“America’s War Addiction” (2 Articles)

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“Terrorism is the best political weapon for nothing drives people harder than a fear of sudden death.” — Adolf Hitler

1) America’s War Addiction

By Finian Cunningham

October 25, 2017 “Information Clearing House” – The US has a serious addiction problem. George W Bush previously warned about its “addiction to oil”. Current President Trump this week declared the nation’s addiction to opiate drugs an “emergency”. While his predecessor Barack Obama’s calls for firearms controls following numerous mass shootings fueled concerns of “gun addiction”.

But the biggest American addiction of all is hardly mentioned – the country’s massive dependency on war. On that problem, the country is living in denial, at least for those among its political class.

While Trump is feuding with Republicans and Democrats over passing his budget for tax cuts and social spending, one item remains off-limits for debate. The Congress is whistling through a record miltary spend of $700 billion for next year. That’s an increase of some $50 billion on last year’s budget for the military, which itself was something of a record.

As the US-based National Priorities Project audits, American military spending consumes over half of the annual $1.1 trillion discretionary budget. That allocation represents about 10 times what the US federal government spends on either education or healthcare out of its annual discretionary budget.

Putting that $700 billion annual military expenditure into a global context, the US spends 10 times more than either Russia, Britain or France. Or, put another way, the US spends the same aggregate amount as the next nine top world military spenders combined, including China, Russia, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.

What’s more, today the American military budget is at a record high compared with any other time during the Cold War. Think about that. Officially, the Cold War ended in 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Yet, in a nominal period of peace, the US has escalated its war economy.
David Stockman, who worked as a senior economist in the Ronald Reagan administration during the 1980s, has compared the present military spend with previous peaks during the Cold War. In equalized dollar terms, he estimates that the current $700 billion figure is roughly double what the US was spending at the height of the Cold War during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

Another data point, in 1968 when the Vietnam War was raging, the annual American military spend was $400 billion, according to Stockman.

Even during the 1980s, when President Reagan launched an unprecedented arms race against the Soviet Union – the US military budget reached a peak of $550 billion a year. That is, $150 billion less than what the Trump administration and Congress are proposing. A quarter-century after the Cold War supposedly ended.

Stockman, with some understatement, calls this allocation of US tax dollars “hideously oversized”. He describes America as a “warfare state” and he predicts that the misallocation of resources is leading eventually to the nation’s economic collapse. The “bleeding of fiscal solvency” is piling on ever-more national debt – estimated already at $20 trillion.
There are many reasons why this insatiable consumption of national resources for the military should be deplored.

One good reason is the appalling neglect of social needs for millions of Americans. Trump is pushing through a $1.5-trillion tax cut plan – which the Tax Policy Center calculates will largely benefit the super wealthy and corporations. That giveaway for the richest top 10 per cent of the population will be paid for by brutal cuts in public spending on healthcare, social welfare, education, housing, and medical and scientific research.

If the US government slashed its military spending instead, it is estimated that all Americans would have top-class, universally free health and education systems.

Another lamentable reason is that America’s monstrous military-industrial complex is the cause of so much global insecurity and conflict. Paradoxically, US politicians justify military spending with the need to make America secure with robust defense. The reality is the opposite.

Logically, as the US stockpiles more and more weapons, other nations are obliged to increase their defenses. This dynamic leads to further tensions, mistrust and misapprehensions. As the world’s top military spender, the onus is on the US to scale back. If it did so, that would serve to deescalate the military spending by other nations.

America’s war economy – for that’s what it is – has other far-reaching deleterious impacts. The US weapons industry accounts for half of the world’s arms trade. The planet is awash with America-made weapons, which fuels regional conflicts and non-state terror groups.

Furthermore, with such an engorged military, the ineluctable logic is for US governments to seek wars in order to maintain its war economy. America’s “scramble for Africa” is a topical case in point.

READ MORE: America’s Scramble for Africa

The historical record shows that no other nation has been involved in as many wars as the US since the Second World War. There’s no comparison. Historian William Blum has documented dozens of US wars around the world. The major ones include Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and a host of clandestine ones in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. The death toll from US military conduct over the past seven decades is reckoned to be about 25 million.

Why is the US addicted to war? A major reason is do with the failure of American capitalism. The US economy is propped up by its military-industrial complex, comprising giant weapons manufacturers like Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon. These companies have enormous lobbying influence on government, think tanks and corporate media, which perpetuates in the “warfare state”.

However, this war economy is unsustainable, as David Stockman and others remark. It is leading to cataclysmic American fiscal debt and social decay. It is also fomenting a highly unstable world of international tensions and conflict. Washington’s belligerence towards China, Russia, Iran and North Korea is a corollary of its irrationally disproportionate military forces.

The dangerous state of affairs was warned about some 55 years ago in 1961 by President Ike Eisenhower during his farewell address to the nation. Eisenhower foretold the grim emergence of an all-dominant military-industrial complex that would pose a danger to the US nation and the world.

His successor, John F Kennedy, was determined to rein in the military. He was opposed to a nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union and was moving to withdraw American troops from Vietnam.
It’s not just the rest of the world that suffers from America’s addiction to war. American society and democracy are also casualties. Just imagine how much healthier, better educated, more prosperous, more cultured American citizens would be if they did not have to feed their war-addicted economy with an annual fix of $700 billion.

The final irony is that America’s other pathological addictions are intertwined with its war habit. Its Big Oil addiction, the opiate crisis fueled by illicit drug business behind the war in Afghanistan, and the proliferation of military weapons in society, are all, in one way or another, rooted in America’s addiction to war.

Finian Cunningham has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. He is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. He is also a musician and songwriter. For nearly 20 years, he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organisations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent.

This article was originally published by Sputnik News

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2) Our Quest For ‘Absolute Security’ Guarantees Forever War

It’s not just the neocons. This is a deeply rooted American problem.

By Danny Sjursen

October 25, 2017 “Information Clearing House” – Ah, the illusion of security. Most Americans love it, need it, crave it.

Need an example? Let us examine everyone’s least favorite (and ever present) national ritual. We’ve all been there: you queue up, empty those pockets, undo the belt, (maybe) kick off your shoes, do a final liquid check, and wait your turn for airport security. Depending on the day and the culture of the town, you listen as a cynical, jovial, or sometimes even clever TSA agent rattles off familiar instructions. “No metallic objects…blah blah blah…liquid…ounces…step back…step forward.” Wait, wait some more, then we raise our hands in a—for me—familiar pose of enemy surrender.

If you’re lucky, the whole affair consumes less than 20 minutes. Then you load the plane, do a cursory check for vaguely Arab faces—feel a tinge of liberal guilt about that—and settle in for the miracle of flight.

But realistically the sharper minds among us know we’re not really safe. Motivated terrorists are inevitably smarter than the average TSA agent, and the entire ritual (usually) only deters yesterday’s threat. The rational mind recognizes the illusion of it all. One is never truly safe from terrorism—or lightning strikes for that matter—in any absolute sense. Nevertheless, life goes on. It must.

There’s just one problem. At the macro level, policymakers, politicians, and the public alike actually expect total security from terrorism. Well, at least one kind of terror: as President Trump so loves to enunciate: Radical. Islamic. Terrorism. Never mind that more American deaths stem from right-wing extremists, or that the chances of dying in a terror attack are comparable to drowning in your own bathtub. Because the public, and our elected leaders, demand absolute security from terror, the United States has spent the last decade and a half shipping people like me on one quixotic adventure after another across the Middle East.

Brace yourself for an uncomfortable fact: the blame for today’s indecisive wars doesn’t rest with George W. Bush, Barack Obama, or Donald Trump alone. Rather, these quagmires represent symptoms of an entirely American problem. While it is quite satisfying to blame Iraq and Afghanistan on a group of neoconservative, interventionist zealots in the Bush administration, that explanation will not entirely suffice. A combination of three factors has enabled the lengthy, inconclusive, and unnecessary “wars” of the 21st century: optimism about the efficacy of force, our current all-volunteer system of military service, and a fixation on absolute security.

If you’re a regular reader of TomDispatch, you’ve heard me drone on about the dangers of military optimism, and you are certainly familiar with Andrew Bacevich’s powerful takedown of the all-volunteer military. That leaves the third tradition: America’s fixation on the mythical search for absolute security.

Here I must invoke critical analysis by the eminent military historian John Shy. Shy identifies several enduring characteristics of American military culture, among them “a concept of military security that was expressed not in relative but in absolute terms.” From the outset, Americans’ inherent military optimism has combined with this distinctive obsession for absolute security. As Shy notes, American interpretations of national security are traditionally binary—either “the United States is secure, or it is not; it is threatened, or it is not.” Only that’s not reality. Global geopolitics play out in a vast gray abyss. Some level of threat, insecurity, or uncertainty is inevitable, and to assume otherwise is to seek the impossible. Unfortunately, after 9/11 that’s exactly the path the United States embarked upon: to defeat “evil” and restore the bygone era of “free security.” So here we are, tilting at windmills amidst fruitless campaigns across rather inhospitable sections of the globe.

When combined with fear—which, along with honor and (often economic) interest, are the prime motivators of human behavior—obsession with absolute security led post-9/11 policymakers down the road towards open-ended military deployments. This just wasn’t realistic or smart. Too many places on earth house potential terrorists or anti-American extremists for our military to reasonably handle them all. Moreover, it is unclear whether the deployment of U.S. troops doesn’t in fact do more harm than good. It is now certain that one of Osama bin Laden’s goals in the 9/11 attacks was to lure American ground forces into Islamic Southwest Asia in order to inflame local passions and ignite a millennial holy war. As bin Laden himself declared: “Iraq has become a point of attraction and a restorer of our energies.” Well, mission accomplished!

While intelligence operations, Special Forces raids, and limited conventional incursions are (maybe) necessary and appropriate, prolonged occupations in the Middle East tend only to radicalize the locals and dangerously conflate nationalist with religious resistance. Human beings are a proud lot. We tend to get touchy about having our capitals seized and our streets filled with foreign soldiers. Think Americans would respond any differently? Hardly. Exhibit A: Boston, 1775. Exhibit B: Not one, but two iterations of the film Red Dawn!

President Bush and his advisors wasted no opportunity instilling in the American people a distinct, if convenient, Manichean worldview. It all centered on mythical promises of perfect security. The events of 9/11, we were told, changed everything. The globe was now divided between the forces of good and evil. Bush communicated this quite clearly in an address to the nation just days after 9/11: “Our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.”

Such proclamations define the contemporary American quest for absolute security. If terrorism exists, then so does evil, and evil must be swept away to avoid a 9/11 repeat. No one seems to ask whether a relatively small, 10-division, professional, volunteer army is even equipped to rid the world of evil. An even tougher question is whether U.S. military force has any utility in the Mideast these days. Two wars and 16 years in uniform later, this soldier, at least, isn’t so sure. Either way, it’s not the average citizen’s problem. Leave that quandary to a volunteer, warrior caste. The new American way.

But it gets worse. Think for a moment about all the counterproductive decisions this (and previous) administrations have made in this pursuit of absolute security from—“Islamic”—terrorists:

* Travel (read: Muslim) bans and tightened immigration limitations as the world suffers through the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. All the while, ISIS has taken to calling Trump’s travel policy the “blessed ban.”

* Warrantless wiretapping and a domestic surveillance state (to paraphrase Mr. Trump) the likes of which this world has never seen. Anyone else miss the long ago-demolished Fourth Amendment?

* A 16-year military campaign that has cost the U.S. military about 7,000 killed and more than 50,000 wounded in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen. What exactly did they all sacrifice for anyway?

And that’s but a cursory list.

On it goes, the eternal urge for American troops to do something about the over-hyped Islamic. Terrorist. Threat. A surprisingly bipartisan foreign policy consensus combines with a flourishing military-industrial complex, American armaments industry, and terrified—often by the proclamations of those same politicians—public to ensure there’s likely to be more military interventions in the near future.

Perhaps it is time to shed naïve notions of absolute security and reinstate the American people as agents of national defense. Ever since Nixon ended the draft, the vast majority of Americans have ceased to fear, expect, or even consider national service. The result is an apathetic citizenry disconnected from an all-volunteer, warrior caste. When combined with their obsession over absolute security, American apathy proves the lethal nail in the coffin. Seen in this light, America’s decade of failures appear wholly predictable. Perhaps it is worth reflecting on this and questioning the true—if unpleasant—legacy of the “War on Terror,” as hawks once again beat the drums for the ever expanding interventions in Syria, Iraq, and who knows where else.

Should the U.S. once again escalate its commitments in Iraq, I suspect the outcome will prove disappointing. But who knows: perhaps in the Persian Gulf, the third time’s the charm.

Anyway, I don’t buy it. Here’s one absolute you can bet on: we’ve already lost.

Major Danny Sjursen, a TomDispatch regular, is a U.S. Army officer and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is the author of Ghost Riders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter @SkepticalVet.

[Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, expressed in an unofficial capacity, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, the U.S. government or Information Clearing House]

This article was originally published by The American Conservative

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