July 30, 2009

Chalmers Strikes Back at the Empire

I remember Chalmers Johnson as a preternaturally dynamic professor with a delivery and a voice timbre somewhere between John Cameron Swayze and Jack Benny, if that does anything for you. He was teaching politics of the Far East those days, and he seemed to stop by the class in Wheeler Auditorium on his way to doing something much more important. Such as counseling the government or reading top secret reports from the Rand Corporation. Anyway, he was intellectually intimidating, to say the least, as he addressed us in that staccato, metallic voice.

He was conservative in those days and always seemed faintly disgusted by the radical hijinks going on outside on the Berkeley campus, an impression of him which turns out to be the case, I learn by reading his late writings. Which makes his current position on the American Empire, and his Nemesis trilogy, both surprising and more credible. He's out today with a new post (which can be found on both the Smirking Chimp http://smirkingchimp.com/thread/23038 and Huffington blogsites) where he discusses the 800 pound gorilla that no one ever wants to disturb as they discuss health care reform, or American solvency or our impending bankruptcy. Namely, what to do about those 700 to 800 bases, forts and other military installations the United States maintains around the world, with their huge expense, or what to do about those two ruinously expensive and completely superfluous wars we keep fighting - all against a backdrop of a federal deficit this year of $1.8 trillion dollars.

Chalmers sticks to the official Pentagon number this time around, about $664 billion, which does not count, of course, the "supplementals" for Iraq and Afghanistan; but elsewhere, he does a pretty convincing case of demonstrating that the total outlay for defense and security, honestly counted, approaches $1 trillion per year. I see in the health care debates that Congress and the White House are fighting for the high ground on whose plan will be "deficit neutral." This is such a bad joke. The Republicans chortle that the plan, which, after all, is only concerned with the health and wellbeing of the American people, would cost $1 trillion over ten years, and the Democrats fight mightily to demonstrate this is not the case, that it could all be paid for by "taxing the rich," or employer mandates, or some other conjurer's trick. Suppose it did cost $1 trillion over ten years; gee, where could we get the money?

No one, including our Change Agent new President, ever even brings up the idea of slashing our insanely-too-expensive military budget. Johnson quotes all of Obama's recent speeches to the National Defense University and to the graduates of Annapolis that no matter what happens, America will continue to dominate the world militarily, that we will have unchallenged supremacy. He's so very good at knowing exactly what his audience wants to hear. Of course, in Washington this is simply what almost everyone says. Nothing else is even vaguely admissible.

Other countries don't maintain an archipelago of foreign forts and bases. Only we see the need. We spend just about half of everything spent in the world on defense, but it's never quite enough, because Obama's budget, half of which represents borrowed money, increases the defense budget over Bush's last budget. If we don't figure out how to rein in this spending, nothing else is really possible. The tax base of our sinking economy is not going to produce excess revenue to fund vital domestic needs. $250 billion could be saved annually simply by dismantling the foreign empire of military installations, and another $100 billion could be saved by ceasing the inanity of these pointless conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. That's about half of the official Pentagon budget including the supplementals.

Some measure of fiscal rationality could therefore break the surface. But it never even gets discussed, which is one sure way of telling that the august solons and executives in Washington D.C. are not at all serious about responsibility or "change" or anything else that would really help. And until they do come around to that realization (which, as Chalmers sadly notes, will probably not happen until events force them to confront the spectre of bankruptcy), there is really almost no point in following the health care debate, cap & trade, or Barack's keggers with cops and profs.

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