Warfare Is Welfare for the Merchants of Death

W.J. Astore

Whatever else it is, the Russia-Ukraine War is a major money-making opportunity

Warfare is welfare for the merchants of death. Consider the Russia-Ukraine War. In the name of Ukrainian liberation, the U.S. Congress is preparing to approve another $37.7 billion in mostly military aid, bringing the total to nearly $100 billion in less than a year. This remarkable sum represents roughly 5% of federal discretionary spending, nearly the same as what the federal government spent on education in America this year. So far, all Democrats in Congress have supported aid to Ukraine, with only a minority of Republicans objecting.

Why is this? America is fertile ground for anti-Russian sentiment, but that’s not the main reason. It’s all about the Benjamins, as war is always immensely profitable for some sectors of society. Recall that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned us of the disastrous rise of misplaced power represented by the military-industrial-congressional complex (MICC). Congress is heavily influenced by weapons contractors, not only through campaign contributions but by the jobs in their districts tied to the production of weapons of all sorts.

In a refreshing burst of honesty from the 1930s, the U.S. Senate referred to weapons contractors as “merchants of death,” and so they are. Weapons, from mundane bullets and artillery shells to “sexy” stealth fighters like the wildly expensive F-35, are designed to kill our fellow human beings. That’s why Eisenhower famously said in 1953 that humans essentially crucify themselves on a cross of iron when they prioritize weapons building over hospitals, schools, and other necessities of a civilized life.

More and more money to the merchants of death ensures three things: more power to weapons contractors, higher profits for them, and in this particular case a lot more dead Russians and Ukrainians. Some Americans seem to think it’s all worth it, though I’m skeptical about Ukrainian liberation being an important goal to officials in Washington.

Ike exhibited basic common sense when he noted the MICC is fundamentally anti-democratic. That it threatened our liberties and democratic processes. He told us to take nothing for granted, and challenged us to remain alert and knowledgeable. For when you empower the MICC, you weaken democracy. You also choose death over life.

Whether it’s the Russia-Ukraine War or previous ones like Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the MICC has been and is making a killing in America and indeed across the globe— and in more ways than one. And as Ike said, that’s no way of life at all.

What is to be done? We need to start by recognizing that the MICC is fundamentally anti-democratic, often wasteful, driven by greed, and consistent with imperialism of the worst sort. Again, I’m not really saying anything new here; Ike, a five-star general and two-term president, said the same almost 70 years ago. His sentiments were echoed by James Madison when Madison wrote in 1795 that a large standing military and incessant warfare were deadly to democracy and liberty.1 Yet wars continue to find a way, and the MICC continues to thrive and expand its reach and power.

To resort to Scripture, not only is the flesh weak in America when it comes to reining in war and weapons: so too is the spirit. The spirit is unwilling because we are saturated in war and violence. An imperial vision like “full-spectrum dominance” has come to dominate American culture and society. Too many people believe that freedom is best projected and protected through the barrel of a gun.

The words of Ike come to me again when he said that only Americans could truly hurt America. The primary dangers are within not without. In that spirit, Ike warned us about a danger within, the MICC. We would do well to heed his warning if we wish to preserve and strengthen the tree of liberty.

How best to heed his warning? With respect to the Russia-Ukraine War, stop sending weapons that drive more killing. Put more effort on diplomacy. With respect to America itself, abandon the concept of a “new cold war” with Russia and China. Recognize America’s strength instead of focusing incessantly on hypothetical weaknesses. Stop listening to the screech of war hawks. Invest in life instead of death. Start from a place of life-affirming confidence rather than of fear and doubt.

There’s a powerful scene in “Enemy at the Gates” about the Battle of Stalingrad where Soviet political officers are debating how to inspire the troops to fight to the last. The Soviets had been relying on fear, and indeed at Stalingrad Soviet units killed thousands of their own troops for “cowardice” in the face of the Nazi enemy. One commissar is brave enough to offer something other than fear and death. “Give them hope!” he cries. Hope that they can and would prevail against a ruthless enemy.

That’s what we need in America today, a lot less fear and a lot more hope.

1

Madison wrote that: “Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.  War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debt and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few.  In war, too, the discretionary power of the Executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds, are added to those of subduing the force, of the people.  The same malignant aspect in republicanism may be traced in the inequality of fortunes, and the opportunities of fraud, growing out of a state of war, and in the degeneracy of manner and of morals, engendered in both.  No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

Peace Is Pro-Life and Pro-Choice

W.J. Astore

On learning the value of negotiation from the Outlaw Josey Wales

We’re in a strange moment when advocating for negotiations toward peace in Ukraine is dismissed as not only wrongheaded but morally wrong.  We’re told that only Ukraine can determine its future, and that one must not appease a dictator (Putin), but in the same breath we’re told that peace will only come when Russia is totally defeated by force of arms, with the main arms supplier being the United States.  Methinks various actors in the U.S. are evincing a conflict of interest here.  When war is profitable and you keep arguing for it, it doesn’t take a detective to see motives that are suspect.

Even when it’s necessary, war is bloody awful and murderously atrocious.  Not surprisingly, Jesus Christ preferred to bless the peacemakers instead of the warmongers.  Yet peacemakers today in the U.S. are rare indeed in the government and in mainstream media.  In God we (don’t) trust.

Being anti-war strikes me as a sane position for any human being.  War, in rare cases, may be unavoidable and even necessary (I’d point to World War II as a necessary war to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan), but being anti-war should be reflexive.  As I once read on a bumper sticker: “I’m already against the next war.”  I laughed at that one.  Peace is joyful.

I’d go further and argue that peace is pro-life and pro-choice.  Everyone should be for it, unless, that is, you make your fortune from war.  It’s hard to be pro-life, after all, when you’re shouting “kill” at some enemy.  And you really have no choices when you’re dead.  If you want more choices in life, turn away from war.  There’s nothing like war to deny you choices — and perhaps life as well.

The Russia-Ukraine War may soon enter its second year.  No one in their right mind should be cheering for this.  I don’t want to see more dead Russians and Ukrainians.  I don’t want escalating tensions between the U.S. and Russia, the world’s most powerful nuclear-armed nations.  Only a fool or a war profiteer should want another cold war, considering that the previous one wasted trillions of dollars, cost millions their lives, and almost ended in nuclear Armageddon sixty years ago off the coast of Cuba.

For some reason an old Clint Eastwood film comes to mind: “The Outlaw Josey Wales.”  As Josey Wales says to Ten Bears, a Native American chief, in a grim life-or-death faceoff, “Men can live together without butchering one another.”  Wales, unafraid to be seen as “weak” by negotiating with a Comanche chief, brought his word of death even as he sought an understanding that would preserve life.  And life it was.

Negotiation is not weakness.  Peace and life, as Josey Wales knew, is far preferable to war and death.  If the will exists, even bitter opponents can find common ground and a path forward away from death.  Words of peace have iron of their own, as Ten Bears says.  They ring true when they resonate from people of honor.

Josey Wales, a man who’d lost his family to war and its butchery, a man who’d had to kill to survive, wanted nothing more than peace and a chance for a better life.  So should we all.

(If you’d like to comment, please go to Bracing Views on Substack. Thanks.)

War Profits Soar as Diplomacy Sinks

W.J. Astore

I came across a remarkable stat while reading William Hartung’s latest article, “The Profits of War,” at TomDispatch.com. The giant military contractor, Lockheed Martin, received $77 billion in federal funds in FY2020 (Lockheed Martin builds the F-35 fighter jet), almost double the entire budget for the U.S. State Department (roughly $44 billion). So as President Biden gives speeches about favoring diplomacy over military action, he might want to consider how the Pentagon’s budget (and related spending on weaponry, including new nuclear weapons) is roughly 20 times that of the State Department. Biden once said, show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value. Looks like weaponry and war remains number one and job one. USA! USA!

I had to laugh when I saw this headline from the New York Times in my email this morning: “At U.N., Biden calls for diplomacy, not conflict, but some are skeptical.” Readers, I can’t fathom any skepticism about U.S. intentions, can you? We are a peace-loving nation. We just choose to show it by constantly building new weapons in a febrile quest for “full-spectrum dominance” as we showcase our global reach and global power with assassin drones and endless wars. Does any other country in the world have 750 overseas military bases in 80 countries? Does any other country in the world slice and dice the map into regional commands (Africa Command, Central Command, and so on) led by four-star generals and admirals? Proving the world is not enough, America now seeks to dominate space with our “Space Force” and virtual worlds like cyberspace.

Time to practice some “diplomacy” in space.

Remember how Teddy Roosevelt said to speak softly but also to carry a big stick? That needs to be amended. The U.S. policy for decades has been: Shout loudly and swing a big stick. And that “big stick” is the U.S. military, which routinely gobbles up more than half of the federal discretionary budget.

Let me know when the State Department’s budget soars to $750 billion and the Pentagon’s budget plunges to $44 billion and maybe I’ll believe Joe Biden’s words about the new importance of diplomacy in America.

The Iran Nuclear Deal: What It Really Means

With Cuba and Iran, perhaps Obama is finally working to earn his peace prize?
With Cuba and Iran, perhaps Obama is finally working to earn his peace prize?

W.J. Astore

When I was a teenager, America’s two biggest allies in the Middle East were Israel and Iran.  We considered the Shah of Iran to be a strong ally in the region, and sold him some of our most advanced weaponry, including the F-14 Tomcat fighter with its powerful radar as well as HAWK surface-to-air missiles.  Students from Iran attended American colleges and universities.  Heck, we even helped Iran with its fledgling nuclear power industry.

All that changed, of course, with the Islamic revolution in Iran and the Iranian hostage crisis.  America became “The Great Satan,” American flags were burned, and young Americans were told we had been betrayed.  We took to wearing t-shirts that read “Put a hola in the Ayatollah,” featuring a head shot of the Ayatollah Khomeini with a sniper’s cross hair superimposed on it.  (I should know: I owned and wore that very t-shirt.)

That kind of estrangement, bordering on the unhinged, is what is changing for the better because of the nuclear deal with Iran, notes Peter Van Buren at TomDispatch.com.  In Van Buren’s words:

Here’s what actually matters most [about the Iran nuclear deal]: at a crucial moment and without a shot being fired, the United States and Iran have come to a turning point away from an era of outright hostility. The nuclear accord binds the two nations to years of engagement and leaves the door open to a far fuller relationship. 

Iran and the USA have pulled back from the brink of war.  Sorry: No more off-key renditions by John McCain about bombing Iran.  Billions of dollars saved, countless innocent lives spared.  What’s to complain about?

As Van Buren notes, diplomacy, at least for the time being, was allowed to work.  In his words:

It’s a breakthrough because through it the U.S. and Iran acknowledge shared interests for the first time, even as they recognize their ongoing conflicts in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere. That’s how adversaries work together: you don’t have to make deals like the July accord with your friends. Indeed, President Obama’s description of how the deal will be implemented — based on verification, not trust — represents a precise choice of words. The reference is to President Ronald Reagan, who used the phrase “trust but verify” in 1987 when signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with the Russians.

The agreement was reached the old-school way, by sitting down at a table over many months and negotiating. Diplomats consulted experts. Men and women in suits, not in uniform, did most of the talking. The process, perhaps unfamiliar to a post-9/11 generation raised on the machismo of “you’re either with us or against us,” is called compromise. It’s an essential part of a skill that is increasingly unfamiliar to Americans: diplomacy. The goal is not to defeat an enemy, find quick fixes, solve every bilateral issue, or even gain the release of the four Americans held in Iran. The goal is to achieve a mutually agreeable resolution to a specific problem. Such deft statecraft demonstrates the sort of foreign policy dexterity American voters have seldom seen exercised since Barack Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize (Cuba being the sole exception).

Of course, no good deed goes unpunished.  Republicans, having no other viable path to power, reflexively attack the deal even before they’ve read it.  Impostors like Mike Huckabee actually suggest the deal is leading Jews to the door of the ovens, an outrageously inflammatory and irresponsible reference to the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews in World War II.  Such rhetoric, wildly exaggerated, conveniently obscures the real fears of Israel and Saudi Arabia.

And what are those fears?  Here’s Van Buren again to explain:

No, what fundamentally worries the Israelis and the Saudis is that Iran will rejoin the community of nations as a diplomatic and trading partner of the United States, Asia, and Europe. Embarking on a diplomatic offensive in the wake of its nuclear deal, Iranian officials assured fellow Muslim countries in the region that they hoped the accord would pave the way for greater cooperation. American policy in the Persian Gulf, once reliably focused only on its own security and energy needs, may (finally) start to line up with an increasingly multifaceted Eurasian reality. A powerful Iran is indeed a threat to the status quo — hence the upset in Tel Aviv and Riyadh — just not a military one. Real power in the twenty-first century, short of total war, rests with money.

He nails it.  After all, what’s the worse that can happen?  Let’s say Iran cheats and starts to develop a nuclear weapon.  In that case, the U.S. will have broad support in attacking Iran to eliminate that capability.  Meanwhile, the thousands of nuclear warheads that the U.S. possesses, and the hundreds of nuclear bombs the Israelis possess, should serve as a sufficient deterrent against Iranian nuclear designs (assuming the Iranians ever seek to fulfill them).

After so many failed military interventions in the Middle East, after so much death and destruction, isn’t it high time the world community tried diplomacy and engagement?  I’d say so.  And this from a former teenager who wore a t-shirt advocating the assassination of Iran’s revolutionary leader.

Provoking Wars: Is that what U.S. Foreign Policy Is About?

Send in the heavily-armed carriers.  It's about peace!
Send in the heavily-armed carriers. It’s about peace!

b. traven and W.J. Astore

Are America’s foreign policy leaders mad?  It’s a serious question.  Consider last week’s dispatch of 300 military trainers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade to Western Ukraine, a country involved in a contentious jousting match with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  Or consider this week’s deployment of an aircraft carrier battle group off the coast of Yemen, ostensibly to interdict weapons shipments from Iran, shipments that may not even exist.

These moves have more serious possible repercussions than the usual stupid moves our government makes. They can lead to real war with Russia and Iran. Look at today’s headline in the New York Times: “Putin Bolsters His Forces Near Ukraine.”  Putin may be provoked into an invasion of Ukraine because U.S. meddling has been so blatant (he also knows that when it comes to war in Ukraine, NATO is largely a toothless tiger). The Iranians may renege on the nuclear agreement and deliver extensive military support to the Houthis while directly engaging the House of Saud. In both situations, it’s easy to predict what Obama will do.  Just what John McCain and the neo-cons want him to do.  Bombs away.

It’s a clear case of global reach, global power–and global stupidity.  You’d think massive bungling and endemic corruption in never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would have taught us something, but the U.S. insists on getting involved in sensitive regional conflicts that could easily spiral out of control.

And when the U.S. chooses to get involved, it’s not with diplomacy.  It’s all about military power.  Yet as much as America professes to love its military, its power is a blunt (and deadly) instrument.  It exacerbates tensions rather than alleviating them.  U.S. military meddling in Ukraine and Yemen promises more conflict, not less.

And perhaps that’s by design.  Consider the reality of America’s ever-burgeoning military budget.  As Dan Froomkin notes, that budget still exceeds the combined defense budgets of the next seven highest spenders (four of those countries—Saudi Arabia, France, the UK, and Germany—are U.S. allies; China and Russia, the only rivals on the list, spend far less than the U.S.).  As the U.S. continues to spend hog-wild on its military, small wonder it remains the go-to option for “diplomacy” around the globe.

Democratic or Republican administration, Obama or Bush, the one constant is global war.  The U.S. is already waging illegal “low intensity” war with drones and special operations across the globe.  (It’s worth pointing out that “low intensity” doesn’t feel low when Hellfire missiles are raining down on your neighborhood or when Special Forces are raiding your village and hauling away your neighbors–or you.)  So why not add another serving of war to an already full plate by meddling in Ukraine?  Sadly, the faction the U.S. seems to favor the most has its share of outright fascists.  But they’re “our” fascists, so who cares if they vote to honor Nazi collaborators and perpetrators of the Holocaust?

Russia, predictably, is antagonized by U.S. meddling.  They see it as the decades-old Anglo-British effort to encircle and isolate Russia and cut them off from their access to the Mediterranean by denying them their Black Sea Fleet base in the Crimea.  To add insult to injury, the essentially Russian population of Eastern Ukraine will be marginalized by the coup regime the U.S. helped to install.  Well, there’s nothing like a new Cold War with Russia to push “defense” spending to even higher levels.

If the U.S. fails to rouse the Soviet bear from slumber, perhaps we can provoke a war with Iran.  So let’s continue to send billions of dollars in weaponry to the Saudis so they can continue to bomb and dominate Shia factions in Yemen.  Heck, let’s send an aircraft carrier task force to show how serious we are about “peace.”  (Let’s hope the U.S. Navy doesn’t blunder and shoot down an Iranian commercial aircraft, as it did in 1988, killing 290 innocent passengers and crew.)

Provocation—that’s when U.S. leaders deploy the military to meddle in Ukraine, in Yemen, and elsewhere across the globe.  Yet men like Bush and Obama continue to sell the military, not as provocateurs, but as peace-bringers.  As diplomats in uniform.  They just happen to carry assault rifles and use Hellfire missiles rather than briefcases and pens.

Saddest of all is that things are only going to get worse.  We’ve witnessed how America’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning President morphed into its assassin-in-chief, approving “signature strikes” to snuff out evil-doers everywhere.  Now look who’s running to replace him in 2016: Hillary the Hun on the Democratic side, and all those little chickenhawk Republicans clucking that they’re to the right of Hillary.

If you’re reading this and have money, we advise you to invest in “defense” stocks.  With all these provocations in the works, the staff here at The Contrary Perspective are bullish on prospects for more weapons–and more war.