For the U.S. Military, the World Is Not Enough

W.J. Astore

In physics, I learned about Newton’s three laws.  But his (fictional and humorous) fourth law may be the most important of all

Somewhere, I don’t remember where, I came across a humorous variant of Newton’s three laws of motion, proposing a fourth law, as follows:

“Newton’s Fourth Law: Don’t start no shit, won’t be no shit.”

Imagine if the U.S. government/military had followed this “4th law.”  No Vietnam war.  No Afghan war.  No Iraq war.  No Libya.  No Syria.  And so forth.  Trillions of dollars saved, along with millions of lives.

There’s an unbounded and restless quality to U.S. ambitions that reminds me of Germany’s Second Reich under the Kaiser.  Before World War I, Germany was known as the “restless Reich,” contesting for its imperial place in the sun.  A relative latecomer to European imperialism, Germany wanted to enlarge its global span of control — it wanted to be a “world power” like Great Britain and France.  Those global ambitions got Germany two world wars and utter devastation.

Meet the new “restless Reich”: the United States.  Indeed, for the Pentagon and America’s national security state, being a world power isn’t enough.  Not only must the land, sea, and air be dominated, but space and cyberspace as well.  America’s leaders act as if any backsliding in any region of the world is a sign of weakness, tantamount to appeasement vis-à-vis Russia, China, terrorists, and so on.

The result is that it’s very easy for rivals to pluck the U.S. eagle and make it screech. Russia and China can spend relatively little on missiles or jets or ships, and America’s military-industrial complex is guaranteed to scream in response. China has two aircraft carriers! Russia has new missiles!  American supremacy is not compromised by such weapons, but that has never stopped threat inflation in America (recall the fictional “bomber” and “missile” gaps during the Cold War). 

Threat inflation is now global, meaning scaremongering is global.  Even at America’s border with Mexico, a caravan of a few thousand impoverished and desperate people requires the deployment of more than 5800 combat-ready troops to stop this “invasion,” or so the Trump administration argues.

The United States is bankrupting itself in the name of global strength and full-spectrum dominance.  Dwight D. Eisenhower was right when he said that only Americans can truly hurt America. That’s what our leaders are doing with this global scaremongering.

As Army Major Danny Sjursen noted recently at TomDispatch.com, the United States has transformed the entire planet into a militarized zone, slicing and dicing it into various military commands overseen by generals planning for the next war(s).  Sjursen notes a sobering reality:

With Pentagon budgets reaching record levels — some $717 billion for 2019 — Washington has stayed the course, while beginning to plan for more expansive future conflicts across the globe. Today, not a single square inch of this ever-warming planet of ours escapes the reach of U.S. militarization.

Think of these developments as establishing a potential formula for perpetual conflict that just might lead the United States into a truly cataclysmic war it neither needs nor can meaningfully win.

To avert such a cataclysmic war, we’d do well to channel Newton’s (fictitious) Fourth Law: Don’t start no shit, won’t be no shit.  

19 thoughts on “For the U.S. Military, the World Is Not Enough

  1. It’s interesting to read some of the ideas about America’s national interests that were being published back in the ’20s and ’30s. Then, the foreign policy debate was about how to defend the US in the Western Hemisphere, with the Pacific colonies inherited/taken from Spain representing a new consideration.

    But fast-forward to post-WW2, and the victory in that conflict transmuted to an effort to replace the dying French and British Empires in the Pacific. It was then that the “national interest” (I hold you can’t define such a thing in a diverse, continent-spanning nation – the Atlantic will always be more concerned about Europe, the Pacific Asia) became taken to mean global dominance.

    Like the Soviet Union, the USA’s post-war leaders couldn’t let a good thing end. All that domestic churn of the ’30s was profitably channelled into the fight against foreign aggression (a far more real threat for the Soviets), and because the State will always find more enemies, WWII simply changed form, and continued in Korea, Vietnam, and then the Middle East. With the defense industry, both in the Soviet and American context, growing to consume the political system – as Eisenhower warned that it would.

    Americans need to recognize that D.C. has become a new London, and each President another King George. The breakup of the British Empire foreshadows the fate of the American continuation, and I suspect future America looks very much like the UK Commonwealth. That is, economically and culturally linked, but politically divided.

    Because that’s what happens to colonial empires. They’re artificial, unstable entities that rely on continuous extraction of resources from the colonized. Eventually, that stops working, and the thing divides.

    This blogpost (http://www.raednerian.org/index.php/item/53-mapping-the-break-up-of-the-united-states) contains some more of my thinking. Actually has been viewed quite a few times since I originally posted it (I also link back to Bracing Views), which is gratifying. I’m considering taking the time to do a sequel, only with actual statistics for the new states/regions and several different ‘USA breakup’ options.

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  2. Everyone with just a little bit too much power wants to own the world – but they are not working as a single, unified cabal. Silicon Valley wants to control everything, but the fact that people think for themselves and make their own apps and social networks and private online correspondence makes that damn near impossible. Trump was not part of their plan. Meanwhile, the alphabet-soup news networks hate Silicon Valley for stealing all their business. People are getting their news from FakeBook and Twiddle instead of seven-figure pundits on daytime television. Broadcasting one’s opinion used to be something that only the wealthy could do, but now anyone can do it. If that person is popular enough, then they can quickly eclipse the legacy media. Why else would some bloke on YouTube named Felix Kellburg have a bigger audience than the Wall Street Journal?

    Trump has picked his poison and sided with the military. I think greasing generals’ palms is a good way to keep himself in power; any attempt at a coup would end in disaster, and everyone knows it. This is classic Machiavelli. Meanwhile, he gets excoriated by the alphabet-soup networks, which he calls “fake news,” and the public agrees. Lots of powerful people agree as well. However, the enemy of your enemy is NOT your friend in this circumstance. While activists with a single goal may call for people to put aside their differences, common discourse has become so politically-charged that people are becoming less social and more likely to hide inside their own little echo chambers, or “gilded bubbles,” as I like to call them.

    This divide-and-conquer strategy has worked a little too well for the people controlling the information, for they have now divided themselves. While there are some calling for a second American Civil War (I think they’re nuts), and others saying that it’s already begun, I must point out that this won’t be a war in the traditional sense. There are no borders, there are no classes, there is no front line. This is a war of information. A lot of military leaders in other countries know that wars will never again be fought in the manner of World War II, yet American military leaders seem to have their heads stuck in the past. I’ve seen it with the U.S. Army’s reluctance to adopt automated weaponry, decrying it as “inferior” to well-trained soldiers, yet both the U.S. Air Force and the Russian Army have invested quite heavily in automated weaponry. It is said that it not always the best weapons that make it to the battlefield, but usually the cheapest (side note – this is the REAL reason I keep saying that the T-14 is superior to the Abrams MBT), and with A.I. becoming much easier to program and implement, future wars will most likely be fought entirely with machinery – which can be hacked, and thus an entire war could be fought between computers. Who can hack whom better? Perhaps the current generation of generals wants to see at least one modern global war before front-line soldiers become completely obsolete. In other words, they WANT to start shit, and nothing is going to convince them that it is a bad idea.

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  3. Don’t worry, Kaja: John Connor will save us. 🙂

    With warfare and automation, the more “messy” or complex the environment, the less amenable it is to automation. Thus urban warfare, for example: I don’t think robots, drones, etc., can be programmed for such complexity/messiness. Not yet, anyway. Automation is more applicable to air and sea ops.

    The so-called electronic battlefield and efforts at “total situational awareness” through technology haven’t eliminated lots of mistakes and innocents being killed. America’s drone strikes, for example, often hit the wrong targets, as do its air strikes. Sometimes, it’s bad intelligence, and sometimes the missiles go awry. But our leaders persist in launching them since they’re “cheap” (no American lives lost; few if any boots on the ground). This “cheap” cost, unfortunately, leads to more violations of Newton’s 4th law. We keep starting shit — but we’re never able to end it.

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    1. Automation has an important place – letting personnel stay behind cover/armor while fighting back. But the risk of hacking, or more simply, just brute-force jamming communications between drone and controller, means that for a long time remote-controlled weapons with fairly short-range connections will become key to the next generation of survivable equipment/fighters.

      This is why, I think, Russia’s T-14 is such a step forward. Focus all armor on a protected crew space in the hull, put all weaponry and ammunition in what amounts to a disposable (and replaceable) remote-control turret. At the tactical level, modern warfare is so intense that fighting from ambush then moving to a new position is pretty much the only way to handle engagements without suffering extreme casualties. And given the electromagnetic environment any State-level adversary will impose on a future battlefield, you can’t rely on globe-spanning communications networks and satellites remaining accessible. So individual combat teams who can survive in an extremely dangerous local environment long enough to spot and engage a target, then run away before counter-fires enter the scene, becomes crucial to success.

      Personally, I believe that ‘total situational awareness’ is actually the future of combat – but to be effective, it has to be paired with near-total mission-based autonomy for personnel actually using that information to survive and accomplish their mission. Pairing TSA with the current extreme hierarchy of the military bureaucracy is a recipe for disaster, because it lets flag officers think a stream of information substitutes for their actually being on-the-ground, and they make decisions thinking they have all the information, when in fact the transmission from tactical to strategic compresses and distorts all communications.

      But the ultimate irony of the Pentagon and American empire is exactly the ongoing violations of Newton’s 4th Law. Shit started, never ended. Because it never *has* to. Pentagon keeps getting resources from Congress, which is no longer accountable to Americans. Whatever excuse it needs for more $, it’ll latch on to. Generals need armies to command, and armies-in-being tempt politicians to use them as an ‘easy’ solution to difficult problems.

      Want more evidence the Pentagon is nothing more than a bureaucratic organism using the soldiers as props to maintain its power? Look at the equipment they get. When I was a kid, in the ’90s, soldiers by 2020 were supposed to be looking like Imperial Stormtroopers. In 2003, Marine officers routinely gave one of the two body armor plates in their vests to enlisted personnel who hadn’t been given *any* body armor – because shiny new F-35s that can barely fly, and Ford-class carriers that will get knocked to hell on Day 1 of any future conflict with China, get Pentagon generals cushy and well-compensated second careers from boosting big-ticket items. But basic soldier’s equipment? Meh. Profit margins aren’t high enough to bother, I guess. “You fight a war with the army you have”, says that war criminal Rumsfeld. (are all Donalds in politics idiots?)

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      1. I generally see the whole world as chaos, with order, where it exists, being created and sustained by self-organizing agents. So I’m not terribly bothered by chaos, either, but I *am* afraid of the impacts created by powerful groups trying to establish an order that favors them – something too often accomplished by screwing over everyone else.

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        1. In “Get Smart,” the bad guys were “Chaos” and the good guys “Control,” if memory serves.

          We have plenty of “Control” today!

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  4. All good comments above, but a favourite is the 1st, in which Andrew Tanner states, “….that’s what happens to colonial empires. They’re artificial….”. He goes on about “extraction of resources…”, also true, but what amazes me these last few weeks is how fast it can all collapse. Things here in EU wouldn’t warrant pulp fiction, but it’s all true!
    77% of the population side with the arsonists, burning cities & roads, vs 24% who side with Macron, who raised the tax on diesel fuel. They’ve been lectured for years to switch from gasoline, to “save fuel”.
    What’s going on in the British Isles* (*’Great Britain’ is dead folks), still unfolding, but it’s now an island. Don’t expect them to shut up soon, but even I, NO Anglophile, have a sliver of sympathy: the list of countries they looted for artefacts wants them back. Guess they’ll ‘condo’ the British Museum, which never was ‘British’, except the building. Out front, is a homeless crisis for all to see, condemned by the UN. The ‘Brexit’ is turning very ugly, only to get worse: it hasn’t even happened yet!
    Our EU/US coup folly in Ukraine is coming to a head: Russia arrested 3 naval ships & they’re impounded now. It’s safe to say Empires do stupid things as they wither, like sending a hack like Victoria Nuland (a Billary appointment, btw!) to overthrow them. Dumb enough to think she also robbed Crimea in the crime, it backfired hard. Yeah, we’re stuck with a Neo-Nazi Oligarch cesspool we created, as Russia parades their starched white shirted Navy (and their pretty Russian girlfriends!) on retaken, NOT “Annexed”, old Russian port.
    So goes 3 fallen Empires. There’s a book by JH Elliot, “The Count Duke of Olivares (1587-1645), Statesman in the Age of Decline”. He was PM of Spain, and the book explains how he manuvered the aristocracy to feed off the Empire’s decay; he saw it coming. Don’t expect revival! Just rob what’s left! That’s what’s going on above.
    This may explain our “new” 1%ers, billionaires with nothing of product. They cannot be compared, right or wrong they were, to steelmaker Carnegie, Rockefeller, etc.

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  5. There’s no feeling of power and glory with cooperating parties. The same is true moving up the ladder to the level of the individual United States, no one of which would seriously consider going it alone or trying to take over neighboring states. The story is the same at yet another step up to the European countries, who were taught the cost of nationalism by experience. If the EU ends up a failure, it will still have been an unprecedented attempt at cooperation at a high, if not the highest, level.

    Here, in the U.S., we were absolutely intoxicated by the result of WW2. We reveled in what to us was the fact that we saved civilization, were able from our position of absolute power relative to the rest of the world to set things up as we liked (Bretton Woods, Marshall Plan, etc.) and were flattered by the requests of just about every country to please, please help them with Germany and Japan with hats in hand and don’t we know they are so happy we beat them! We have never come out of this savior mode and are blind to every indication that we are not seen that way and have not been for decades.

    That Vietnam didn’t bring us to reality indicates there is no end to this national vanity that sanctifies every military move we make while bringing in the bucks at little to no cost in American lives. Why, it just gets better and better with the appearance, and only the appearance, of having our cake and eating it too. We even made our dollar the international unit of exchange. Our debt is eagerly awaited by the world. To hell with taxes!

    Referring to my opening, human beings know that cooperation works and that at every level of government trying to be number 1 is an anachronism that history shows always ends in tears. Yet, if you want to get many Americans riled up, speak of international cooperation. Mention the United Nations and listen to the boos erupt.

    Individuals must cooperate. Governments must cooperate. Now that there are nuclear weapons, cooperation of the nuclear powers is a must. The U.S., the self-congratulating savior of the world with the vigorous belligerent “screw you, we don’t need you” attitude of Trump toward international accords is as suicidal an outlook as a great power leader can have.

    Empires are only released from blindness with radical change that pops their balloon. The better way would be economic collapse. Very ugly, but preferable to getting proof of what sane minds already know, that another war, one that we are so eagerly suiting up to fight, is The End.

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  6. You make so many good points, I don’t know where to begin. But I’ll try.
    Your 1st paragraph maybe true, but brings me to tears. A fantastic idea, EU, has turned into a corrupt Oligarchy. They pick & choose winners & losers at their own whim …and payoffs.
    2nd#. WW2 has been a big money maker for Hollywood, and the MIC. Enormous expenditures of money bring success. They forget French Underground, USSR, colossal losses! – to fight Fascism. Regardless, a tragedy that should NEVER happen again.
    3rd#. Vietnam, a war US disgracefully lost, is still not sinking into many Americans. Of course we shouldn’t have ever started it in the 1st place! We were defending a French COLONY, which they lost in 1953. It was a mystical war of ideologies, “Communism” vs “Capitalism”. (Ironically, TODAY! Most Western running shoes are made there!) What did our soldiers die for!? It’s STILL Communist!
    GM laid off 14,000 people today. For greed the 1%ers closed more factories. They may be worse than “Communists”. Still making HUGE salaries – where the hell is MANAGEMENT?! GM cars used to be beautiful! Where the hell is their Design Dept? The rest of the world has one! Obama bailed them out, but it didn’t last long.
    My sympathy tonight is with the 14,000 workers who lost their jobs. This never happened to me. I HATE the Clintons, but will use his soundbite: “I feel your pain”.

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  7. Recently, we sent a rocket on it’s way to Mars and it landed safely. Someone described it like shooting a basketball out of a cannon in LA and hitting nothing but net in Central Park in NYC.

    As a Boomer I recall how thrilling the whole space program was. It seemed like the whole universe was opening up to humanity. NASA exemplifies how we work together to achieve a common goal, with thousands of dedicated employees using the best traits in humanity: innovation, and cooperation.

    Science has exploded like the Big Bang in almost every possible direction. I remember those days of the late 1950’s and 1960’s when we reached out. Certainly, the cloud of the Cold War hung over the Space Race, but as a child I did not care who achieved a milestone if it was the USA or USSR. It was discovery and knowledge.

    I hate to sound like on old curmudgeon, but we as country have lost something, it is difficult for me to articulate it. An obsession with the destruction of our planet, by environmental degradation or an accidental nuclear exchange is in the realm of possibility. Science and Technology now is useful, only if someone can profit from it.

    I suspect if at some point in the distant future if some intelligent life form reaches earth and finds a toxic wasteland, they may marvel at how this happened. They will assess us and wonder, these earth people were an intelligent race, how could they ignore their own impending destruction when all the warning signs were there.

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    1. In a word, greed. My wife says we’re living in the United States of Greedica. The long-term future doesn’t matter. All that matters is short-term profit and getting more, more, more.

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    2. HA! I actually BELIEVED in “Globalisation” – once. Great! America makes refrigerators for Africa & India, etc. America good paying jobs. And allies Europe!
      NO! sleazy US LAZY RICH scoured the world for slave labor production, with an American logo! It worked – for a bit.
      Today the failure is complete; GM closing factories – more to come. The Oligarchs corrupted a good idea, into terrible damage to America & EU. ECOMONIES!
      Yeah, the Oligarchs decided wars are more profitable than refrigerators in Africa.
      This is how Empires die.
      STUPID A**holes. I’ll leave with a funny comment: “Hillary lost a fixed election, because they didn’t know how to fix it!”

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  8. I suspect more than a few of you readers to this blog are gagging over the tributes now being paid to a chorus line of commenters on the Cable McMega-Media concerning the now departed Bush the Elder.

    The back handed swipes at President Agent Orange vs Bush the Elder are comically transparent.

    It appears Bush the Elder will have his reputation rehabilitated. The “Class” of Bush the Elder was a front. Some Americans need this front.

    Bush the Elder was up to his neck in the Iran-Contra Scandal, during the Ray-Gun Regime. Bush the Elder was the VP.

    President Bush the Elder pardoned 6 individuals in the Iran-Contra Scandal, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger — on the eve of Weinberger’s trial for perjury and obstruction of justice.

    “The criminal investigation of Bush was regrettably incomplete,” wrote Special Counsel Lawrence Walsh, a former deputy attorney general in the Eisenhower administration, in his final report on the Iran-Contra affair in August 1993.

    Walsh pointedly noted, “marked the first time a president ever pardoned someone in whose trial he might have been called as a witness, because the president was knowledgeable of factual events underlying the case.” An angry Walsh accused Bush of “misconduct” and helping to complete “the Iran-contra cover-up.”

    Some of you may remember the infamous “Willie Horton Ad”. As Bush campaign director Lee Atwater bragged, “By the time we’re finished, they’re going to wonder whether Willie Horton is Dukakis’s running mate.”

    How about the War on Drugs – “We need more prisons, more jails, more courts, more prosecutors.” – Bush the Elder.

    You can read more here about Bush the Elder, if you dare to challenge the fairy tale reputation now being spun.
    https://theintercept.com/2018/12/01/the-ignored-legacy-of-george-h-w-bush-war-crimes-racism-and-obstruction-of-justice/
    ==============================================
    I seem to recall Bush the Elder’s sons Neil and Jeb were up to the hips in the Savings and Loan Scandal.

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    1. Yes, ML. I saw an article this AM about GHW Bush’s “civility” and I immediately thought of the Willie Horton ad. Civility?

      I do give him credit for serving in the military and risking his life during WW2. No “heel spurs” for him.

      Bush was a company man (indeed, head of the CIA) and a product of the system — no more, no less.

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    2. I say ‘Good Riddance’. I guess it’s a ‘Wonderful Life’ when you feed off your Dad’s money, and when that runs out, click into government.
      btw, check out another questionable son, ‘Marvin’. He was involved with WTC ‘security’, and like all other owners, managers, etc. surprisingly for only a few months before the Disaster.
      Very strange to this old businessman….

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