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April 17, 2017
Beware the Dogs of War: Is the American Empire on the Verge of Collapse?
John W. Whitehead
Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because
it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from
these proceed debts and taxes… known instruments for bringing the many under the
domination of the few.… No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual
warfare. — James Madison
Waging endless wars abroad (in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and now Syria) isn’t
making America—or the rest of the world—any safer, it’s certainly not making America
great again, and it’s undeniably digging the U.S. deeper into debt.
In fact, it’s a wonder the economy hasn’t collapsed yet.
Indeed, even if we were to put an end to all of the government’s military meddling and
bring all of the troops home today, it would take decades to pay down the price of
these wars and get the government’s creditors off our backs. Even then, government
spending would have to be slashed dramatically and taxes raised.
You do the math.
The government is $19 trillion in debt: War spending has ratcheted up the nation’s
debt. The debt has now exceeded a staggering $19 trillion and is growing at an
alarming rate of $35 million/hour and $2 billion every 24 hours. Yet while defense
contractors are getting richer than their wildest dreams, we’re in hock to foreign
nations such as Japan and China (our two largest foreign holders at $1.13 trillion and
$1.12 trillion respectively).
The Pentagon’s annual budget consumes almost 100% of individual income tax
revenue. If there is any absolute maxim by which the federal government seems to
operate, it is that the American taxpayer always gets ripped off, especially when it
comes to paying the tab for America’s attempts to police the globe. Having been co-
opted by greedy defense contractors, corrupt politicians and incompetent government
officials, America’s expanding military empire is bleeding the country dry at a rate of
more than $57 million per hour.
The government has spent $4.8 trillion on wars abroad since 9/11, with $7.9 trillion in
interest: That’s a tax burden of more than $16,000 per American. Almost a quarter of
that debt was incurred as a result of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and
Syria. For the past 16 years, these wars have been paid for almost entirely by
borrowing money from foreign nations and the U.S. Treasury. As the Atlantic points
out, we’re fighting terrorism with a credit card. According to the Watson Institute for
Public Affairs at Brown University, interest payments on what we’ve already borrowed
for these failed wars could total over $7.9 trillion by 2053.
The government lost more than $160 billion to waste and fraud by the military and
defense contractors: With paid contractors often outnumbering enlisted combat
troops, the American war effort dubbed as the “coalition of the willing” has quickly
evolved into the “coalition of the billing,” with American taxpayers forced to cough up
billions of dollars for cash bribes, luxury bases, a highway to nowhere, faulty
equipment, salaries for so-called “ghost soldiers,” and overpriced anything and
everything associated with the war effort, including a $640 toilet seat and a $7600
Taxpayers are being forced to pay $1.4 million per hour to provide U.S. weapons to
countries that can’t afford them. As Mother Jones reports, the Pentagon’s Foreign
Military Finance program “opens the way for the US government to pay for weapons
for other countries—only to ‘promote world peace,’ of course—using your tax dollars,
which are then recycled into the hands of military-industrial-complex corporations.”
The U.S. government spends more on wars (and military occupations) abroad every
year than all 50 states combined spend on health, education, welfare, and safety. In
fact, the U.S. spends more on its military than the eight highest-ranking nations with
big defense budgets combined. The reach of America’s military empire includes close
to 800 bases in as many as 160 countries, operated at a cost of more than $156
billion annually. As investigative journalist David Vine reports, “Even US military
resorts and recreation areas in places like the Bavarian Alps and Seoul, South Korea,
are bases of a kind. Worldwide, the military runs more than 170 golf courses.”
Now President Trump wants to increase military spending by $54 billion. Promising “an
historic increase in defense spending to rebuild the depleted military of the United
States,” Trump has made it clear where his priorities lie, and it’s not with the American
taxpayer. As The Nation reports, “On a planet where Americans account for 4.34
percent of the population, US military spending accounts for 37 percent of the global
Add in the cost of waging war in Syria (with or without congressional approval), and
the burden on taxpayers soars to more than $11.5 million a day. Ironically, while
presidential candidate Trump was vehemently opposed to the U.S. use of force in
Syria, as well as harboring Syrian refugees within the U.S., he had no problem
retaliating against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on behalf of Syrian children killed
in a chemical attack. The cost of launching a 59 Tomahawk missile-strike against
Syria? It’s estimated that the missiles alone cost $60 million. Mind you, this is the
same man, while campaigning for president, who warned that fighting Syria would
signal the start of World War III against a united Syria, Russia and Iran. Already oil
prices have started to climb as investors anticipate an extended conflict.
Clearly, war has become a huge money-making venture, and the U.S. government,
with its vast military empire, is one of its best buyers and sellers.
Yet what most Americans—brainwashed into believing that patriotism means
supporting the war machine—fail to recognize is that these ongoing wars have little to
do with keeping the country safe and everything to do with enriching the military
industrial complex at taxpayer expense.
The rationale may keep changing for why American military forces are in Afghanistan,
Iraq, Pakistan and now Syria. However, the one that remains constant is that those
who run the government—including the current president—are feeding the appetite of
the military industrial complex and fattening the bank accounts of its investors.
Case in point: President Trump plans to “beef up” military spending while slashing
funding for the environment, civil rights protections, the arts, minority-owned
businesses, public broadcasting, Amtrak, rural airports and interstates.
In other words, in order to fund this burgeoning military empire that polices the globe,
the U.S. government is prepared to bankrupt the nation, jeopardize our servicemen
and women, increase the chances of terrorism and blowback domestically, and push
the nation that much closer to eventual collapse.
Clearly, our national priorities are in desperate need of an overhauling.
As Los Angeles Times reporter Steve Lopez rightly asks:
Why throw money at defense when everything is falling down around us? Do we
need to spend more money on our military (about $600 billion this year) than the next
seven countries combined? Do we need 1.4 million active military personnel and
850,000 reserves when the enemy at the moment — ISIS — numbers in the low tens
of thousands? If so, it seems there's something radically wrong with our strategy.
Should 55% of the federal government's discretionary spending go to the military and
only 3% to transportation when the toll in American lives is far greater from failing
infrastructure than from terrorism? Does California need nearly as many active
military bases (31, according to militarybases.com) as it has UC and state university
campuses (33)? And does the state need more active duty military personnel
(168,000, according to Governing magazine) than public elementary school teachers
Obviously, there are much better uses for your taxpayer funds than trillions of dollars
being wasted on war. The following are just a few ways those hard-earned dollars
could be used:
$270 billion to repair U.S. public schools, and twice that much to modernize them.
$120 billion a year to fix the nation’s crumbling infrastructure. With 32% of the nation’
s major roadways in poor or mediocre condition, it’s estimated that improving the
nation’s roads and bridges would require $120 billion a year through 2020, although it
will take “many trillions ... to fix the country's web of roads, bridges, railways, subways
and bus stations.”
$251 million for safety improvements and construction for Amtrak.
$690 million to care for America’s 70,000 aging veterans.
$11 billion wasted or lost in Iraq in just one year could have paid 220,000 teachers’
The yearly cost of stationing just one soldier in Iraq could have fed 60 American
$30 billion per year to end starvation and hunger around the world.
$11 billion per year to provide the world—including our own failing cities—with clean
Use the $10 billion spent every year to provide arms, equipment, training and
advice internationally to more than 180 countries to start paying down the
overwhelming $19 trillion national debt. This figure doesn’t include the hundreds of
billions spent each year on maintaining the U.S. military presence around the globe.
As long as “we the people” continue to allow the government to wage its costly,
meaningless, endless wars abroad, the American homeland will continue to suffer: our
roads will crumble, our bridges will fail, our schools will fall into disrepair, our drinking
water will become undrinkable, our communities will destabilize, and crime will rise.
Here’s the kicker, though: if the American economy collapses—and with it the last
vestiges of our constitutional republic—it will be the government and its trillion-dollar
war budgets that are to blame.
Of course, the government has already anticipated this breakdown.
That’s why the government has transformed America into a war zone, turned the
nation into a surveillance state, and labelled “we the people” as enemy combatants.
For years now, the government has worked with the military to prepare for widespread
civil unrest brought about by “economic collapse, loss of functioning political and legal
order, purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency, pervasive public health
emergencies, and catastrophic natural and human disasters.”
Having spent more than half a century exporting war to foreign lands, profiting from
war, and creating a national economy seemingly dependent on the spoils of war, the
war hawks long ago turned their profit-driven appetites on us, bringing home the
spoils of war—the military tanks, grenade launchers, Kevlar helmets, assault rifles,
gas masks, ammunition, battering rams, night vision binoculars, etc.—and handing
them over to local police, thereby turning America into a battlefield.
This is how the police state wins and “we the people” lose.
Eventually, however, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the
American People, all military empires fail.
At the height of its power, even the mighty Roman Empire could not stare down a
collapsing economy and a burgeoning military. Prolonged periods of war and false
economic prosperity largely led to its demise. As historian Chalmers Johnson predicts:
The fate of previous democratic empires suggests that such a conflict is
unsustainable and will be resolved in one of two ways. Rome attempted to keep its
empire and lost its democracy. Britain chose to remain democratic and in the process
let go its empire. Intentionally or not, the people of the United States already are well
embarked upon the course of non-democratic empire.
This is the “unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-
industrial complex” that President Dwight Eisenhower warned us more than 50 years
ago not to let endanger our liberties or democratic processes. Eisenhower, who
served as Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Europe during World War II,
was alarmed by the rise of the profit-driven war machine that emerged following the
war—one that, in order to perpetuate itself, would have to keep waging war.
We failed to heed his warning.
Yet as Eisenhower recognized, the consequences of allowing the military-industrial
complex to wage war, exhaust our resources and dictate our national priorities are
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the
final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and
are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the
sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of
one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is
two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully
equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway. We pay for a single
fighter with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new
homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people. This, I repeat, is the best way
of life to be found on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at
all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from
a cross of iron.
Wake up, America. There’s not much time left before we reach the zero hour.
John W. Whitehead is a constitutional attorney and founder president of The