The brief stand-off between the House Republican leadership and scores of party rebels was widely seen as embarrassing dysfunction. However, the true ignominy is incoming Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a shameless Trump toady. The GOP holdouts pushed a number of sensible reforms, including cuts in military outlays.
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The possibility of a partial roll-back in the bloated $858 billion Pentagon spending bill approved last month, though still a long shot, is good news for beleaguered taxpayers, despite the wailing and gnashing of teeth by representatives of the military-industrial complex, and their political factotums—hawks ever-ready to subordinate all other U.S. interests to the military. Long ago the Washington foreign policy establishment was captured by the desire to dominate the world rather than defend the American people.
Hysteria about the possibility of slowing the increase in Defense Department outlays is building from right to left on Capitol Hill. Former GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, whose father got out of Vietnam service, then turned uber-hawk and helped destroy Iraq, declared: “Ronald Reagan taught us that weakness is provocative. China and Russia are watching.” Centrist Democrat Rep. Abigail Spanberger went apocalyptic: “As the Chinese Communist Party is increasing its military spending, Ukraine is under siege, and Iran and North Korea are watching, cutting our nation’s defense spending is shortsighted and dangerous.” Tom Malinowski, a progressive Democrat defeated last November, was acerbic: “You can say all day to these people that if we gut defense spending and withdraw from global leadership, Putin and Xi Jinping will win, but they honestly don’t care.”
Even though Congress had greatly exceeded the administration’s request, the White House also denounced the measure. Presidential spokesman Andrew Bates complained that the new rules would make the U.S. “less capable of keeping the American people safe and advancing our national security interests.” Bates added: “This push to defund our military in the name of politics is senseless and out of line with our national security needs.”
U.S. Threats Beyond Our Borders
The fearmongers cited a cavalcade of deadly threats against which America, apparently helpless despite possessing the world’s largest military, must further arm itself. Washington’s enemies? Russia, which might launch its army across the Bering Strait once it finishes off Ukraine. China, set for a maritime invasion of the West Coast after conquering Taiwan. North Korea, ready to launch a nuclear first strike after conquering the South. And Iran, poised to confront America once it annihilates Israel, Saudi Arabia, and its other enemies. Then there are omnipresent terrorists, ready to infiltrate the U.S. and seize control of cities and states. Heck, maybe Americans should double or treble military outlays.
America began as a commercial republic, warned by President Thomas Jefferson to avoid “entangling alliances.” President George Washington made much the same point in his famous Farewell Address: “nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated.”
This advice helped the new nation navigate the seemingly endless wars of the European powers. However, by the end of the 19th century America’s rising power, inflamed by such imperialist warmongers as Albert J. Beveridge and Theodore Roosevelt, led the U.S. into dubious foreign wars in both Asia and Europe. Personal ambition, not national interest, animated such misadventures.
Indeed, President Woodrow Wilson’s maladroit intervention in World War I, in which Americans had no recognizable interest at stake, set the stage for World War II. A vainglorious, arrogant fool, Wilson sacrificed tens of thousands of U.S. lives for his egotistical desire to remake the world, only to fail catastrophically, leading to an even worse conflict into which America was later dragged. Unfortunately, World War II greatly empowered the Soviet Union, forcing Washington’s outsized role during the Cold War to contain communist expansion.
Post Cold War
The USSR’s collapse freed the U.S., or at least should have, from its role as global guardian. The Soviet Union, Warsaw Pact, and Maoist China were gone. America’s allies and friends had long recovered from previous wars. It was time to treat U.S. defense dependents as adults and shift military responsibilities to them. Instead, NATO acted as predicted by Public Choice economics, proposing ever more ridiculous duties, such as promoting student exchanges and battling illicit drugs, to stay in business, before deciding on out-of-area activities and expanding eastward, in violation of promises made to both Soviet and Russian officials. Allied hubris and dishonesty thus contributed to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Washington spent the succeeding three decades with an inflated sense of power and destiny—believing the endless cant about America being the unipower, essential nation, indispensable power, and more. Yet contrary to former secretary of state Madeleine Albright’s self-serving claim that she and fellow members of the Washington Blob “see further … into the future,” they intervened foolishly yet promiscuously. They ravaged multiple nations, caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands, or even more, of others, wasted money prodigiously, about $8 trillion, on “the global war on terrorism” alone, and left destruction and poverty in their wake.
Yet the bipartisan Washington War Party continues to engage in perpetual fear-mongering, claiming that the world is more dangerous than ever for America, as if the nation had not suffered through the Vietnam War, Cuban Missile Crisis, Cold War, Korean War, and World War II. In fact, the U.S. is the most secure great power ever, utterly dominating its own region and enjoying the protection of vast oceans east and west, and weak, pacific neighbors north and south.
America’s Largest Threats
Only two powers, China and Russia, currently possess the means to reach around the world and target America’s homeland, which would result in devastating retaliation. Washington is allied with every other major industrialized power. The main “threats” supposedly facing the U.S. today—China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and assorted terrorists—mostly result from America being “over there.”
Washington is not satisfied with its sphere of influence in the western hemisphere. Instead, U.S. policymakers insist on America’s right to push its European alliance up to Russia’s border and dominate Asian lands and waters bordering China. Imagine if either Moscow or Beijing attempted to do the same to the U.S.
Pyongyang threatens America only to the extent that Washington garrisons South Korea and rings the North with military bases and forces. Similarly, Tehran is an issue in Washington because the latter has circled it with bases, bombers, and ships on behalf of Iran’s enemies, some of which, most notably Saudi Arabia, are both more oppressive and aggressive than Tehran.
As for terrorists, Washington’s war-making has metastasized to 85 different countries. Why do so many people in so many places not only hate the U.S., but seek to harm its citizens? Most seek to retaliate for endless U.S. interventions abroad—backing dictatorial regimes, overthrowing democratic ones, supporting foreign occupations, droning and bombing various lands, and waging war against other peoples. Terrorism is a poor man’s weapon, usually shootings and bombings in response to ground invasions and air attacks. It is so abhorrent because it targets noncombatants, but then, some terrorists make the same claim about Washington’s efforts. Why wouldn’t the families and friends of victims of American atrocities, such as the infamous Kabul drone strike—even if more careless than calculated—hate the U.S. and seek to punish its people?
Change Washington’s behavior and most of its enemies would shrink if not disappear. Even before Russia’s disastrous invasion of Ukraine, Moscow posed no threat to the U.S. Russia and America had no clash of vital interests: to the contrary, Vladimir Putin once had adopted a friendly stance toward Washington, being the first foreign leader to call President George W. Bush after 9/11. In any case, Moscow lacked a truly globe-spanning military and had no means to attack the U.S. other with than nuclear weapons, which would result in its own destruction.
Europe, with a much larger economy and population than Russia, long was capable of deterring whatever threat Moscow might pose. The Europeans just couldn’t be bothered, since they could rely on defense welfare from America. Today, after a Russian attack on Ukraine which everyone assumed would take a couple weeks but is approaching a year of vicious combat, with no end in sight, fevered predictions of the revived Red Army overrunning the continent look not just overwrought but silly. Moscow might still defeat Kyiv, though that appears unlikely, but even then any occupation would be a disaster. Certainly, the Russian military has proved that it is no juggernaut, capable of overrunning Europe and establishing a new empire. Now is the moment for the U.S. to get tough and insist that the Europeans take over responsibility for their own security. That requires America to start doing less.
Which leaves China. It does not directly threaten the U.S. Beijing doesn’t plan a nuclear strike. It isn’t going to stage an amphibious invasion or burrow through the earth to launch a surprise attack. If there is going to be war with China, it will be over Washington’s determination to treat the Asia-Pacific as a U.S. sphere of interest. The American people should debate whether they believe imposing their will on that region is worth war and are willing to accept the high costs and risks of doing so, potentially forever.
In any case, the primary responsibility for defending the region should be borne by the nations located there. Japan is finally committed to substantially increasing military outlays, though it still has much more to do. Taiwan, the most likely target of Chinese military action, has the most to do, since it has been perhaps the most irresponsible of America’s defense dependents, simply presuming Americans would fight and die to prevent foreign conquest. Worse, Taipei has spent its limited funds badly, on prestige weapons rather than defensive arms that could defeat a Chinese attack.
America Could Recalibrate Grand Strategy
However, it is not America’s responsibility to tell friendly governments how they should behave. Rather, the U.S. should tell them what it is prepared to do on their behalf, limiting Washington’s military liability. The rest would be up to them.
Such a concept obviously is a foreign to Washington hawks. One of the silliest responses to the rules changes came from Rep. Tony Gonzales (R-Tex.): “When you have aggressive Russia and Ukraine, you’ve got a growing threat of China in the Pacific—you know, I’m going to visit Taiwan here in a couple of weeks—how am I going to look at our allies in the eye and say, I need you to increase your defense budget, but yet America is going to decrease ours?”
Gonzales gets everything wrong. First, the U.S. already puts in a much greater effort, as measured by military outlays as a share of GDP, than all of its allies except Greece, which is arming against Turkey, not Russia. Second, the only way they will do more is if America does less—what conservative would constantly increase domestic welfare payments in order to convince recipients to work more? Third, other countries should spend more because they, not we, need them to do so. Europe, not America, fears a Russian attack. Taiwan, not the U.S., is threatened by China. Why shouldn’t the nations most at risk do the most for their own defense?
It is not Washington’s responsibility to garrison the world. Washington certainly shouldn’t sacrifice U.S. security to subsidize endless defense dependents, especially those able to take over their own security. At least a few Republicans in the House apparently understand that Uncle Sam shouldn’t double as Santa Claus. It is well past time to begin shifting, not sharing, allied defense burdens. The GOP rules debate is a small but important step in the right direction.
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A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.
The Al U Know
January 11, 2023 at 3:21 pm
Is Bandow’s argument not logical, the logical outcome of our rules-based international order?
Everyone is equal. The mature nations of a like-minded democracy have each of their houses in order. They agreed that we are equal. Equal right to work toward military strength. No longer is it only the purview of the jock to protect the nerd and the introvert from the troubled and angered bully. Some social scientists would decry this as colonial/white privilege. An anthropomorphisized parallel to today’s nations. Which seem tobehave less on holistic principle, and more on Freudian whims. We are all adults in the neighborhood of nations. Self-defense is a community reponsibility.
For survival’s sake, USA, let us all feel and act like we are ‘all in this together’. And Canada, stop saying it like a Dr. Hoe commercial and put more money where that mouth is.
January 11, 2023 at 3:30 pm
Who thinks the military procurement process is efficient?
Who thinks the U. S. should dominate the world?
(Actually, quite a few people, considering strategy documents published by the military, Congress and the White House all call for world domination. Yes, these “strategy papers” all call explicitly for dominating the world.)
Actually, while not explicitly calling for it, these documents implicitly assume the United States should rule the world.
This is a recipe for physical & economic exhaustion via over-extension and bankruptcy… it’s not coincidental that America is drowning in debt… and budget deficits as far as the eye can see.
America needs a full discussion about what our military and geopolitics should be directed toward.
Number one… increase the military’s efficiency and focus its mission… being all things to all people will never works out… and might lead us to defeat.
The regime change specialists… Neoconservatives will never willingly give up their ambitions for endless regime change.
The Sovereign, the American People, must be brought into the discussion…
That’s who has the final say… not a bunch of ideologues who call you traitor when you challenge their grandiose plans to overthrow every country they set their eye on.
Peace through strength does not mean ruling the world… regardless what neocon warhawks tell everybody.
January 11, 2023 at 4:19 pm
He is mad,or unable to link the dots!
January 11, 2023 at 10:20 pm
“If there is going to be war with China, it will be over Washington’s determination to treat the Asia-Pacific as a U.S. sphere of interest.”
I have no significant disagreement with Mr Bandow, however I would rearrange the above observation to read-
when there is a war with China, it’s causation will range back to decisions forced upon the American people decades ago, when a nation state still existed, to the ‘Free Trade’ parties of Gingrich and Clinton, which made China the global manufacturing superpower, built the Maquiladora’s on the US border, and made wealthy those who sold out the American people.
During the US Civil War, civilians whose families had lived in the Shenandoah valley since the time of its settlement regularly found that the US troops burning and looting their farms and homes could not speak a word of English, and in many cases had been keel-hauled directly from migrant vessels arriving only months earlier in New England ports, to be used as shock troops.
In our time, the US Border Patrol requires applicants to either be fluent in a language other than English or to pass a simulated language learning capacity test that supposedly demonstrates an ability to rapidly adopt a language other than English – while not requiring the same English fluency for foreign nationals making entry. For this reason, it is very common in my experience for ‘US’ Border Patrol employees to be foreign-born.
An accurate historical hallmark of the passing of a nation is the onset of its reliance on aliens as a service population, defense force or intermediary. There was no ‘Turkey’ until a very late date in history – the territory of Anatolia was literally given away, little by little, due to the avarice of rulers who wanted temporary service in exchange for a temporary alliance, which had permanent consequences. The same outcome awaits us as well.
Visigoths on the Danube, Huns as ‘Foederati’, or Sarmatians at Hadrians wall – Once any nation begins to rely on aliens for its defense, protection, or sustenance (Chinese manufacturing and 3rd world farm labor), at the behest of schemers who plot momentary gain/enrichment under some guise or justification, a historical metric is reached and the hour glass of failing Empire has already been flipped. Gravity always wins out.
There never was such a thing as ‘free trade’ – it served as a euphemism for the betrayal that its standard bearers deliberately inflicted. Now, as one would expect, the ‘free trade’ standard bearers endevour to point the blame in any other direction.
January 11, 2023 at 10:33 pm
OK, so what part of the budget does the author propose cutting. Here’s what always happens: personnel costs (a large part of the budget) don’t get cut much, just enough to make it more miserable to serve. Procurement doesn’t get cut, because production of major weapons systems is spread out to get support from as many politicians as possible. What always gets cut is the Operations and Maintenance funds, which equate to readiness. Personal experience from the Carter administration: pilots don’t get enough flying hours, the aircraft are not combat ready anyway, there’s insufficient spare parts, etc. We saw this during the “sequestration” years of the Obama administration. My example was for aviation, but all the combat arms are affected similarly.
So, after all the ranting and raving, what, specifically, does the author propose cutting? I’ve been through the “do more with less” and “lean but mean”, and it’s nonsense imposed on the spear carriers who can only vote with their feet.
January 11, 2023 at 10:45 pm
What is the purpose of a military force? To protect the country that makes and hosts it! The U.S. armed forces do far more than that, on a continuing basis since the end of the Soviet Union, and that is not what the founders intended. Any participation in an overseas conflict should be done to achieve victory, and then leave. That is not what we did in Iraq/Afghanistan, and continue to do in places like Syria (what exactly is our purpose there? No one can definitively say.) Yet we would be lucky if the U.S. Army missile defense apparatus could stop one N. Korean ICBM launched our way, much less 100+ Russian and perhaps Chinese ICBM/SLBMs. $800 billion spent year over year and we cannot assuredly stop any of those, still. Why the heck even have a military with that situation in place? And please, no nonsense about ‘we fight them over there so we won’t have to fight here’. (Or worse, that nonsense tripe about ‘we are a global community now’ or however that nauseatingly goes). First of all, fight whom ‘over there’, specifically? The Russians or Chinese? From all of what we have heard, the Russians have had a hard enough time fighting their next door neighbor effectively, and the Chinese are still hard-put to get a dependable force across the Taiwan strait. So how the hell would they ever get a million or two troops *all the way over to American shores*? And NATO? For what, still? The Soviet Union is long gone, we promised Russia afterwards that NATO would not significantly expand (it did!), and the European members of NATO have still overly-leaned on the U.S. to almost completely continue to anchor the alliance anyway. Why can’t they have formed their own replacement alliance by now, with the U.S. ready to contribute forces to an extent only in the most dire of circumstances? (Grow up, Europe, WWII is almost 80 years in the rear-view mirror, and the cold war 30+ years.)
We can almost ditto for S. Korea—-U.S. ground forces there are still very much in range of that renowned N.Korean artillery, a sitting duck for a surprise near-wipeout. These are examples of issues that need to be thoroughly reexamined/readdressed. And I did not even mention Iran, can we even consider a major war against them short of an actual missile attack on the U.S? (Which again, we could not stop right now, either.) The world will be just as well off —maybe better off—-without U.S. forces just all over the place. We cannot afford it anymore.
January 12, 2023 at 7:41 am
God bless people in the world.
Albert J. Beveridge doesn’t believe God created each of us, he believes that he is elite. Nazis and Communist Party think so, too.
The chosen mentioned in Bible is confess their sin and repent to God, not to receive privilege, not greater than other, not elite.
But USC US-CHINA Institute is also promoting the thought of atheism, describing the US senators who violate Ten Commandments as imperialism.
But pursuing the major interests of United States is also violating Ten Commandments, because the reason for United States to declare war on CCP is to against atheism and defend people in America. It’s not about value or interest, but is about faith and morality.
God bless America.
January 12, 2023 at 8:54 am
Lowering defense spending in these dangerous times is insanity. The US nuclear triage has not been modernized for nearly half a century, and Russia and China are rapidly increasing their nuclear strength, even as they form what amounts to an alliance against the US. China and Russia are both increasing the size of their Navy. Weakness only encourages aggression, as Biden found out in Ukraine. This would be a good time for a significant increase, not a decrease, in Defense spending. We can fund it by cutting the size of the DOJ and IRS by 90% and eliminating all woke doctrine within the government.
January 12, 2023 at 9:14 am
Yes, what a great idea to cut defense spending when Russia is invading Eastern European countries, China is marching towards invading Taiwan in the next few years, North Korea is back to testing ballistic missiles, and Iran has confirmed it will develop hypersonic missiles.
January 12, 2023 at 9:31 am
This is a assessment if reasonable if your only concern is a physical invasion of the U.S. But that is not what we’re concerned about. We don’t want China invading and controlling the eastern Pacific. We don’t want Russia invading and controlling eastern Europe, which they are currently attempting. We don’t want totalitarian governments gaining physical, economic and cultural ground.
The Rational Thinker
January 12, 2023 at 10:07 am
I agree in large part with the author. Unfortunately, I believe the vast majority of Americans, groomed into believing what the media pundits tell them to believe, will react with skepticism at best and hostility at worst. The notions of “free and fair trade” will be brought up, democracy this and democracy that… the usual platitudes given to the powers that promulgated them in the first place will be the first and second lines of defense to what is, in the cold light of intelligence, a thoroughly irrational and self-destructive US foreign policy.
But a segment of the population, which often derisively refers to other Americans as “sheep”, will bleat out the mantra of the media elite. “We want democracy!” But why export it abroad while thoroughly trashing it at home?
And more to the point, we’ve seen how effective decades of turning to the military to define our foreign policy has furthered American goals. In short, the military sucks at just about everything it’s done for the past twenty years and that includes fighting and winning wars because, hate to break it to everyone, there was a lot of fighting, but not much winning. This whole hullaballoo over China has less to do with freedom and trade because (a) we’re already clamping down on women and political opponents back home like some ersatz wannabe Iran and (b) why would China disrupt trade in the Far East and IOR when most of it comes from or goes to them?
This is more about assuaging the bruised egos of “America’s Warriors” who despite being told that they are the best couldn’t even beat a bunch of half-rate militia tooling around in pickup trucks waving Lee-Enfields over their heads… and we’re willing to spend trillions of dollars to make them feel better about themselves.
January 12, 2023 at 12:05 pm
The author focuses on an invasion of the US, and completely ignores treaty obligations. He addresses the Pacific, while ignoring that a vast majority of our free trade travels through potentially contested waters near China. He ignores that procurement of a total generation of replacement equipment was skipped due to 15+ years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the equipment of the Reagan buildup, which has coasted on fumes for over a decade with upgrades rather than replacement, is now at end of life and cannot be extended. Our nuclear triad is tired and at end of life. Minuteman 3, designed for a ten year life, has been updated and refreshed to get fifty years. Yes, you read that right. Try getting spare parts for something 50 years old, like a 1970-era tv. Good luck with that, and these items have to be nuke-spec. Most of this stuff isn’t even made anymore.
And then there is our Navy. Never meeting force size requirements, constantly downsized (with the Army) from a simultaneous two-war requirement to one and hold one, to now barely one, is ancient, covered with rust. Our repair facilities are old (generally from WWI or before) and falling apart, and currently overwhelmed with repair work from ancient ships or doing upgrades to those younger platforms that haven’t yet fallen apart.
And this author suggests cuts. Bail out of SK and Europe. And what will happen? Our allies like South Korea and Japan will develop nuclear weapons.
These are not serious suggestions by the author.
January 12, 2023 at 1:28 pm
This was an extremely intelligent and rational piece.
It is also irrelevant, because the United States does not have a defense department. The country is being invaded by the surplus population of the third world, specifically because the ruling class wants cheap labor and high rents and the kind of bulk economic growth that does not benefit the average person (think India, with the sixth largest economy in the world and a MATERIAL standard of living inferior to late medieval England).
By 1988 the United States had become the greatest industrial power in the world, and despite the “robber barons” wages were rising. Starting in 1988 – but not really taking off until 1900 – the rich imported the surplus population from then third-world Europe and created a population boom. Poverty spiked, crime spiked, chronic malnutrition spiked, child labor spiked… And this ended with the country in ruins (no, mass immigration was not ended at 1924, but after the crash of 29 – but demographic momentum effects would not have lessened until sometime in the 1930’s). During the immigration time-out of the 1940’s, 1950’s, and the first half of the 1960’s America rebuilt. Post-1965 immigration has been accompanied by a stagnation and decline in living standards, but this was moderate. What’s happening now is not moderate, and unlike last time, if it proceeds to collapse we might not ever recover. What China does or does not do to Taiwan concerns me not at all.
“Defense”? Ha! Smedly Butler, where are you when we need you now?
January 12, 2023 at 3:43 pm
No, we do not need to be in Europe or supporting Ukraine. Yes, we need to be involved in the China sea and the pacific. There are too many trading partners that could be cut off from America if the Chinese fully control the area. Cut off our trade routes and we will die surely as if we are invaded.
Mark J Hafner
January 12, 2023 at 6:03 pm
Doug should win the Vladimir Putin award for propaganda excellence.
First off, America shouldn’t be fighting all conflicts all the time. But in this case, Ukraine and its people are fighting the war. We are only supplying the weapons and providing aid. Most of the weapons are “hand me downs” and the payback for the investment has been outstanding.
Secondly NATO has been not only successful in protecting Europe. It has kept the peace between nations that otherwise would have gone head to head. Spain vs England, Turkey vs Greece and Germany vs everyone. It has been so wildly successful that Finland and Sweden want to join.
Lastly, if China was to invade Taiwan, would Doug say it wasn’t in our interest? Would we be put in a binary choice of fighting China or walking away with our tails between our legs. Maybe the concept of supplying arms isn’t so awful after all is it Doug?