War for Fun and Profit

Yves here. The furor over Iowa, the State of the Union, and the failed impeachment gambit have managed to push aside a lot of solid reporting and commentary. This offering is yet another look at war profiteering, American style.

By William Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and history professor. His personal blog is Bracing Views. Originally published at TomDispatch

The expression “self-licking ice cream cone” was first used in 1992 to describe a hidebound bureaucracy at NASA. Yet, as an image, it’s even more apt for America’s military-industrial complex, an institution far vaster than NASA and thoroughly dedicated to working for its own perpetuation and little else.

Thinking about that led me to another phrase based on America’s seemingly endless string of victory-less wars: the self-defeating military. The U.S., after all, hasn’t won a major conflict since World War II, when it was aided by a grand alliance that included Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s godless communists. And yet here’s the wonder of it all: despite such a woeful 75-year military record, including both the Korean and Vietnam wars of the last century and the never-ending war on terror of this one, the Pentagon’s coffers are overflowing with taxpayer dollars. What gives?

Americans profess to love “their” troops, but what are they getting in return for all that affection (and money)? Very little, it seems. And that shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s been paying the slightest attention, since the present military establishment has been designed less to protect this country than to protect itself, its privileges, and its power. That rarely discussed reality has, in turn, contributed to practices and mindsets that make it a force truly effective at only one thing: defeating any conceivable enemy in Washington as it continues to win massive budgets and the cultural authority to match. That it loses most everywhere else is, it seems, just part of the bargain.

The list of recent debacles should be as obvious as it is alarming: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen (and points around and in between). And even if it’s a reality rarely focused on in the mainstream media, none of this has been a secret to the senior officers who run that military. Look at the Pentagon Papers from the Vietnam War era or the Afghanistan Papers recently revealed by the Washington Post. In both cases, prominent U.S. military leaders admitted to fundamental flaws in their war-making practices, including the lack of a coherent strategy, a thorough misunderstanding of the nature and skills of their enemies, and the total absence of any real progress in achieving victory, no matter the cost.

Of course, such honest appraisals of this country’s actual war-making prowess were made in secret, while military spokespeople and American commanders laid down a public smokescreen to hide the worst aspects of those wars from the American people. As they talked grimly (and secretly) among themselves about losing, they spoke enthusiastically (and openly) to Congress and the public about winning. In case you hadn’t noticed, in places like Afghanistan and Iraq that military was, year after endless year, making “progress” and “turning corners.” Such “happy talk” (a mixture of lies and self-deception) may have served to keep the money flowing and weapons sales booming, but it also kept the body bags coming in (and civilians dying in distant lands) — and for nothing, or at least nothing by any reasonable definition of “national security.”

Curiously, despite the obvious disparity between the military’s lies and reality, the American people, or at least their representatives in Congress, have largely bought those lies in bulk and at astronomical prices. Yet this country’s refusal to face the facts of defeat has only ensured ever more disastrous military interventions. The result: a self-defeating military, engorged with money, lurching toward yet more defeats even as it looks over its shoulder at an increasingly falsified past.

The Future Is What It Used to Be

Long ago, New York Yankee catcher and later manager Yogi Berra summed up what was to come this way: “The future ain’t what it used to be.” And it wasn’t. We used to dream, for example, of flying cars, personal jetpacks, liberating robots, and oodles of leisure time. We even dreamed of mind-bending trips to Jupiter, as in Stanley Kubrick’s epic film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Like so much else we imagined, those dreams haven’t exactly panned out.

Yet here’s an exception to Berra’s wisdom: strangely enough, for the U.S. military, the future is predictably just what it used to be. After all, the latest futuristic vision of America’s military leaders is — hold onto your Kevlar helmets — a “new” cold war with its former communist rivals Russia and China. And let’s add in one other aspect of that military’s future vision: wars, as they see it, are going to be fought and settled with modernized (and ever more expensive) versions of the same old weapons systems that carried us through much of the mid-twentieth century: ever more pricey aircraft carriers, tanks, and top of the line jet fighters and bombers with — hey! — maybe a few thoroughly destabilizing tactical nukes thrown in, along with plenty of updated missiles carried by planes of an ever more “stealthy” and far more expensive variety. Think: the F-35 fighter, the most expensive weapons system in history (so far) and the B-21 bomber.

For such a future, of course, today’s military hardly needs to change at all, or so our generals and admirals argue. For example, yet more ships will, of course, be needed. The Navy high command is already clamoring for 355 of them, while complaining that the record-setting $738 billion Pentagon budget for 2020 is too “tight” to support such a fleet.

Not to be outdone when it comes to complaints about “tight” budgets, the Air Force is arguing vociferously that it needs yet more billions to build a “fleet” of planes that can wage two major wars at once. Meanwhile, the Army is typically lobbying for a new armored personnel carrier (to replace the M2 Bradley) that’s so esoteric insiders joke it will have to be made of “unobtainium.”

In short, no matter how much money the Trump administration and Congress throw at the Pentagon, it’s a guarantee that the military high command will only complain that more is needed, including for nuclear weapons to the tune of possibly $1.7 trillion over 30 years. But doubling down on more of the same, after a record 75 years of non-victories (not to speak of outright losses), is more than stubbornness, more than grift. It’s obdurate stupidity.

Why, then, does it persist? The answer would have to be because this country doesn’t hold its failing military leaders accountable. Instead, it applauds them and promotes them, rewarding them when they retire with six-figure pensions, often augmented by cushy jobs with major defense contractors. Given such a system, why should America’s generals and admirals speak truth to power? They are power and they’ll keep harsh and unflattering truths to themselves, thank you very much, unless they’re leaked by heroes like Daniel Ellsberg during the Vietnam War and Chelsea Manning during the Iraq War, or pried from them via a lawsuit like the one by the Washington Post that recently led to those Afghanistan Papers.

My Polish mother-in-law taught me a phrase that translates as, “Don’t say nothin’ to nobody.” When it comes to America’s wars and their true progress and prospects, consider that the official dictum of Pentagon spokespeople. Yet even as America’s wars sink into Vietnam-style quagmires, the money keeps flowing, especially to high-cost weapons programs.

Consider my old service, the Air Force. As one defense news site put it, “Congressional appropriators gave the Air Force [and Lockheed Martin] a holiday gift in the 2019 spending agreement… $1.87 billion for 20 additional F-35s and associated spare parts.” The new total just for 2020 is “98 aircraft — 62 F-35As, 16 F-35Bs, and 20 F-35Cs — at the whopping cost of $9.3 billion, crowning the F-35 as the biggest Pentagon procurement program ever.” And that’s not all. The Air Force (and Northrop Grumman) got another gift as well: $3 billion more to be put into its new, redundant, B-21 stealth bomber. Even much-beleaguered Boeing, responsible for the disastrous 737 MAX program, got a gift: nearly a billion dollars for the revamped F-15EX fighter, a much-modified version of a plane that first flew in the early 1970s. Yet, despite those gifts, Air Force officials continue to claim with straight faces that the service is getting the “short straw” in today’s budgetary battles in the Pentagon.

What does this all mean? One obvious answer would be: the only truly winning battles for the Pentagon are the ones for our taxpayer dollars.

“Dopes and Babies” Galore

I can’t claim that I ever traveled in the circles of generals and admirals, though I met a few during my military career. Still, no one can question that our commanders are dedicated. The only question is: dedication to what exactly — to the Constitution and the American people or to their own service branch, with an eye toward a comfortable and profitable retirement? Certainly, loyalty to service (and the conformity that goes with it), rather than out-of-the-box thinking in those endlessly losing wars, helped most of them win promotion to flag rank.

Perhaps this is one reason why, back in July 2017, the military’s current commander-in-chief, Donald Trump, reportedly railed at his top national security people in a windowless Pentagon room known as “the Tank.” He called them — including then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford, Jr. — “a bunch of dopes and babies.” As the president put it, America’s senior military leaders don’t win anymore and, as he made clear, nothing is worse than being a loser. He added, “I want to win. We don’t win any wars anymore… We spend $7 trillion, everybody else got the oil and we’re not winning anymore.” (And, please note, that hasn’t changed a whit in the year and a half since that moment.)

Sure, Trump threw a typical tantrum, but his comments about losing at a strikingly high cost were (and remain) absolutely on the mark, not that he had any idea how to turn America’s losing wars and their losing commanders into winners. In many ways, his “strategy” has proven remarkably like those of the two previous presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Send more troops to the Middle East. Drone and bomb ever more, not just in Afghanistan and Iraq but even in places like Somalia and Libya. Prolong our commitment to “loser” wars like the Afghan one, even while talking ceaselessly about ending them and bringing the troops home. And continue to “rebuild” that same military, empowering those same “dopes and babies,” with yet more taxpayer dollars.

The results have been all-too predictable. America’s generals and admirals have so much money that they don’t ever have to make truly tough choices. They hardly have to think. The Air Force, for example, just keeps planning for and purchasing more ultra-expensive stealth fighters and bombers to fight a future Cold War that we allegedly won 30 years ago. Meanwhile, actual future “national security” threats like climate-related catastrophes or pandemics go largely unaddressed. Who cares about them when this country will clearly have the most stealth fighters and bombers in the world?

For the Pentagon, the future is the past and the past, the future. Why should military leaders have to think when the president and Congress keep rewarding them for lies and failures of every sort?

Trump believes America doesn’t win anymore because we’re not ruthless enough. Take the oil, dammit! The real reason: because America’s wars are unwinnable from the git-go (something the last 18 years should have proved in no uncertain way) and — irony of all ironies — completely unnecessary from the standpoint of true national defense. There is no way for the U.S. military to win “hearts and minds” across the Greater Middle East and Africa with salvos of Hellfire missiles. In fact, there’s only one way to “win” such wars: end them. And there’s only one way to keep winning: by avoiding future ones.

With a system that couldn’t work better (in Washington), America’s military refuses to admit this. Instead, our generals just keep saluting smartly while lying in public (the details of which we’ll find out about only when the next set of “papers” is released someday). In the meantime, when it comes to demanding and getting tax dollars, they couldn’t be more skilled. In that sense, and that alone, they are the ultimate winners.

“Dopes and babies,” Mister President? No, just men who are genuinely skilled in the art of the deal. Small wonder America’s leader is upset. For when it comes to the military-industrial complex and its power and prerogatives, even Trump has met his match. He’s been out-conned. And if the rest of us remain silent on the subject, then so have we.

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66 comments

  1. James

    Amen! I’m guessing Lt Col Astore doesn’t get a lot of requests to speak on the retired DoD rubber chicken circuit.

    Reply
  2. notabanktoadie

    A very subversive thing about a Citizen’s Dividend to replace ALL fiat creation beyond that created by deficit spending for the (purported) general welfare and whose explicit purpose is merely to counter price deflation is this:

    The LESS wasted on the military and other government boondoggles, the MORE that can be distributed as an equal Citizen’s Dividend.

    Now while the military and those who live off it number large, the number of citizens is even larger.

    Reply
    1. Monty

      The big problem with this plan is that you can’t bully foreigners into lending you money in your own currency with a Citizen’s Dividend.

      Reply
      1. notabanktoadie

        The debt (including bank reserves) of a monetary sovereign like the US is inherently risk-free. There’s no need to bully anyone to buy it.

        Besides, how do other monetary sovereigns like Japan and Switzerland bully foreigners to buy their debt? Even at negative* yields?

        Moreover, the US has a trade deficit to reduce, doesn’t it?

        Add to that that the demand for US dollars is unjustly suppressed in that citizens may not use it in account form themselves but only depository institutions. So lost demand from foreigners for dollars can be compensated by domestic reform in the US.

        *As is only proper since the MOST an inherently risk-free asset should return is ZERO percent to avoid welfare proportional to account balance – a moral abomination.

        Reply
        1. Monty

          Without the guns, they don’t have to accept it in exchange for their stuff, like oil. They would probably prefer to transact in their own currency, instead of financing our social welfare.

          Reply
        2. RBHoughton

          Fundamentally, the national economy has been divorced from economic activity and settled on cash issues to the markets where increasing share prices delight investors. Although its just an expression of inflation it keeps you ahead of the collapse. Destabilisation of the rest of the planet is as aspect of this fundamental.

          Reply
    2. Susan the other

      We could always consider the military to be just another monopoly and break it up. It’s a monopoly that needs fresh ideas not more dollars. So break it up into its various areas of expertise. Let Space Force be Space Force for now. Turn the Army into Peace Boots and enforcers of good green laws. The Navy into Ocean Tech. The Air Force can be a new Sky Watch to protect and defend the atmosphere. Black Ops into Green Ops. Let the National Guard come home and be the first responders to domestic catastrophes. Our military is so last century. The only reason we are “taking the oil” is so nobody else gets it. We could make a new branch – Energy Force – be a research institute for a better civilization. We need a military that protects us from the environmental disaster we have created and don’t know how to control. They’ve got the discipline to get us over this mental block. If we want to be imperialists let’s be so with technology that helps other countries adapt to the real threat at hand. A force for good is only good if it does good.

      Reply
      1. JTMcPhee

        Nice thought, but immediately my reaction to turning the Navy into “ocean tech” is that will do nothing but accelerate the rape of the rest of the ocean including the seabed, which recent material here and my own readings and experience make it very clear is well on the way to happening. Same for the other branches of the “service” which as pointed out here pretty much serves only those who are in the charmed circle of Pentagram largesse. “Space force” will not be turned to useful (for the mopery) endeavor. Elon Musk has already staked claim to the bandwidth and the wealth of the other planets and moons he plans to reach.

        “We” ought to do all kinds of wise stuff, “we” I guess being “humanity.” Feels so good to talk about betterment. But really, are “we” going to somehow stand up to the people with the guns and the money? Could even someone like Bernie rein in the Four Horsemen and nukes and particle beam wet dreams, were he allowed to become President? The BorgBlob was happy to kill Soleimani and al-Muhandis and their escort, after presenting that as an option in June of last year. “We’”ve entered a time when such rules and limits as were believed to exist are almost completely gone — the Empire “creating its own reality.”

        How is it possible to consider seriously any thought of redirecting all that Patriotic Energy (and wealth, and greed, and careers) that drives the whole Juggernaut?

        Reply
        1. Susan the other

          I think maybe the Empire believes it is creating its own reality, but in reality it is the chaos in society and the natural world that is creating the Empire. It is nothing if not reactionary. The best way to calm the Empire down is give them a new distraction, one that is beneficial. Maybe

          Reply
      2. Math is Your Friend

        This is not the best plan. Unilateral disarmament has not proven a reliable long term survival plan for any country with stuff worth taking.

        There is a reason that successful neutral countries like Sweden and Switzerland are heavily armed and thoroughly prepared to fight.

        Sweden, during the cold war, had a mobilization plan that was intended to deploy 600,000 troops in under 24 hours, to defend their eastern border.

        They were the only country I’ve ever heard of that could put their entire country underground. Hidden air bases housed fighters that were off the ground (flying) before they were no longer underground.

        They are one of the few countries, and by far the smallest (population 10 million), that designs and builds world class fighter aircraft, with specific capabilities that no other fighter has – such is the ability to operate from a thousand metres of straight road, serviced, armed, and fueled by half a dozen troops with two trucks…. and a turnaround time of 10 minutes for air to air combat, and 20 minutes for strike missions.

        Almost half the population of Switzerland is marked for military service. After two years, they remain in the reserve for 40 years, on a decreasing training cycle. The mountain passes are fitted with explosives to close them, and covered by hidden artillery emplacements. The terrain is quite unfriendly for attackers.

        Neither of these countries do all this for fun, but because it works, and because it is considered necessary.

        Reply
        1. Math is Your Friend

          …. darn…. revamping sentences on the fly in your head can make for weird errors.

          That should be “put their entire NAVY underground”, in the fourth paragraph.

          Reply
        2. JTMcPhee

          Gee, and what would be the equivalent behavior set for the US empire? Bearing in mind that Sweden and Switzerland are pretty rugged terrain, like most of Afghanistan, and have focused a lot on defending their land. And of course Sweden SELLS a lot of basic and high tech military equipment to other countries to get ready for the inevitable (?) wars of the inhospitable future.

          As to Sweden being heavily armed, maybe not so much: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_military_equipment_of_Sweden

          Reply
        3. Polar Socialist

          Swedish manpower peaked at 400,000 around 1960, and was closer to 250,000 for most of the Cold War. A Home Guard of 100,000 was supposed to deploy within 24 hours, to cover the two weeks it took to mobilize the army.

          Nowadays the wartime manpower is around 60,000. Not really armed to the teeth.

          Sweden doesn’t have any underground runways, but several hangars were build already during the WW2.

          The neighboring Finland indeed had war time manpower of 600,000 (from a population of 5 million) during the Cold War, and still aims for 300,000 during crisis. Maybe you mixed the two?

          Reply
      3. Carla

        “We could always consider the military to be just another monopoly and break it up.” But aren’t Amazon, Google, Facebook, and the Biggest Banks evidence that we can’t do that anymore?

        Reply
  3. John

    Isn’t this an apt description for a “banana republic” military force long on strut, medals, and suave bluster but short on everything else?

    Reply
  4. Wukchumni

    Its as if our vaunted military was the Cleveland Indians, who last won a championship around WW2, but we all stood up to attention whenever one of their crummy .200 hitters showed up at the plate and fouled off 3 balls before striking out, looking.

    After each season, there would be a nationwide parade saluting those brave men of the Mendoza Line.

    Reply
    1. NotTimothyGeithner

      I feel like Cleveland at least tries. I know the Red Sox are a season away from winning the World Series (they can’t take memories away!), and their gross mismanagement of the farm system in the last three seasons and overpaying aging players means they have to let their home grown Mike Trout (Mookie Betts) be traded.

      I’m crazy.

      Reply
      1. JTMcPhee

        Go check out the war footage on YouTube. Those young American Troops are very definitely TRYING real hard to kill Hajjis (and stay alive.) You should hear the whoops and “Effin A, man” hollers when an A-10, or AC-130, or FA-18, or Reaper, “rips a new a55hole” killing people who are unhappy that the Imperial troopers are kicking in their doors and blowing up their wedding parties. I’d put up a couple of links by way of example for anyone unclear on the reality, but it seems doing so in the past offends the monitoring algo and Zappos the comments.

        Reply
  5. Frank Little

    In addition to getting a big contract for the fighter mentioned here, Boeing has a $44 billion contract for ca new tanker plane (the KC-46). They delivered their first plane in 2019, years behind schedule with debris left in the plane upon delivery. That’s only a sample of the problems. The delays are so bad that the Pentagon is at least claiming to be worried that they won’t be able to refuel planes.

    From Business Inisder:

    the KC-46 continues to suffer from several so-called category 1 deficiencies, the most serious kind, the chief among them affecting the “remote vision system,” an array of cameras that a crew member sitting behind the cockpit uses to guide a 59-foot refueling boom to another aircraft and then to monitor refueling.

    That crew member’s vision can be hindered by shadows or glare, which in turn can lead to the refueling boom scraping up against the surface of the aircraft receiving fuel — a major concern for stealth aircraft, which need their coating intact in order to remain hard to detect.

    Air Force Gen. Maryanne Miller, head of Air Mobility Command, said in September that it would be at least three years before the KC-46 deployed to a combat zone because Boeing had not made progress on issues with the remote vision system over the previous eight months.

    Apparently the video system is meant to replace the previous method of someone actually looking out a window and guiding the refueling arm by site, which was too cheap and had the added deficit of actually working so naturally it had to be replaced. According to DefenseNews, the camera currently presents imagery comparable to someone with 20/50 eyesight, which is pretty close to the minimum eyesight threshold to join the Air Force.

    Reply
    1. voislav

      The main reason they went to the camera was to free up space to carry more fuel. The aircraft is short on internal volume, so using the camera allowed to eliminate the observer position and the access tunnel. I read somewhere recently that Air Force personnel is pissed as the camera lacks the depth perception gained from manual observation, making their job more difficult. And because of space restrictions, there is no option to reintroduce the observer.

      KC-46 predecessor KC-135 had a fuel capacity of 200,000 pounds and the contract called for a increase in capacity for the new aircraft. The only way Boeing could squeeze that much in (official number is 202,000 pounds) is to fill pretty much all internal volume with fuel, leaving no room for the observer.

      European A330 based KC-30, which originally won the competition, is a much bigger aircraft, fuel capacity of 250,000 pounds and internal space to spare.

      Reply
      1. Frank Little

        Thanks for this info. I hadn’t seen any rationale for going to video so I figured it was just a new gizmo added to upcharge the government. Makes more sense (if that’s the right word to use for military spending) that they’re trying to add more fuel capacity. It’s interesting that Boeing tried the same move here as it did with the 737: stretch an existing airplane design to meet new criteria rather than design a new plane.

        Reply
    2. Bill Carson

      One of the biggest weaknesses of the American military (ISTM) is that we are training and preparing for the next conventional war—the next World War II. With the exception of Kuwait and Iraq, I think every conflict since the end of WWII has been a non-conventional war, and our conventional fighting apparatuses are expensive sitting ducks. And how much money and manpower do we spend just maintaining our physical war machine?

      Putin spend 1/10th of what we do, but he gets more bang for his buck. He has one decrepit aircraft carrier. He has very little ability to project power to, say, Venezuela, but he doesn’t need to.

      Reply
    1. OpenThePodBayDoorsHAL

      The “fun” comes when an impoverished Yemeni grandmother standing next to a starving goat in a faraway desert gets incinerated by a multi-million $$$ missile that you bought and paid for.

      Sorry to be harsh, but we are all complicit. If we thought this was wrong we would do something about it.

      As John Lennon said in huge billboards around the world: WAR IS OVER! (If you want it).

      That was shortly before sustained civil disobedience forced the government to end the war in Vietnam.

      Reply
      1. Carla

        If “we” were being drafted, “we” might do something about it.

        I didn’t know about the Swedish military. Fascinating.

        Reply
  6. Synoia

    This is almost nonsense:

    The list of recent debacles should be as obvious as it is alarming: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Yemen (and points around and in between).

    Why is it nonsense:

    For each an every one define “Win.”

    Reply
    1. Tom Bradford

      I’d agree that the 2003 Iraq ‘war’ was a military win in the conventional sense, ie military against military, tho’ to be sure the opposition’s heart wasn’t really in it.

      The ‘problem’ with the other conflicts mentioned is that these were never military v. military, making a military victory impossible from the get-go.

      Reply
      1. JTMcPhee

        What objective was gained in the 1991 war, other than pretty much murdering a whole lot of hapless conscripts? https://www.nytimes.com/1991/09/15/world/us-army-buried-iraqi-soldiers-alive-in-gulf-war.html Did not get rid of Saddam, gave the Kuwaitis back the oil fields so they could fork more dollars out of the rest of the world while the CO2 levels climbed? US and other contractors of course did very well out of the aftermath.

        And 2003, started the whole wagonload of stuff rolling downhill so now there’s ISIS, Sunni fighting Shia, maybe on the way to hotter civil war in Iraq. What was the “military” win, bearing in mind that this is now the age of “hybrid war,” where a “military victory, army against army,” morphs into lots of guerrilla asymmetric warfare that the military machine can’t win, short of annihilating populations.

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  7. Bill Carson

    Americans have no idea how much more “war equipment”–ships, planes, etc.–we have than any other country. They remember the Cold War with the Soviets and they see China’s massive economy, and I think they assume that those countries have just as much capability as we have. Well, they are wrong. For example….

    Aerial refueling. Those massive gas stations in the sky that make it possible for us to strike Afghanistan from air bases in Louisiana and to transport helicopters and equipment to Iraq and Djibouti. The United States Air Force has FOUR HUNDRED FIFTY-FIVE of these aircraft. Does that sound like enough to you?

    How many of these aerial tankers do you think Russia has? Take a guess. If you said FIFTEEN, you’d be right. Yep, the United States outnumbers Russia in aerial tankers by thirty to one. And China? It also has about fifteen.

    Aircraft Carriers.
    Do you now how many aircraft carriers the United States has? TWELVE. All of them are nuclear-powered. (Plus one being built and two more on order.) AND the US Navy has NINE more landing helicopter assault/dock ships that carry helicopters and up to twenty F-35B jets each.

    How many aircraft carriers does Russia have? Just ONE, and it is currently out of commission, undergoing repairs from a fire.

    How many aircraft carriers does China have? TWO.

    Well, how many nuclear aircraft carriers are there, in addition to the USN’s twelve? Only ONE, and it is operated by France.

    So that’s why the US spends as much on defense as the NEXT TEN NATIONS COMBINED (many of those presently allies of the US). Gotta project that POWER! Remind them who’s boss.

    Meanwhile, China spends its money investing in technology.

    Reply
    1. Ford Prefect

      China is building numerous aircraft carriers. Those are the artificial islands in the South China Sea. The big difference is that an island can’t float to the Arabian Gulf like an aircraft carrier.

      So much of the Chinese and Russian military is structured around “defense” instead of projecting global military power on offence. Much of the US military is structured around projecting military power thousands of miles from the US (airborne tankers, aircraft carriers, long-distance drones, B-52 and ship-launched cruise missiles).

      Reply
      1. Bill Carson

        Yep, that’s exactly right. They’ve got Departments of DEFENSE in the classical sense of the word.

        I didn’t mention the number of bases that the US has around the globe on every continent (I think the official count is somewhere around 800? Though I’m sure some of those occupy the same physical space. Russia has something like 11 bases on foreign soil, and those are all in Europe or Asia.

        Reply
  8. Rod

    The level of disconnection of the general population with matters of the US Military(the funding and deployment of) is frightening and disgusting. Currently less than 1% of our population is responsible for representing and defending this country(if defending is necessary–another discussion).

    A supporting 7 day old anecdote:

    While picking up a used Airline Seat Set at a local Aviation Museum located adjacent to a Major SE Hub Airport, while making our way thru the Salvage Warehouse filled with old Military Aviation Hardware, I commented(really just fishing) to the 3 others with me that I couldn’t believe that this is where our TAX DOLLARS had ended up. The Millennial Museum worker stopped, turned, said I was mistaken and explained to me that the Tax Supported Museum had not paid anything for the items I was commenting on. Another commented on how great it was to get this stuff from the Feds for free.
    Taking a deeeeeepppppp breath, I explained that I was referring to Federal Taxes paid by us, our children, our parents, grandparents, etc. to support a MIC whose debris we were walking through as well as 2 twenty year wars currently on going.
    “Oh yea, that” and a couple of chuckles were the response. Since this was a paying gig, I just shut up.

    As an enlisted Veteran of a Cold War conducted during the hot war of VN–during a Draft–I am believing more and more that a Draft for Service to the USA( Military or otherwise) is necessary to stop our wars of expansion and runaway military expenses.
    IMO, Nothing will change a young persons mind(ref-Attitude Adjustment) about waste( human or material) than a direct experience of realizing you also are considered part of that waste stream depending on your MOS.
    That two years of service is still Politicizing me.

    Reply
    1. Carla

      “Nothing will change a young persons mind(ref-Attitude Adjustment) about waste( human or material) than a direct experience of realizing you also are considered part of that waste stream”

      +100

      Reply
    2. Felix_47

      We have to have a draft with no bone spur exemptions and we have to collect meaningful taxes from everyone no matter how poor. Once a mom on food stamps has to send 50 bucks of her tax credit back to DC she’ll start to care. And once a corporate attorney at Paul Weiss has to see his Exeter graduate daughter give up her Harvard acceptance to become an E1 headed to Somalia or Nigeria we will see rapid change.

      Reply
      1. Janie

        Spot on, both you and Rod. We had a staff sergeant neighbor who bought a lot near the base where he was usually assigned; he built his house over several years from truckloads of material he got from the base.

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    3. Jeremy Grimm

      I wonder whether the Millennial responded as you described because of the kinds of comments and complaints most often heard in the Aviation Museum. I also wonder whether that Millennial ever gave much concern to “where our TAX DOLLARS ended up”. Why get fussed about something you have absolutely no control over? I am not sure what you meant by: “Since this was a paying gig, I just shut up.” It is too bad you could not take a little time to find out more about how the Millennial thought.

      Your conclusion from the brief encounter with the Millennial that “Nothing will change a young persons mind(ref-Attitude Adjustment) about waste (human or material) than a direct experience of realizing you also are considered part of that waste stream depending on your MOS.”
      — flowing from there to a call to bring back the draft seems a little harsh. Anyone who works at a job in today’s economy already gets a thorough lesson in waste (human or material) and quickly realizes that they are considered part of that waste stream — more often referred to as a cost center in business parlance. [I assume MOS is short for “Military Occupation Specialty”.]

      I think bringing back the draft is a horrible idea. I suspect it could lead to more spending on military and more wars. Our generals find ways to use up whatever you put into their hands and our well-armed and ruthless police would make short work of the kinds of protest this country saw in the 1960s. As for politicing — bringing back the draft is hardly necessary. Listen to a few Millennials and you will quickly realize that.

      Reply
  9. KLG

    There is good reason William Astore retired as a Lt. Colonel.

    Rule of thumb: When someone has retired at the rank of Major/Lt. Col. or Lt. Cdr./Cdr., you can trust what he or she has to say. Colonel/Captain? A weak maybe, but caveat emptor. Above Colonel? Never.

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    1. Arizona Slim

      Exactly. One of my local friends is a retired USAF lieutenant colonel. A straight shooter if there ever was one.

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    1. Olga

      Or, as Chalmers Johnson described it once – a cobra, sitting curled up on top of the nation’s collective head. Either the nation keeps feeding it, or it will bite the head.

      Reply
  10. Chauncey Gardiner

    Difficult not to agree with William Astore based on raw historical facts. But it’s presently not about “winning wars”, nor arguably even about defense. Instead, its about our national illness: Money (and related power). And for many state and local economies, the money from military bases and paid contractors is pivotal.

    In fact, I believe Iowa, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Vermont are the only states without significant military bases. Many, if not most, congressional representatives and senators can’t leave home for DC (nor remain there for long) without supporting ’em. Base closures?… cuts in spending?… surely you’re kidding. By design, the MIC enjoys economic leverage that translates into epic political support.

    Suggest the issue be framed differently: “What are alternative uses of the money that is flowing into wasteful military spending programs, and how might those expenditures benefit our communities?” Further, “What are the long term social and economic costs of inertia?”

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    1. Carla

      M4A, end homelessness, elder care, end “food insecurity,” free higher education, universal free pre-K — federal job guarantee to provide all of these and more.

      Reply
      1. JBird4049

        But that’s socialism! Don’t you understand that my losing 11lbs because of three weeks of almost no food last month was good for capitalism, and markets, or something like that? And those lazy slackers living in those vans and RVs need to work more. Even the kids.

        Much better to give tax cuts to the Job Creators, subsidies to farmers, and more wars to defend us from the evil terrorisms.

        Yes, of course I am being sarcastic, but too many people, including my fellow Californian would agree to some or all of it. From the well off liberal Democrats in the coastal areas to the reactionary John Bircher Republicans in the many conservative enclaves.

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      2. Susan the other

        The Federal Jobs Guarantee will need to be organized. It won’t be organized using big box stores, stockers and cashiers – it will be organized around fixing things. If Trump was serious about “a trillion trees” that will be a good place to start. Pretty sure he’d like a nice mango grove on the shores of Maralago. That and good homeless housing. And any and all infrastructure to create M4A. And a permanent workforce to mitigate climate disasters. And on and on.

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      3. notabanktoadie

        federal job guarantee to provide all of these and more.

        Sorry but a JG by definition has a focus on providing jobs, not accomplishing work.

        What people need is an increase in real INCOMES and that would come from a Citizen’s Dividend to replace all fiat creation beyond that created by deficit spending for the general welfare – that and the elimination of all other privileges for the banks and the rich.

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        1. skippy

          “Sorry but a JG by definition has a focus on providing jobs, not accomplishing work.”

          Please provide anything that supports that proposition. The policy has a deep under pinning that is completely juxtaposed to your opinion.

          Please quantify crude statements in the future or be confused for something else.

          Reply
  11. CarlH

    As a vet who participated in our Middle East disaster, I feel as if I served for the Wehrmacht. History, rightly, will judge us very harshly. I wish so badly sometimes that I could go back and talk to the 17 year old me and set his head straight. We send children to do our dirty work because a lot of them have no other choices, but most of all because they are so naive. When I joined I thought I was being the good guy. I was so unbelievably naive.

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    1. JTMcPhee

      I enlisted in 1966 to go fight the Commies over there, so we would not have to fight them here. Talk about rude awakenings.

      I bet a lot of Korea and even WW II veterans have very different views of who the good guys are after their service, and with time to inform themselves and to reflect. I figured out about a week into my “tour of duty” in Vietnam that there was a reason we were unwelcome there and that the propaganda was covering up some very dirty lies.

      A good friend reports this anecdote from one of his group therapy sessions, helping to deal with PTSD: The group was pretty silent one day, so the facilitator came up with this conversation starter: “What was the moment when you first realized that the whole war was just one big lie?” Instantly, everyone’s hands shot up, wanting to tell their Moment of enlightenment first.

      None of that awakening has done a darn thing to “Stop The War.” But of course there are lots of John Kerrys in the cohort, too.

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      1. JBird4049

        From what I can see, every war since World War II is successively more unnecessary and poorly fought. I guess that a case maybe could be made for Korea, and Yugoslavia maybe, and Afghanistan for the first few months for hunting the people responsible for 9/11. Not any of the others. Not the last two decades and certainly not all the coups, military support of the Latin American countries, Iran, Haiti, and others. Running around and stomping countries because we can.

        We supposedly won the Cold War, but we supported so many evil regimes, often by deposing honest governments with corrupt, murderous ones. Installing regimes that would do what they were told and acquiescence to the economic rape of their people by the corporations.

        Plus the mini-invasions of Panama and Grenada. Noriega was supposedly an evil drug lord and the evil Communist Cubans were building an (somehow nefariously evil) airport when actually Noriega interfered with the CIA own drug smuggling and the Cuban construction crew was just that.

        I was told by someone there for Panama that it was the only war he had ever been scared was because the Americans really didn’t know what they were doing. Not malice. Not uncaring. I don’t think he said incompetence. Just too scared and quick on the trigger so anyone could get killed for no reason. They blew up some neighborhoods full of innocent Panamanians.

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  12. The Rev Kev

    I saw a real world example of how this all plays out on the battlefield in a TV news report. It was in the months before the First Gulf War and a TV news crew was following around a US unit who were using ant-tank missiles. The troops lined everything in a practice session but the missile just kinda flopped out the tube and that was it. The news reporter asked a young officer what would have happened if this had been in a real battle and the officer replied that they would be dead.

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  13. folbec

    The US military is a very simple thing : a specially designed social program for right wing types.

    Much better than Medicare for old people : it self select the right demographic.

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  14. Robin of Korea

    Please let me remind you that during “limited” wars, the only modern kind, the military doesn’t lose due to it’s incapacity. U. S. military power is, as pointed out by this whole discussion, overwhelming.
    Political blunders and restrictions get us into and lose our modern wars.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I am not sure what a “limited” war is exactly. Almost any war — not a world war — can be described as “limited”. I am also not sure what it means to ‘win’ a war. Usually ‘winning’ means accomplishing some clearly defined objective. I do not know what objective drove any of the wars we have fought. There are stated objectives — often changed as the war progresses — usually intended to manufacture public consent. There are also the actual goals intended by by those Persons who control our government and direct its actions. There appear to be plenty of political blunders. As for “restrictions” you need to be more specific about them. Some of the restrictions — like do not send U.S. forces past the 38th parallel have very good justification. Our colonels and generals often complain about the restrictions placed on how they execute their mission. To me, those complaints too often seem motivated by rationalizations after the fact to explain away failure to accomplish an objective. The complaints about restrictions expressed more generally sound like chaffing at any infringement of the complainer’s personal authority. But imagine if Curtis Lemay were given freedom of action to accomplish a mission without restrictions — or Gen Power:
      “Restraint? Why are you so concerned with saving their lives? The whole idea is to kill the bastards. At the end of the war if there are two Americans and one Russian left alive, we win!”

      I am not so sure political blunders get us into our wars — but I have no idea what does in truth. The true intentions of our government are opaque.

      The idea that the U.S. military power is “overwhelming” has not been tested in recent times. I suspect our weapons were built to flow money and funding lines. But I fear too many of our expensive weapons are not built to be effective in use. That is not a pleasant thought to contemplate. We can beat a poorly armed and poorly supported enemy lacking air-support in an open engagement. Our weapons and forces have not been so effective in beating that same enemy in other-than open engagements. How our weapons and forces would fare against a more modern enemy in both kinds of engagement … I believe not so well. A second aspect of the gross monetization of our military and its procurements is rising costs for diminishing capability delivered. Weapon sales are one of several tools we have to extend and maintain the solidarity of our Imperial hegemony. Expensive junk is not a helpful tool.

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  15. Janie

    Spot on, both you and Rod. We had a staff sergeant neighbor who bought a lot near the base where he was usually assigned; he built his house over several years from truckloads of material he got from the base.

    Reply
  16. Jeremy Grimm

    I believe many large organizations and organizations of organizations — like the Military Industrial Complex [MIC] or one of the many national [or International] Cartels — have acquired a measure of autonomy independent of human control. I think of these large organizations and large organizations of organizations as abstract Persons. They acquired their drives and motives by accreting many of the worst drives and motives of Humankind and built them into their ‘culture’. I believe they achieved their independence as an unintended consequence of the efforts by the Neoliberal project to build a world driven by Market forces. I believe the Neoliberal project was intended as a means to deconstruct the limited systems of social welfare in this country and bolster the power and wealth of the obscenely wealthy. Unfortunately, the Neoliberal project put a tool for achieving autonomy into the unhuman hands of many large organizations and organizations of organizations. A Market for Everything puts Government, Justice, Science, Education, Medicine, … and National Defense — up for sale to the highest bidder. Only the most wealthy of wealthy individuals can compete with the deep pockets and resources of large organizations. The Military Industrial Complex [MIC] is not unlike many other autonomous organizations building empires and the funding lines to support those empires using ‘tax’ dollars acquired by careful cultivation and feeding of government political support. The MIC is perhaps the largest and most successful. The brands “National Defense” and “National Security” have served them, and many other affiliated autonomous organizations, exceedingly well.

    Reply

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