An important issue that the alternative political party would need to address with insight and political intelligence is that of the military. The alternative political party would have to envision and formulate the transformation of the militarization of economy and society, which has been unfolding since the late 1940s, when the Truman Administration created the Cold War ideology in order to justify a permanent war economy and what Truman’s successor, Dwight Eisenhower, called the military-industrial complex.
A recent article by Willian J. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (United States Air Force), maintains that for decades the Pentagon has been conning politicians and the people in order to maximize public support for military spending. Astore mentions several distortions of reality in the history of this con game: the “missile gap” of the 1950s and the 1960s; the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that authorized military action in Vietnam; the “consistent exaggeration of Soviet weapons capabilities in the 1970s . . . to justify a new generation of ultra-expensive weaponry;” the casting of the Soviet Union as an “Evil Empire” in order to justify increased military expenses in the 1980s; the identification of “rogue states” in the 1990s, thereby avoiding the expected “peace dividend” following the collapse of the Soviet Union; the invasion of Iraq, justified by arms of mass destruction that never were found; and an endless war on terrorism that ignores the actual sources of terrorism.
Although Astore writes of this phenomenon as a Pentagon con, many of the mentioned distortions were sold to the people by prominent politicians, and not by the military chiefs. In the case of Trump, Astore reminds us that, during the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump spoke “against the folly and cost of America’s wars in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. He said he wanted better relations with Russia. He talked about reinvesting in the United States rather than engaging in new wars. He even attacked costly weapons systems.” If it is true, as Astore asserts, that Trump is a con man, and that the Pentagon attains support for military spending through the con, then it could be said that the Trump administration’s military defense budget of $716 billion demonstrates that you can indeed con a con man. But it is our own human weaknesses that enable a con to work; in this case, the weakness might be a lust for power, and the capacity to see an exploitable issue and useful partners in order to maintain, extend, and increase personal power.
The nation needs military chiefs that place the good of the nation above the expansion of the military branch, and political leaders who are morally and intellectually capable of resisting the seductions of power and the distorted claims of all who represent particular moneyed and powerful sectors. The task of the alternative political party is to forge a change in the political culture, so it would be possible for principled political and military leaders to rise to prominence, principled leaders who seek not personal power but the authorization of the people to exercise power in their name. In forging this cultural change, the alternative political party needs to unmask, in the name of patriotism, the conduct of militarist politicians and the Pentagon, who for decades have exaggerated threats to national security in order to justify military expenditures. It must reformulate the meaning of patriotism, leading the people to the understanding that it is not unpatriotic to oppose imperialist wars; but it is unpatriotic, and profoundly damaging to the nation, to exaggerate threats to national security in order to channel national resources to the military, especially when the exaggeration is driven by the desire to rout economic benefits to companies and individuals who produce and market arms.
But let us not be naïve concerning the importance of the military. In the alternative political party, there can be no place for idealism and naivete with respect to questions of peace and war. The foreign policy proposed by the alternative party must recognize the ancient and modern tendency of empires and nation-states to conquer new territories and to impose its interest on the conquered peoples. It must recognize that the modern world-system has been forged on a foundation of conquest and colonial domination of the world, and it has been shaped by a system of competing imperialisms, in which global powers compete with one another for control of territories and markets. In the context of such a world, the government of the USA must be committed to its national security and any threat to its territory and its markets by means of force and violence. In condemning exaggerations of national security, the alternative political party must propose a genuine concept of national security, and define the necessary role of the military in the defense of national security.
In seeking an alternative to the militarization of economy and society, the alternative party cannot dream of peace in the abstract; it must pursue its vision of demilitarization in the context of existing international relations. Accordingly, it should support the alternative approach to international diplomacy that currently is emerging in world affairs, one that gives priority to the peaceful resolution of international conflicts. The peaceful resolution of conflict is the mission of the United Nations and other international organizations; and several governments, including China, Cuba, and Venezuela, have been developing foreign policies in this direction. Such tendencies are pointing to an alternative world order in which states work cooperatively toward international, multilateral, and bilateral agreements, committing themselves to the reduction of arms, especially nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction; to the peaceful resolution of conflicts; to respect for the sovereignty of all nations; and to refraining from aggression against other nations. The alternative political party should propose that the nation play a leadership role in this emerging alternative form of international relations, with the understanding that all agreements must necessarily include provisions for the verification of compliance.
Inasmuch as the arms industry is the USA’s strongest and most important industry, the nation has an objective economic interest in war and in the maintenance of global conflicts. This objective economic condition, forged by both major political parties since the late 1940s, ensures significant political opposition to a peaceful reorientation of U.S. foreign policy. The alternative political party must manage this situation with political intelligence, and therefore, it must base its proposals for economic and social transformation on recognition of the current dependency of the nation’s economy on military expenditures. It must propose a gradual transformation of the militarized economy toward an economy dedicated to sustainable forms of production, recognizing that changes that are implemented faster than objective conditions permit would create chaos. Annual cuts in the nation’s military expenditure must be part of a comprehensive plan that includes new investments in production and education, so that sustainable economic growth is facilitated. In the transition from a permanent war economy to a peace-based economy, creative strategies could be employed, such as sending the U.S. Army to Central America to work in cooperative projects of infrastructural construction.
The alternative political party needs among its leadership and its advisors persons with knowledge of military affairs and with military experience. It should be actively recruiting such persons as it develops, so that it can speak with credibility on the military issue in the eyes of the people. The article by Astore, a retired Air Force officer, is evidence that there are high military officers who would be committed to the development of an armed forces structure that has become liberated from the vicious cycle of imperialist policies feeding the arms industry, and its perverse feedback, the economic interests of the arms industry generating imperialist policies. With the change in political culture that the alternative political party would seek to generate, there would come to the fore military officers who have endeavored to dedicate their lives to an armed forces that serves the genuine national security of the nation, who could now do so with the full support of a government of, by, and for the people.
Astore’s proposals for “curbing our military mania” are important and worthy of consideration and discussion. He proposes that the “nation fight wars only as a last resort and when genuinely threatened;” and therefore, “the U.S. should end every conflict it’s currently engaged in, bringing most of its troops home and downsizing its imperial deployments globally.” He further proposes downsizing nuclear forces; and he advocates responding to the threat of international terrorism through law enforcement and intelligence services. He believes that with an alternative orientation that is committed to the genuine defense of national security and is not economically and politically driven to exaggeration, it would be possible to significantly reduce the military budget; he cites defense analyst Nicolas Davies in declaring that the Pentagon budget could be reduced by 50%.
Astore’s proposals involve to a considerable extent an ideological shift. He maintains that the people should understand that current U.S. military actions do not deter aggressive or threatening nations, nor do they defend democracy; in many cases U.S. military interventions are for the purposes of exploitation and dominance. He further observes that the people should not believe that national strength is measured by military strength. Above all, he maintains that the people should not be so ready to believe lies generated by the Pentagon and their militaristic political allies in order to justify military actions and imperialist policies.
Such an ideological reorientation with respect to the role of the military in the nation is precisely one of the tasks of an alternative political party. As I have argued in previous posts, an alternative political party must formulate an alternative narrative of the nation, which redefines the meaning of patriotism, which unmasks the imperialist character of U.S. foreign policy, and which seeks to strengthen the nation by developing sustainable forms of production and by seeking mutually beneficial forms of commerce with other nations. Astore helps us to understand that such an alternative national narrative would include a genuine concept of national security, leaving behind exaggerations created to justify the militarization of the economy and society. A politically effective alternative narrative would lead the people to understand that excessive military expenditures undermine the economy of the nation in the long run; and that, when such excessive military expenditures are justified by lies, deceptions, and distortions, they undermine the capacity of the people to understand global affairs as well as the moral fabric of our nation. An alternative political party must lead the people toward a sounder political, economic, ideological, and moral foundation, thereby fulfilling the historic hope of the nation to constitute a republic that would be an example to the world of human dignity.
Astore, William J. 2019. “How the Pentagon Took Ownership of Donald Trump: Six Ways to Curb America’s Military Machine.” Tom Dispatch (April 30).