America’s morbid dependence on war

The author is an associate researcher at the Raoul-Dandurand Chair, where his work focuses on the study and analysis of American politics.

The political year 2023 in the United States began theatrically, in the turmoil and the dispute over the very first and very simple gesture that the new Congress had to make: choose a president in the House of Representatives. This multi-day psychodrama set the tone for what promises to be two years of conflict and obstruction between, on the one hand, the new Republican majority in the House and, on the other hand, the Democratic Senate and Joe Biden’s White House. Not to mention the disturbances that will come from the MAGA spoilsport fringe.

Few more important struggles loom on the horizon than the one over the budget. The threat of the partial closure of the federal government hovers regularly, for lack of agreement on a budget between the parties, which now each hold a right of veto over the decisions of the other.

Republicans will want to challenge a slew of programs favored by Democrats, such as health insurance for the elderly, as Democrats seek to open the floodgates further to fund those same programs. The struggle will be portrayed as fierce, the two parties as diametrically opposed on these issues.

There is nevertheless one point on which Democrats and Republicans agree like thieves, and have done so for years: the army. Incidentally, this is — by far — the biggest slice of the fiscal pie (if we exclude automatic spending like pensions) of the US federal state.

The good agreement is such that no substantive debate on the appropriateness of spending billions (808 precisely for 2023, an increase of 8%) seems possible.

Where is the money going?

The United States military budget for fiscal year 2023 is established in fact over $1 trillion when you include international military aid and veterans pensions. Among the fifteen or so American federal departments (the equivalent of ministries in Canada), including Health, Education, Transport and the Department of State (which directs American diplomacy throughout the planet), the two most important are, year after year, those of Defense… and Veterans Affairs.

The Pentagon budget alone outrun the combined military budgets of the nine military powers following the United States, including China and Russia. US military aid to Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion last winter exceeds Russia’s total military budget. It is also 50 times Canadian military spending.

And, equally remarkably, this infusion of unlimited public funds is accompanied by an equally unparalleled opacity. For decades now, voices have been raised right and left asking for even verification (a audit) of the Pentagon to see how taxpayers’ money is spent there.

Among the handful of supporters of the measure were, during the last Congress, the independent senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, and the libertarian senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul. The two-party establishment, as it does year after year, Congress after Congress, was quick to bury the initiative.

And America’s private media, beginning with cable channels like Fox and CNN, increasingly defined in recent years by their tribal affiliation with one party and their opposition to the other, show little interest in the question. The political conflict between Democrats and Republicans, between left and right, between Trump and anti-Trump, is good for business and generates clicks. A two-party consensus, no matter how worthy of public interest, like $1 trillion in military spending, sells less well. And by the same token hardly even feeds the public debate.

More money, more wars

If it were strictly a matter of managing public funds, that would be one thing. However, there are also very real direct and indirect consequences for war and peace in the world.

Since the beginning of the XXIe century alone, the United States has bombed or invaded nearly 10 countries, the majority of them without the American public even knowing. There is of course Afghanistan and Iraq; but how many people were aware of the American bombardments since the 2000s in Pakistan, Somalia, Syria?

How many people know that one of the most brutal and deadly wars to rage in a decade is the one in Yemen, where the weapons used by Saudi forces, often to kill civilianscame from the United States?

In the early 1990s, at the end of the Cold War, the American Secretary of Defense, a certain Dick Cheney, had set up a strategic plan aimed at “preventing the re-emergence of a new rival” on the international scene.

The plan was aimed, in other words, at ultimate American domination of the planet. Controversial and contested, it had been leaked and had found himself on the first page of New York Times a March 1992.

When 30 years later, in 2022, the Biden administration has itself present its ten-year strategic defense plan, the latter called for the supremacy of American power and values ​​in the world — and it was barely discussed in the public square.

In the mid-2000s and the American invasion of Iraq, a brilliant documentary entitled Why We Fight is out. It traces the rise of what former President Dwight Eisenhower called in his farewell speech the “military-industrial complex”, an expression that has become famous. The point was already clear: it is not a question of a president or a party, the United States is a deeply militaristic country, and it has built structures around the defense industry that have gradually become difficult , even impossible to dispute.

At the heart of the documentary is this statement, striking in its simplicity, from Chalmers Johnson, political scientist and ex-CIA agent: “When war becomes this profitable, I guarantee it: you will see more of it. »

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