Washington DC: War Capital of the World

Holy Moly!

Just imagine if Washington discovered Russia or China had placed 12 spy stations on the Texas border. The beltway pols already foaming at the mouth about the alleged hordes of Nigerians, Albanians, Chinamen and commie agents of Cuba and Daniel Ortega already bursting through America’s borders would be splitting a gut or even suffering serial cardiac arrest.

And that’s to say nothing of triggering a potential nuclear showdown of the type narrowly avoided when Khrushchev backed down to President Kennedy’s insistence in October 1962 that Soviet missiles be removed from Cuba. Mankind narrowly escaped incineration on that occasion, but at least a profound rule of engagement for the nuclear age was established by that narrow miss.

To wit, you don’t put threatening weapons and forces on the doorstep of your nuclear rival. It’s verboten by the raw requirements of human survival and common sense.

That’s why the often forgotten part of the Cuban Missile Crisis occurred, as well. As it transpired, JFK agreed to remove 15 Jupiter missiles fitted with nuclear warheads from Turkey in return for the dismantlement of the Soviet missiles in Cuba, albeit that part of the deal was never publicly acknowledged by Washington.

Moreover, since there was every reason to take the Soviet threat seriously in those times, there wasn’t much Washington-inspired or funded meddling in Czechoslovakia during what turned out to be the failed spring uprising of 1968. Even though the Soviets had invaded Prague with 500,000 Warsaw Pact troops and brutally massacred hundreds of protesters, LBJ had actually planned to proceed with a planned summit with Soviet leader Brezhnev – until he cancelled at the last minute on purely political perception grounds.

Even when the Solidarity Movement in Poland gained huge momentum a decade later, the CIA and other arms of the Warfare State held their fire. Most of the smidgen of aid for the Polish freedom movement came from the Pope and the AFL-CIO.

So the rules of nuclear engagement were adhered to – notwithstanding the terrible tyranny of the Soviet Empire. Yet by the 1980s the west had won the cold war without directly firing a shot in the direction of Moscow or its eastern European vassals. That’s because the Soviet Empire was rotting from within owing to the inherent faults of socialism.

In turn, the self-inflicted demise of the Soviet Union provided the context for a sweeping contraction of the US Warfare State and its global tentacles of intervention, subversion, invasion and occupation. By 1991 when the Soviet Union disappeared into the dustbin of history, in fact, there was just plain no serious threat to America’s homeland security left anywhere on the entire planet.

So the agenda for the putative “Exceptional Nation” should have been leadership of a worldwide campaign for the abolition of nuclear weapons and general disarmament; liquidation of cold war institutions like NATO, SEATO, the Warsaw Pact etc; and defunding of the entire cold war apparatus of propaganda and subversion represented by the likes of Radio Free Europe, the covert action capabilities of the CIA and the interventionist operations of the State Department and Agency for International Development, among others.

In a word, the objective conditions of the early 1990s presented a world-historical opportunity for Washington to become the Peace Capital of the planet. But that was  not to be because during the Reagan Administration a mushrooming clique of neocon war-mongers had grabbed control of national security policy, thereby providing the rationale and political cover for the military-industrial complex to continue extracting huge gobs of fiscal resources.

By the end of the 1980s, therefore, they had already driven a massive, utterly unnecessary increase in defense spending. The last Carter budget had been about $134 billion, but by 1990 the Reagan/Bush administrations had pushed defense spending to upwards of $300 billion. Worse still, inside this huge eruption of the DOD topline there had been funded a sweeping expansion of conventional warfare capacity. That is, the naval, air and land assets needed to undertake wars of intervention and occupation all around the world – ventures that had not been prudent or practical during the Cold War and capabilities which were irrelevant to the Soviet nuclear threat, in any event.

Furthermore, in support of that rejuvenated conventional military intervention capacity there had occurred large increases in the covert operations capabilities of the CIA under the leadership of the truly evil William Casey, as well as expansion of ideological warfare tools at the newly minted National Endowment for Democracy and similar increases in funding for Washington’s broadcasting and propaganda arms.

In all, the national security budget – including international operations and Veterans expense – had stood at $600 billion in today’s dollars (2023 $) in 1990 and could have easily been cut to $300 billion by the mid-1990s under the auspice of a Washington led World Peace campaign.

Alas, nothing such was to be. President Bill Clinton and his fellow graduates of the 1960s anti-Vietnam War protests betrayed the peace movement of their generation when they stumbled into power on the back of war-hawk and CIA operative George H. W. Bush’s gaffes. So instead of slashing the defense budget they maintained nominal dollar levels of spending and instead of dismantling NATO they triggered a relentless expansion toward Russia’s door step in violation of Washington’s solemn promises not to do so at the time of the German reunification.

Accordingly, there was no peace dividend and, more importantly, no dismantling of the Warfare State on the banks of the Potomac. By the last Clinton budget most of the former Warsaw Pact was already in NATO or pending membership, and the total national security budget including international operations and veterans still stood at $602 billion in today’s dollars.

It was off to the races from there, of course. Washington’s misbegotten war on terrorism and serial interventions in the middle east took the constant dollar national security budget to $1.09 trillion by the end of the Bush Administration – a level to which the “peace” candidate of 2008 managed to subtract less than $100 billion by the end of his term.

Likewise, Trump’s campaign pledge to end the Forever Wars was quickly set aside as all the Forever Wars he inherited were continued largely unabated and the NATO status quo changed only by dint of various members pretending to spend a hairline fraction more of their GDP on defense. Even then, the Donald sent the constant dollar national security budget spiraling higher to $1.15 trillion on this side of the pond.

To be sure, “Joe Biden” didn’t spent 50 years in Washington without the war disease fully infecting his limited mental capacities. So the Forever Wars have been escalated and the girth of the Warfare State has gained even more fantastic proportions, weighing in at $1.30 trillion in FY 2024.

And that’s the very heart of the matter. What should be a $400 to $500 billion national security budget at most now stands at three times that level. This is not only fueling crushing increases in the national debt, but, more importantly, continues to assure that what should have been the Peace Capital of the world remains the War Capital of the planet.

Needless to say, a $1.3 trillion national security state is a very bad thing, no matter which geography it happens to occupy. That’s because it inherently embodies a vast military/industrial/intelligence complex that literally depends upon a mission of Global Hegemony to justify what is otherwise an utterly hideous waste of fiscal and economic resources.

Stated differently, only a Global Hegemon needs a $1.3 trillion national security budget. There is no other rationale that would plausibly justify a number even remotely that large.

The objective truth is that there is no power on planet earth than can surmount the great Atlantic and Pacific moats with a massive land, air and sea armada and thereby threaten America’s homeland security militarily. And as for nuclear weapons, keeping the nation’s 3,750 nuclear warheads on deployed status in the nuclear triad or in useable standby form costs about $65 billion per year – a figure that could be raised to $100 billion to upgrade existing delivery systems and thereby remove all doubt.

Beyond that, several hundred billion more to defend the American shorelines and airspace would more than adequately handle the putative threat of Russia, which has only one obsolete aircraft carrier that has been in drydock for repairs for the last several years. And the same goes for China which now has three aircraft carriers, including two ancient rust buckets purchased from the rump of the Soviet Union years ago, and which would collapse instantly in any case if its $3.5 trillion global export market were to be cut-off by war against the USA or Europe.

In short, well more than $500 billion of excess fiscal resources flow into the Warfare State on an annual basis. This provides the fiscal gist for self-perpetuation of this monstrous complex and the financial incentive for a vast lobbying operation by military contractors, beltway consultants, national security think tanks, do-gooder NGOs and an endless phalanx of Deep State agencies and bureaus – all designed to justify what objectively is a hideous waste.

The recent revelations that the CIA has been actively running bases, training programs and intelligence gathering operations on Russia’s very doorstep for the last 10 years tells you why Washington is well and truly the War Capital of the world.

The fact is, Russia isn’t now and wasn’t in 2014 a military threat to the American homeland. For crying out loud, America’s $27 GDP dwarfs Russia’s $2 trillion. It couldn’t remotely field an invasionary armada, which would take $50 trillion of GDP or 25X more, and would never prevail in a nuclear arms race, either.

So why did Washington decide to help overthrow Ukraine’s dully elected government during the Maidan Coup of 2014 and then launch in complete violation of the lessons of 1962 an extensive CIA operation on its border, as revealed this week by the New York Times?

Simple. An institution thriving on $500 billion of pointless funding surely knows its own vulnerability and fears the day when the sleepwalking American electorate chances to awaken from its slumber. So it needs inflated threats, conjured enemies and provoked confrontations.

Fortunately, however, there is a solution to what amounts to the self-licking icecream cone embodied in the nation’s massive Warfare State. To wit, bring the Empire Home and put a strong, informed and courageous statesman in the White House who can put the War Capital of the world out of business before it is too late.

Needless to say, that is not remotely Biden or Trump. The only way forward is with RFK.*

*As a non-profit organization, Antiwar.com is not allowed to endorse candidates.  The above is the opinion of the author.

David Stockman was a two-term Congressman from Michigan. He was also the Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan. After leaving the White House, Stockman had a 20-year career on Wall Street. He’s the author of three books, The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed, The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America, TRUMPED! A Nation on the Brink of Ruin… And How to Bring It Back, and the recently released Great Money Bubble: Protect Yourself From The Coming Inflation Storm. He also is founder of David Stockman’s Contra Corner and David Stockman’s Bubble Finance Trader.