Imperial Dominance Disguised as Democratic Deterrence

Lambert here: Thank heavens, somebody other than [makes warding sign] The Kagans reads Thucydides.

By William J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and professor of history, senior fellow at the Eisenhower Media Network (EMN). Originally published at Tom Dispatch.

More than two millennia ago, in the History of the Peloponnesian War, Thucydides recounted a disastrous conflict Athens waged against Sparta. A masterwork on strategy and war, the book is still taught at the U.S. Army War College and many other military institutions across the world. A passage from it describing an ultimatum Athens gave a weaker power has stayed with me all these years. And here it is, loosely translated from the Greek: “The strong do what they will and the weak suffer as they must.”

Recently, I read the latest National Defense Strategy, or NDS, issued in October 2022 by the Pentagon, and Thucydides’s ancient message, a warning as clear as it was undeniable, came to mind again. It summarized for me the true essence of that NDS: being strong, the United States does what it wants and weaker powers, of course, suffer as they must. Such a description runs contrary to the mythology of this country in which we invariably wage war not for our own imperial ends but to defend ourselves while advancing freedom and democracy. Recall that Athens, too, thought of itself as an enlightened democracy even as it waged its imperial war of dominance on the Peloponnesus. Athens lost that war, calamitously, but at least it did produce Thucydides, a military leader who became a historian and wrote all too bluntly about his country’s hubristic, ultimately fatal pursuit of hegemony.

Imperial military ambitions contributed disastrously to Athens’s exhaustion and ultimate collapse, a lesson completely foreign to U.S. strategists. Not surprisingly, then, you’ll find no such Thucydidean clarity in the latest NDS approved by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. In place of that Greek historian’s probity and timeless lessons, the NDS represents an assault not just on the English language but on our very future. In it, a policy of failing imperial dominance is eternally disguised as democratic deterrence, while the greatest “strategic” effort of all goes (remarkably successfully) into justifying massive Pentagon budget increases. Given the sustained record of failures in this century for what still passes as the greatest military power on the planet — Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, of course, but don’t forget Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and indeed the entire $8 trillion Global War on Terror in all its brutality — consider the NDS a rare recent “mission accomplished” moment. The 2023 baseline “defense” budget now sits at $858 billion, $45 billion more than even the Biden administration requested.

With that yearly budget climbing toward a trillion dollars (or more) annually, it’s easy to conclude that, at least when it comes to our military, nothing succeeds like failure. And, by the way, that not only applies to wars lost at a staggering cost but also financial audits blown without penalty. After all, the Pentagon only recently failed its fifth audit in a row. With money always overflowing, no matter how it may be spent, one thing seems guaranteed: some future American Thucydides will have the material to produce a volume or volumes beyond compare. Of course, whether this country goes the way of Athens — defeat driven by military exhaustion exacerbated by the betrayal of its supposedly deepest ideals leading to an ultimate collapse — remains to be seen. Still, given that America’s war colleges continue to assign Thucydides, no one can say that our military and future NDS writers didn’t get fair warning when it comes to what likely awaits them.

Bludgeoning America with Bureaucratese

If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with BS.

That’s a saying I learned early in my career as an Air Force officer, so I wasn’t exactly surprised to discover that it’s the NDS’s guiding philosophy. The document has an almost Alice in Wonderland-like quality to it as words and phrases take on new meanings. China, you won’t be surprised to learn, is a “pacing challenge” to U.S. security concerns; Russia, an “acute threat” to America due to its “unprovoked, unjust, and reckless invasion of Ukraine” and other forms of “irresponsible behavior”; and building “combat-credible forces” within a “defense ecosystem” is a major Pentagon goal, along with continuing “investments in mature, high-value assets” (like defective aircraft carriers, ultra-expensive bombers and fighter jets, and doomsday-promising new ICBMs).

Much talk is included about “leveraging” those “assets,” “risk mitigation,” and even “cost imposition,” a strange euphemism for bombing, killing, or otherwise inflicting pain on our enemies. Worse yet, there’s so much financial- and business-speak in the document that it’s hard not to wonder whether its authors don’t already have at least one foot in the revolving door that could, on their retirement from the military, swing them onto the corporate boards of major defense contractors like Boeing and Raytheon.

Perhaps my favorite redefined concept in that NDS lurks in the word “campaigning.” In the old days, armies fought campaigns in the field and generals like Frederick the Great or Napoleon truly came to know the price of them in blood and treasure. Unlike U.S. generals since 1945, they also knew the meaning of victory, as well as defeat. Perish the thought of that kind of campaigning now. The NDS redefines it, almost satirically, not to say incomprehensibly, as “the conduct and sequencing of logically-linked military initiatives aimed at advancing well-defined, strategy-aligned priorities over time.” Huh?

Campaigning, explains the cover letter signed by Secretary of Defense Austin (who won’t be mistaken for Frederick II in his bluntness or Napoleon in his military acuity), “is not business as usual — it is the deliberate effort to synchronize the [Defense] Department’s activities and investments to aggregate focus and resources to shift conditions in our favor.”

Got it? Good!

Of course, who knows what such impenetrable jargon really means to our military in 2023? This former military officer certainly prefers the plain and honest language of Thucydides. In his terms, America, the strong, intends to do what it will in the world to preserve and extend “conditions in our favor,” as the NDS puts it — a measure by which this country has failed dismally in this century. Weaker countries, especially those that are “irresponsible,” must simply suffer. If they resist, they must be prepared for some “cost imposition” events exercised by our “combat-credible forces.” Included in those are America’s “ultimate backstop” of cost imposition… gulp, its nuclear forces.

Again, the NDS is worthy of close reading (however pain-inducing that may be) precisely because the secretary of defense does claim that it’s his “preeminent guidance document.” I assume he’s not kidding about that, though I wish he were. To me, that document is to guidance as nuclear missiles are to “backstops.” If that last comparison is jarring, I challenge you to read it and then try to think or write clearly.

Bringing Clarity to America’s Military Strategy

To save you the trauma of even paging through the NDS, let me try to summarize it quickly in my version — if not the Pentagon’s — of English:

  1. China is the major threat to America on this planet.
  2. Russia, however, is a serious threat in Europe.
  3. The War on Terror continues to hum along successfully, even if at a significantly lower level.
  4. North Korea and Iran remain threats, mainly due to the first’s growing nuclear arsenal and the second’s supposed nuclear aspirations.
  5. Climate change, pandemics, and cyberwar must also be factored in as “transboundary challenges.”

“Deterrence” is frequently used as a cloak for the planetary dominance the Pentagon continues to dream of. Our military must remain beyond super-strong (and wildly overfunded) to deter nations and entities from striking “the homeland.” There’s also lots of talk about global challenges to be met, risks to be managed, “gray zone” methods to be employed, and references aplenty to “kinetic action” (combat, in case your translator isn’t working) and what’s known as “exploitable asymmetries.”

Count on one thing: whatever our disasters in the real world, nobody is going to beat America in the jargon war.

Missing in the NDS — and no surprise here — is any sense that war is humanity’s worst pastime. Even the mass murder implicit in nuclear weapons is glossed over. The harshest realities of conflict, nuclear war included, and the need to do anything in our power to prevent them, naturally go unmentioned. The very banality of the document serves to mask a key reality of our world: that Americans fund nothing as religiously as war, that most withering of evils.

Perhaps it’s not quite the banality of evil, to cite the telling phrase political philosopher Hannah Arendt used to describe the thoughts of the deskbound mass-murderers of the Holocaust, but it does have all of war’s brutality expunged from it. As we stare into the abyss, the NDS replies with mind-numbing phrases and terms that wouldn’t be out of place in a corporate report on rising profits and market dominance.

Yet as the military-industrial complex maneuvers and plots to become ever bigger, ever better funded, and ever more powerful, abetted by a Congress seemingly lustful for ever more military spending and weapons exports, hope for international cooperation, productive diplomacy, and democracy withers. Here, for instance, are a few of the things you’ll never see mentioned in this NDS:

  1. Any suggestion that the Pentagon budget might be reduced. Ever.
  2. Any suggestion that the U.S. military’s mission or “footprint” should be downsized in any way at all.
  3. Any acknowledgement that the U.S. and its allies spend far more on their militaries than “pacing challengers” like China or “acute threats” like Russia.
  4. Any acknowledgment that the Pentagon’s budget is based not on deterrence but on dominance.
  5. Any acknowledgement that the U.S. military has been far less than dominant despite endless decades of massive military spending that produced lost or stalemated wars from Korea and Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq.
  6. Any suggestion that skilled diplomacy and common security could lead to greater cooperation or decreased tensions.
  7. Any serious talk of peace.

In brief, in that document and thanks to the staggering congressional funding that goes with it, America is being eternally spun back into an age of great-power rivalry, with Xi Jinping’s China taking the place of the old Soviet Union and Vladimir Putin’s Russia that of Mao Zedong’s China. Consistent with that retro-vision is the true end goal of the NDS: to eternally maximize the Pentagon budget and so the power and authority of the military-industrial-congressional complex.

Basically, any power that seeks to push back against the Pentagon’s vision of security through dominance is defined as a threat to be “deterred,” often in the most “kinetic” way. And the greatest threat of all, requiring the most “deterrence,” is, of course, China.

In a textbook case of strategic mirror-imaging, the Pentagon’s NDS sees that country and its People’s Liberation Army (PLA) as acting almost exactly like the U.S. military. And that simply cannot be allowed.

Here’s the relevant NDS passage:

“In addition to expanding its conventional forces, the PLA is rapidly advancing and integrating its space, counterspace, cyber, electronic, and information warfare capabilities to support its holistic approach to joint warfare. The PLA seeks to target the ability of the [U.S.] Joint Force to project power to defend vital U.S. interests and aid our Allies in a crisis or conflict. The PRC [China] is also expanding the PLA’s global footprint and working to establish a more robust overseas and basing infrastructure to allow it to project military power at greater distances. In parallel, the PRC is accelerating the modernization and expansion of its nuclear capabilities.”

How dare China become more like the United States! Only this country is allowed to aspire to “full-spectrum dominance” and global power, as manifested by its 750 military bases scattered around the world and its second-to-none, blue-water navy. Get back to thy place, China! Only “a free people devoted to democracy and the rule of law” can “sustain and strengthen an international system under threat.” China, you’ve been warned. Better not dare to keep pace with the U.S. of A. (And heaven forfend that, in a world overheating in a devastating way, the planet’s two greatest greenhouse gas emitters should work together to prevent true catastrophe!)

Revisiting the Oath of Office

Being a retired U.S. military officer, I always come back to the oath of office I once swore to uphold: “To support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Naturally, if China, Russia, or any other country or entity attacks or otherwise directly menaces the U.S., I expect our military to defend this country with all due vigor.

That said, I don’t see China, Russia, or weaker countries like Iran or North Korea risking attacks against America proper, despite breathless talk of world “flashpoints.” Why would they, when any such attack would incur a devastating counterattack, possibly including America’s trusty “backstop,” its nuclear weapons?

In truth, the NDS is all about the further expansion of the U.S. global military mission. Contraction is a concept never to be heard. Yet reducing our military’s presence abroad isn’t synonymous with isolationism, nor, as has become ever more obvious in recent years, is an expansive military structure a fail-safe guarantor of freedom and democracy at home. Quite the opposite, constant warfare and preparations for more of it overseas have led not only to costly defeats, most recently in Afghanistan, but also to the increasing militarization of our society, a phenomenon reflected, for instance, in the more heavily armed and armored police forces across America.

The Pentagon’s NDS is a classic case of threat inflation cloaked in bureaucratese where the “facts” are fixed around a policy that encourages the incessant and inflationary growth of the military-industrial complex. In turn, that complex empowers and drives a “rules-based international order” in which America, as hegemon, makes the rules. Again, as Thucydides put it, the strong do what they will and the weak suffer as they must.

Yet, to paraphrase another old book, what does it profit a people to gain the whole world yet lose their very soul?  Like Athens before it, America was once a flawed democracy that nevertheless served as an inspiration to many because militarism, authoritarianism, and imperial pretense didn’t drive it. Today, this country is much like Thucydides’s Athens, projecting power ever-outwards in a misbegotten exercise to attain mastery through military supremacy.

It didn’t end well for Athens, nor will it for the United States.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. Hayek's Heelbiter

    Delighted (and dismayed) to read Astore’s post.
    During the run up to the Iraq War, the speeches on Capitol Hill, could have been taken verbatim from Thucydides’ account of the exhortations in favour (and against) the Sicilian Expedition, the toing and froing between Alcibiades’s camp and Nicias’s one.
    Though the Iraq War didn’t destroy America the way the Sicilian Expedition destroyed Athens as a world power, it certainly didn’t do the US any favours.
    Would love to read greater explorations of the parallels of Thucydides and contemporary geopolitics and see more NC posts by Mr. Astore.

    1. lyman alpha blob

      Another parallel is that the opportunist Alcibiades was a aristocratic “globalist” of the ancient world who had no great love for his own native Athens and allied himself with Athens, Persia and Sparta depending on what was most convenient for his own fortunes at any given time.

      One might wish for the same fate that befell Alcibiades for today’s Davos crowd. While the details of his death are uncertain, trying to play all sides to benefit himself didn’t pay in the long run and he died relatively young, presumably at the hands of someone he’d double crossed.

  2. cnchal

    > It didn’t end well for Athens, nor will it for the United States.

    That isn’t the point. The point is that it ends well personally for those at the top of the heap.

    That the US ends up as collateral damage is of no concern.

    We are so f__k_d, in a death spiral actually, served up by psychopaths.

  3. Ignacio

    Very good article. It is not surprising to find military and ex-military amongst the most vocal anti escalation voices in the West. They know better than you and me. Policymakers are the real troublemakers indeed. It makes by the end a question that remains unanswered: why winning the world while loosing the soul? How is it that human stupidity comes along once and again to the extreme? Can’t we avoid escalation? Why TINA thinking comes again to sink us all in destruction? This is a collective failure, well beyond our personal scope and abilities. Collectively overwhelmed by these ideas it seems nothing can be done to stop it. It is our destiny and all that we learnt before is worthless. We really didn’t learn anything from WWI, WWII or Athens. Or we did but that doesn’t stop us from committing the same mistakes all over again. The videos from Nuland’s (Senate?) hearing, this NDS document, Baerbock etc show how all this works but doesn’t show how to stop it. It seems we are waiting for some miracle. A hero of our times might come and save us. We cannot really be that stupid jumps to mind. Sit comfortably while you wait.

    1. DJG, Reality Czar


      Constantine Kavafis’s poem Waiting for the Barbarians is an excellent meditation on the second half of your comment:

      What is to be done? I will advocate a kind of “democratic mercilessness.” We are on the precipice, and the media and politicians are all agreeing-to-disagree so as not to break rice bowls.

      Astore writes: Perhaps it’s not quite the banality of evil, to cite the telling phrase political philosopher Hannah Arendt used to describe the thoughts of the deskbound mass-murderers of the Holocaust, but it does have all of war’s brutality expunged from it. As we stare into the abyss, the NDS replies with mind-numbing phrases and terms that wouldn’t be out of place in a corporate report on rising profits and market dominance.

      I say: No. It is the banality of evil, and Victoria Nuland is the Adolf Eichmann of our time, ably assisted by another avatar of the banality of evil, Antony Blinken. It is time to stop being polite to such horrible politicians.

      And speaking of which, I will throw in Bernie Sanders and his various burblings about the evils of Putin. Bernie Sanders is abdicating any responsibility by studiously ignoring the proxy war. I gave to his campaign(s) more than once. He’s cut off. There is no there there–being the unButtigieg does not suffice.

      1. cnchal

        > . . . It is time to stop being polite to such horrible politicians.

        Category error. These are the psychopaths that surround the self selected and elected narcissists that vie to lead.

        On the scramble up the greasy pole of status, power and money, stabbing the right back and kissing the right ass in the correct lucky order is the game, played exceptionally well by psychos.

        They then lead the elected narcissists around by the nose.

      2. Stephen

        Banality of Evil is very apt.

        These types of documents sanitise war in exactly the way that the Holocaust was sanitised.

        The perpetrators then feel free to pursue self interested career oriented decisions, freed from morality. They even convince themselves that they are being moral by sanitising the horror.

        But there are also genuine ideologues, the equivalents to the committed Nazis and anti Semites of the 1930s. Which Eichmann was not but Hitler and Heydrich were. Banality of Evil is part of the explanation but not the only one. For these reasons I am not sure your Eichmann metaphors are fully right. The people you refer to strike me as committed ideologues. General Milley strikes me more as the bureaucratic, career type. Possibly even Biden himself.

        1. Ignacio

          Yep. Your second sentence nails it. ‘Kinetic’ action or measures is such a cold clinical statement.

      3. Ignacio

        100% agreed. Arendt’s ideas have to be revisited. I read it long time ago. May be reading it again might help. Blinken possibly meets Eichmann stereotype better that Nuland. IMO, she is not blindly obeying. She has been for long creating the situations we have to accept and obey. Nuland is an enabler in play and dictates what congresscritters have to accept. The latter are those being banally evil and that probably includes Sanders. Accept and sign next Pentagon budget. Next hearing please.

        1. Stephen

          Yes, Arendt’s works on both Banality of Evil and The Origins of Totalitarianism are apt here. I read them both for the first time last year. Very rewarding. But super tricky to understand at the right level of depth!

        2. polar donkey

          When you see Nuland on tv, you can actually see the vapors of evil wafting off of her. I can’t believe they let her out of her sarcophagus to testify before congress.

    2. ambrit

      “Sit comfortably while you wait.” “The Grand Inquisitor will see you soon.”
      I can understand why the “End of Days” is such a hot topic in the religious internet now.

    3. Louis Fyne

      —t is not surprising to find military and ex-military amongst the most vocal anti escalation voices in the West. —

      Note the author’s rank: Lt. Colonel.

      It is a (deserved? undeserved?) stereotype that to be promoted to Colonel (O-6 rank grade) and above, you have to do a lot of political kow-towing.

      Presumably, like most-all institutions, there is a lot of survivorship bias in upper management when it comes to the “Overton Window” of acceptable opinions..

    4. Kouros

      Policymakers are just tools. US military defends the freedom of American capital and allows it to roam like clouds of locusts on the face of the earth. My feeling is that the Aliens in Independence Day and Independence Day 2 are solely based on US financialists and capitalists.

  4. sporble

    Great article.
    “America was once a flawed democracy that nevertheless served as an inspiration to many because militarism, authoritarianism, and imperial pretense didn’t drive it.”
    Wouldn’t it be lovely – and good for the whole planet – if America would once again serve as an inspiration?
    Borrowing from the previous comments: those at the top of the heap, the Nulands and their empowerers, etc. – need to be taken down. But how? And how can a better system be developed to prevent (or at least: impede) similar people from doing the same all over again – before any “backstops” are used?

    1. tindrum

      The trouble is that America was only “a flawed democracy that served as an inspiration…” if you kind of glossed over the genocide of the original Americans who had to be “re-located” to the happy hunting ground in the sky in order to create Lebensraum for the great democracy.

      1. eg

        Yeah, and then after it ran out of peoples to exterminate on the continent, it moved onto the Pacific and beyond.

      2. Michaelmas

        America was only “a flawed democracy that served as an inspiration…” if you kind of glossed over the genocide of the original Americans who had to be “re-located”

        And the slaves. And the indentured servants.

        The reality is that much of the population who went to North America from the British isles in the 1600s and 1700s were the reactionary monarchists, royalists, and catholics who’d lost the English Civil War and the ensuing attempted counter-revolutions in Scotland and Ireland that attempted to restore a Catholic royalist state in England. These were the people that formed the Virginian plantation-owning class with their slave estates, which in turn produced US founding fathers like Washington and Jefferson.

        1. britzklieg

          Wasn’t the famous phrase “pursuit of happiness” originally “pursuit of property” which our founding fathers felt might be too revealing and so Jefferson changed it?

        2. Kouros

          On the morning of May 29, 1787, in the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia, Edmund Randolph, governor of Virginia, opened the meeting that would become known as the Constitutional Convention by identifying the underlying cause of various problems that the delegates of thirteen states had assembled to solve. “Our chief danger,” Randolph declared, “arises from the democratic parts of our constitutions.” None of the separate states’ constitutions, he said, had established “sufficient checks against the democracy.”

  5. JohnA

    Didn’t one of the infamous warmongering Kagan clan claim the so-called Thucydides’ Trap was wrong? The problem now for the US military is that Russia and China, plus probably Iran, are not ‘crappy little countries that can be thrown against a wall’. Unfortunately the Kagans of this world cannot grasp this.

    1. Harold

      Maybe, but they interpret the Melian Dialogue as “might makes right” and justifying any kind of brutal inhuman behavior.

      1. John

        The Kagans of the world choose not to grasp the very notion of the limits of power. Buddha chose the Middle Way after assaying the extremes. So did The Three Bears.

  6. John R Moffett

    Mr. Astore is absolutely right that the NDS sounds like a business plan, because that is what it is. It has nothing to do with security or defense. It is about profit and control. They really need to change the name of the Dept. of Defense back into the War Dept., because that is what it is.

    1. tet vet

      Can’t change Defense to War Department because that would imply that still we do wars. Not since 1942 has the US been in a war. Just a continuation of authorizations to use military force. Based on the legal differences between a war and the so-called authorizations, some commentators suggest that we will never again declare war. Streamlining the process as such has eliminated a significant barrier placed in the Constitution to make waging war a difficult process and thereby limiting the number of wars the US engages in. What we would call a “workaround” in today’s parlance. May I suggest that the Department of Defense be changed to the Department of Authorizations to Use Military Force. The Generals will no doubt shorten this to military-ease by calling it DEPA-UMF (pronounced DEPA-OOMPH)

      1. John R Moffett

        It really is just big business now, with all the advertising on the MSM that the war profiteers could ever want. Maybe we should just call it War Inc.

  7. The Rev Kev

    ‘The strong do what they will and the weak suffer as they must.’

    Surprised that an Athenian said that. Isn’t that what one of the Persian Kings told Greece before they launched an invasion against them? Or was that before the second invasion? I forget. A quick recap. After Persia was finally defeated, the Athenians helped form the Delian League in case the Persian came back again. Individual countries would contribute men and ships but over time they ended up just giving money instead to Athens – who eventually grabbed that money and spent it on Athens itself instead of defence. So by the time of the Peloponnesian War, Athen’s allies were not as strong as they could have been. I am seeing the same with America’s Allies and in the past year alone, Europe has been crippled and will never be able to field a really strong force like they should. Given a choice between helping an Ally become a stronger force or plundering it and leaving it a weakened force, DC has usually gone for the later.

  8. James E Keenan

    Nice article. I wonder which parts of the defense budget the author would recommend attacking first.

    1. Ashburn

      I would opt for aircraft carriers which are now acknowledged to be big fat sitting ducks thanks to the emergence of accurate and maneuverable hypersonic anti-ship missiles. This fact led Col. Douglas Macgregor to remark recently that there are now only two classes of US Navy ships: submarines and targets.

      Ending the construction of more of these obsolete behemoths would also obviate the need for the small fleet of escort ships that are required to protect the carriers. In addition to the carrier a carrier battle group usually consists of two Aegis cruisers, two destroyers, two frigates, two submarines, and a supply ship. Add to the costs of constructing these ships the maintenance, operation, and crews and you’re soon talking real money.

      1. Kouros

        I think that the idea of not being able to bomb at will another country is anathema to the US, and not being able to bring its planes close to a targeted territory would crate massive strokes in many people’s heads…

  9. Stephen

    The fact that a former senior Air Force officer thinks this way actually makes me hopeful that things can be turned around. Really great article and I would never have found it without NC.

    My main extra thought would be that the NDS may well have been written by a major consulting firm. It has that imprint, and it kind of takes one to know one. Unfortunately. Although I guess it is just as probable that such language has seeped into the Pentagon as part of its business as usual too. Writing it no doubt cost millions too though.

    Really good also that the author makes a point of underlining the horror of war. Many of the great generals of history such as Sherman, Grant and Wellington left writings that attested to their horror of war, having seen it at close hand. Sanitising war in the way that the NDS clearly does is something that only people who have not seen its true brutality can do.

    Even on its own terms the NDS seems to fail. As the author alludes to: if there is no post mortem on recent failures such as the Retreat from Kabul then how on earth can one craft a meaningful strategy?

    1. JohnA

      The way Thackerey describes the demise of George Osborne at Waterloo in Vanity Fair has always struck me as a wonderful way to bring home the horrors of war.

    2. Michael King

      NC is my daily home base but I hope this article will lead you to exploring Tom Dispatch as well.

  10. Carolinian

    Sounds like the much derided Bachelor’s degree in English is due for a comeback. But of course clarity of communication is exactly what the language of power isn’t about. Instead it’s “baffle them with bs” and arguably this tendency has spread throughout our ruling tier and not just the Pentagon.

  11. LilD

    English usage is not desired at those levels…
    I’m sure it was written by consultants.
    I was in constant frustration at having clear prose edited into passive voice and clear descriptions edited into vague euphemisms…

    1. tet vet

      “When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

      ’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

      ’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

  12. Rich_in_OC

    Whenever I introduce the Melian Dialogue to unfortunate friends and family and even more unfortunately explain what imperial Athens means when it supports the democratic factions in Greek cities (democracy = great – as long as your democrats align with our war aims), and what it did “in defense” of its imperial democracy (like exterminating all Melian males and selling the women and children into slavery when all the Melians wanted was to remain neutral in the Athenian-Spartan war), AND how it is a direct reflection of the actions of Imperial America – their eyes usually gloss over fairly quickly and seemingly go into a catatonic state, the more polite ones may nod once with a questioning look – like what did I do to deserve this. Hence – we have what we have, and deserve what we have.

    1. Kouros

      I know the look.


      Electroshock therapy


      a deep depression exacerbated by climate change related issues, with lack of food, water, and healthcare on a massive unemployment situation…

  13. Hepativore

    Part of the problem, too, is that our economic infrastructure and one of the few remaining industrial sectors that has not been offshored is basically the military and related arms and servicing industries. This is precisely why you keep seeing overpriced, expensive toys being rolled out like aircraft carriers and the F-35 as there is money to be made constantly fixing them as they break down, to say nothing of all of the budget padding that went into the development of these white elephants.

    The US economy is based on military keynesianism at this point. There is no turning back now, without major political restructuring, and our political and business classes have no incentive to do so as the current system suits them just fine.

  14. Tom Bradford

    Change is the only constant. Even the person, or state, that once might have had to strength to impose its will on others will sooner or later but inevitably find itself flat on its back with a bloody nose. This is a lesson of history the wise learn from, but wisdom has ever been a quality lacking in those who would lead us. Indeed, no-one with wisdom would want to do so.

  15. WillD

    Taking an extremely lazy perspective, I just assume, mostly justified I think, that everything that the US government and deep state says or does has the intent to benefit limited private (not public) US interests regardless of the harm to others. When you dig deeper these interests are usually just financial ones, like the military industrial complex making huge profits from all of the many US wars and interferences.

    I support this view by thinking of all of the failed actions of the US, in foreign and domestic policy, over the last few decades, wondering how it could make so many mistakes and never seem to learn. Then I remember that these ‘mistakes’ actually made some people a lot of money or give them more power, and therefore could be spun as successes rather than mistakes. Depends on where you are in this – in or out. I’m out, of course.

    The rest is just the detail of the many devices they use to mask this intent and to persuade the listener / reader that they do in fact have ‘good’ intentions, and of course are upholding their much vaunted ‘values’ of freedom and democracy in their fight against the baddies (every other non-US-vassal country). Non-thinkers tend to believe this stuff because it is easy and doesn’t require any effort, and can they digest it easily without much risk of mental/psychological/emotional indigestion.

    I see the deterrence issue as fabricated by causing the threat against which they want to implement deterrence. Cause the problem in order to be able to justify the solution. Accuse the enemy of what you want/intend to do to set up false expectations and sometimes false flags. But reversing the statements and accusations usually reveals the true intent.

    The downside to this lazy perspective is that often I miss the more amusing, and frightening, devices employed to present/justify their latest comment/action. I’ll start to read/listen and quickly realise that none of it is new, just switched around a bit to make it look new and original.

    It’s my way of coping with the reality of what, if one truly thinks about it and allows the extent of it to fully sink in, is actually quite terrifying!

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