When the U.S. military boasts of “global reach, global power,” it’s not kidding. As Nick Turse notes in his latest article at TomDispatch.com, that military deployed in one way or another to 149 countries in 2017, roughly 75% of countries on the globe. Talk about reach! Meanwhile, America’s Special Ops forces have more than doubled since 2001, sitting at 70,000 effectives today, the equivalent to five divisions. (Consider it a military within the military.) All of this has come at tremendous cost, with this year’s defense budget sitting at $700 billion–and rising for the foreseeable future.
For all the bucks, what about the bang–what about results? Let’s just say that Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Niger, and other U.S. military interventions haven’t gone well.
Yet there is one country where the U.S. military truly rules; one country which the U.S. military has truly conquered. Where and which? The USA, of course. No matter its losses and frustrations overseas, the U.S. military keeps winning more money and influence here at home. Congress loves it, presidents love it, our culture (mostly) loves it, or at least is urged to “support” it irrespective of results.
It’s not just the trillions of dollars it’s consumed since 9/11 or the extent to which retired generals rule the roost in Washington. Think about popular culture: our sports, our toys, our TV and movies. Kids dress up as soldiers on Halloween. Toys are of the “Call of Duty” variety. In TV shows like “SEAL Team,” Special Forces are all the rage. Hollywood has embraced them too, in movies like “Act of Valor” and the upcoming “12 Strong,” about a small team of American “horse soldiers” in Afghanistan soon after 9/11, riding to the rescue like so many John Waynes.
And one more item, a vitally important one, to consider: there is no talk of peace, anytime, anywhere, in the mainstream media, hence no talk of declining military budgets.
The military has conquered us. Indeed, global military action is a rare area of bipartisan accord in Washington, whether the commander-in-chief is Bush or Obama or Trump.
So, while it’s true the U.S. military is in an astonishing 149 countries, the one that really matters is the USA. It may lose in Afghanistan or Somalia, but it has won here — and that’s all that really matters to the further growth and vitality of America’s national security state.
William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools and blogs at Bracing Views. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.