The Madness of Threat Inflation

Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.

What will historians say decades or centuries from now when the U.S. empire collapses into ruin? How will they explain it?

Consider the United States in the big picture. I see a country with unique strengths. Two wide oceans protecting us. A long secure border with Canada. A securable border with Mexico, the current immigrant “crisis” be damned. Canada and Mexico aren’t our enemies. No invasion is coming from them. As a country, the USA occupies a geographical/global position that is uniquely safe and advantageous.

Why are we so fearful? Why do we spend a trillion dollars (or more) each year on national “defense”?

How incredibly lucky we are! (Credit: Tom Van Sant/Geosphere Project, Santa Monica/Science Photo Library)

Of course, I put “defense” in quotes because the USA is an empire with a military configured for offense. Global reach, global power, was the motto of my service, the U.S. Air Force. The U.S. military strives for full-spectrum dominance, meaning total control of the land, sea, air, space, and cyberspace, justified in the false name of “defense.” The cost of this febrile quest for dominance is, I believe, ultimately unbearable. Why do we persist in such folly?

What country would dare to attack the USA? Other than small terrorist networks like Al Qaeda, no country, no people, no leaders in their right mind would dare attack us, let alone invade us. They know they’d likely be obliterated if they did. Does anyone truly fear an attack on the USA from China? Russia? Iran? North Korea? Given America’s belligerence, evidence of our unbridled vengeance after Pearl Harbor and 9/11, and our vast arsenal of highly destructive weaponry, including thousands of nuclear warheads, anyone attacking the U.S. would be pursuing a death wish.

I am not afraid of Russia, a regional power that is stuck in a quagmire war against Ukraine. I am not afraid of China, a regional military power and economic superpower that is tied to us in global trade and has no intent, near as I can tell, to attack my country. I am not afraid of Iran, or North Korea, or similar “threats” of the moment. So why is my government constantly exaggerating these threats and telling me to be afraid?

Of course, I know all about Ike’s military-industrial-congressional complex. I write against it all the time. It’s not just the MICC and its pursuit of profits and power, however. It’s the corporate interests that say Taiwan must be “protected” for its microchips, the Middle East must be “protected” because of its oil, that Ukraine must be “protected” for its rich agricultural wealth (even as Russia’s gas pipelines to Germany are destroyed) and the riches to be had once the war is over and Ukraine is rebuilt. I know there’s nothing new about this; I’ve read my Smedley Butler.

When I first signed up for the U.S. military in 1981, and then went on active duty in 1985, I thought the U.S. did face a possible existential threat: the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact, and Communism. By 1991, that threat was largely gone. Even Cold War hawks like Jeanne Kirkpatrick wrote enthusiastically of the U.S. becoming a normal country in normal times. WTF happened? Why didn’t we?

Here we are, more than 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the U.S. government is selling Putin’s Russia as a serious threat again. When we see clear evidence that Putin has more than enough to handle with Ukraine, we’re told to look toward China as the Next Big Threat. Meanwhile, irrational, indefensible, blank checks of support given to Israel in its murderous campaign of ethnic cleansing in Gaza threaten a wider war in the Middle East, a war some in our government seem to be spoiling to fight, knowing of course that they and theirs won’t be fighting it.

We Americans need to get a collective grip on ourselves and our own government. Stop feeding the Pentagon brass with money: it only encourages the bastards. Stop listening to the fear mongers. Turn off the mainstream media and ignore all the threat inflation. Look within yourself and control the fear and divisiveness they try to instill in you.

As Senator George McGovern, a war hero, said in 1972 when he won the Democratic nomination for the presidency: Come home, America. Close most of the military bases that America has overseas. Make deep cuts to the Pentagon war budget. Let other peoples settle their differences without our meddling, without our depleted uranium shells, without our cluster munitions, without our Hellfire missiles, without our mendacious rhetoric about a “rules-based order.”

Come home, America. We have a vast country with vast potential – and serious problems. Time to tackle them instead of seeking to dominate the world.

Or, as the Good Book says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:3 NIV) Yes, indeed. Let’s remove the planks from our own eyes, which should keep us very busy for decades, rather than globetrotting to remove the sawdust from the eyes of other peoples who’d prefer us to stay home and leave them alone.

Come home, America. Let’s start removing those planks.

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools. He writes at Bracing Views.