A ‘Sustainable’ Empire?

If only people were chaining themselves to the White House fence to protest our outrageously extravagant military budget instead of demanding the right to join the armed forces of a country that spends more on “defense” than all other nations of the world combined.

Ah well. We live in a highly imperfect world, a Bizarro World where up is down, morality is turned on its head, and common sense has fled. Oh, but there are certain compensations: we may be low on morality, but we’re high on technology. We have devices that can measure our madness down to the tenth percentile, such as this handy dandy interactive calculator published by the New York Times which challenges readers to balance the federal budget themselves.

This being the New York Times, the biases of the Establishment permeate the options we are presented with. For example, the very first option is cutting our $17 billion “foreign aid” budget – except that US outlays to foreign governments are far greater than that mere pittance.

To get the real number, try multiplying that $17 billion by 100. The Times‘ figure doesn’t cover, say, aid to Pakistan, or the maintenance of US military bases abroad (which are subsidies to those governments, as well as our own military contractors and exporters).

Is the tremendous cost of propping up the Afghan “government” categorized as “foreign aid”? Of course not, that goes under the rubric of the Defense Department and dozens of other US government agencies. And the Times’ estimate of the costs of foreign aid don’t take into account the covert money pipeline stretching out from Washington to points all across the world: bribes, secret slush funds, black market funding funneled into black ops – not to mention the costs of training and equipping the administrative bureaucracy to maintain our far-flung colonies and protectorates, both at home and abroad. The multiple bureaucratic fiefdoms, mostly created during the cold war, which administer our foreign aid program – USAID, various Development Banks, propaganda outfits like Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and special interest projects like the trans-Caspian “Great Silk Road” oil pipeline project, etc. – are themselves a drain on the public treasury that could be easily eliminated.

In addition, there are special cases, i.e. aid to Israel, the single biggest item in the official foreign aid budget. Unlike other countries feeding off the US gravy train, which get earmarked funds in quarterly installments, the Israelis get their loot all at once, and can spend it as they please, i.e. on subsidizing domestic industries instead of buying weapons from, say, the US (which is usually a condition of aid to the rest of our clients). When these factors are calculated into the equation, it’s clear the usual estimates of $3.5 billion a year, give or take a billion, are considerably underestimated.

Another option in the calculus of the Times‘ budget reduction equation is to “Reduce military to pre-Iraq War size and further reduce troops in Asia and Europe,” a proposition embedded in a whole host of interventionist assumptions. One is that the size of the military before we foolishly invaded Iraq (and Afghanistan) wasn’t already bloated beyond any legitimate need for defending the continental United States. In any case, we are told that

This option, according to the bipartisan Sustainable Defense Task Force, ‘would cap routine U.S. military presence in Europe and Asia at 100,000 personnel, which is 26 percent below the current level and 33 percent below the level planned for the future. All told, 50,000 personnel would be withdrawn.’ The option would also reduce the standing size of the military as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down.”

Why do we need 100,000 troops in Europe – is Russia, an economic basket case whose population is rapidly shrinking, getting ready to invade Poland, annex Finland, and rebuild the Berlin Wall? As for the alleged “winding down” of the Iraq and Afghan wars, dream on, my friends, dream on….

We don’t need to station a single American soldier in Europe. Why should American taxpayers subsidize the “defense” of rich Western industrialized nations that aren’t under threat of conventional military attack in the first place?

I’ll tell you why: to subsidize the American military-industrial complex, which profits from the ever-expanding US empire – at taxpayers’ expense.

This “sustainable” military budget – which would supposedly cut $25 billion in 2015 and $49 billion in 2030– wants to sustain the empire on the cheap. But America’s imperial delusions are the cause of her current predicament, and the very hubris that makes the Establishment blind to this reality is the core of the problem. Until and unless we give up the idea that we are the world’s policeman, we cannot and will not save ourselves from imminent bankruptcy.

Reducing our spending on the expansion of our nuclear arsenal – which already is large enough and deadly enough to kill every living thing on earth several times over – would also save us a pretty penny ($19 billion and $38 billion, in 2015 and 2030 respectively). But the paltry proposal described by the Times, which still operates within the defunct cold war paradigm, envisions merely reducing the number of nuclear weapons to 1,050, from 1,968, and making other relatively minor adjustments – relative, that is, to revising our strategic assumptions about the nature of war and the requirements of American national security in the twenty-first century.

Without challenging the central assumptions of cold war era nuclear strategy – the likelihood of a nuclear showdown between either the US and the Russians, or with some other nuclear-armed adversary on a par with us – we will never achieve true military and economic security. As the great Old Right polemicist Garet Garrett put it, “there is no security at the top of the world” – and the loss of our economic security is now and always has been the key to understanding why our global empire is America’s Achilles heel. If the Republicans are serious about cutting waste in our misnamed “defense” budget, they’ll approve the START treaty proposed by President Ronald Reagan, and start eliminating weapons that pose a deadly danger in a world where terrorism and not the Kremlin poses the main threat to our security. The less these radioactive monsters are laying around, the safer we’ll all be.

A proposal to reduce the battle fleet of our navy from 285 to 235 would save $19 billion and $24 billion in 2015 and 2030 respectively. Here, again, the globalist paradigm – which compels us to establish military commands for every section of the world, divvying up the world into provinces to be watched over by our armed forces – remains intact. This latter-day version of the Spanish Armada exists to project American power all over the world – that was the creed of the first American imperialists, Teddy Roosevelt and the adherents of Alfred Thayer Mahan, whose book, The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, was the bible of the expansionist faction at the turn of the twentieth century. Once we reject the idea of military expansionism, and refocus our foreign policy on the defense of America and legitimate American interests, the importance of sea power is translated into the primacy of commercial sea power.

No, we can do better than this – much better. Get rid of the regional commands: reorient our defense policy into one that puts America first, not the security of Japan or the territorial integrity of some godforsaken sheikdom.

Another option, canceling or delaying new weapons projects – i.e. cutting pork barrel projects that not even the Pentagon wants – is a good idea, but no one really disagrees with this, and it’s only the beginning: $20 billion or so.

The biggest joke of all – if your sense of humor is on the ghoulish side – is the idea that we’re going to reduce the number of troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan to 30,000 by 2013. Presented as a valid factor to be included in our budget calculation, the fulfillment of this long-promised pledge by President Obama will save a whopping $86 billion and $169 billion in 2015 and 2030 respectively. There’s just one problem: it’s already been vetoed by the Obama administration, which is now telling us no troop drawdown in Afghanistan before 2014, and the troop reductions in Iraq are a) made up for by the increase in private contractors, and b) already delayed.

Reducing the number of troops in those two theaters to 60,000 by 2015 will save another huge chunk: $51 billion and $149 billion. Unfortunately, the prospect of this happening – given the Obama administration’s current stance, and the globalist precepts at the core of our strategic vision – is near to nil.

Okay, so if we accept these cuts at face value, and ignore the politics involved, what do we come up with? In 2015, we cut the budget shortfall by $185 billion – almost by half. In 2030, it’s $315 billion. Still not enough – but it’s a start, and perhaps even politically possible. That is, if some Republicans will start applying their deficit hawkishness to their own party’s free-spending foreign policy hawks. Because no hawk can fly very far or very fast if it’s got the albatross of a huge national debt hung ’round its neck.

The problem isn’t “waste” in defense spending, it isn’t the corruption of foreign governments (and our own), and it isn’t pork barrel politics – although all of these are indeed problematic. The aforementioned are just spokes in a wheel whose central mechanism is our grandiose foreign policy of global intervention. Empire is a luxury we can no longer afford. When Americans wake up to that fact – and they are showing signs of doing so – we will have some hope. Until then, dark days lie ahead.


I made it back from the 2010 Antiwar.com Autumn/Winter Tour in one piece, but just barely. While my trip wasn’t by any means a “national” tour, I did manage to go to four different cities with a reasonably wide geographic span:

Ann Arbor, Michigan – This, as you know, is a college town, once a bastion of the antiwar movement and now degenerated into a rather complacent and slightly decaying gentility. We had a bit over a hundred people, divided into libertarians, many of whom traveled from afar (one from Canada), Green Party activists, and former SDSers from the old days. I had expected, probably naively, more of a turnout from the traditional left, but no. The event was held on campus, and co-sponsored by the Campaign for Liberty. I spoke for 40 minutes, and there was a lively question and answer period.

Thousand Oaks, CA – This event was sponsored and organized by Steve Woskow, one of our supporters and a really great guy. He and his lovely wife put a lot of work into organizing it – even finding me a room for the night that allows smoking! What more could I ask for, right? Well, the event itself was great: a little less than 60 people showed up at a local college, the Lutheran University, and this was a mostly libertarian affair: Sharing the podium with Brian Doherty – an editor at Reason magazine and author of Radicals for Capitalism, a comprehensive (and excellent) history of the modern libertarian movement – I gave an extensive talk on the history of the anti-interventionist movement in America.

Danbury, Connecticut – This event, organized by the heroic Richard S. Land and the Ridgefield Liberty Coop, was a rousing success – over 120 people, mostly non-aligned students, and garnered a bit of publicity. The event was held at Western Connecticut State University. I spoke for an hour. Controversy erupted when the student veterans’ group raised a ruckus because my widely-publicized talk was scheduled one day before veterans’ day! I have to admit, this was not anticipated by the organizers or myself. The vets attended, in uniform, and one young lady in fatigues got up and read a poem all about how our rights to free speech and free assembly depend on soldiers doing their duty and defending the nation against the threat of a foreign-imposed tyranny. I answered her by pointing out that the exercise of those rights is a tribute rather than an insult to those serving in uniform, and went on to elaborate that an army engaged in wars of aggression is very different from a military whose function is to defend the nation: it is the difference between a soldier in the Continental Army and a Roman centurion. In any case, a useful discussion was had after my talk, particularly with one intelligent young man in uniform who had served in Iraq and wanted to know why, if rights are universal, we don’t have an obligation to defend them in Iraq. Boy, what that ever a good conversation! And we all parted friends. The turnout was impressive, I thought: after all, it was a Wednesday, in Danbury, a small town, on a freezing cold night.

Boston – This was a great success, too, I thought – a good crowd, all of whom were brought in either by leafleting by the wonderful organizers of the event – Prof. John Walsh, and Doug Fuda – which was sponsored by the Boston chapter of ComeHomeAmerica.org, the new left-right anti-interventionist coalition. Around 100 people crowded into the basement of the wonderful old church in downtown Boston where the meeting was held. People came from all over, some as far away as New Hampshire, and all in all it was a very eager, interested crowd: here we have the makings of a movement (ditto in Danbury). I spoke for an hour and twenty minutes, criticizing the Obama administration and its leftist acolytes, giving a wide-ranging historical account of the development of anti-interventionism on the right as well as the left, and ending with a call for a single issue movement. The question and answer period was lively, to say the least, with one representative of the remnants of United for Peace and Justice, a group that I singled out for criticism, taking me to task for being “divisive.” This was effectively countered by John Walsh, who pointed out that several approaches had been made to UfJP to little avail, and non-leftist speakers were banned at their events. Other audience members agreed, and this led to a debate over including issues like “global warming” – which Green Party types brought up – and I made the point that there is a difference between founding an effective coalition that wants to achieve a specific goal – say, ending a war – and founding a political party. It was heartwarming, I have to say, to get a question about Murray Rothbard’s classic book, Wall Street, Banks, and American Foreign Policy – that moment was truly the high point of my tour.

Okay, well, that’s it, as far as the tour goes: I came back with a really bad case of what seemed like pneumonia – I’m sure I got it on an Amtrak train – but luckily it didn’t strike until after the tour was over. Whew! I’m now recovering, rather quickly, and just in time to urge you to please donate to our winter fundraising drive. We put out a lot of money to fund this tour, and a lot of energy, too, but it was well worth it: because we’re not just a web site, at least not anymore. We’re working to build a real grassroots antiwar movement from the bottom up. I’ll have a lot of exciting news to report on that front in the coming months: there’s big things in the works. ComeHomeAmerica.us is a part of it, and we’ll be working with them very closely. I just want to say, however, that none of this will happen if we don’t make our new fundraising goal of $100,000 – indeed, at the present rate, we’ll have to make big cutbacks, never mind taking a new activist turn.

So please – this tour was a wonderful premonition of what could be, on a larger scale, a real force to contend with. But we can’t do it without your support. Give today.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].