America’s Phony Wars and the National Defense Strategy

Afghan National Army takes charge at Observation Post Mace
U.S. troops and outposts and flags are everywhere, but for whose interests, and at what cost?

W.J. Astore

In my latest article for TomDispatch.com, I address America’s real wars overseas and contrast them with the phony war in the so-called Homeland.  What I mean by “phony” is the lack of national mobilization for, and even interest in, these overseas wars.  These wars exist and persist; they are both ever-spreading and never-ending; yet few Americans outside of the military and the Washington beltway crowd have any stake in them.  Except when U.S. troops die or a spectacular bomb is used, the mainstream media rarely covers them.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has defined a new National Defense Strategy (NDS) that has only expanded America’s list of enemies and rivals.  A quick summary:

  1. Conventional conflict against peer enemies, e.g. Russia and China.
  2. Conventional conflict against “rogue” states, e.g. North Korea and Iran.
  3. Unconventional (anti-terror) operations, e.g. Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Niger, etc.

If that’s not enough, the Pentagon also seeks extended nuclear supremacy (at a cost of at least $1.2 trillion over the next few decades) and full-spectrum dominance for space and cyber as well as land, sea, and air.  As U.S. “defense” budgets continue to grow, there’s really no sense of limits, monetary or otherwise.  Rising budgets feed endless war, and vice-versa.  It’s a fail-safe recipe for imperial over-stretch and the decline if not collapse of America.

What follows is an excerpt from my latest article; you can read the entire article here at TomDispatch.com.

America’s New (Phony) National Defense Strategy

Even phony wars need enemies.  In fact, they may need them more (and more of them) than real wars do.  No surprise then that the Trump administration’s recently announced National Defense Strategy (NDS) offers a laundry list of such enemies.  China and Russia top it as “revisionist powers” looking to reverse America’s putative victory over Communism in the Cold War.  “Rogue” powers like North Korea and Iran are singled out as especially dangerous because of their nuclear ambitions.  (The United States, of course, doesn’t have a “rogue” bone in its body, even if it is now devoting at least $1.2 trillion to building a new generation of more usable nuclear weapons.)  Nor does the NDS neglect Washington’s need to hammer away at global terrorists until the end of time or to extend “full-spectrum dominance” not just to the traditional realms of combat (land, sea, and air) but also to space and cyberspace.

Amid such a plethora of enemies, only one thing is missing in America’s new defense strategy, the very thing that’s been missing all these years, that makes twenty-first-century American war so phony: any sense of national mobilization and shared sacrifice (or its opposite, antiwar resistance).  If the United States truly faces all these existential threats to our democracy and our way of life, what are we doing frittering away more than $45 billion annually in a quagmire war in Afghanistan?  What are we doing spending staggering sums on exotic weaponry like the F-35 jet fighter (total projected program cost: $1.45 trillion) when we have far more pressing national needs to deal with?

Like so much else in Washington in these years, the NDS doesn’t represent a strategy for real war, only a call for more of the same raised to a higher power.  That mainly means more money for the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, and related “defense” agencies, facilitating more blitz attacks on various enemies overseas.  The formula — serial blitzkrieg abroad, serial sitzkrieg in the homeland — adds up to victory, but only for the military-industrial complex.

6 thoughts on “America’s Phony Wars and the National Defense Strategy

  1. Well – well. The one thing I never hear/read is: What if you lose? What are the consequences? War is not a sports game – oh gee we lost -well we’ll have another war next week, buy your tickets now!

    Russia and China are truly formidable nations! They will not be defeated easily or rather they will not be defeated without horrible costs to the winner – which could easily make the winner the loser.

    You may very well be punching above your weight and both China and Russia may deliver the knock out punch. Imagine how it would feel to be German – Japanese after the Second World War. No more You Tube or cell phone service – gosh, what would you do with your days in the concentration camp eating onion soup twice a day.Everyone thinks they are a winner till they lose and then it’s too late.;

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    1. Good point. But the U.S. seems to have made a specialty out of losing slowly around the world while spending wildly. Fortunately, losing in places like Afghanistan has no immediate or major consequences to U.S. national security. But losing to China and Russia would be another thing altogether. That’s the big leagues. Given our track record, we best avoid those fights.

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  2. Of course it’s not a “defense strategy” is it, rather it’s a “maintain US world hegemony” strategy which is ordained to fail. No question about it. Call those encouraging the change “terrorists” or whatever, results talk and BS walks. And a multi-polar world is a good thing. It forces its members to play nice.

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  3. Well, here’s a comment that goes on too long! But, on the off chance people are willing to read this kind of argument, here’s one for breaking up the USA in order to save America:

    The idealistic part of me wants to think that if Americans were regularly confronted by the personal impact of military spending on their bank account, they’d demand reform. I mean, what other nation that isn’t a dictatorship takes more than 50% of its citizens’ federal income taxes and spends them on the military? If every time Americans received a paycheck, they also received notice of the exact dollar amount going to the Pentagon AND the portion of that spent on soldier pay and veterans benefits compared to the bill for voluntary operations abroad, I want to think they would demand reform. I’d prefer they choose reform as a way of stopping the bloodletting we’ve initiated in the Middle East, but 17 years of Forever war and hundreds of thousands, if not millions of civilian casualties later…

    The realist in me has come to the conclusion that by and large Americans just don’t really care. Too many other, more pressing, concerns, like making enough $ to get by day to day. Our media-imposed right vs. left, conservative vs. liberal framing of any and all issues is another major problem, because it gives hack “leaders” like Nancy Pelosi, Paul Ryan, Chuck Schumer, and Mitch McConnell space to suck up to lobbyists whenever writing or voting on policy, and still pretend to their constituents that they’re working on reform – just blame the other party when progress is slow! Never ask why even progressive paragons like Bernie Sanders fail to promise reductions in military spending. Just keep on voting with your tribe – that’s the game they want us to play. It keeps them employed, after all.

    Game-rigging and rent-seeking: these are the hallmarks of an imperial elite incapable of reform. And damn does America need reform. If Americans are losing faith in their federal government, it is because our elites have too much power over it. It serves them, not us. The Executive branch has spent the past fifty years amassing power, while the Legislative branch has abandoned its role as a check/balance in favor of functioning as the lobbyists trough. And with the Oval Office occupied by a narcissistic fool with no loyalty to anyone but his own manic mind and the potential to launch hundreds of the most devastating weapons humans have devised pretty much whenever his delusions decide the time has come…

    America is on a long slide to disaster and disintegration. I’ve started to adopt the position of what in India would be called ‘Anti-National’: I don’t see any way out of this mess that doesn’t involve fundamental, Constitutional level reform, probably breaking the USA up into some number of functionally autonomous successor states, with the entire federal government reduced to a supra-national shell with less real power than Brussels has over the EU.

    Ideal? No. Messy and dangerous? Definitely. But, FFS – America is stuck, and everybody but the neoconservatives and neoliberals can see it, if they bother to look. Invoking a biological metaphor: the USA is in the midst of a metabolic crisis. Some ‘organs’ are doing great: Lobbyists, Wall Street, the Pentagon. Others (the important ones), not so much: minority communities, the 40% of Americans who would be bankrupted by a single unexpected $400 expense, and of course the victims of our foreign misadventures. Eventually, this tension snaps. It always does. And the organism often dies.

    Me, at this point I’d like to see the American people start to actively lobby their state legislatures to invoke Article 5 of the Constitution, which allows the states to Amend the Constitution and force reform on the broken federal system without relying on Congress. That is probably the level of resistance needed to produce meaningful action at this point. Assuming of course that enough Americans could agree on what new Constitutional rules would work. Given that different regions in the US have evolved different cultural and political values, not to mention different regional economic structures, formal separation and autonomy from one another may be the only thing we can collectively agree on.

    Or, we can wait until the idiot “Commander-in-Chief” launches a war (probably with Iran) in 2020 to bolster his electoral chances. And/or makes good on his rhetoric about the elections being stolen by “millions of illegals”, intervenes to “protect the electoral process” in a few key swing states, and ends up ‘re-elected’ by the Electoral College as a result.

    The idealist in me thinks that might just be the trigger for nationwide resistance organized around basic democratic principles, and not stale ideology. But the cynic in me doesn’t see Americans capable, any longer, of engaging in meaningful resistance beyond state-sanctioned protest in our designated free-speech zones.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good comments. Not too long, by any means. Personally, I don’t do “twitter” or “facebook” or any of that so-called “social media” crap. My wife limits my CNN International TV time to a daily “bullshit ration” of 5 or 10 minutes. It doesn’t take any longer than that to get the gist of the hysteria-bordering-on-insanity that passes for “news” and “panel analysis” not just in the United States, but in the UK and Europe, as well. Blaming “The Russians” for this and that — it doesn’t much matter what — just makes me want to learn Russian so that I can make up my mind for myself what that country and its people think about things. They haven’t done anything to harm me our my country. At my age, though, I probably don’t have enough years left to master another foreign language. What little I have learned of Vietnamese, Mandarin Chinese, and Japanese has pretty much exhausted my capacity for that kind of learning. So I mostly just write poetry and some prose in English, my native tongue.

      At any rate, I prefer to read or listen to well-developed arguments supported by logic and citations from recognized authorities who know their subject matter and have the integrity to leave conclusions up to their audience. I liked your comment and I have to agree that the United States government and legal system has ceased to function in any understandable way. A breakup of the country into smaller sub-sections does have its appeal, even though the last time that happened a slaughter of 650,000 Americans took place. Still, as Sheldon Wolin pointed out in Democracy, Inc., Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, our corporate rulers have chosen “war” as their primary paradigm precisely because Americans haven’t known war on the North American continent since 1865 and so the ruling corporate oligarchy can hire image-makers to present war to the insoucient U. S. population in any way they choose. “War” has long since become entirely virtual and vicarious for most American citizens, and until they actually have to live with cruise missles slamming into their own cities and towns, it does not look like they will exercise much of a check on their rapacious government’s domestic and global depredations.

      Please join in again, on whatever topic interests you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Much appreciated!

        I look at the history, the way the system functions (dysfunctions), and I strongly suspect the USA is headed for a messy breakup one way or another. I mean, Americans just don’t agree on basic Constitutional questions anymore. So if it’s messy breakup vs. managed breakup, I’ll take the second one. Reform/renewal would be great, but it probably needed to happen circa 2001, 2009 at latest. Once the beast of racial nationalism awakens, hard to put it back in the box.

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