As its economic power wanes, does the US lean harder on the military?
The current economic crisis holds enormous dangers, even beyond its direct threat to jobs, homes, savings, and the well-being of millions of ordinary people in the U.S. The challenge will be, as ever, to find within the dangers the opportunities for positive change.
One rarely acknowledged danger is that while U.S. economic clout in the world is dropping dramatically, there is no concomitant drop in Washington’s drive to remain the dominant power in the world. That means that as U.S. economic power wanes and with it, the diplomatic and political influence that follows money. What’s left is military force.
The militarization of U.S. foreign policy is hardly a new phenomenon – since 9/11, the drive to privilege and empower the Pentagon while sidelining and underfunding the State Department has elevated the military to a primary role in both creating and implementing foreign policy. Even aside from the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. global arms sales this year skyrocketed to $32 billion (almost triple the already excessive $12 billion in 2005 arms sales). The emphasis on militarizing foreign policy overall is evident also in the Bush administration’s push for NATO expansion, arming Poland with a supposedly defensive "anti-missile" system, providing massive military support to Georgia – all acts designed to militarily challenge Russia’s rising economic influence. And as the current financial meltdown leaves Washington with ! fewer economic tools to confront Moscow’s newly expansive oil-fueled wealth and power, such military provocations threaten to become far more common and thus far more dangerous.
As to ignored opportunities, we come back again to those disastrous wars. Just a few days before Congress passed the $700 billion Wall Street bailout bill (which tops $800 billion when all the tax-break sweeteners are added), it passed another massive spending bill with almost no one paying attention. It was the defense [sic] bill: $613 billion for the "regular" military budget, above and beyond this year’s $182 billion bill in direct costs for the actual wars the Pentagon is fighting today.
When we hear about the consequences of the $700-plus Wall Street bailout, we hear a lot about inevitable cuts in other budget items. But the military budget – not to mention the supplemental budgets to continue fighting illegal and useless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – is somehow never on the list of those items that could be cut. The result of these wars is hardly an issue any longer – all experts admit that the occupation of Iraq has not eliminated but rather encouraged and strengthened terrorist forces. Almost 70% of Americans believe the Iraq War should never have been launched; the top British general has recently said directly that the war in Afghanistan can’t be won.
War production doesn’t create real economic health – what do all those fancy missile systems, space weapons, battleships, even tanks and Humvees, produce other than a lot of dead Iraqis and dead Afghans? What better way to "bail out" our battered economy than to provide real jobs to soldiers drafted by lack of opportunities and to redirect the hundreds of billions of war spending into green jobs, rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, training new teachers, and building new schools? And what better place to find the funds to do that than to end the wars – now – and slash the military budget.
Phyllis Bennis is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus and directs the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.
First published October 15, 2008 by Foreign Policy in Focus