John Kelly, President Trump’s chief of staff and a retired Marine Corps general, held a press conference on Thursday to deny he’s quitting or that he’s about to be fired. In passing, he referred to two common myths in America that go almost completely unexamined. (By “myth” I mean a defining belief, held in common, and usually without question.)
The first myth: That the United States has “the greatest military on the planet.” The second myth: That the U.S. military’s value is its “deterrent factor.”
The U.S. certainly has a powerful military, one that costs roughly a trillion dollars a year, when all national security expenses are tallied (e.g. Homeland Security, intelligence, nuclear weapons, and interest on the national debt associated with these expenditures, among other costs). But is it “the greatest”? More importantly, why should a democracy and a people allegedly dedicated to peace and freedom be so proud of possessing “the greatest military on the planet”?
There was a time when Americans were proud of having a small standing military. There was a time when Americans were proud of protesting arms sales around the world by “merchants of death.” Those days ended with the Cold War. Now, America leads the world in military spending and arms exports; no other country comes close. Is this something to boast about?
How about General Kelly’s claim of the military’s “deterrent factor”? The U.S. military has 800 bases around the world, with U.S. special operations forces involved in more than 130 countries. Is this all about “deterrence”? Is the U.S. deterring or preventing wars in Libya, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, among other places throughout the greater Middle East and Africa? That hardly seems to fit the facts on the ground.
Of course, the media focused on Kelly’s message that he isn’t being fired and that President Trump is both “thoughtful” and a “man of action.” His claims about the “world’s greatest military” and its strong deterrent value went unreported and unquestioned. Such claims are now as “American” as baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet.
And so it goes …