Imperial Joe: Biden Trades Bread and Circuses for War

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

Bread and circuses pacified the Roman masses while the emperors with their legions patrolled far borders to pacify barbarians who resisted joining the empire. Joe Biden updated this governing method at his presidential campaign launch rally in Philadelphia.

He offered a buffet of appetizing items to improve America’s education, infrastructure, health care and climate policies. He pledged to unite the nation and restore its soul and backbone. And he said not a word about the country’s ongoing and looming wars.

He looked abroad only to lament that Trump’s antics and his affections for “dictators and tyrants” like Putin and Kim “undermine our standing around the world.”

Silence about the wars allowed him to pretend their cost would never shrink or spoil the buffet selections he was dangling before the masses. But that’s a mirage.

Conjuring money (debt and “quantitative easing”) might pay for these wars and the huge military apparatus that backs them, at the risk of turning inflation into an enemy more menacing than the restive natives out on the imperial frontier. But what would it cost to pay with real money?

Machinery of Empire

If Google is truthful, the US has nearly 800 military bases abroad (UK, France, Russia combined have 30, China has 2). These range from isolated radar stations to Little Americas with shopping centers, bowling alleys, fast fooderies, beauty parlors, basketball and tennis courts, golf courses etc, besides the attached military operations. The uniformed personnel on all these bases and ships, plus inside the US, total about one and a quarter million, the reserves another eight hundred thousand. At sea or docked the Navy has almost 500 ships, including 11 aircraft carriers and 72 submarines. The Air Force wields over 5,000 military aircraft, over 400 intercontinental ballistic missiles, and 170 military satellites. The Army has about 6,000 Abrams Main Battle Tanks in service or storage, 6,700 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, many thousands of armored personnel carriers, countless (literally) tens of thousands of other vehicles, about 3,400 helicopters and 10,000 drones. The Marines field about 400 tanks, several thousand other fighting vehicles and 1,300 manned aircraft.

The Pentagon budget for these “defense” activities is running a bit over $700 billion a year. That doesn’t include the costs lodged in the Energy department for designing and building nuclear weapons and warship power reactors. Nor the Coast Guard’s 1,900 ships and boats, plus 200 aircraft, with 56,000 personnel. Nor the NSA’s cyber warfare skulduggery. Nor the CIA’s snoopery and secret war exploits. Add these expenses to the Pentagon’s and the true cost of policing and servicing the Empire probably totals about a trillion dollars per year.

Financing this with debt and sleight-of-hand money is as unsustainable as industrial society’s ecological practices. Trump has continued the long habit of ignoring all that. Under his rule the annual federal deficits are approaching a trillion dollars, and the accumulated total debt continues its dizzying ascent—now beyond twenty two trillion.

Caesar Hillary and Warrior Pete

Biden does the same as Trump. So do nearly all the announced Democratic presidential contestants. They close their eyes, jam their fingers in their ears and pretend not to notice that their devotion to waging the Empire’s wars also wages war upon their lavish promises about all the wondrous things they will do for the voters in the homeland.

This one mega lie of theirs makes Mr MAGA’s lesser lies by the thousands trivial in comparison. It is Trump University vastly expanded to the size of the federal budget.

They do this because they know that serving the Empire is part of the job description for president. Hillary made this explicit during an interview while waiting in the wings to take her turn on stage as Madam Commander in Chief.

She paraphrased Caesar’s famous summary of his attack on the Gauls: We came, we saw, we conquered.In response to a question about the sadistic death of Libyan president Gaddafi, a captured prisoner of US sponsored rebels during her tenure as secretary of state, she said: We came, we saw, he died—ha ha ha. Viewers of the YouTube video might differ about whether that ha ha ha was a hearty laugh or a fiendish cackle.

Unlike her, some of the Democratic presidential yearners now are actual war veterans, which will be one of their prime claims to White House worthiness. Among them Pete Buttigieg has, so far, made the most of this status.

He entered the race as Mayor Pete but is gradually transitioning toward Warrior Pete in his campaign rhetoric and imaging. A recent news report about Buttigieg in Iowa said he “talked up his service when calling for gun control. ‘I trained on these things,’ he said of assault-style weapons. ‘I know what they can do.’”  Photos circulate on the web of him posing in camo brandishing a big rifle with a gritty Afghan landscape behind. Expect them to eventually appear on billboards and in TV ads, perhaps with snarky commentary contrasting Warrior Pete and Draft Dodging Commander Bone Spur.

Many Trump Circuses, Scant Bread

Apart from military service, many of the Democratic questers could at least portray themselves as competent managers of the Empire, like Caesar. Buttigieg might add to that a cultured, literate Marcus Aurelius style. Trump seems to enjoy mimicking the pathological psycho bonkers manner of a Nero or Commodus.

This scarcely fazes his base, since they mostly remain steadfastly delighted with him acting as the avatar of their ire and grievance, without doing much else for them. That gives Trump an advantage over all his Democratic rivals.

Their voters actually expect the government to give them a hand to survive the free market fundamentalists protecting oligarchs, the worsening environmental swoon, and the faltering Empire stumbling toward its terminal rattle. But the candidates can’t deliver such voters’ wishes and also serve all the Empire’s distant needs.

Sometime before the November 2020 election Trump will give then an opportunity to choose, maybe soon in the Persian Gulf. He’s plainly wary of sinking into a major mess in Iran, as Bush the Second did in Iraq. He’d prefer something like the “punitive raids” that the Brits and French used to perform when natives got uppity about their imperial masters: send gunboats to shoot up some shoreline towns, perhaps land some troops to conduct further depredations, then withdraw confident that the message had been delivered.

Trump is not about to dispatch the rumored 120,000 troops to the Middle East. He’s adding only a few thousand to the several thousand already there, along with anti-aircraft and anti-missile units, plus B-52 bombers and an aircraft carrier with its protective flotilla.

This is exactly how to prepare for an attack that blasts the bejesus out of selected targets in Iran and then swats down any Iranian attempts at retaliation. The result is maximum death and destruction inside Iran and minimum US casualties, accompanied by a swell of American patriotism relishing this lesson visited upon the rag heads, dinks, slopes, slants, muslims, hajis, sand niggers.

Align With Rag Heads?

Then what will the Democrats do? Arise against Trump and align with the rag heads? Hardly. They will be in the same jam as when Bush the Second decided to invade Iraq, a war ruinous to both countries, and senators Hillary and Biden both voted in favor of it.

That’s what the Democrats will do this time too—unless some among their presidential  roster take a stark stand against this. Whoever that might be, it won’t be front runner Biden.

At his Philadelphia presidential coming out party he reveled in America’s global hegemonic glory. He boasted that “we have the strongest military in the history of the world.” He said that during his long political career he had met most of the world’s leaders, and he uttered the vain peacocky claim that “they know without us they can’t lead.” And he closed with, “God bless you all and may God protect our troops,” making Biden and God joint guardians of the Empire.

The front runner may continue in that status until the Democratic convention and become the nominee. Then everybody who considers Trump a monster and a menace will be cornered on election day (except for those so soured on the whole process that they don’t vote). They will have to decide whether to write in the name of some doomed third party candidate or to vote for imperial Joe, knowing that his promises about all those attractive domestic programs are mostly phony.

Joe Bidenix

The only way they could cast their ballots for Biden would be to consider him nothing more than a Terminix man summoned to rid the White House of the gangster cabal infesting it. To win the election and carry out this chore, he would need a nickname more inspiring than the two Trump has already given him, Sleepy Joe and Swampman.

May Biden and his fans formally baptize him with a suitable, uplifting nickname: Joe Bidenix.

DAVID UNDERHILL lives in Mobile, Alabama. He can be reached at