When Will We Ever Learn?

Ronald Enzweiler (Guest Author)

What America’s National Security State Got Wrong in Its Wars of Choice and How to Deconstruct the War State

I’m a Washington outsider/non-careerist who worked seven years as a civilian advisor in our country’s Wars of Choice in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Earlier in my life, I served in and worked for the military-industrial complex.  I have lived, worked and traveled throughout Europe and the Greater Middle East.  Given this background, I’ve written a book (Will We Ever Learn?) recounting from personal knowledge how our nation’s interventionist foreign policy and military adventurism has transformed the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about in 1961 into today’s unimaginable $1.25 trillion/year national security establishment.  This enterprise operates as a de facto shadow government apart from our representative democracy.  It perpetuates a bipartisan war culture driven by defense industry lobbyists and special interests.  Our burgeoning multi-agency “War State” is the primary reason for Congress’ $1-trillion-plus/year budget deficits and our country’s $22 trillion in national debt.

As I document in my book, $7.5 trillion of the $12 trillion increase in our national debt since 9/11 is attributable to increases in defense spending mainly related to the War on Terror.  I can attest that the trillions spent on these idiotic wars was a waste of taxpayers’ money.  Much worse, they created over 6,000 Gold Star parents and tens of thousands of maimed and PTSD-stricken brave patriots.  Yet, overspending on our military goes on – even as War on Terror proponents admit Americans are less safe today.  Most political leaders responsible for our recent wars and their funding – and the pundits who advocated for them – are still around as esteemed figures in Washington.   No four-star generals – company men one and all — were held accountable for the DoD’s egregious mistakes in warfighting strategy and tactics that I document in my book.

The swamp creatures who rule over Washington’s war culture know they must maintain our War State as an expanding $1.25 trillion/year enterprise (including what I estimate to be $250 billion/year for nuclear-war deterrence) to stay in power – regardless of how much national debt they run up and how many Gold Star parents, maimed soldiers, and PTSD cases result from their military adventurism.  Congressional leadership supports the War State because both parties receive massive campaign funding to maintain the status quo from corporate lobbyists and big donors. This insiders’ money game is not the America my Uncle Norb – who I never knew because he was killed storming the beach at Eniwetok Atoll as a 19-year-old Marine in 1944 – died fighting to preserve as member of our nation’s greatest generation.

In my book (and this essay), I identify specific changes in  foreign and military policy and $500 billion/year in defense spending cuts which, if made, would make America and the world safer.  These sensible and practical actions recognize the instability and trepidation that Washington’s bullying and war culture are causing around the world.

My remedies include restricting the development and proliferation of conventional weapons and eliminating all nuclear weapons from the world under a United Nations Treaty ratified in 2017 by 123 countries.  This U.N. initiative followed a 2007 Wall Street Journal commentary titled “A World Free of Nuclear Weapons,” by Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn — hardly naïve isolationists.  President Obama also persuasively advocated for a no-nuke world in a speech he gave in Prague in 2009.  Under my plan to scale-back U.S. militarism, our country would still spend twice as much on national security as our two presumed military adversaries combined: Russia with its crumbling economy and China with its growing dissident problems.  If our national security state officials can’t keep America safe with a 2:1 spending advantage over these two troubled countries, they all should be fired.

Senator Bernie Sanders is the only 2020 presidential candidate who has pledged to take on the military-industry complex and cut defense spending.  But in a Vox interview, Sanders admitted that, given the power the national security state’s shadow government exerts over Congress, defense spending cuts are a nonstarter the way Congress now works — no matter who is president.

What’s a solution to this predicament that engenders our idiotic wars and is driving our country off a fiscal cliff?  Simple: Empower — and require – all members of Congress, as our directly elected representatives, to make up-or-down floor votes on specific spending “tradeoffs” as a follow-on step to the current Congressional appropriations process.  For example, the Democratic caucus in the House could require a tradeoff vote on cancelling funding in the DoD’s approved appropriations bill for the $1.5-trillion life-time-costs F-35 fighter program (the late Senator John McCain – hardly an anti-military pacifist — called the F-35 program “a scandal and a tragedy” at a 2016 Senate hearing ); or spending the same amount over the same timeframe for better health care, free college tuition, student debt forgiveness, and similar programs.

If a specific tradeoff challenge vote passes both Houses of Congress, it would go the President to accept or reject.  A challenge could fail.  But each member of Congress who voted “no” in this example would have to explain at reelection time why he or she thinks our military needs over 2,000 F-35s when Russia has zero Su-57s in service; and why he or she believes the money spent on unneeded F-35’s could not be better used to reduce the federal budget deficit (also an option in my plan) — or make college affordable for all our citizens as the tradeoff vote in this example.

These changes can all happen if voters bring up these reform initiatives at candidate forums and obtain pledges from candidates for federal office to commit to fixing Congress so it serves the interests of individual citizens — not corporate lobbyists and special interests.  Getting these changes adopted may yet prevent our democracy from going down the low road to perdition.

14 thoughts on “When Will We Ever Learn?

  1. WHOA! In case you haven’t heard, there’s another candidate just rarin’ to take on the MIC, and that’s TULSI GABBARD. Bernie’s heart’s in the right place but his interest is so directed toward domestic programs that he really doesn’t want to have to address these issues unless he’s forced. In fact, if Tulsi weren’t running, Bernie (and all the other candidates) would likely be trying to avoiding war-and-peace, nuclear arms negotiations, and military spending issues altogether. And Tulsi’s didn’t just come up with this idea a few weeks before running for president, twitter.com/tulsigabbard/status/818919440603643904.

    But thanks for linking to that Vox article! I didn’t realize Bernie was defeatist about taking on the MIC. And if you’d like to hear more from Tulsi, be sure to tune in to the first night (Wednesday, June 26 @9pm EDT) of the Democratic debates. And if you want to help Tulsi get onstage in the third round of debates in September, stop by secure.actblue.com/donate/tulsi2020?refcode=web-nav and contribute whatever you like, even as little as $1, because Tulsi needs 130,000 unique individual contributors by August 28.

    Don’t worry about Tulsi’s commitment to taking on the MIC. It, along with ending regime-change wars and negotiating nuclear arms controls, is the centerpiece of her campaign and she’s definitely not defeatist about it.

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    1. Thanks, Michael. I do mention Rep. Gabbard’s advocacy for a non-interventionist foreign and military policy in my longer essay linked above. But I couldn’t find a direct quote in her Greenwald interview (The Intercept) or her appearances on Tucker (the one guy in the swamp who gets it) where she explicitly said she would take on the MIC and cut defense spend as president – although it’s implied. I didn’t want to put words in her mouth. (If I missed her explicitly saying this in her campaign, please provide a link so I can use it.) I heard Rep. Gabbard speak at a Sanders’ rally I attended at the Presidio in SF in 2016. Maybe the harbinger of a Sanders/Gabbard ticket in 2020?

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  2. I followed the author’s link to the article about Russia’s “collapsing” economy — by The Spectator‘s Owen Matthews — and pretty much stopped reading right there. If the author of this article can’t do better than to cite discredited CIA and MI-6 propaganda about the Russian Federation and its demonstrably competent leadership, then I don’t have any more time to waste with this stuff. If paying off nearly all foreign debt and signing mega-infrastructure deals (now annual events) with China and Germany (among other important countries) indicates “collapse,” then I suggest the author get himself a new dictionary — one more securely anchored to reality.

    The Empire Has Struck Out.

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    1. In contrast to the bigoted and inaccurate Spectator article mentioned above, former British diplomat, Craig Murray, has a few tart observations to make regarding the typically mendacious (i.e., “lying”) US/UK coverage of (1) Iranian ships that rescued the crews of two stricken merchant freighters in the Gulf of Oman just recently and (2) the despicable persecution of Julian Assange for publishing accurate documentation of US/UK/NATO war crimes. See: The Ugly View of Western Democracy Consortium News (June 18, 2019). Gist of the article:

      “From flimsy false flags in the Gulf to the signing of Assange’s extradition warrant, Craig Murray reviews the abuses of power made obvious in the past two weeks.”

      If by now we have not learned to immediately discredit any official statements from the US and UK “governments” (meaning puppet appendages of the Ruling Transnational Corporate Oligarchy) then we have indeed learned nothing and show few, if any, prospects for doing so in the future.

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      1. I agree, Mike. The Assange case is a total sham. The intent is not so much to punish Assange (though that’s part of it) but to deter and intimidate other journalists and whistleblowers from coming forward. We see this in the treatment of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden as well, among others.

        And Iran? Even if Iran is somehow responsible for these “attacks” (doubtful), they are not a cause for war. Meanwhile, look at the economic warfare the US is waging against Iran, among other countries. We just ignore this. They’re just “sanctions,” right?

        And look what country dominates the world’s arms trade! Hint: It’s not Iran.

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    2. Yes, I too read that bogus article on “Russia’s Collapsing Economy”. I’m surprised an intelligent author would highlight such rubbish. Their soccer tournament last year embarrassed Brits & European leaders to ‘Depends’: it was a roaring success! The lies they spread about Russia sent their youth in droves to participate in this fabulous celebration of sport.; when they heard the reports from their friends. Airports jammed, the youth didn’t seem to care who won, just meet these mysterious people their ‘leaders’ claimed were so evil and themselves so great. (They ran out of beer in a few cities: Putin to the rescue. Trucked in more from E Russia) Hardly a “dictator”! I’m sure CIA & MI6 were there: 1 clown spray painted a statue. No such luck of jail or fines. “Just clean it off! Here’s the solvent!” Compare that “sentence” to London or NYC.
      I’m not too smart, but started to question this Russia FARCE. “Why? I thought USSR was finished in ’91!?” Finally dawned on me: It’s the only country on earth big enough to justify such an OUTRAGEOUS MILITARY BUDGET! Without this fantasy of “Russia”, it has no ‘sales power’ . So CIA & MI6 make one up.

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  3. New people in Congress to work along with Tulsi is what I want to see. I really like the Justice Democrat group that got AOC to run and win. They are putting up candidates in many places. With my limited funds I try to contribute to as many as I can.

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    1. I agree. We need new representatives. We need to support people like AOC who are willing to speak up and who aren’t bought and paid for.

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    2. Clif, thanks for your comment. I totally agree that replacing who’s in Congress is the key to changing the status quo in Washington. As a new member, AOC has asked, why is it [leadership] always can find money to fund whatever the Pentagon wants but won’t fund programs progressive members want? This is why I included in Appendix II in my book questions for voters to ask candidates for federal office (or send their current representatives) challenging Congress’ overspending on the military. I also advocate for new members, progressives, and libertarians to form a Citizens’ Military Spending Review Commission composed of Washington outsiders. This commission would vet the $500 billion in defense cuts that I advocate. The Swamp has a similar commission (National Defense Strategy Commission) of Washington insiders. It advocates for more defense spending — and Congress dutifully obliges. Time to fight back against this inside-the-Beltway self-dealing!

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  4. Since Ike was the only one who had the stature to at least blunt the growth of the complex, and didn’t, I don’t give him any credit for mentioning it the day he left. Giving props to Ike is a well worn and unthinking thing that never seems to end. Even a vigorous effort by him would just have been a finger in the dike. Like everything else in America ‘defense’ was fated to become a racket.

    It should be remembered that the conservative heart of the GOP hated Ike which as much as anything explains his inability to thwart the military industrial state. The GOP swung from imperial in the 1890’s, to isolationist as fascism rose because they were down with fascism, to hyper interventionist around 1947 because that was where the money, the racket was and still is.

    If or when the day comes when the money runs out and the USA is no longer the USA or at least not one that is recognizable by the standards of the last century our defense will still be top notch. That is two vast oceans. The easiest nation defense project in world history is the defense of the USA and North America.

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    1. I think Ike did control the MI Complex, or at least he limited its growth and power. But he could (and should) have done more.

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  5. Mr Enzweiler makes some excellent points that we readers of this website (and other similar ones) are already familiar with and very much aligned with, especially the basic point against our unconscionable, immoral profligate spending on militarism. I entirely agree with his proposed solution, and similar ones by other authors.

    The frustration I have is HOW do we start — in a ‘non-traumatic’ way — to move SIGNIFICANTLY towards that goal?? It doesn’t seem that the moral/ethical arguments against militarism have any traction with about 70 or 80% of the US voters, and even the strong economic, political, and environmental arguments against militarism and war don’t seem significantly register with them either. The last time we had a significant anti-war ethos in this country was during the late stages of the Vietnam War, and that took about 40,000 US soldier deaths before the US public turned against it, at least in an electoral way. And politicians can’t get ahead of the public on these issues without risking being defeated at the polls by some chickenhawk. Even Obama’s nuclear disarmament gesture mentioned in the article now seems like liberal pandering in light of his subsequent signature on the $1 trillion+ nuclear arsenal ‘upgrade’ (or whatever the hell he rationalized it away with).

    In general, I’ve read a number of excellent, humanitarian alternative visions to what we have now, which is a necessary condition, but it’s hard to envision a realistic scenario where any of them come about peacefully. Any suggestions?

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    1. Yeah; I have one. Get out of militarism and you “free market capitalists” (which they’re NOT!) GET BACK TO WORK!
      They’ve recently failed: kidnapping the daughter of a better Chinese internet system than America can provide, and now we have Boeing’s disaster: ‘MAX’. I personally don’t believe it’ll ever fly again. An enormous waste of money to save a 50+yo airplane, long past it’s shelf life! Terrible stories to please stockowners.
      So in a macabre way, maybe soon the MIC can’t afford it’s outrageous budget.
      It was always depended on US taxpayers: they must wake up.

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  6. Eddie, thanks for your supportive comment. Rather than trying to create a Vietnam War era antiwar ethos, I frame the problem of Congress’s overspending on defense and our country’s militarism as a Congressional deficit spending and mis-prioritization of resources issue driven by lobbyists and special interests. In this regard, the citizens’ activism needed to change who’s in Congress and how Congress works overlaps into a larger grassroots political reform effort called Represent Us. (Just google this name.) This nonpartisan nonprofit group has high profile proponents, like Jenifer Lawrence, Matt Damon and Michael Douglas. This group’s big push is to get money out of politics by, first, passing anti-corruption laws at the state level that will effectively make donations to candidates by corporate interests an ethics violation and thus a bribe (which the really are). It will then push similar federal legislation. In its “Corruption is Legal in America” video, Represent Us says corporate interests supporting the MIC spent $1.26 billion over the last 10 years to influence (buy) lawmakers. This group has local chapters and other ways to get involved – which I’m doing. I’d like to see it poll on questions like the one in my above article (and in Appendices II and III in my book) on how voters/taxpayers would prefer Congress spends their money. Remember, even Trump’s 40% hard core supporters voted for him in part to get the U.S. out of its stupid wars (as Tucker had to recently remind the President). So I think it would be possible to generate data showing voter support for a non-interventionist foreign policy and thus less defense spending – and then get candidates elected who support these positions.

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