When it comes to bravery in relation to the war in Ukraine, let me just tip my cap to all the antiwar protesters in Russia who have taken to the streets across that ever more autocratic land. They've risked arrest to say "no to war" and "shame on you!" to the next global disaster. Thousands of them have been "detained" and who knows what their fate may be. I only wish that antiwar protesters here were doing the same thing before we all truly enter Cold War II, potentially a bigger and better (that is, potentially more perilous) version of the first time around.
In fact, it's been strange indeed that, with the exception of those rare massive demonstrations in early 2003 before this country invaded Iraq and some protests by vets thereafter, we Americans seem to have paid next to no attention to the wars that were being fought (so disastrously) in our names. Only as the Afghan one ended was there any sign of outrage and that was about the messiness of the American pullout, not the horror of the war itself (or of the one in Iraq) that left not thousands dead, as in Ukraine so far, but hundreds of thousands. If Americans or at least our politicians in Washington and the media are outraged about the Russian invasion of Ukraine (and it is outrageous), why was a similar outrage so absent when this country acted in a fashion no less outrageous and in our case not even to countries that were our neighbors? (And sanctions against Washington? It was never even imaginable.)
In his own way, that's part of the question that retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, historian, and TomDispatch regular William Astore raises today in thinking about how our ever-more-militarized country acts at home and abroad. While you may be horrified (as I am) by events in Ukraine, the question is, why aren't you more horrified by the way your tax dollars continue to create an ever-more militarized American world? Tom
Arsenal of Democracy or Simply an Arsenal?
The New Cold War Is Here to Stay, Until It Isn't
In certain quarters in this country, Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine has generated enthusiasm for a new cold war. At the New York Times, Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin have been described as "children of the [old] Cold War" now involved in a "face off," an "eyeball to eyeball" confrontation harkening back to John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev contesting Berlin and Cuba in "dramatic fashion" 60 years ago. (Never mind that the "drama" over Cuba nearly led to nuclear war and the possible end of most life on Earth.) Such breathless accounts make me think of the role Slim Pickens played as Major Kong in Stanley Kubrick's famed film Dr. Strangelove, giddy with resolve, even relief of a kind, now that he and his B-52 crew are finally headed for nuclear combat with the Russkies.
Whatever else one might say of the crisis in Ukraine, the new cold war dreamscape that Washington think tanks and the Pentagon helped promulgate over the last decade against Russia or China or both is here to stay. Consider that a calamity in its own right. The end of America's failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the disastrous results of America's Global War on Terror launched amid a barrage of lies and self-praise, might indeed have left an opening, however slight, for a shift away from colossal military budgets and creeping militarization.
Russia's ill-planned and immoral invasion of Ukraine marks the definitive end of that possibility, however small it might have been. Putin's actions, whatever their motivation and justification, are being seized upon by the military-industrial-congressional complex as proof positive that Pentagon budgets, already in the stratosphere, must soar higher yet. For so many of the Putin-haters (and I'm no fan), his destructive actions supposedly demonstrate why the U.S. must be prepared to double down in kind.
That, of course, means yet more weapons production and sales globally for the country that's already the planet's leading purveyor of such products. It also means more bellicose rhetoric, and ultimately more militarism, because that's all Putin and his authoritarian ilk will allegedly ever understand (as is sadly true of so many in Washington as well). Consider all this a peculiar form of American madness, akin to the idea that a guy with a gun, or better yet, lots of guys with lots of guns, the more powerful the better, are the sanest way to prevent gun violence.
Thought about a certain way, in taking such an approach, our government and, by extension, the American people are ceding our autonomy of thought and action to "bad actors" like Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. For every war Putin launches, America, so we're told, must respond with yet more weapons sales, troop deployments, debilitating sanctions, and above all, astronomically higher military spending. For every aircraft carrier the Chinese build, or any new expansion onto yet another tiny island in the South China Sea, the U.S. military must "pivot" harder toward Asia, while building yet more staggeringly expensive ships of its own. As possibilities, disengagement and de'tente go unmentioned. "Peace" isn't a word American presidents favor anymore. As a result, even modest military moves by Putin and Xi are essentially guaranteed to drive the U.S. economy yet deeper into militarized debt. (As if $6 trillion already squandered on the disastrous war on terror wasn't pricey enough.) After all, full-spectrum dominance over the global battlespace, a fantasy in the "best" of times, and a new cold war won't come cheap, a fact that U.S. weapons manufacturers are surely banking on.
Even before the recent Russian invasion, estimates for the fiscal year 2023 Pentagon budget had risen to $770 billion or even $800 billion. With Russian tanks now rolling through (or stalled in) Ukraine, you can bet your bottom dollar that $800 billion will be the floor, not the ceiling for that future budget and the Pentagon's 2023 demands from Congress. This country, we're once again hearing, is to be the arsenal of democracy (to steal a phrase from the World War II era). But count on this: if you're not careful an arsenal of democracy can easily enough devolve into little more than an arsenal. And that time, I suspect, is now.
The World Is Not Enough
Don't misunderstand me: I condemn Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It's a horror and an obvious disaster in the making. That said, Russia may have a super nuclear arsenal, but it's not a superpower, despite all those Cold War memories of ours, nor does its attack on Ukraine, in and of itself, pose a major threat to our own national security. Indeed, experts around the world have been predicting for decades that NATO expansion, exacerbated by U.S. meddling in Ukraine, could provoke Vladimir Putin to launch just such a war. In short, Russia's invasion was indeed predictable, even if not faintly excusable.
Nor are the Russian president's designs on Ukraine and his quest for greater power in eastern Europe historically surprising. In fact, serious self-reflection should lead us to the obvious conclusion that the scale of Russia's ambitions, objectionable as they might be, are also limited compared to ours.
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