What Really Keeps America at War?

I’ve been puzzled by the persistence with which the Obama Administration pursues war. I had thought of the president as an anti-war politician. After all, wasn’t he one of the few who opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq from the first? Wasn’t that one of the main reasons for his primary victory over Hillary Clinton? Wasn’t that a big plus in his presidential election campaign?

So what happened?

It’s as if the military-industrial complex has some hold over him; as if they are keeping a loved one hostage. But his wife and children are all present and accounted for.

And I don’t see anyone holding a gun to his head.

So why does the U.S. still have 46,000 troops in Iraq? Why are Americans still being killed and maimed in Afghanistan?

Why are drones raining death on civilians in Yemen and Pakistan?

What’s the story behind the Libya offensive?

Why is Guantanamo still open?

Some insight into the mystery was provided in a UK Guardian article on Friday (click here to read it).

Here’s an excerpt that I found especially interesting:

It is not democracy that keeps western nations at war, but armies and the interests now massed behind them. The greatest speech about modern defense was made in 1961 by the US president Eisenhower. He was no leftwinger, but a former general and conservative Republican. Looking back over his time in office, his farewell message to America was a simple warning against the “disastrous rise of misplaced power” of a military-industrial complex with “unwarranted influence on government.” A burgeoning defence establishment, backed by large corporate interests, would one day employ so many people as to corrupt the political system. (His original draft even referred to a “military-industrial-congressional complex.”) This lobby, said Eisenhower, could become so huge as to “endanger our liberties and democratic processes.”

I wonder what Eisenhower would make of today’s US, with a military grown from 3.5 million people to 5 million. The western nations face less of a threat to their integrity and security than ever in history, yet their defence industries cry for ever more money and ever more things to do. The cold war strategist, George Kennan, wrote prophetically: “Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military-industrial complex would have to remain, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented.”

As long as “big defense” exists it will entice glory-hungry politicians to use it. It is a return to the hundred years war, when militaristic barons and knights had a stranglehold on the monarch, and no other purpose in life than to fight. To deliver victory they demanded ever more taxes for weapons, and when they had ever more weapons they promised ever grander victories. This is exactly how Britain’s defence ministry ran out of budgetary control under Labour.

Glory-hungry politicians?

Is it really glory they’re after? Or money?

I suspect it’s both. A lot of people make a lot of money from war. And they have a lot of political power. And patriotic grandstanding is a proven vote getter.

Whatever the reason(s), I find it discouraging that my vote has had so little effect on America’s foreign policy.

And there seems to be no alternative to Obama’s hawkish policies. The Republicans are even more wedded to the defense industry than the president. They have refused point blank to cut defense spending even when they concede desperate measures are necessary to curb the nation’s mounting debt spiral.

When a nation puts war above all else and sacrifices its people to do so, the consequences are inevitable. Perhaps the president, his allies and his opponents should revisit their history books for guidance.

Especially the chapters that deal with the decline and fall of empires.