Wednesday Worries

W.J. Astore

I’ve been meaning to post more about President Biden’s decision to throw $33 billion in weapons and money at Ukraine, followed by the decision in the House to boost that to $40 billion, and the vote that took place in which all Democrats, including the so-called Squad, voted for it, with a few dozen Republicans voting against. The implications of this are staggering. The U.S. has already committed more than $50 billion to the proxy war against Russia as Americans stagger under rising costs for everything.

We need Russia to attack the American working class — only then might workers in America get some financial relief from “their” government.

Democrats are “all-in” on being pro-war and pro-military (and pro-police, since Biden has called for even more police to be hired), leaving anti-war positions to a smattering of Republicans with various motivations. All credit to Senator Rand Paul for holding up the $40 billion Ukraine “aid” package. He wants an Inspector General to monitor and control how this immense sum of money will be spent for Ukraine. A smidgen of accountability — imagine that! I actually wrote a note to Senator Paul to salute him for this and for his opposition to the DHS Disinformation Governance Board.

More unaccountable billions for Ukraine and the military-industrial complex, more government censorship for Americans: a couple of worries for our Wednesday.

Anyhow, here are a few good articles I’ve been meaning to cite on this:

Caitlin Johnstone, “The Squad” doesn’t exist outside of social media https://caitlinjohnstone.com/2022/05/13/the-squad-doesnt-exist-outside-of-social-media/

The US House of Representatives has voted 368-57 to spend $40 billion on a world-threatening proxy war while ordinary Americans struggle to feed themselves and their children. All 57 “no” votes were Republicans. Every member of the small faction of progressive House Democrats popularly known as “The Squad” voted yes.

The massive proxy war bill then went to the Senate, where it was stalled with scrutiny not from progressive superstar Bernie Sanders, but from Republican Rand Paul.

This is because the left-wing Democrat is a myth, like the good billionaire or the happy open marriage. It’s not a real thing; it’s just a pleasant fairy tale people tell themselves so they don’t have to go through the psychological turmoil of acknowledging that their entire worldview is built on lies.

Glenn Greenwald:

The Bizarre, Unanimous Dem Support for the $40b War Package to Raytheon and CIA: “For Ukraine”

Video Transcript: “The US Anti-War Left is Dead. The Squad’s $40b War Vote Just Killed It.” Many Dems voting YES have long denounced exactly these sorts of bills. What happened?

What happened, indeed? Not a single Democrat has a principled stance against weapons and war.

Another article by Caitlin Johnstone details a war game on NBC News that addresses a war with China over Taiwan: https://caitlinjohnstone.com/2022/05/16/pentagon-funded-think-tank-simulates-war-with-china-on-nbc/

Funded by the American taxpayer!

And then there’s this article by Dan Froomkin: “CBS helps world’s biggest arms dealer hone his pitch”

CBS helps world’s biggest arms dealer hone his pitch

Here’s the beginning of Froomkin’s article:

You could see something new playing out on the Sunday shows this past weekend: Some TV news networks are starting to raise questions about whether the U.S. involvement in the Ukraine might have some downsides.

But not on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

After hearing from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who called for “more weapons, more sanctions” — and Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova — who asked for “more military support, more sanctions” — “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan warmly welcomed Jim Taiclet, the chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, tossing him questions that weren’t even softballs, they were bouquets.

One can imagine how that might have come about. Earlier in the week, President Biden visited a Lockheed Martin factory in Alabama that makes Javelin anti-tank missiles, pitching his requests for $33 billion in aid to Ukraine and subsidies for American microchip production. So Ukraine and supply-chain issues were in the news, and Taiclet could address both.

But still, what it came down to was a major television network inviting onto its marquee news show the head of the largest weapons manufacturer in the world — the company that profits more from war than any other company worldwide — and not asking a single pointed question.

Watch the entire six-minute segment and ask yourself if state television in a totalitarian country would have done it any differently.

In the 1970s and into the 1980s, the mainstream media occasionally did challenge the military-industrial complex. Those days are gone. I no longer see articles that criticize waste, fraud, abuse, threat inflation, and so on. The mainstream media, like the Democrats, have become pro-war and pro-weapons and pro-Pentagon. Rare indeed do you hear any sustained criticism or meaningful opposition. (You do get posturing from the Squad, but only when their posturing has no effect on legislation and money.)

What good is freedom of the press when the press muzzles itself on issues that could very well lead to a wider war, even a nuclear one? Why is America shoveling scores of billions of dollars to sustain a bloodletting in Ukraine? What is our strategy to end this war, rather than simply prolonging it and profiting from it?

So I worry.

Dominating the World Stage

W.J. Astore

“Make love, not war!” on the helmet of Marine Corporal Billy Winn, Vietnam, 1967 (Photo by William Eggleston)

In the 1960s, in response to the Vietnam War, young Americans vowed to “make love, not war.” Ever since 9/11, if not before, America has a new vow: Make War, Not Love.

The American empire believes it must dominate the world stage. Partly this is due to hubris unleashed by the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. As Colin Powell put it that year:

“We no longer have the luxury of having a threat to plan for. What we plan for is that we’re a superpower. We are the major player on the world stage with responsibilities around the world, with interests around the world.”

When you define the world as your “stage” and define yourself as a military and economic “superpower,” as the major player, a hubristic and militaristic foreign policy almost naturally follows. And so it has.

In my latest article for TomDispatch.com, I detail five reasons why America remains addicted to hubristic war; what follows is an excerpt that focuses on America’s vision of itself as the best and purest actor on the world stage. Please read the entire article at TomDispatch.com.

***

About 15 years ago, I got involved in a heartfelt argument with a conservative friend about whether it was wise for this country to shrink its global presence, especially militarily. He saw us as a benevolent actor on the world stage.  I saw us as overly ambitious, though not necessarily malevolent, as well as often misguided and in denial when it came to our flaws. I think of his rejoinder to me as the “empty stage” argument.  Basically, he suggested that all the world’s a stage and, should this country become too timid and abandon it, other far more dangerous actors could take our place, with everyone suffering. My response was that we should, at least, try to leave that stage in some fashion and see if we were missed.  Wasn’t our own American stage ever big enough for us?  And if this country were truly missed, it could always return, perhaps even triumphantly. 

Of course, officials in Washington and the Pentagon do like to imagine themselves as leading “the indispensable nation” and are generally unwilling to test any other possibilities.  Instead, like so many ham actors, all they want is to eternally mug and try to dominate every stage in sight. 

In truth, the U.S. doesn’t really have to be involved in every war around and undoubtedly wouldn’t be if certain actors (corporate as well as individual) didn’t feel it was just so profitable. If my five answers above were ever taken seriously here, there might indeed be a wiser and more peaceful path forward for this country. But that can’t happen if the forces that profit from the status quo — where bellum (war) is never ante- or post- but simply ongoing — remain so powerful. The question is, of course, how to take the profits of every sort out of war and radically downsize our military (especially its overseas “footprint”), so that it truly becomes a force for “national security,” rather than national insecurity. 

Most of all, Americans need to resist the seductiveness of war, because endless war and preparations for more of the same have been a leading cause of national decline.  One thing I know: Waving blue-and-yellow flags in solidarity with Ukraine and supporting “our” troops may feel good but it won’t make us good.  In fact, it will only contribute to ever more gruesome versions of war. 

A striking feature of the Russian invasion of Ukraine is that, after so many increasingly dim years, it’s finally allowed America’s war party to pose as the “good guys” again. After two decades of a calamitous “war on terror” and unmitigated disasters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, and so many other places, Americans find themselves on the side of the underdog Ukrainians against that “genocidal” “war criminal” Vladimir Putin.  That such a reading of the present situation might be uncritical and reductively one-sided should (but doesn’t) go without saying. That it’s seductive because it feeds both American nationalism and narcissism, while furthering a mythology of redemptive violence, should be scary indeed.

Yes, it’s high time to call a halt to the Pentagon’s unending ham-fisted version of a world tour.  If only it were also time to try dreaming a different dream, a more pacific one of being perhaps a first among equals. In the America of this moment, even that is undoubtedly asking too much. An Air Force buddy of mine once said to me that when you wage war long, you wage it wrong. Unfortunately, when you choose the dark path of global dominance, you also choose a path of constant warfare and troubled times marked by the cruel risk of violent blowback (a phenomenon of which historian and critic Chalmers Johnson so presciently warned us in the years before 9/11).

Washington certainly feels it’s on the right side of history in this Ukraine moment. However, persistent warfare should never be confused with strength and certainly not with righteousness, especially on a planet haunted by a growing sense of impending doom.

War and Weapons Are Strictly Business

W.J. Astore

“Strictly Business”

In “The Godfather,” Michael Corleone, played brilliantly by Al Pacino, says that killing a rival mobster and crooked police captain who conspired to kill his father is nothing personal — it’s strictly business. Something similar can be said of America’s wars and weapons trade today. As retired General Smedley Butler said in the 1930s, U.S. military actions often take the form of gangster capitalism. Want to know what’s really going on? Follow the muscle and the money!

America has “invested” itself in the Russia-Ukraine war, and I use that word deliberately. U.S. weapons makers like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are making a killing, literally and figuratively, on the ongoing war, whether by sending arms to Ukraine or in the major boost forthcoming to Pentagon spending supported by Democrats and Republicans in Congress. (Who said bipartisanship is dead?) For all the blue-and-yellow flags that America is flying in symbolic solidarity with Ukraine, the true colors of this war, as with most wars, is red for blood and green for money.

Economic sanctions against Russia, meanwhile, are meant to damage the financial wellbeing of that country, possibly leading to instability and even collapse. And who would profit from such a collapse? And who is profiting now from restricting fossil fuel exports from Russia? As war drags on in Ukraine, disaster piles on disaster, and capitalism has a way of profiting from war-driven disasters. Why do you think America’s disastrous Afghan War lasted for two decades?

Curiously, investment-speak in the U.S. military is quite common. Generals and admirals talk of “investing” in new nuclear missiles and immense ships. They further talk of “divesting” in certain weapons that have proven to be disasters in their own way, like the F-22 fighter. What’s with all this “investing” and “divesting” in the U.S. military? One thing is certain: Generals won’t have to change their language as they retire and move through the revolving door to join corporate boards at major weapons contractors.

Today’s generals and politicians never display the honesty of President Dwight Eisenhower, who explained nearly seventy years ago that weapons represent a theft from the people and their needs, not an “investment.” Those who say there’s no business like show business may be right, but Hollywood’s a piker compared to the Pentagon, where there’s truly no business like war business.

Tackling the Military-Industrial Complex

W.J. Astore

Sixty-one years ago, in 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned America of the threat posed by the military-industrial complex (MIC). To that complex, Ike had rightly added Congress, whose members are generally supportive of immense military spending, especially when it occurs in their district. Americans, in the main, haven’t heeded Ike’s warning, mainly due to government/corporate propaganda, military lobbying and threat inflation, wars and rumors of war, the naked desire for global dominance in the stated cause of keeping the “homeland” safe, and, well, greed.

Ike in 1959

How does “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry” tackle such a beast?  I was part of a discussion this week on strategies to “dismantle” the MIC; more on that in a moment. First, a caveat. When I use the term “military-industrial complex,” I know what I’m referring to and talking about, and so too do my readers. But what about your average American, who perhaps has barely heard of President Eisenhower, let alone his farewell address in 1961?  And what about those who prosper from the MIC, whether they know it or not?  Why should they support calls for “dismantling” a big part of their livelihood?

Random example. I went to the doctor’s office today. The receptionist noted my military background as she told me about her son, whose work on red blood cells is funded by the Department of Defense, and her husband, whose work is connected to Raytheon, a major weapons contractor.  Another example is my previous dental hygienist, whose husband proudly worked on the helmet system for the F-35 jet fighter. So many of our fellow Americans are connected to the MIC; lots of my friends are, especially if they served.  As a retired military officer who writes articles that are generally critical of the MIC, I’m the exception.  Many of my peers are still employed by the MIC in good-paying positions that would be difficult for them to replicate in the private, civilian sector of society.

This is not an argument for how wonderful the MIC is. But reformers need to recognize that significant cuts to MIC funding, desirable as they are, will impact ordinary people first, rather than retired generals and corporate CEOs, who will be just fine no matter what happens.

Whatever your reforming zeal, terminology is vitally important.  To me, talk of “dismantling” the MIC is a non-starter.  Like “defund” the police, it’s doomed to fail because its message is so easily twisted. Recall that for most Americans, the military remains a trusted institution within our society, much more trusted than Congress and the President.  “Support our troops” is almost the new national motto, an adjunct to In God We Trust.  Indeed, Jesus is often envisioned as a warrior-god who’s always on America’s side.

To be persuasive, we shouldn’t say “defund” the Pentagon; “dismantle” also sounds wrong in this moment.  But if we talk of a leaner military, a smarter one, more agile, more cost-effective, more bang for the buck, those phrases will resonate better.  Let’s talk as well of a military focused on national defense, motivated by high ideals, and aligned with liberty, freedom, and democracy.

Look: The MIC has a big advantage over would-be reformers and cost-cutters: the clarity that comes with a common goal, which for the Complex is profit/power.  We live in a capitalist society that values those things. I don’t think we can compete on the money field with the MIC, but we can compete in the realm of ideas and ideals, and the military can be an ally in this, so long as its members remember the ideals of their oaths to the U.S. Constitution.

What do I mean here?  We need to tell Americans their very future is being stolen from them by wanton military spending.  At the same time, their past is being rewritten.  We’re forgetting past American ideals like “right makes might” and the citizen-soldier as a public servant.  Instead, it’s might makes right as enforced by warriors and warfighters.  We are in yet another Orwellian moment where war is peace, surveillance is privacy, and censorship is free speech.

In fighting against this moment, we need to use all tools at our disposal. Somehow, we need to bring people together at a moment when our “leaders” are determined to divide us, distract us, and keep us downtrodden.

“Come home, America” is a famous speech given fifty years ago by George McGovern. He wanted to cut military/war spending and send rebate checks directly to the American people.  Let’s advocate for that!  Let’s put money back in the pockets of Americans as we make a leaner, smarter, cheaper U.S. military that can pass a financial audit.  (I’d cut all Pentagon funding until it passed an honest and thorough audit.) Most Americans would support major reforms if they were pitched in this way.

At the same time, I’d like to see a revival of the Nye Commission from the 1930s and the “merchants of death” idea.  Whatever else it is, selling weapons is not a way to peace, nor is it life-affirming.  Harry Truman made his mark in Congress during World War II by attacking fraud and waste related to military spending. Again, today’s Pentagon can’t even pass an audit!  We need to show the American people that the Pentagon brass is stealing from them and hiding behind a veil of secrecy that is undemocratic and probably illegal as well. Here, I would love to see Members of Congress act in the spirit of William Proxmire and his “Golden Fleece” awards.  The American people are being fleeced by the MIC, and we should be reminding them of this fact, every single day.

In the 1930s, General Smedley Butler, a Marine veteran who was twice awarded the Medal of Honor, saw how war was a racket, and that to end it, you had to take the profit out of it.  How can America do that?  Can we “nationalize” defense contractors?  Can we make weapons building into a non-profit activity?  Can we reverse Citizens’ United and outlaw weapons lobbying as a form of protected speech (it’s really legalized bribery)?

How about slowing the revolving door between the U.S. military and weapons contractors?  Make it so that retired officers in the grade of major and above must forfeit their pensions if they join a weapons/war firm.  Naturally, no one employed by, and especially on the board of, a defense contractor should ever be approved by Congress as the civilian Secretary of Defense.

Another idea: All retired military officers, CIA-types, etc., who appear on TV and media should be required to reveal their conflicts of interest (if any).  For example, if retired General John Q. Public appears on TV and works for Raytheon, that should be identified in the on-screen chyron, and by the general himself if he has integrity.

It’s high time the Pentagon shares more information with the American people. Secrecy is a huge problem that the MIC hides behind and exploits. Democracy doesn’t work without transparency, which is why the MIC is at pains to hide the truth from us of malfunctioning weaponry and disastrous and murderous wars.

I would add that tackling the MIC is not a liberal issue, it’s not a progressive issue, it’s not a partisan issue: it’s an American issue.  My readers, I’m guessing, are not fans of Fox News or commentators like Tucker Carlson.  But if they’re against war and want to see major reforms to the MIC, recruit them!  Work with them.  They are not the enemy.  Not even the MIC is the enemy.  I was, after all, part of it for 20 years.  The real enemy is war.  The real enemy is spending trillions of dollars on weaponry that could, and just might, destroy us all.  If we can’t set aside our differences and get together to save ourselves and our planet from war’s destructiveness, we’re pretty much doomed, don’t you think?

The MIC is united by profit and power.  Maybe we can find unity in the preservation of our planet and love for the wonderful blessings it has bestowed on us.

Come on people now, smile on your brother everybody get together try to love one another right now.  Right now.  Right now.

Pity Ukraine, and Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, and any other War Zone

W.J. Astore

As Russia’s invasion drags on, more and more destruction is visited upon Ukraine. Western media coverage is filled with images of this destruction, but rarely did we see images of widespread destruction in Iraq and Afghanistan during those U.S. wars. Meanwhile, the Saudi war in Yemen drags on as well, essentially uncovered and ignored by mainstream media outlets, even though that war is supported and enabled by the U.S. military.

It’s supposed to be good news, I guess, that Russia is “stalemated” in Ukraine, according to Western media outlets. If true, what this really means is a longer war with even more destruction, especially given major shipments of weapons to Ukraine by the United States and NATO. Weapons like the Javelin missile system, made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, are supposed to even the odds for Ukraine. What they’re effectively doing is ensuring a longer, more devastating, war.

Javelin missile system, carefully crafted in the USA, shipped generously to Ukraine, paid for by U.S. taxpayers

At NBC News today, I noted the following snippet: “Russia has roughly four times as many troops as Ukraine’s 130,000-strong army. It also spends about $78 billion on its armed forces annually, compared to the $1.6 billion Ukraine has been able to budget for its military.”

NBC failed to note that the U.S. military annually spends roughly $780 billion , ten times as much as its Russian counterpart. Meanwhile, it appears the Russian military is weakening due to this invasion. A weaker Russian military suggests that the U.S. military budget can decrease in FY2023. NATO-member countries’ spending on their militaries is due to rise, yet another reason why U.S. military spending could conceivably decrease. But of course Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is being seized upon by the military-industrial-congressional complex as the primary reason why U.S. spending on weapons and warfare must soar ever higher.

Recall that President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s goal was to withdraw all U.S. military forces from Europe when European countries were back on their feet after World War II and able to fund their own militaries. We’re acting as if Ike’s goal will never be met. Put differently, we’re acting as if America’s right flank truly sat at the border of Ukraine rather than along the Atlantic seaboard.

The U.S., of course, acts as a global hegemon. No price is apparently too high to pay for global dominance. But when one seeks to dominate the world while losing one’s fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of speech, while impoverishing the lives of one’s people, especially the neediest and most vulnerable, what has one truly gained?

For what doth it profit a man to gain the whole world but to lose his immortal soul?

The New Cold War

W.J. Astore

In my latest article for TomDispatch, I tackle the new cold war and the consensus in Washington that future Pentagon budgets must soar ever higher in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. You can read the entire article here. What follows is the concluding section of the article.

Your Role as a Loyal American in the New Cold War

My fellow Americans, in this new cold war of ours, the national security state expects both all too much and all too little of you. Let’s start with the little. It doesn’t expect you to enlist in the military if you’re rich or have “other priorities” (as former Vice President Dick Cheney said about the Vietnam War). It doesn’t expect you to pay close attention to our wars, let alone foreign policy. You don’t even have to vote. It does, however, expect you to cheer at the right times, be “patriotic,” wave the flag, gush about America, and celebrate its fabulous, militarized exceptionalism.

To enlist in this country’s cheerleading squad, which is of course God’s squad, you might choose to wear a flag lapel pin and affix a “Support Our Troops” sticker to your SUV. You should remind everyone that “freedom isn’t free” and that “God, guns, and guts” made America great. If the godly empire says Ukraine is a worthy friend, you might add a blue-and-yellow “frame” to your Facebook profile photo. If that same empire tells you to ignore ongoing U.S. drone strikes in Somalia and U.S. support for an atrocious Saudi war in Yemen, you are expected to comply. Naturally, you’ll also be expected to pay your taxes without complaint, for how else are we to buy all the weapons and wage all the wars that America needs to keep the peace?

Naturally, certain people need to be collectively despised in our very own version of George Orwell’s “Two Minutes Hate.” So, when Putin’s visage comes on the screen, or Xi’s, or Kim Jong-un’s, or whoever the enemy du jour is, be prepared to express your outrage. Be prepared to treat them as aliens, almost incomprehensible in their barbarity, as if, in fact, they were Klingons in the original Star Trek series. As a peaceful member of the “Federation,” dominated by the United States, you must, of course, reject those Klingon nations and their warrior vision of life, their embrace of might-makes-right, choosing instead the logic, balance, and diplomacy of America’s enlightened State Department (backed up, of course, by the world’s greatest military).

Two Minutes’ Hate: Still from the movie “1984”

Again, little is expected of you (so far) except your obedience, which should be enthusiastic rather than reluctant. Yet whether you know it or not, much is expected of you as well. You must surrender any hopes and dreams you’ve harbored of a fairer, kinder, more equitable and just society. For example, military needs in the new cold war simply won’t allow us to “build back better.” Forget about money for childcare, a $15 federal minimum wage, affordable healthcare for all, better schools, or similar “luxuries.” Maybe in some distant future (or some parallel universe), we’ll be able to afford such things, but not when we’re faced with the equivalent of the Klingon Empire that must be stopped at any cost.

But wait! I hear some of you saying that it doesn’t have to be this way! And I agree. A better future could be imagined. A saying of John F. Kennedy’s comes to mind: “We shall be judged more by what we do at home than what we preach abroad.” What we’re currently doing at home is building more weapons, sinking more tax dollars into the Pentagon, and enriching more warrior-corporations at the expense of the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable. Where’s the democratic future in that?

Sheer military might, our leaders seem to believe, will keep them forever riding high in the saddle. Yet you can ride too high in any saddle, making the fall that’s coming that much more precipitous and dangerous.

Americans, acting in concert, could stop that fall, but not by giving our current crop of leaders a firmer grasp of the reins. Do that and they’ll just spur this nation to greater heights of military folly. No, we must have the courage to unseat them from their saddles, strip them of their guns, and corral their war horses, before they lead us into yet another disastrously unending cold war that could threaten the very existence of humanity. We need to find another way that doesn’t prioritize weapons and war, but values compromise, compassion, and comity.

At this late date, I’m not sure we can do it. I only know that we must.

As Russia Weakens, Why Is Pentagon Spending Set to Soar?

W.J. Astore

Overall, the Russian invasion of Ukraine isn’t going well for Russia. If reports are correct, the Russian military hasn’t distinguished itself. Poor logistics, bad intelligence, lack of effective air support, and an increasing reliance on brute strength appear to be features of this campaign. Meanwhile, Russia is suffering from debilitating economic sanctions imposed by the West. In sum, Russia is weaker today than it was three weeks ago before the invasion. So why is Pentagon spending set to soar in the coming fiscal years?

A friend sent an article along from the New York Times that sums up this insane moment in Washington. He suggested that I re-post it here and make some comments on it. Here goes (my comments in italics):

War in Ukraine rallies support in Congress for more military spending

Catie Edmondson

The New York Times

WASHINGTON — From his perch as chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., has long lamented what he sees as a Pentagon budget bloated by inefficient spending. When hawkish lawmakers led a successful charge last year to pour nearly $24 billion more into the military’s coffers, he opposed the move.

But last week, as Russian forces continued their assault on Ukraine and he pondered the size of the coming year’s military budget, Mr. Smith sounded a different tone.

“I haven’t picked a number yet,” he said, “but without question, it’s going to have to be bigger than we thought.”

Yes, the Pentagon budget is “bloated” and “inefficient.” You don’t solve that by giving the Pentagon yet more billions!

He added: “The Russian invasion of Ukraine fundamentally altered what our national security posture and what our defense posture needs to be. It made it more complicated, and it made it more expensive.”

No, the invasion hasn’t “fundamentally altered” America’s “defense posture.” If anything, a weakening Russia means we can spend less money on defense, not more.

His shift signals a stark new reality facing President Joe Biden on Capitol Hill, where Democrats had already shown they had little appetite for controlling the defense budget, even as Mr. Biden declared an end to the era of ground wars and indicated he wanted to reimagine the use of American power abroad.

How interesting. I thought “American power” was about “defense.” Why does this have to be “reimagined”?

Now, facing a military onslaught by President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine, and rising fears of a protracted war in Europe and an emboldened China, lawmakers in both parties — including some who had resisted in the past — are pressing for vast increases in military spending to address a changed security landscape.

Why are more weapons and more wars always the answer to a “changed security landscape”? What is the sense of “vast increases”?

As images pour out of Ukrainian cities devastated by a relentless and indiscriminate volley of Russian missiles, Democrats and Republicans who have struggled to coalesce behind meaningful legislation to aid the Ukrainian cause are rallying around one of the few substantive tools available to them: sending money and weapons.

The House this week is poised to approve $10 billion in emergency funds to Ukraine, including $4.8 billion to cover the costs of weapons already sent to Ukraine and eastern flank allies, as well as the deployment of U.S. troops. But already on Monday, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the Senate majority leader, suggested lawmakers could approve a $12 billion package, in a sign of how eager lawmakers were to send more aid to Kyiv. The United States alone has deployed more than 15,000 troops to Europe, while committing an additional 12,000 to NATO’s response force if necessary.

$10 billion in “emergency funds” is now more than $13 billion for Ukraine. How come America’s poor and neediest can’t get that level of aid, and that quickly?

Beyond funding immediate needs, the consensus around more generous Pentagon spending previews a dynamic that is likely to drive negotiations around next year’s defense budget, potentially locking in the kind of large increases that Mr. Biden and many Democrats had hoped to end.

This is false. Biden ran for president promising increases in Pentagon spending over and above what Trump had proposed.

“I think people are sort of waking up out of this haze that we were living somehow in a secure world,” said Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., who sits on the Armed Services Committee.

WTF? We live in an insecure world because of wanton spending by the military-industrial-congressional complex.

Ms. Luria added: “I was not satisfied with the budget that came over last year from the White House, especially in regards to China, especially in regards to the Navy or shipbuilding, and I’ll be very disappointed, in light of the new world situation, if they come up with a budget like that again.”

The rapid shift in thinking is a setback for progressives who had hoped that unified Democratic control of the House, the Senate and the White House would translate into a smaller Pentagon budget and a reduced footprint of American troops around the world.

Democrats, as a party, never wanted a smaller Pentagon budget.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., said in a brief interview that she believed it was crucial that the United States provide Ukrainians with some defensive weapons, but added: “Do I think that there is a point where it becomes too much? Yes.”

Ms. Omar said she was particularly worried about the prospect of arming an insurgency, especially as civilians from around the world have flocked to Ukraine to help push back against the Russian army.

“We’ve seen what the result of that was in Afghanistan, when we armed so many people to fight against the Russians,” said Ms. Omar, who was born in Somalia. “Many of those people went back to their own countries and caused a lot of havoc, including the one I come from.”

A little bit of sense by Rep. Omar, but she has no support here.

Mr. Biden last weekend authorized a $350 million package of weapons that included Javelin anti-tank missiles and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles as well as small arms and munitions, a shipment that represented the largest single authorized transfer of arms from U.S. military warehouses to another country.

Weapons bought for U.S. troops are being sent for free to Ukraine to be used (in some cases) by neo-Nazi forces. I’m sure nothing bad will come from this.

Many lawmakers want to go further. Several Republican senators have endorsed setting up a separate fund to support the Ukrainian resistance, signaling an appetite to continue arming those in Ukraine willing to fight for an extended period of time, even in the event their government falls.

“I want to see more Javelins,” said Sen. Jim Risch, of Idaho, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee. “I want to see more Stingers.”

Missiles are the answer! More Russian and Ukrainian dead! Hooah!

An emotional virtual meeting on Saturday in which President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, of Ukraine, who has been defiant in the face of continuing Russian attacks, pleaded with senators for additional weapons rallied more support for his cause.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called for Congress to pass an additional military aid emergency spending bill. And Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., suggested that Congress quickly approve funding to reimburse Eastern European allies if they provide Ukraine with planes or surface-to-air missiles.

“We should be signaling to the Poles and Romanians and others that this is something we would want to help them do,” Mr. Malinowski said.

Lawmakers are eyeing long-term solutions, too, in Europe and beyond. At an Armed Services Committee hearing last week, both Republicans and Democrats endorsed increasing the U.S. military presence in the Baltics.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., who is a former Pentagon official, called Mr. Putin’s invasion “a sea change” for “how both the Defense Department and the State Department should think about our presence in Europe.”

“I couldn’t agree more with my colleagues who have talked about putting more force in right now,” Ms. Slotkin said, adding later, “We have to completely re-evaluate deterrence and how we re-establish it.”

What we’re witnessing is the U.S. Congress foaming at the mouth to send more weapons to Ukraine to kill more Russians (and doubtless Ukrainians too), while boosting Pentagon spending against a Russian threat that will be considerably lower, assuming this war doesn’t spiral out of control because of ill-judged and incendiary responses by the U.S.

Readers, what do you think of all this?

Why It’s So Hard to Give Peace A Chance in America

W.J. Astore

It sure is hard to give peace a chance in America, as recent events with Russia and Ukraine show. The Washington consensus is all about weapons and more weapons, of economic sanctions, i.e. economic warfare, of not being seen as a pitiful helpless giant, as Richard Nixon once said during the Vietnam War. America can never stand on the sidelines, even when its national security interests aren’t even threatened. Something must be done, something forceful, something involving troops and weapons and ultimatums that could very well escalate into disaster.

Revealingly, Washington insiders always talk of “all options” being on a metaphorical table, meaning the most violent ones, including war, for the president to choose from. They lie. Because the one option that’s never on that imaginary table is peace.

Peacemakers might be the children of God, but perhaps America is more godless than it knows. Or maybe it just worships the god of war, a Pentagod. It’s discouraging to face the obstacles to peace in America, because these obstacles are not going to be removed just by singing songs and writing articles or even by protesting. What is truly needed is a mass movement against war, as we saw during the Vietnam War years, but even that mass movement took years to have an impact. And it was motivated as well by resistance to the draft, which no longer exists.

A short list of the obstacles to peace is sobering indeed:

  • The power of the military-industrial-congressional complex. It doesn’t want to get smaller or less powerful. It thrives off weaponry and wars. It has no interest in peace.
  • The mainstream media. It’s owned by major corporations and advances corporate agendas. It smears antiwar voices as naive (at best) and often as traitorous and/or weak. Antiwar voices simply aren’t heard on the MSM. Instead, retired colonels and generals, as well as senior ex-CIA officials, are put forward as unbiased voices of reason as they promote the most hawkish lines.
  • The absence of a draft. Let’s face it: the youth of America are much more likely to resist war if they have to risk their lives. But America has an “all volunteer force,” and if these volunteers are sent off to war, that’s what they signed up for. Right?
  • American culture in general is suffused with violence and misinformed about the world, especially America’s imperial role in it. Myths about American exceptionalism and beliefs about the troops as freedom-fighters serve to inhibit antiwar criticism and protests.
  • The difficulty of launching any kind of sustained protest nowadays. Ready to gather in the streets to march against war? Sorry, do you have a permit? Covid restrictions may prevent you from gathering. And maybe we’ll move you to a special “free speech” zone, which I assure you will be far away from media cameras. What good is protesting if you gain no traction because few people see you and the media ignores you?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it’s impossible to give peace a chance. Just that it’s very difficult, given the power structures of our society and our collective national ethos. It’s mind-boggling that America has so many agencies for “defense” and “intelligence.” We have the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security (a domestic mini-Pentagon), something like 17 intelligence agencies like the CIA and NSA, the list goes on. State and local police forces are now heavily militarized and generally unsympathetic to your right to assemble and to protest vigorously. Get a job, commie peacenik!

Meanwhile, society’s heroes are U.S. military troops, or the “thin blue line” of police that “protect and serve.” Those who are committed to peace are generally not viewed as heroes, at least not by society at large. Again, Christ may have seen peacemakers as God’s children, but in the U.S. there’s a preference (judging by gun sales) for Colt Peacemakers.

How to overcome these obstacles to truly give peace a chance is perhaps the most pressing issue of our age, given the risk of war going nuclear and ending most life on our planet. Readers, I don’t have easy answers, but I’d begin with Ike’s warning about the military-industrial complex in 1961, JFK’s peace speech in 1963, MLK’s speech against the Vietnam War on April 4th, 1967, perhaps even John Lennon’s song “Imagine.”

How do we imagine — and then create — a new reality that favors peace instead of war? How do we pursue a just and lasting peace with ourselves and with all nations that Abraham Lincoln spoke of near the end of the U.S. Civil War?

The words are there. The vision is there. Tapping the nobility of Lincoln, Ike, JFK, and MLK and their antiwar messages is possible. Isn’t it?

As JFK said in his “peace speech,” to believe that war is inevitable is a “dangerous defeatist belief.” I’m with JFK.

The antiwar movement helped to stop the disastrous Vietnam War, but it sure wasn’t easy

Reading Defense Contractor Ads

W.J. Astore

I subscribe to a news feed called “Breaking Defense” (the name may be more ironic than the site creators intended). I saw this advertisement today, which sums up much of what is common in America, where jargon substitutes for thought:

Kratos’ next generation unmanned aerial target drones and their capabilities continue to evolve to represent ever changing, evolving threats from near-peer adversaries to best prepare the American warfighter while keeping costs down for the American taxpayer

I know nothing about the company (Kratos), but it does appear to have a good command of Pentagon jargon. Those “near-peer adversaries” (meaning China and Russia, mainly). Those “ever changing, evolving threats.” And of course the almost obligatory appeal to the “warfighter.”

From this ad (and others like it), it’s simply assumed that America will always be at war. There’s also an assumption that Americans fall into two basic categories: warfighters and taxpayers. Warfighters are the doers, the hard men and women on the front lines, deserving of everlasting support and praise, and the taxpayers are there to fund it all and cheer along. Naturally, there’s no mention of “peacemakers.”

If we truly want to keep costs down for the American taxpayer, maybe we shouldn’t buy any of these target drones?

In the same email send-out, here’s a sample of the articles at “Breaking Defense”:


For Space Force, it’s acquisition, acquisition, acquisition: 2022 Preview 

In 2022, the Pentagon will need to see real movement on acquisition reform to reduce long understood vulnerabilities that have been essentially ignored for many years.

The Pentagon’s new strategy might already be behind the times: 2022 Preview 

A Russian invasion of Ukraine could derail the Defense Department’s planning. 

For the Army, looming budgets and multi-domain everything: 2022 Preview 

Here’s the key Army storylines we’ll be tracking at Breaking Defense next year. 

Seems like the “Space Force” will be spending lots of money in 2022 due to “vulnerabilities.” Meanwhile, a Russian invasion of Ukraine might “derail” the DoD’s “new strategy.” And the Army is looking at “multi-domains,” which I assume is a smart way for the Army to expand its budgetary reach in the new year.

Nice to know the Pentagon has a new strategy, but how could a Russian incursion into Ukraine derail it? If the U.S. invaded Mexico, would that derail Russia’s defense planning? Or China’s?

Here’s another ad from a different “Breaking Defense” send-out.

Systel’s fully rugged computing solutions are purpose-built for the most demanding environments and workloads. High performance, SWaP-optimized, single LRU solutions supporting edge AI and force-protection missions. MOSA/CMOA, SAVE, and GCIA-compliant. Fully rugged, configurable, and modular. Centralized sensor ingest and data fusion support.

Ah, the good old days of military acronyms! Again, I know nothing about Systel, but the company has a solid command of opaque acronyms. Even the ad has redundancy in the sense that it mentions “fully rugged” twice! Note the mission of “force-protection,” as in keeping U.S. “warfighters” safe while in harm’s way.

Maybe we should keep our troops safe by not putting them in harm’s way, unless the defense of America truly requires it?

There’s nothing special about these ads or stories, which is why I cite them here. Just another day in the American empire of warfighters buying weapons systems to force-protect and confront near-peer threats out to exploit our vulnerabilities across multiple domains. Or, put simply, multi-domain everything!

Happy New Year, everyone.

Bombing Kills Lots of Innocents: Who Knew?

W.J. Astore

Extensive U.S. bombing overseas kills lots of innocent people: who knew?

So this blinding statement of the obvious popped up in my email today from the New York Times:

A five-year Times investigation found that the U.S. air wars in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan led to thousands of civilian deaths.
Hidden Pentagon records show a pattern of failures in U.S. airstrikes — a sharp contrast to the American government’s image of war waged by all-seeing drones and precision bombs.
The military’s own confidential assessments of over 1,300 reports of civilian casualties since 2014, obtained by The Times, lays bare how the air war has been marked by deeply flawed intelligence, rushed and often imprecise targeting and the deaths of thousands of civilians, many of them children. None of these failures resulted in a finding of wrongdoing. We are making these Pentagon records public.
This is the first of a two-part investigation. Here are the key takeaways.

Finally, at the end of 2021, the Times is willing to speak up against America’s murderous regimen of bombing overseas. I wrote about this myself at this site in 2016 and 2017, and I’m hardly the only person to have pointed this out. At TomDispatch.com, Tom Engelhardt has been reporting for years and years on wedding parties being wiped out by U.S. bombing missions based on “faulty intelligence.” The mainstream media have largely played down these atrocities until now, when the war in Afghanistan is finally (mostly) over, at least for the U.S.

As I wrote in 2013 for TomDispatch.com, airpower is neither cheap nor surgical nor decisive. Indeed, because it provides an illusion of effectiveness, and because America dominates the “high ground” of the air, all of this “precision” bombing serves to keep America in wars for far longer than is tenable on tactical grounds. Imagine how long the Iraq and Afghan wars would have lasted if America didn’t dominate the air, if the U.S. military had to rely exclusively on ground troops, and thus had suffered much higher casualties in ground combat. My guess is that these wars would have ended earlier, but “progress” could always be faked with all those statistics of bombs dropped and alleged “high value targets” eliminated.

I suppose it’s good to see the “liberal” New York Times cover this issue of murderous bombing after 20 years of the global war on terror. The question remains: why did it take them two decades to cover this issue in depth?

Presidents become “presidential” when they bomb other countries. Meanwhile, Julian Assange rots in prison. Maybe he needs to bomb a few countries?

Update (12/21/21)

More notes on U.S. bombing and the Times report, courtesy of ReThink Round Up:

“Not a single file [from the military about the bombings] includes a finding of wrongdoing. An effort within the military to find lessons learned to prevent future civilian harm was suppressed. An analyst who captures strike imagery even told the Times that superior officers would often “tell the cameras to look somewhere else” because “they knew if they’d just hit a bad target.”

Responding to the report, a Pentagon spokesperson acknowledged that preventing civilian deaths is not just a “moral imperative” but a strategic issue because civilian casualties can fuel recruiting for extremist groups. [New York Times/ Azmat Khan]”

*****

Again, to state the obvious here:

1. There’s no accountability in the system. Murderous mistakes are covered up and no one is held responsible (“tell the cameras to look somewhere else”).

2. The bombing attacks were counterproductive. Guess what? Killing innocents creates more “terrorists.” Who knew?

Murderous inaccuracy, making matters worse, with no accountability: WTF? So much for America’s “awesome” military, as Andrew Bacevich writes about today at TomDispatch.com.

How Awesome Is “Awesome”?