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.
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.
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.
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.