Events are unfolding at a quickening pace. Facing an alarming escalation in tensions around the world, we are looking to our most respected and renowned thought leaders for an honest assessment of both U.S. foreign and military policy to offer their most current thoughts and insights. We know they have some ideas for improving the prospects for peace.
William J. Astore is a retired US Air Force lieutenant colonel. He has taught at the Air Force Academy and Naval Postgraduate School, and now teaches history at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. He is the author or co-author of three books and numerous articles focusing on military history as well as the history of science, technology, and religion. We are extremely honored that he took the time to talk to us and share his views. His responses below are exactly as he provided.
The questions here are not philosophical or abstract. They focus on the realities of the international power struggle unfolding in real time. They directly address the role of the U.S. in the escalating tensions and its capacity to reduce them. We also probe the role of everyday citizens in affecting the relationship the U.S. now has and will have with the rest of the world community.
Here is what William J. Astore had to say.
Q. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has recently put the hands of its Doomsday Clock to 100 seconds before midnight. Midnight means all out war, probably nuclear holocaust. This is the closest it has every been. Do you agree with this dire assessment?
Yes. The U.S. government has embarked on nuclear “modernization” that may cost as much as $1.7 trillion over 30 years. What we need instead is nuclear disarmament on a global scale.
Q. The U.S. always portrays itself as the greatest force on the planet for peace, justice, human rights, racial equality, etc. Polls tell us that most other nations actually regard the U.S. as the greatest threat to stability. What in your view is the truth here?
Yes, the U.S. is a major threat to world stability because the U.S. military has a vision of “global reach and global power” to support U.S. interests, which are primarily economic.The result is roughly 800 U.S. military bases scattered around the globe and an offensive posture for that same military.
Here’s a chicken-or-egg question: The U.S. accuses both Russia and China of rapidly expanding their military capabilities, claiming its own posturing and increase in weaponry is a response to its hostile adversaries, Russia and China. Both Russia and China claim they are merely responding to intimidation and military threats posed by the U.S. What’s your view? Do Russia and China have imperial ambitions or are they just trying to defend themselves against what they see as an increasingly aggressive U.S. military?
The U.S. is engaged in threat inflation to justify an enormous military budget that routinely exceeds a trillion dollars a year.
The U.S. always denies that it has imperial ambitions. Most unbiased experts say that by any objective standards, the U.S. is an empire — indeed the most powerful, sprawling empire in history. Does the U.S. have to be an empire to be successful in the world and effectively protect and serve its citizenry?
No. Indeed, by pursuing imperial ambitions, the U.S. is betraying its citizenry.
The highest ranking commanders of the U.S. military recently sounded the alarm. They have concluded that the U.S. — widely regarded as the most formidable military power in history — can’t defeat either Russia or China in a war. These military commanders are saying we need to dramatically increase our military capabilities. What do you make of this claim and the resulting demand for more DOD spending?
Again, this is classic threat inflation.Also, if these generals and admirals can’t defeat Russia or China, with all the money and resources they’ve been given, they should all be fired.
In 2009, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton announced a reset with Russia, heralding greater cooperation and understanding. By 2014, Obama had made a sharp reversal. A sweeping regime of sanctions has since been imposed on Russia to cripple its economy. Hillary Clinton and the Democrats now relentlessly demonize Russia and Putin, blaming them for every imaginable ill. Both in the media and from official pronouncements by government officials, Russia has become the favorite whipping boy for both the U.S. and its “special friend”, Great Britain. Why? What happened?
Domestic politics.Democrats always fear Republicans will accuse them of being “weak” vis-à-vis some other country or leader, so they overcompensate. The result is that Obama, Clinton, and the Democrats were and are militarists, doing the bidding of the national security state, as are Republicans.
The number of spy missions, nuclear-armed bomber flights, and war games near Russia’s borders have vastly increased over the past year. Same with China. Is all of this just business-as-usual geopolitical posturing? Or does it represent a dangerous escalation and a new ominous direction in U.S. strategic positioning? What is the justification for what Russia and China see as provocations and aggressiveness, if not actual preparation for a war?
How do you justify a gargantuan military budget without “enemies”?Russia and China are the new (and old) “near-peer threats” that the Pentagon must have to justify its enormous budget. If China or Russia didn’t exist, the Pentagon would have to invent them.
Between the FONOPS in the South China Sea and the recently expressed enthusiasm for Taiwan’s independence, the risk of military conflict with China keeps increasing. Where is this headed? If People’s Republic of China decides to use military force for full reunification of Taiwan, do you see the U.S. going to war in an attempt to prevent it?
War is always possible because it’s so unpredictable.Events can escalate rapidly – witness 1914 and World War I. A war with China over Taiwan is a possibility because the U.S. government and military imagines it to be so.
The U.S. against the clear objections of the government in Syria is occupying valuable land, stealing the country’s oil, and preventing access to the most agriculturally productive region, effectively starving the population. The world sees this for what it is, a cruel game sacrificing innocent people for some perceived geopolitical advantage. Is this the kind of reputation the U.S. wants? Or does it simply no longer care what the rest of the world community thinks?
The U.S. government doesn’t care what the “world community” thinks.What matters is profit, dominance, domestic politics, relations with Israel, and similar capitalist and geopolitical issues.
In a democracy, at least in theory citizens have a say in all matters of public policy. Yet, in the end none of the recent military campaigns and undeclared wars seem to achieve much popular favor or support. What is and what should be the role of everyday citizens in determining the foreign policy and military priorities of the country? Or are such matters better left to the “experts”?
Remember the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower in his farewell address of 1961, in which he warned of the military-industrial complex.Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can provide the necessary oversight over the military and it wars. But that same military has worked to isolate the people from war even as it’s used propaganda to get Americans “to support our troops.” The “experts,” who’ve led America into disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, have won domestically (by gaining power and money) but failed catastrophically outside of the USA.
Related to that, the citizenry and most of Congress are kept in the dark with respect to special missions, proxy funding, CIA operations, and swaths of unknown unknowns constituting psyops, cyber ops, and regime change ops, all done in our name as U.S. citizens. The funds to support this sprawling “dark world” of sabotage and terror being inflicted on the rest of the planet, is also a secret. Now there’s pervasive spying on U.S. citizens right here at home. What place does any of this have in “the land of the free”? Does this mean government of the people, by the people, for the people is just a sham?
No, it’s not a sham.But it is in shambles. What America needs is leaders who aren’t bought off and deeply compromised, but the system itself is corrupt. A few good politicians aren’t enough to reform a system corrupted by lobbyists and dark money.
Recently we’ve seen some token but precedent-setting direct payments to citizens in the form of Covid relief. There is also the ongoing discussion about reparations to descendants of slaves. If it could be unequivocally established that the government has abused DOD funding, misused and squandered vast sums of money to promote unjustified wars, purchase unneeded equipment, unnecessarily expand U.S. military presence across the globe, and regularly lied to the American public to manufacture consent for these misadventures and fraudulent activities, practical and political considerations aside, do you see any constitutional or other legal barriers to the public identifying, expecting, or even demanding proper compensation? A cash refund or citizen reparations for massive, authenticated abuse of power?
Just cut the DOD budget in half. And turn the DOD into a true department of defense, rather than a department of offense and incessant wars, which is what it currently is. The money saved (roughly $350 – $500 billion per year) could then be allocated as the American people see fit.