Weekly Letter to the President
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ofthisandthat.org. All rights
INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
July 5, 2019
Mr. President: If the fourth of July mid-day parade in Washington D.C. was
depressing, perhaps the heavy, hot and humid weather was to blame. It seemed to
take the life out of the marching bands despite being supplied by reviving swigs of
water. The evening was a different matter.
A far from usual jingoistic display of military hardware and aircraft flyovers with the
president orchestrating the event and supported, as the occasion warranted, by a
military band was the order of the day. News leaks have it that military chiefs were not
too keen on the president's plans; hence the small numbers of aircraft. There is a
good reason. If the military appears too strong and too advanced, -- and it is -- the
public is less likely to support new hardware development programs.
Defense spending is by far the largest category of discretionary spending by the
Federal government. It is also third overall of expenditures, behind only the required
disbursements for social security and medicare. The U.S. spends not only more on
defense than any other country in the world, it spends more than the next seven
countries combined as noted in a May 2019 infographic report by the Peterson
The military also extends its reach through bases across the world as well as through
pacts like NATO. If one was to ask exactly how many foreign bases the U.S. maintains
... 10, 20, 50, 100, bearing in mind that Britain, France and Russia all together have
about 30, an answer in two digits might be most plausible; in fact, the figure is 750 to
over 800 down from a number closer to 1,000. Since a base is loosely defined, the
total can vary depending on the source.
All this firepower at a president's finger tips is tempting. Yes, the authority to declare
war lies with Congress but modern presidents are able to manipulate that body by
fake propaganda (the infamous 'smoking gun will be a mushroom cloud' of the Iraq
war for example) and spurious attacks leading to an emergency response.
Remembering the U.S. is currently involved in a war in Afghanistan, how many years
has the U.S. spent at war since independence from Britain in 1776? The answer is a
mind boggling 222 out of 239 years calculated by Freakonometrics in 2017 and we
have continued to be in a war since then.
All this despite the fact that we have been notoriously unsuccessful in the latest such
adventures: still bogged down in Afghanistan; Iraq run by a Shia government
beholden and closer to Iran; and, of course, Vietnam, which was a defeat par
excellence. Immense firepower wins battles certainly, as the U.S. did in these
countries, though without guarantee of final victory. Nimble asymmetric warfare has a
way of paralyzing large military forces, and a tired nation then seeks peace. None of
this detracts from the sacrifice and heroism of individual soldiers. Were it only for a
worthwhile (in retrospect that is) objective?
What does all this say about Iran? Clearly, it would be the worst of follies to go to war
against battle-hardened forces, in a larger country, with greater military
self-sufficiency. More than all this, the Revolutionary Guard is almost a nascent
guerrilla force armed and ready for asymmetric war and, if it happens, America's next
disaster in blood and treasure. Can we trust Trump to see reason?