of our time are interested in further slashing of social programs in order to put more resources to defense. 

In July 2014, the National Defense Panel published its report on Obama’s foreign policy, national security policy, and defense policy.
The panel found that president Barack Obama’s QDR, military force reductions, and trillion-dollar defense budget cuts are dangerous — and will leave the country in a position where it is unable to respond to threats to our nation’s security. This, the panel concluded, must be reversed as soon as possible. In particular, the report addresses the need for the administration to return to the flexible response doctrine — a policy where the military was tasked with being capable of fighting two wars at the same time. Given the current state of affairs and the threats posed to our nation, the panel felt that the two-war doctrine was still required to meet our nation’s national security challenges. The man-power reductions and budget cuts are both reflections of this change in policy, so it must be altered before that is possible.

When the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) issued its report, Congressman J. Randy Forbes (VA-04), Chairman of the House Armed Services Sea power and Projection Forces Subcommittee, issued the following statement.“The National Defense Panel’s conclusion is stark: unless we change course from the failures of recent years, our Armed Forces are at a high risk of not being able to fully execute our national defense strategy. The Panel not only calls for more resources and a renewed commitment to military innovation, but notes that future challenges require a focus on unmanned carrier aviation, space, undersea warfare, offensive surface-warfare, and long-range strike. I could not agree more strongly with the Panel’s finding that a stable balance of military power in the Asia-Pacific is among our ‘cardinal’ strategic priorities.”

One would notice here the emphasis on the Asia-Pacific and the implication that the US must use its military might to counterbalance China’s growing power. Except that China is focused on economic strength first as a foundation for all other powers it may wish to enjoy at a later point in its history. The irony about the National Defense Panel’s report is that the United States Institute for Peace helped to construct it. Despite its pacifist name, the bipartisan congressionally-created US Institute of Peace is anything but a peace-driven group and its endorsement of the QDR report is ample proof.

It is not true that from Truman to Obama the strongest advocates of military solutions have been just Republicans or that they are the ones pushing an agenda of strong defense. US foreign policy has always been bipartisan, and defense policy usually follows along, because it is very difficult for an elected official to voice opposition, to say nothing of prevailing over the militarists. Moreover, advocates of militarism secure the “easy votes” from constituents, where the pacifists risk losing elections because the media and militarist establishment labels them “soft on defense”, thus soft on commitment to a “strong America”.  

4.      Messianic Foreign Policy and Militarism

The sense of messianic foreign policy imbedded in Manifest Destiny and expansionism can only materialize with a powerful defense sector that is second to no other nation, even if this means weakening the country’s finances and economy, further weakening the once robust middle class, and undermining the already fragile social safety net whose origins date to the Progressive Era, through the New Deal, and Great Society. Will the transformation of America for the sake of militarism, making it less pluralistic and less wealthy worth the price for militarism, or is militarism the only road to the glory of the past as some Democrats and most Republicans claim?

Good vs. Evil Cold War dichotomy never went out of style to justify defense spending. The media and the pro-militarist analysts it projects provides a sense of legitimacy for militarism, while demonizing anyone who attempts to question the wisdom of defense spending at high levels as though we were constantly in a state of war. Clearly, the profit-driven and ideological agenda of those behind the campaign to increase defense spending is understandable. Less understandable is the inclination of rational level thinking individuals fearing to question the madness of militarism, as though we are all living inside the surreal world of the crypto-Nazi disturbed scientist “Dr. Strangelove”.

Let us assume the US had both the resources and political luxury to double the defense budget. Let us also assume that the US becomes militarily involved in just about every part of the world where it wishes, from Ukraine to North Korea, from Syria to Venezuela, from the Horn of Africa to Yemen, and beyond. Let us also assume that the US manages to squeeze out some sort of a dignified symbolic victory in every place it intervenes militarily at minimal cost to US lives, though not necessarily so for the “enemy”. What would be the immediate result of all this in military, political, and economic terms? What benefits would derive to the US and what would be its costs other than the adolescent satisfaction characteristic of teenagers obsessed with war-video games knowing it has lots of weapons and the political resolve to use them without any concern that there are other players around the world waiting for the US to engage in reckless military adventures so they may gather even greater political and economic strength?

During the eight years of the Bush-Cheney era the US was spending more on defense than the rest of the world combined. Despite that reality, how far did the US get with such fire power in Iraq and Afghanistan? Exactly what has the US, its Arab and EU allies accomplished in their covert war against Syria’s Assad? What is the legacy of US military intervention in Muslim countries, other than one trillion dollar cost? Failing to accomplish every single publicly stated goal of the US when it invaded and leaving behind countries in shambles with millions of refugees, destabilizing entire regions is hardly a policy that engenders stability and confidence. If US power is defined strictly in terms of defense, the nation is already bankrupt politically and economically, to say nothing of moral bankruptcy because that is hardly an issue with nations pursuing “national interests” and ready to kill en masse and destroy entire nations invoking such vacuous claims. 

In a book entitled The New American Militarism, Andrew Bacevich tries to analyze the causes of this phenomenon that has bipartisan support and it appears to unite much of the public behind a utopian ideology of democracy. It is true that the end of the Cold and the new Cold War based on “the war on terrorism” combined more recently with a rivalry with Russia over what the latter regards as its historic sphere of influence has frustrated not just the average American citizen living in dreams of the glorious past, but politicians, popular right-wing TV and radio personalities, military and intelligence officers, right wing ideologues, Christian fundamentalists, and all kinds of consultants and business people knowing there is a profit to be made peddling conflict politics and militarism. Whereas I think that Bacevich tries to capture the spirit of militarism in the recent period, I would argue that there is nothing new about the militarism of our time or the policy formulations on defense policy. 

It is true that Russia has become the latest thorn in US foreign policy, while at a much subtler level China remains the ultimate rival. Knowing China is rapidly catching up with the US economically many Americans see a military solution as the panacea to all the problems that befall society. If only we could just bomb Russia out existence, and then do the same with all jihadists in the world, and then the same with North Korea, Cuba, and so on with all enemies, so many of them that hate America around the world because they are jealous of its freedom expressed so well at gunpoint! Only then, could America recapture the glory it once experienced in the US-Mexico War of the 1840s, the Spanish-American War of 1898, WWI and WWII. If we could have stopped time in 1945, or at least go back to the Truman and Eisenhower era?    

5.      Romanticizing Militarism

This romantic illusion of power through militarization that politicians and the media are inculcating into the mainstream culture is a very dangerous road not just for the declining debt-ridden US economy, but for democratic institutions that have been toward a slippery slope resembling increasingly a semi-authoritarian society where police and military violate the social contract between citizens and the state.

Power comes in many forms from intellectual and aesthetic to raw animal strength that is very direct and invariably appreciated by the masses as popular culture of most societies throughout history have shown. But perhaps the question should not be about the nature of power as Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes assumed without questioning the benefits/harm of power on their subjects and on people beyond the borders of the country exerting power. If we compare a country whose government has wielded inordinate power domestically or internationally against a country where government is more focused on best serving the welfare of its subjects and less interested in power for the sake of glory, etc., the latter would be a more harmonious and constructive society than the former. Yet, human nature is such, perhaps conditioned by the aphrodisiac-power-based culture, most people would probably rather live in the society where government exercises power in all forms at the expense of the majority.

We do not live in the worlds of Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, or Charlemagne when military expansion entailed economic prosperity through military conquest and blatant and direct forms of looting and slaughtering. We do not live in the age where political might is identified with military supremacy concentrated in one nation-state. Even when political night and military supremacy were interconnected, it was only because there was a strong economic base behind such powers relative to the rest of the world.

There is a school of thought among Roman historians whose thesis is that the decline and fall of Rome was caused primarily by internal decay, especially economic in the consuming Latin-speaking West, while the commercial Eastern half of the empire (Byzantium) survived. Similarly, the path to military and political power contributed to the downfall of the mighty European empires whose existence rested on war and occupation to the neglect of the civilian economy. The direct correlation between long-term defense spending and economic decline seems to be lost on the militarists of our time just as it was fifty years ago, a century ago, and throughout history.

After WWII Japan and Germany, with very low defense expenditures, partly because the US assumed that role, quickly became the strongest economies in their respective continents and trailed the US that helped re-industrialize them and subsidized their defense. By contrast, the USSR, which was a political and military power, spent itself out of existence as it sacrificed its civilian economy for an outward-looking defense sector. Who knows how the history of the USSR would have evolved if it focused on inward-oriented economic growth and development, instead of extraordinarily costly military and political power beyond its borders? And what affords today's Russia more leverage domestically and internationally, the gas and oil pipelines or its nuclear weapons?

After the Nixon visit to China, the Asian Communist nation began to transition to global capitalist integration while maintaining its political regime committed to strong defense. China currently spends 10 times less on defense than the US. As a serious contender for the preeminent economic and political position at some point later in this century, China would benefit immensely if the US increases its defense budget and recklessly engages in the kind of adventures we saw in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with stealthy low level warfare, ranging from drone planes to government-funded NGO’s instigating instability against a regime that Washington opposes. Nothing hastens the decline of a great power more than overspending on defense as an illusory crutch for a declining civilian economy where the social structure is undergoing downward mobility.

The US became a great power with global military and political influence because it first established the foundations for global economic preeminence in the 19th century and took advantage of its preeminent role in the 1940s when it established an international system that would serve American interests for the coming decades. More than ever a country's political and military power today rests on its economic strength, assuming of course that economic resources are prudently managed with ongoing investments in education, health, science, technology, and creative endeavors that enrich society as a whole instead of enriching a small class of the privileged few absorbing most capital.

After the demise of their empires, Great Britain and France continued to devote considerable resources on defense as members of the nuclear club and continued their ambitions for continental and overseas preponderate influence. But the political and military influence of either France or UK on a world scale is minor in the absence of the US behind them. And is India a rising power because it has nuclear weapons and presumably deterrence, or because its economy has been strengthened in the past two decades? Also part of the nuclear club, Israel, which has a military-based if not a war economy, enjoys regional power status at the expense of its own population, but it status is largely owed to the US as a devoted ally in every respect. 

6.      Consequences of Militarism

To fund an astronomical defense budget, as Republicans demand, the government will: a) engage in further borrowing thus undermining the dollar’s value as a reserve currency and making the US economy less competitive globally; and b) the government will raise taxes on the lower classes that will mean reducing consumption power that has been the driving force behind economic growth. Of course, there are other things the government could do to afford the higher defense sector, everything from higher taxes on corporations and on the top 20% of income earners to slashing corporate welfare programs that absorb billions every year.  The safe course would be devaluing the dollar, raising taxes on the middle and lower strata, cutting social programs, and shifting budgetary priorities so that DoD secures a larger slice of the Federal funds.

To justify a new militarism with substantial defense allocations, the US would have to define “the enemy” and imminent threat it poses to US national security. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey has stated publicly that Russian foreign policy toward Ukraine, strictly an EU-Russia matter, means a return essentially to a Cold War situation with Moscow. Going even father, Dempsey stated that the US must respond toward Moscow in 2014 the way it would have during the early Cold War. “That’s why NATO was created… to increase stability, offset Soviet aggression at the time, but maintain a stable Europe. And we’ve been successful at that for 60 years. “So the first step here is to have that conversation in the halls of NATO while recognizing the change and taking stock in ourselves – in our capabilities, in our readiness, in our deterrent capabilities.”

Almost on a daily basis in 2014 US officials have accused Russia of political interference if not military involvement in the Ukraine where the US and Europe covertly helped to overthrow the previous regime in spring 2014 so that a pro-West anti-Moscow government would take power as part of a wider containment policy that has as much to do with energy as it does with the regional balance of power. Raising the military solution as the best option so far not taken by the US, the Obama administration and its critics are setting the stage for the post-Obama era when Republicans will most likely be back in the White House and most likely returning to Reagan-style defense spending. Using the Ukrainian crisis as a pretext, the US has been urging NATO members to increase their defense budgets. This also goes for the debt-ridden Southern and Eastern European members under austerity suffering double-digit unemployment and immense cuts in incomes, social security and social programs.  

The US has been encouraging its allies surrounding the Russian border to engage in greater defense readiness, to turn their attention toward Russia and behave as though it is about to invade every former Soviet republic. NATO members have been under US pressure to do more to pressure Russia militarily. What does this actually mean in practical terms? Enforce sanctions on Russia, which has already backfired because Moscow has imposed its own sanctions, hurting the weakest NATO members that are the debtor nations and under an IMF-EU austerity regime.

At a time that NATO members have their own problems with underperforming economies, the US demands that they place even greater pressure by allocating more on military expenditures that weaken the finances of the debtor nations, and shift precious resources from the civilian economy. What would be the end result of all this, considering that Communism is no more and nationalism has been threatening the US-led transformation model as expressed through globalization? Regime change in Russia does not mean that a new government would sacrifice vital national interests, economic and strategic, to satisfy US demands. On the contrary, a new regime could be even more nationalistic than the current one. Even if Moscow agrees to every single demand of the US, how weak should Russia be to suit US geopolitical interests? Is it to US interests really to have a very weak Russia?

The militarists of 2014 are setting stage in Obama’s last two years in office for the next administration that would increase defense spending. This is similar to what took place during the Jimmy Carter administration’s last two years when Cyrus Vance went and in came the more militarist team that Zbigniew Brzezinski was leading. Just as today we have the neo-isolationist militarists who demand a shift toward greater unilateralism as though the US has the same global power as it enjoyed under Truman and Eisenhower, similarly, there is an outcry by various pro-military solution groups that believe a multilateral foreign policy and political solutions to crises entail weakness. Even Brzezinski who has undergone transformation from a hawkish National Security Advisor under Jimmy Carter into a more rational analyst, advising that the US provide “defensive weaponry” to Ukraine as part of sending a strong military signal to Moscow. 

The defense sector in the US and throughout the world has a reputation as one of the most wasteful, parasitic, and corrupt. Not just European, Latin American, and Asian defense companies, but US as well have been involved in scandals involving hundreds of millions in cost over-runs and bribes. In November 2013, the New York Times revealed details about Inchscape Shipping Services that has been involved in scandals that the Justice Department had been investigating for contracts throughout the Bush administration. The company in question had contracts around the world and it operated no differently than German, Russian and French companies, namely, through bribery according to court documents. 

Although politicians know the level of waste, over-costs, bribery and corruption involved in defense contracts, they have no problem pushing more funds in the direction of such contractors. However, if a single mother was cheating the welfare system by listing three children instead of one she actually has, now that is an unforgivable crime punishable by jail time and a heavy fine. 

Defense spending at levels that the national economy cannot support simply weakens the civilian economy, despite incidental derivative benefits. When governments, including the US, combine inordinate defense spending with a fiscal system that favors the top ten percent of income earners while also providing various contracts as part of a privatization craze as well as subsidies, the net result of this mix is an overall downward income pressure on the middle class and massive capital concentration.  

From 1940 until 1980 in the US, the percentage of total share of income accruing to the top 1% the top 1-5% and the top 5-10% of income earners remains in a relatively flat line, ranging from 8% to 15% from each of the three groups. From 1980 until 2010, the line for the top 5-10% group rises in percentage terms, for the top 1-5% income share rises above 15%, while for the top 1% of income earner the share rises from 15% in 1980 to 15% in 2010. During the corresponding period, we have a sharp rise in defense spending and a steady drop in the middle class and working class living standards. The political and financial elites have to decide if they wish to have such polarization in incomes that simply result in political apathy and erosion of democratic institutions all for the sacrifice of stronger defense and a strong capitalist class.   

7.      Militarism and Culture of Violence

The assumption that greater defense spending buys greater security, greater influence in the world, and greater economic leverage is one on which the military-solution unilateral foreign policy advocates are operating. The only question here is about the assumption’s validity. We must not forget that even if all else goes as planned, militarism, which many in politics, media, businesses, lobbyists, consultants, and right wing ideologues are advocating, undermines democracy because of the reliance on military solutions and reinforcing the culture of militarism within the US and globally.      

Good vs. Evil Cold War dichotomy never went out of style to justify defense spending. The media and the pro-militarist analysts it projects provides a sense of legitimacy for militarism, while demonizing anyone who attempts to question the wisdom of defense spending at high levels as though we were constantly in a state of war. Clearly, the profit-driven and ideological agenda of those behind the campaign to increase defense spending is understandable. Less understandable is the inclination of rational level thinking individuals fearing to question the madness of militarism, as though we are all living inside the surreal world of the crypto-Nazi disturbed scientist “Dr. Strangelove”.

There is a video game called Destroy All Humans!: Make War Not Love that has been around for a few years. While young people play this game to fill the void with pent-up energy that the video game allows to release, the logic of the game is based on the reality of what takes place in the real world today. The logic imbedded in this video game is not so different than what the militarists are advocating as far as defense build up and a more aggressive unilateral foreign policy. War has its own logic rooted in ideology, value system, adolescent psychology, opportunistic and delusional politics, pseudo-economics, and a culture of grandeur. I do not blame the people for falling into such traps of militarism, because it is the leaders of society and institutions that inculcate militarism into the public mind.

There are those who maintain there is a link between popular acceptance of militarism as a solution to problem solving and the culture of societal violence, including random gun violence involving children and adults. It is indeed very surprising that the Cold War ended but the American people to a certain degree continue to behave as though it is still going on over the Ukraine. I am not all certain that they care Russia that is a much smaller country than the USSR, or that it has an elected government, or that it is above all a capitalist economic country with social structure that reflects the hierarchy one expects in such a system.

 As far as many Americans are concerned, Russia is still the eternal Communist enemy they love to hate. After all, what is the point of projecting the image of a superpower with a messianic mission if there is not formidable enemy at the other end? Given such assumptions that the media, right wing ideologues and politicians reinforce, it is not surprising so many support militarization, even those knowing that defense spending entails diverting resources from the civilian economy.

The American love affair with militarism is also reflected in the culture of gun violence and adamant opposition to any form of gun control. In other words, there is a direct correlation between a predisposition to resolve disagreements through military solutions and the domestic culture of the gun. However, even beyond the love affair with militarism and guns reflected in video games, motion pictures, popular books – fiction and non-fiction – war monuments and museums, and just about anything to do with military and the gun, there is the question of associating power with the gun, with military solutions. About the only other modern societies where we find such a culture of militarism is Japan and Germany from 1870 to 1945. Never mind that both of those countries suffered utter destruction and caused even more on others in the world. What matters is the glory militarism brings to the romantic adventurist mind.

It is surprising that the culture of militarism and the preeminence of the gun as solutions to conflict remain a core value in America paid with the blood of innocent people. It may be difficult to predict where this militarist-gun-loving culture is headed in the 21st century that will mark the downward social mobility of “middle America”. My guess is that American culture will become more deeply entrenched into the “glory of past” that represents military glory now a myth in the minds of those nostalgic about an era that will probably never return.

Needless to say, all militarist cultures glorify the past associated with military victories. Not just the Germans and the Japanese in the 1930s, but even the French in 1848 were glorifying Napoleon as a war-hero who glorified the nation by making it an Empire, although he was defeated and the Empire did not last. While the mythology of power is understandable as a propaganda tool by the elites wishing to have the masses on their side, it is more difficult to understand how so many among the elites could be immersed in the illusion that militarism is the road to maintaining global power, instead of realistically assessing the situation and realizing a quickened decline is imminent.

The road to decline is not visible while it is taking place today in the US any more than it was to the Romans throughout the third and fourth centuries. Because decline is ever so gradual, there are those who argue that alarmist scenarios are pointless about militarism bankrupting the US. The only response to such criticism is to ask if the US is enjoying the same global status and domestic prospects for growth and expansion in the second decades of the 21st century, as it was when Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex undermining the economy and society. Where would the US be today if in the 1960s it followed a more balanced, realis5tic and rational approach to the defense sector?

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