Once in a while one of the videos somebody emails me a link to turns out to be well worth watching. Such is this one. In it a former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union tries to explain to Vladimir Putin why new U.S. missile bases near the border of Russia should not be understood as threatening. He explains that the motivation in Washington, D.C., is not to threaten Russia but to create jobs. Putin responds that, in that case, the United States could have created jobs in peaceful industries rather than in war.
Putin may or may not be familiar with U.S. economic studies finding that, in fact, the same investment in peaceful industries would create more jobs than does military spending. But he is almost certainly aware that, in U.S. politics, elected officials have, for the better part of a century, only been willing to invest heavily in military jobs and no others. Still, Putin, who may also be familiar with how routine it has become for Congress members to talk about the military as a jobs program, appears in the video a bit surprised that someone would offer that excuse to a foreign government fixed in U.S. sights.
Timothy Skeers who sent me the video link commented: “Maybe Khrushchev should have just told Kennedy he was just trying to create jobs for Soviet citizens when he put those missiles in Cuba.” Imagining how that would have played out may help people in the United States to grasp how their elected officials sound to the rest of the world.
That one main motivation for U.S. military expansion in Eastern Europe is “jobs,” or rather, profits, is almost openly admitted by the Pentagon. In May the Politico newspaper reported on Pentagon testimony in Congress to the effect that Russia had a superior and threatening military, but followed that with this: “‘This is the “Chicken-Little, sky-is-falling” set in the Army,’ the senior Pentagon officer said. ‘These guys want us to believe the Russians are 10 feet tall. There’s a simpler explanation: The Army is looking for a purpose, and a bigger chunk of the budget. And the best way to get that is to paint the Russians as being able to land in our rear and on both of our flanks at the same time. What a crock.”
Politico then cited a less-than-credible “study” of Russian military superiority and aggression and added:
“While the reporting about the Army study made headlines in the major media, a large number in the military’s influential retired community, including former senior Army officers, rolled their eyes. ‘That’s news to me,’ one of these highly respected officers told me. ‘Swarms of unmanned aerial vehicles? Surprisingly lethal tanks? How come this is the first we’ve heard of it?’”
It’s always the retired officials speaking truth to corruption, inlcuding retired Ambassador Jack Matlock in the video. Money and bureaucracy are euphemized as “jobs,” and their influence is real but still explains nothing. You can have money and bureaucracy promote peaceful industries. The choice to promote war is not a rational one. In fact, it is well described by a U.S. writer in the New York Times projecting U.S. attitudes onto Russia and Putin:
“The strategic purpose of his wars is war itself. This is true in Ukraine, where territory was a mere pretext, and this is true of Syria, where protecting Mr. Assad and fighting ISIS are pretexts too. Both conflicts are wars with no end in sight because, in Mr. Putin’s view, only at war can Russia feel at peace.”
This was, in fact, how the New York Times reported last October on the event from which the video linked above is taken. (More here.) I condemn the Russian bombing of Syria all the time, including on Russian media on almost a weekly basis, but if there is a nation that is always at war it is the United States, which backed a right-wing anti-Russia coup in Ukraine and now refers to the Russian response as irrational war-making.
The wisdom of the New York Times writer, like the wisdom of Nuremberg, is selectively applied in a hostile manner, but still wise. The purpose of war is indeed war itself. The justifications are always pretexts.