“America Spends $1 Trillion on its Military Every Year -
and Has No Way to Pay for It”
by David Stockman
"Like the case of Rome before it, the Empire is bankrupting America. The true fiscal cost is upwards of $1.0 trillion per year (counting $200 billion for veterans and debt service for wars), but there is no way to pay for it. That’s because the 78-million strong Baby Boom is in the driver’s seat of American politics. It plainly will not permit the $3 trillion per year retirement and health care entitlements-driven Welfare State to be curtailed.
The Trumpite/GOP has already sealed that deal by refusing to reform Social Security and Medicare and by proving to be utterly incapable of laying a glove politically on Obamacare/Medicaid. At the same time, boomers keep voting for the GOP’s anti-tax allergy, thereby refusing to tax themselves to close Washington’s yawning deficits.
More importantly, the generation which marched on the Pentagon in 1968 against the insanity and barbarism of LBJ’s Vietnam War has long since abandoned the cause of peace. So doing, boomers have acquiesced in the final ascendancy of the Warfare State, which grew like topsy once the US became the world’s sole superpower after the Soviet Union slithered off the pages of history in 1991.
Yet there is a reason why the end of the 77-year world war which incepted with the "guns of August" in 1914 did not enable the world to resume the status quo ante of relative peace and prosperous global capitalism. To wit, the hoary ideology of American exceptionalism and the Indispensable Nation was also, ironically, liberated from the shackles of cold war realism when the iron curtain came tumbling down.
Consequently, it burst into a quest for unadulterated global hegemony. In short order (under Bush the Elder and the Clintons) Washington morphed into the Imperial City, and became a beehive not only of militarism, but of an endless complex of think-tanks, NGOs, advisories and consultancies, "law firms", lobbies and racketeers.
The unspeakable prosperity of Washington flows from that Imperial beehive. And it is the Indispensable Nation meme that provides the political adhesive that binds the Imperial City to the work of Empire and to provisioning the massive fiscal appetites of the Warfare State.
Needless to say, Empire is a terrible thing because it is the health of the state and the profound enemy of capitalist prosperity and constitutional liberty. It thrives and metastasizes by abandoning the republican verities of nonintervention abroad and peaceful commerce with all the nations of the world in favor of the self-appointed role of global policeman. Rather than homeland defense, the policy of Empire is that of international busybody, military hegemon and brutal enforcer of Washington’s writs, sanctions, red lines and outlawed regimes.
There is nothing more emblematic of that betrayal of republican non-interventionism than the sundry hot spots which dog the Empire today. These include the Ukraine/Crimea confrontation with Russia, the regime change fiasco in Syria, the US sponsored genocide in Yemen, the failed, bloody 17-year occupation of Afghanistan, the meddling of the US Seventh Fleet in the South China Sea, and, most especially, the swiftly intensifying contretemps in Iran.
As to the latter, there is absolutely no reason for the Empire’s attack on Iran. The proverbial Martian, in fact, would be sorely perplexed about why Washington is marching toward war with its puritanical and authoritarian but relatively powerless religious rulers. After all, Iran hasn’t violated the nuke deal (JPAOC) by the lights of any credible authority – or by even less than credible ones like the CIA. Nor by the same consensus of authorities has it even had a research program for nuclear weaponization since 2003.
Likewise, its modest GDP of $430 billion is equal to just eight days of US output, thereby hardly constituting an industrial platform from which its theocratic rulers could plausibly menace America’s homeland. Nor could its tiny $14 billion defense budget – which amounts to just seven days worth of DOD outlays – inflict any military harm on American citizens.
In fact, Iran has no blue water navy that could effectively operate outside of the Persian Gulf; its longest range warplanes can barely get to Rome without refueling; and its array of mainly defensive medium and intermediate range missiles cannot strike most of NATO, to say nothing of the North American continent.
The answer to the Martian’s question, of course, is that Iran is no threat whatsoever to the safety and security of the US homeland, but it has run badly afoul of the dictates of the American Empire. That is to say, it has presumed to have an independent foreign policy involving Washington proscribed alliances with the sovereign state of Syria, the leading political party of Lebanon (Hezbollah), the ruling authorities (and US puppets) in Baghdad and the reining power in the Yemen capital of Sana’a (the Houthis). These are all deemed by Washington to be sources of unsanctioned "regional instability" and Iran’s alliances with them have been capriciously labeled as acts of state sponsored terrorism.
The same goes for Washington’s demarche against Iran’s modest array of short, medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles. These weapons are palpably instruments of self-defense, but Imperial Washington insists their purpose is aggression – unlike the case of practically every other nation which offers its custom to American arms merchants.
For example, Iran’s arch-rival across the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia, has more advanced NATO supplied ballistic missiles with even greater range (2,600 km range). So does Israel, Pakistan, India and a half-dozen other nations, which are either Washington allies or have been given a hall-pass in order to bolster US arms exports.
In short, Washington’s escalating war on Iran is an exercise in global hegemony, not territorial self-defense. What the proverbial Martian is really asking, therefore, is how did the Empire come about? How did the historic notion of national defense morph into Washington’s arrogant claim that it constitutes the "Indispensable Nation" which stands as mankind’s bulwark against global disorder and chaos among nations?
As indicated above, Iran is just the case de jure of the Indispensable Nation in action. Yet the other hot spots of the moment are no less exercises in hegemonic aggression. Thus, Washington started the Ukrainian confrontation by sponsoring, funding and recognizing the February 2014 coup that overthrew a Russia-friendly government with one that is militantly nationalistic and bitterly antagonistic to Russia. It reopened deep wounds that date back to Stalin’s brutal rein in Ukraine and Ukrainian collusion with Hitler’s Wehrmacht on its way to Stalingrad and back.
So doing, it triggered the fear-driven outbreak of Russian-speaking separatism in the Donbas and the 96% referendum in Crimea to formally re-affiliate with mother Russia (which originally purchased it from the Ottomans in 1783). Even a passing familiarity with Russian history and geography would remind that Ukraine and Crimea are Moscow’s business, not Washington’s.
Even more hideous is the rhetorical provocations and Seventh Fleet maneuvers ordered by Washington with respect to China’s comical sand castle building in the South China Sea. Whatever they are doing on these man-made islets, it is not threatening to the security of America – nor is there any plausible reason to believe that it is a threat to global commerce, either.
After all, it is the mercantilist economies of China and East Asian that would collapse almost instantly if it attempted to interrupt world trade. That is, any theoretical red military shoe would first fall on the Red Suzerains of Beijing themselves because it is the hard currency earnings from its export machine that keep the Red Ponzi from collapsing and the Chinese people enthrall to their communist overlords.
Needless to say, none of these kinds of interventions were even imaginable in the sleepy town of Washington DC just 100-years ago. But it’s baleful evolution from the capital of an economically focused Republic to seat of power in a globally mobilized Empire ultimately sprung from the Indispensable Nation heresy.
So we intend to delve into the historic roots of that conceit in a multi-part series because it not only guarantees unending calamities abroad, but also an eventual fiscal and financial horror show at home. Indeed, so long as Imperial Washington is stretched about the planet in its sundry self-appointed missions of stabilization, "peacekeeping", punishment, attack and occupation, there is zero chance that America’s collapsing fiscal accounts can be salvaged.
The Indispensable Nation folly thus hangs over the rotten edifice of Bubble Finance like, in fact, a modern day Sword of Damocles. But Empire is a corrosive disease of governance. It eventually metastasizes into imperial arrogance, overreach and high-handedness. Ultimately, like at present, it falls prey to the rule of bellicose warmongers and thugs. John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are living proof of that.
For the moment, however, make no mistake: Trump’s withdrawing from the nuke deal and pending re-imposition of maximum sanctions is an act of war by any other name. Yes, the feinschmeckers of the foreign policy establishment consider economic sanctions to be some kind of benign instrument of enlightened diplomacy – the carrot that preempts resort to the stick. But that is just sanctimonious prattle.
When you hound the deep water ports of the planet attempting to block Iran’s oil sales, which are its principal and vital source of foreign exchange, or cut off access by its central bank to the global money clearance system known as SWIFT or pressure friend and foe alike to stop all investment and trade – that’s an act of aggression every bit as menacing and damaging as a cruise missile attack.
Or at least it was once understood that way. Even as recently as 1960 the great Dwight Eisenhower (very) reluctantly agreed to lie about Gary Power’s U-2 plane when the Soviets shot it down and captured its CIA pilot alive. But Ike did so because he was old-fashioned enough to believe that even penetrating the air space of a foe without permission was an act of war – and that he did not intend, the CIA’s surveillance program notwithstanding.
Today, by contrast, Washington invades the economic space of dozens of foreign nations with alacrity. In fact, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC) proudly lists 30 different sanctions programs including ones on Belarus, Burundi, Cuba, Congo, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Venezuela, Yemen and Zimbabwe – along with the more visible programs against the alleged malefactors of Iran, Russia and North Korea.
These, too, are the footprints of Empire, not measures of a homeland defense befitting a peace-seeking Republic. That would cost around $250 billion per year, and would rely on an already built and paid for triad nuclear capacity for deterrence, and a modest Navy and Air Force for protection of the nation’s shorelines and air space.
The $500 billion excess in today’s Trump-bloated national security budget of $750 billion is the cost of Empire; it’s the crushing fiscal burden that flows from the Indispensable Nation folly and its calamitously wrong assumption that the planet would descend into chaos without the good offices of the American Empire.
Needless to say, we do not believe that the planet is chaos-prone absent Washington’s ministrations. After all, the historic record from Vietnam through Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Iran suggests exactly the opposite.
More pointedly, the Indispensable Nation meme originates not in the universal condition of mankind and the nation-states into which it has been partitioned, but in the one-time, flukish and historically aberrant circumstances of the 20th century that gave raise to giant totalitarian states in Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia, and the resulting mass murder and oppressions which resulted there from.
But as we will outline in greater detail in Part 2, Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany were not coded into the DNA of humanity – a horror always waiting to happen. To the contrary, they were effectively born and bred in April 1917 when the US entered what was then called the Great War. And it did so for absolutely no reason of homeland security or any principle consistent with the legitimate foreign policy of the American Republic.
So you can put the blame for this monumental error squarely on Thomas Woodrow Wilson – a megalomaniacal madman who was the very worst President in American history; and who took America into war for the worst possible reason – a vainglorious desire to have a big seat at the postwar peace table in order to remake the world as God had inspired him to redeem it.
The truth, however, was that the European war posed not an iota of threat to the safety and security of the citizens of Lincoln NE, or Worcester MA or Sacramento CA. In that respect, Wilson’s putative defense of “freedom of the seas” and the rights of neutrals was an empty shibboleth; his call to make the world safe for democracy, a preposterous pipe dream.
Indeed, the shattered world after the bloodiest war in human history was a world about which Wilson was blatantly ignorant. And remaking it was a task for which he was temperamentally unsuited – even as his infamous 14 points were a chimera so abstractly devoid of substance as to constitute mental play dough. Or, as his alter-ego and sycophant, Colonel House, put it: Intervention positioned Wilson to play “The noblest part that has ever come to the son of man”.
America thus plunged into Europe’s carnage, and forevermore shed its century-long Republican tradition of anti-militarism and nonintervention in the quarrels of the Old World. From Wilson’s historically erroneous turn – there arose at length the Indispensable Nation Folly, which we shall catalogue in the balance of this series.
For now, suffice it to say that there was absolutely nothing noble that came of Wilson’s intervention. It led to a peace of vengeful victors, triumphant nationalists and avaricious imperialists – when the war would have otherwise ended in a bedraggled peace of mutually exhausted bankrupts and discredited war parties on both sides.
By so altering the course of history, Wilson’s war bankrupted Europe and midwifed 20th century totalitarianism in Russia and Germany. These developments, in turn, eventually led to the Great Depression, the Welfare State and Keynesian economics, World War II, the holocaust, the Cold War, the permanent Warfare State and its military-industrial complex.
They also spawned Nixon’s 1971 destruction of sound money, Reagan’s failure to tame Big Government and Greenspan’s destructive cult of monetary central planning. So, too, flowed the Bush’s wars of intervention and occupation, their fatal blow to the failed states in the lands of Islam foolishly created by the imperialist map-makers at Versailles and the resulting endless waves of blowback and terrorism now afflicting the world.
And not the least of the ills begotten in Wilson’s war is the modern rogue regime of central bank money printing, and the Bernanke-Yellen-Powell plague of bubble economics which never stops showering the 1% with the monumental windfalls from central bank enabled speculation."