The Cost of Empire

With all these generals being called out of retirement to serve as Donald Trump’s “civilian” advisers, whether it’s General James “Mad Dog” Mattis as Secretary of Defense or General Mike Flynn (the real mad dog) as National Security Adviser, it’s difficult to envision the American empire being shrunk anytime soon. The U.S. military is overcommitted around the world, attenuating its strength even as the American taxpayer foots the bill to the tune of over $600 billion a year, not including nuclear weapons, veterans affairs, interest on the national debt related to war and defense spending, and so on.

With its endless wars and global adventurism, the U.S. is slowly bankrupting itself even as President-elect Trump promises higher military spending and more toughness abroad. Imperial over-commitment, for the historically-minded, recalls the fate of the Roman empire. Many moons ago, the classicist Steven Willett wrote the following words to me, words that America’s militarists and imperialists would be wise to read – and heed:

My personal concern is the misallocation of our resources in futile wars and global military hegemony. We are acting under the false belief that the military can and should be used as a foreign policy tool. The end of US militarism is bankruptcy. I agree with [Andrew] Bacevich’s recommendation that the US cut military spending 6% a year for 10 years. The result would be a robust defensive military with more freed-up resources for infrastructure, education, research and alternative energy. Our so-called defense budget is a massive example of what economists call an opportunity cost.

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Islamophobia Must be Fought and Defeated

When I was a lieutenant colonel on active duty, I supervised an officer in the U.S. Air Force who was (and is) an Iraqi-American. He came to the US as a boy after President George H.W. Bush’s call to the Shia to revolt against Saddam in the aftermath of Desert Storm, which was ruthlessly suppressed by Saddam as Bush and company did nothing.

As an Iraqi-American in uniform, he served as an interpreter attached to the 101st Airborne in Iraq in 2004, if memory serves–dangerous times indeed for US troops in Iraq.

He wrote to me, rightly outraged, after Ben Carson made his anti-Muslim comments back in September of 2015 during the presidential primary season. It made him so sad, so angry, as a US Air Force veteran and as a Muslim-American to hear such ignorance, such bias, such Islamophobia. And it made me angry as well.

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Two Points About the Hillary Clinton Email Fiasco

Much is being made of Hillary Clinton’s private email server, which she used when she was Secretary of State. To me, the real issue is not that Hillary endangered national security by sending classified information in the clear. No – the real issue is that the Clintons act as if they are above the rules and laws that apply to “the little people.” They are superior and smug, totally devoted to themselves and their pursuit of power and the privileges that come with it. It’s a matter of character, in other words. Hillary’s evasiveness, her lack of transparency, her self-righteousness, her strong sense of her own rectitude, make her a dangerous candidate for the presidency.

My second point is this: The issue of classification should be turned on its head. The real issue is not that Hillary potentially revealed secrets. No – the real issue is that our government keeps far too much from us. Our government uses security classification not so much to keep us safe, but to keep the national security state safe – safe from the eyes of the American people.

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At the Pentagon, Nothing Succeeds Like Failure

When it comes to the Pentagon, nothing succeeds like failure. That is the message of William Hartung’s latest article at TomDispatch.com. The Pentagon, Hartung notes, continues to receive massive funding from the American taxpayer, even as its various wars drag on, seemingly without end. Hartung, who wrote a book on Lockheed Martin and the military-industrial complex, has a knack for revealing the latest Pentagon follies. Even as you read his latest at TomDispatch.com, I’d like to add two more items to his list:

1. Washington Think Tanks: Perhaps you’ve heard of them, centers for thinking about national defense, hiring the best and the brightest to come up with disinterested recommendations to safeguard America. Ha! A few days ago, The National Interest ran an article on what these think tanks were proposing, the “latest fashions in warfighting,” as the article’s title put it. Please note there’s no “fashion” in peacemaking or war-ending.

Four out of the five think tanks featured in the article were in basic agreement. “Deterrence” had to be based on massive investments in offensive weaponry. There was much agreement as well on modernizing America’s nuclear arsenal, on the need to feature more drones and other unmanned platforms, on air power and power projection, as well as support for the wildly expensive F-35 jet fighter. In sum, more of the same at the Pentagon, only more.

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Why Is Petraeus an Expert on Mosul?

General (retired) David Petraeus was on PBS the other day to explain the current Iraqi offensive on Mosul. Sure, his military “surges” in Iraq and Afghanistan had no staying power, and he disgraced himself by sharing classified information with his mistress during an extramarital affair, but nevertheless let’s call on him as an unbiased “expert” on all things military. Right?

Anyway, I thought the following words of Petraeus were revealing:

But that’s the extent of what we [the U.S.] can do [in Iraq today]. We can encourage, we can nudge, we can cajole [the Iraqi military and Kurdish forces]. We can’t force. And it is going to have to be Iraqis at the end of the day that come together, recognizing that, if they cannot, fertile fields will be planted for the planting of the seeds of ISIS 3.0, of further extremism in Iraq.

Wow. There’s no sense here that the US is to blame for planting the seeds of Iraqi extremism (or, at the very least, fertilizing them) in those “fertile fields.” Overthrowing Saddam Hussein in 2003 and demobilizing Iraqi military forces predictably left a power vacuum that facilitated factionalism and extremism in Iraq, which was only exacerbated by an extended and mismanaged US occupation. Petraeus’s “Surge” in 2007 papered over some of the worst cracks, but only temporarily, a fact that Petraeus himself knew (consider all his caveats about “gains” being “fragile” and “reversible”).

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Ignorance and Dishonesty: Trump, Hillary, and Nuclear Genocide

Should the United States reject the “first use” of nuclear weapons? That question was put to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during their first debate. Colonel (retired) Andrew Bacevich asks us to take their answers seriously in his latest insightful essay at TomDispatch.com, which I urge you to read here in full.

Trump was asked to respond first, and his rambling answer, I thought, showed the evidence of someone who had crammed for a test. He was desperate to show he knew something – anything – about America’s nuclear forces (here some may recall how Trump obviously knew little about America’s nuclear triad during the Republican primary debates). So Trump rambled on about obsolete B-52s flown by the sons and grandsons of previous pilots, a non sequitur since the B-52 has been continuously upgraded with new engines, advanced avionics, the latest in high-tech weaponry, and despite their age they’re still more than capable of doing the job. But somebody must have told Trump to use the B-52’s age as a talking point, and he was determined to get it in.

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