The United States has the most powerful military in human history, and it’s not even close.
We spend more money on the military than the next 10 countries combined (seven of which are U.S. allies). We have about 50% of the world’s active aircraft carriers and nuclear warheads. Most shockingly, we have a total of over 800 military bases across 80 countries.
This absurdity was entirely foreseeable. In his 1961 farewell address, Dwight Eisenhower warned of the “military-industrial complex” — the link between profit-minded defense corporations and the politicians who give them contracts.
Sixty years later, the military-industrial complex is stronger than ever. The top defense companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Raytheon rake in billions of dollars in profit each year. They employ millions of Americans across all 50 states, creating an incentive for politicians (ever-conscious of the jobs in their district) to do the bidding of these corporations. More war is a win-win for both sides.
The most striking thing about the military-industrial complex is that its support is bipartisan. The opposition party may rhetorically deride war out of political convenience (think Democrats re: Iraq War circa 2006), but as power switches hands between parties, the prevailing consensus never changes. The U.S. troops have remained in Iraq and Afghanistan under Bush, Obama, Trump, and now Biden. Even in today’s world of bitter gridlock, record-high military budgets pass Congress each year with huge majorities on both sides of the aisle.
The new administration has been yet another disappointment on this front. Biden’s Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin served on the board of Raytheon and currently owns up to $1.7 million dollars in Raytheon stock. Sure enough, Biden has gone on to sign large weapons deals with Chile and Turkey for which Raytheon is the primary contractor.
Despite pledging as Vice President that the U.S. would leave Afghanistan by 2014, Biden is continuing the longest war in U.S. history from the Oval Office. Twenty years and $2 trillion into the conflict, the U.S. has not driven out the Taliban and has no clear definition of victory.
Biden has also failed in his campaign promise to re-enter the U.S. into the Iran nuclear deal, the signature diplomatic accomplishment of the Obama administration. He’s instead demanding “full compliance” from Iran. This is awfully arrogant given that the U.S. broke the deal in the first place by imposing maximum sanctions for the last few years, which only encouraged Iran to invest in its nuclear program. Without a good-faith peace effort, we are only increasing the possibility of war with a Western adversary.
Part of my frustration is that the media does an abysmal job covering these issues. This morning I got a New York Times notification saying “Breaking: Biden to Promote Two Female Generals to Elite Four-Star Commands”. Instead of spending its foreign policy bandwidth on identity-centered fluff pieces, an adversarial media should hold this administration to account for its decisions. With such poor reporting, many Americans are completely unaware that hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent on wars that they likely wouldn’t support.
It is my contention that most Americans have no interest in maintaining a global empire. One YouGov survey indicated that 70% of Americans want to pull our troops out of the Middle East. The average American is no longer delusional enough to believe these geostrategic operations are intended to protect human rights, especially given the U.S.’s active support of dozens of dictatorships.
Furthermore, even amid the anti-Iran drumbeating in right-wing media, Americans have been clear that they want peace over war. A Gallup poll found that 65% of Americans fear that the U.S. will be too quick to use military force against Iran, while a Hill-HarrisX poll found only 24% support military action against Iran.
Yet despite the overwhelming sentiment of the public, true anti-war politicians are an endangered species in Washington. Only a handful of progressive Democrats (Bernie Sanders, Ro Khanna) and libertarian-minded Republicans (Rand Paul, Mike Lee) are willing to buck orthodoxy on military issues by voting against sanctions and large budgets.
My hope is that the few politicians who are correct on these issues can elevate foreign policy into the public discourse. I also hope that sustained activism will put pressure on our leaders to start representing the dovish will of the people. But right now, we have a long way to go.