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America Spends About Half of World’s Military Expenditures

The restored ‘Cold War’ could produce a much stronger global tarnishing of America’s global reputation.

Eric Zuesse

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The National Priorities Project headlines “U.S. Military Spending vs. the World” and reports: “World military spending totaled more than $1.6 trillion in 2015.

The U.S. accounted for 37 percent of the total.” But it can’t be believed, because, even if other nations aren’t under-reporting their military expenditures, the U.S. certainly is — under-reporting it by about 50%.

The reality is approximately twice the official figure, so that America’s current annual military expenditures are around $1.5 trillion, which is to say, almost equal to that entire global estimate of “more than $1.6 trillion in 2015.”

America’s actual annual military budget and expenditures are unknown, because there has never been an audit of the ‘Defense’ Department, though an audit has routinely been promised but never delivered, and Congresses and Presidents haven’t, for example, even so much as just threatened to cut its budget every year by 10% until it is done — there has been no accounatability for the Department, at all. Corruption is welcomed, at the ‘Defense’ Department.

Furthermore, many of the military expenditures are hidden. One way that this is done is by funding an unknown large proportion of U.S. military functions at other federal Departments, so as for those operations not to be officially “‘Defense’ Department” budget and expenditures, at all.

This, for example, is the reason why Robert Higgs, of The Independent Institute, was able to report, on 15 March 2007, “The Trillion-Dollar Defense Budget Is Already Here”. He found that America’s military expenditures, including the ones he could identify at other federal agencies, were actually already nearly a trillion dollars ($934.9 billion) a year:

“To estimate the size of the entire de facto defense budget, I gathered data for fiscal 2006, the most recently completed fiscal year, for which data on actual outlays are now available.

In that year, the Department of Defense itself spent $499.4 billion. Defense-related parts of the Department of Energy budget added $16.6 billion. The Department of Homeland Security spent $69.1 billion.

The Department of State and international assistance programs laid out $25.3 billion for activities arguably related to defense purposes either directly or indirectly. The Department of Veterans Affairs had outlays of $69.8 billion.

The Department of the Treasury, which funds the lion’s share of military retirement costs through its support of the little-known Military Retirement Fund, added $38.5 billion.

A large part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s outlays ought to be regarded as defense-related, if only indirectly so.

When all of these other parts of the budget are added to the budget for the Pentagon itself, they increase the fiscal 2006 total by nearly half again, to $728.2 billion.”

Furthermore,

 “Much, if not all, of the budget for the Department of State and for international assistance programs ought to be classified as defense-related, too. In this case, the money serves to buy off potential enemies and to reward friendly governments who assist U.S. efforts to abate perceived threats. … [As regards] Department of Homeland Security, many observers probably would agree that its budget ought to be included in any complete accounting of defense costs. … The Federal Bureau of Investigation … devotes substantial resources to an anti-terrorist program.

The Department of the Treasury informs us that it has ‘worked closely with the Departments of State and Justice and the intelligence community to disrupt targets related to al Qaeda, Hizballah, Jemaah Islamiyah, as well as to disrupt state sponsorship of terror.’”

But, almost everything there relied upon mere estimates, because the Congress and the President always supply to the public numbers that are sadly uninterpretable by anyone who wants to know what percentage of the federal government is actually military.

For example, on April 3rd, the White House, as required by law, sent to Congress “the Seven-Day-After report for the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018 (Public Law 115-141). The President signed this Act into law on March 23, 2018.”

That’s the current authorized spending for the entire U.S. Federal Government. It was broken down there into twelve categories, some of which were for multiple federal Departments, in order to make the reported numbers as uninterpretable as possible — for example, nothing was shown for the Treasury Department, but something was shown for “Financial Services and General Government Appropriations” and it didn’t even mention the “Treasury” Department.

And nothing was shown for the Justice Department, nor for the Commerce Department, but something was shown for “Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies” (whatever those are). However, as bad as this is, the military (or invasions) department is even less fathomable from the publicly available reports than those other ones are. The ‘Defense’ Department is the only one that’s still “unauditable” so that in one of the attempts to audit it:

“The audits of the FY 1999 DoD financial statements indicated that $7.6 trillion of accounting entries were made to compile them. This startling number is perhaps the most graphic available indicator of just how poor the existing systems are.

The magnitude of the problem is further demonstrated by the fact that, of $5.8 trillion of those adjustments that we audited this year, $2.3 trillion were unsupported by reliable explanatory information and audit trails or were made to invalid general ledger accounts.”

Largely as a consequence of this, Wikipedia’s “Military budget of the United States” is a chaotic mess, though useful for links to some sources (all of which are likewise plagued as being uninterpretable).

On 1 March 2011, Chris Hellman headlined “The Real U.S. National Security Budget: The Figure No One Wants You to See”, and he estimated (using basically the same approach that Higgs had done in 2007, except less accurate than Higgs, due to failing to base his numbers on “the most recently completed fiscal year, for which data on actual outlays are now available” but instead using only the President’s budget request) that at that time, the U.S. Government was spending annually on ‘Defense’, “$1,219.2 billion. (That’s more than $1.2 trillion.)”

That amount was far less than the totals that the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Defense had been reporting, in some of its periodic investigations (such as the one just cited), to have been missed or undocumented or falsely ‘documented’ as having been spent, by that Department; but, for some mysterious reason, the American people tolerate and re-elect ‘representatives’ who ‘debate’ and rubber-stamp such corruption, which is of enormous benefit to corporations such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing, whose sales and profits depend upon the U.S. Government and its allied governments.

Any such privatization of the ‘Defense’ industry, in America or any other country — treating its military operations so as to produce profits for investors (investors in mass-murder) — thus guarantees that the national-security function will be heavily loaded with lobbying and graft, because the military industry’s entire market is to one’s own government and to its allied governments: it’s not a consumer market, but a government one.

Thus, privatized military suppliers grow virtually to own their government; democracy consequently becomes impossible in such nations. And, one outcome from that is the uninterpretable financial reports by America’s government, regarding ‘Defense’.

For example, probably fewer than 1% of Americans have even been informed by the press as to what the currently authorized annual federal spending for the ‘Defense’ Department is.

When the Washington Post, on 23 March 2018, reported their main story about the FY 2018 federal spending authorizations (“In late-night drama, Senate passes $1.3 trillion spending bill, averting government shutdown”), the figure for the ‘Defense’ Department was buried inconspicuously in a 52-word passage within that 1,600-word ‘news’-report, which was otherwise loaded with distractive trivia.

This buried passage was: “The legislation funds the federal government for the remainder of the 2018 budget year, through Sept. 30, directing $700 billion toward the military and $591 billion to domestic agencies.

The military spending is a $66 billion increase over the 2017 level, and the nondefense spending is $52 billion more than last year.” That’s all. For readers interested in knowing more, it linked to their 2,200-word article, “Here’s what Congress is stuffing into its $1.3 trillion spending bill”, and all that it said about the military portion of the new budget was the 27-word passage, “defense spending generally favored by Republicans is set to jump $80 billion over previously authorized spending levels, while domestic spending favored by Democrats rises by $63 billion.”

Though 23 categories of federal spending were sub-headed and summarized individually in that article, ‘Defense’ wasn’t one of them. Nothing about the budget for the U.S. Department of ‘Defense’ — which consumes more than half of the entire budget — was mentioned.

However, the reality was that, as Defense News reported it, on 7 February 2018 — and these figures were unchanged in the bill that President Trump finally signed on March 23rd — “Senate leaders have reached a two-year deal that would set defense spending at $700 billion for 2018 and $716 billion for 2019.”

This year’s $700 billion Pentagon budget thus is 54% of the entire $1.3 trillion FY 2018 U.S. federal budget. Another article in Defense News on that same day, February 7th, noted that, “‘I’d rather we didn’t have to do as much on non-defense, but this is an absolute necessity, that we’ve got these numbers,’ said the Senate Armed Services Committee’s No. 2 Republican, Sen. Jim Inhofe, of Oklahoma.”

So: 54% of the federal budget wasn’t high enough a percentage to suit that Senator; he wanted yet more taken out of non-‘defense’. How can people (other than stockholders in corporations such as Raytheon) vote for such a person? Deceit has to be part of the answer.

Using similar percentages to those that were employed by Higgs and by Hellman, the current U.S. annual military expenditure is in the neighborhood of $1.5 trillion. But that’s more than the total authorized federal spending for all departments. Where can the extra funds be coming from? On 5 February 2018, CNBC bannered “The Treasury is set to borrow nearly $1 trillion this year”.

Then, charts were presented on 10 May 2018 by Dr. Edward Yardeni, headlined “U.S. Government Finance: Debt”, in which is shown that the U.S. federal debt is soaring at around a trillion dollars annually; so, that extra money comes from additions to the federal debt.

Future generations of U.S. taxpayers will be paying the price for the profligacy of today’s U.S. aristocracy, who receive all the benefits from this scam off the public, and especially off those future generations.

But the far bigger losses are felt abroad, in countries such as Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Ukraine, where the targets will be suffering the consequences of America’s invasions and coups.

Notwithstanding its pervasive corruption and enormous uncounted waste, the U.S. military is, by far, the U.S. institution that is respected above all others by the American people. A great deal of domestic propaganda is necessary in order to keep it that way. With so many trillions of dollars that are unaccounted for, it’s do-able.

All that’s needed is a tiny percentage of the huge graft to be devoted to funding the operation’s enormous PR for ‘patriotism’. And this treasonous operation has been sustainable, and very successful (for its ultimate beneficiaries), that way, in the U.S., at least for decades.

I have previously explained why specifically military corruption has come to take over the U.S. Government, but not certain other governments. And the result of its having done so has by now become obvious to people all around the world, except in the United States itself.

Furthermore, ever since the first poll was taken on that matter, in 2013, which showed that globally the U.S. was viewed as the biggest national threat to peace in the world, a subsequent poll, in 2017, which unfortunately was taken in fewer countries, showed that this negative impression of the U.S.

Government, by the peoples in those fewer countries, had actually increased there during the four intervening years. So: not only is the situation in the U.S. terrible, but the trend in the U.S. appears to be in the direction of even worse.

America’s military-industrial complex can buy a glittering ‘patriotic’ image amongst its own public, but America’s image abroad will only become uglier, because the world-at-large dislikes a country that’s addicted to the perpetration of invasions and coups. Just as bullies are feared and disliked, so too are bully-nations.

Even if the given bully-aristocracy becomes constantly enriched by their operation, economies throughout the world suffer such an aristocracy, as being an enormous burden; and, unfortunately, the American public will get the blame, not America’s aristocracy — which is the real beneficiary of the entire operation.

This deflection of blame, onto the suckered public, precludes any effective response from the publics abroad, such as boycotts of U.S.-branded products and services might be. Instead, American tourists abroad become increasingly perceived as ‘the ugly American’.

The restored ‘Cold War’ — this time with no ideological excuse (such as communism) whatsoever — could produce a much stronger global tarnishing of America’s global reputation. The beneficiaries, apparently, just don’t care.

—————

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.


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The ISIS attack in Syria appears to have failed in its real mission

ISIS probably tried to get Mr. Trump to keep troops in Syria, but in reality this attack shows no compelling reason to remain there.

Seraphim Hanisch

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ISIS is one of the bloodiest, most brutal organizations to ever exist in modern history. During its meteoric rise, the “Caliphate” struck with death and fear across the deserts of Iraq and the wastes of Syria, seducing a seemingly increasing number of recruits from the West, developing its own currency and financing abilities, all the while remaining a death cult, in the conviction that their eventual destruction would trigger a far greater Islamic uprising.

But something changed for them starting in about 2013. While ISIS got quietly aided and abetted by President Obama’s (perhaps not unwitting) support through neglect and then even quieter collaboration (Obama thought ISIS could be “managed” in the effort to oust Bashar Al-Assad from Syria), its power and reach extended through much of Syria.

But then came Russia. Russia didn’t think ISIS should be managed. Russia determined that ISIS should be destroyed. And in 2015, invited by Syria, the Russians came and went to work. They did most of the heavy lifting in terms of driving ISIS back, while (inconveniently for the US and West) also carefully taking back Syrian territory from antigovernment groups that were supported by the US and its coalition of forces operating in the country, including Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, and all the names it took on afterwards. This was quietly carried out because the Americans also had face to save, owing to Obama’s clumsy decision to send American forces into the country, which gradually grew and metastasized into a significantly sized fighting force.

With an extremely complicated group of alliances and enemies, the American forces were forced to quietly abandon their mission of removing Bashar al-Assad from power and to pivot to actually destroying ISIS. President Trump does deserve some credit for his part in helping this to happen. He also deserves a lot of credit for his recent decision to pull American troops out of Syria.

This move was severely condemned by the US hawks, resulting in the resignation / firing / retirement of former Secretary of Defense James Mattis, and, in an amusing show of hypocrisy, the pundits from the Anti-Trump crowd at CNN and other news outlets characterized this decision as the US President proving once and for all that he is a Putin operative, a real-life Manchurian President.

ISIS evidently wanted the US not to leave either, so it conducted an attack on Wednesday, January 16th, tragically killing 19 people, with four Americans among the dead. The New York Times was lightning-fast to jump into the fray to carry out what was probably ISIS’ real mission with this attack: to sow seeds of doubt among the US authorities, and to keep American forces in the region (emphasis added).

Four Americans were among 19 people killed in Syria on Wednesday in a suicide bombing that was claimed by the Islamic State, just weeks after President Trump ordered the withdrawal of United States forces and declared that the extremist group had been defeated.

The attack targeted an American military convoy in the northern city of Manbij while troops were inside the Palace of the Princes, a restaurant where they often stopped to eat during patrols, residents said. While the Americans were inside, a nearby suicide attacker wearing an explosive vest blew himself up.

The bombing raised new questions about Mr. Trump’s surprise decision last month to end the American ground war in Syria. Critics of the president’s plans, including members of his own party, said Mr. Trump’s claim of victory over the Islamic State may have emboldened its fighters and encouraged Wednesday’s strike… Mr. Trump’s withdrawal announcement, made over the objections of his top national security officials, “set in motion enthusiasm by the enemy we’re fighting,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a prominent Trump ally who has nonetheless criticized the military drawdown.

“I saw this in Iraq. And I’m now seeing it in Syria,” Mr. Graham said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday.

The rest of the article, of course, had the Trump Administration defending itself, with Vice President Mike Pence as the spokesman of that defense.

However, already only two days later, the noise about this seems to have faded. There is no ongoing media fury about the President’s decision to remove troops. In fact, aside from the ongoing investigation to confirm that ISIS indeed did carry out this attack, there is no indication of a change in the troop withdrawal process.

If this situation remains as it is, it is a very good sign for these reasons:

  1. President Trump is showing his resolve and confidence in a decision he knows to be right (to withdraw) and not to accede to the War Party wishes.
  2. ISIS is losing its reputation as a significant fighting force as far as the US population is concerned, as it probably should. With the US gone, Russia can prosecute this war full force without risk of creating more serious incidents with the Americans.
  3. The possibility exists that this attack, already heinous in what we know, could have been a false flag, designed specifically to provoke the US troop withdrawal to stop and be reversed.

This last scenario has oddly not been visibly mentioned, but it should be, because it probably happened in April 2018 and earlier. The Duran covered this quite extensively, and while the “official” (Western) investigation has come up curiously silent on the alleged chemical weapons attack last April in Ghouta, the overwhelming body of reports from the region suggested that the “gas” attack was nothing at all but drama to keep the US ensnared in the region. Remember, President Trump at that time also expressed the intention of withdrawing US troops from the area, and this event caused a reversal for a time.

ISIS tried to become a nation. It operates on terror and theater, but it considers itself free to kill people along the way as it creates its pageantry. For the souls of all those innocent people who perished in this attack, we must pray and not forget.

But ISIS is substantially done, and what is left will be dealt with by Russian and Syrian forces.

For once, the definition of “American courage” might be not to fight. President Trump’s decision to remove the troops remains one of the most significant achievements of his presidency, and one of the most important in terms of restoring balance to the United States that it deserves to have.

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Trump grounds Nancy Pelosi from taxpayer-subsidized travel

Nancy Pelosi is exhibiting all the maturity of a 14-year-old druggie teenager who just got grounded, only House Speaker Pelosi is 78.

Seraphim Hanisch

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Nancy Pelosi is 78 years old. She is the Democrat Party leader of the House of Representatives, and presently she is Speaker of the House since her party holds the majority of seats there. She is also grounded, like a naughty teenager.

Like a naughty, gossipy teenager, she is bitterly embroiled in a popularity war against another septuagenarian, US President Donald Trump (age 72).

One has to admit that there is a great deal of humor that can be extracted from this. After all, we are taught as kid to “behave like adults.” No doubt The Donald and Mrs. Pelosi were taught this too, probably even more strongly than those of us who are younger.

However, the American media is eager mostly to brand this as a “temper tantrum” of the President, because most of the American media, for some reason, just doesn’t like Mr. Trump. We have noted before here on The Duran the thought experiment surrounding Mr. Trump: “what if he had run as a Democrat, but with the exact same policy set as he has now?”

It is really too bad that it is not possible to see what would happen, but a thinking person can use this thought experiment to discover that most of the sentiment against Mr. Trump is simply because he ran as a Republican.

At any rate, we have a situation where it is being reported by a one-sided media that President Trump is at fault and is being somehow unfair and mean to Mrs. Pelosi. Mrs. Pelosi evidently thinks so too, for after Mr. Trump yanked her travel privileges via taxpayer-paid military transportation, she shot back, claiming that it was in fact President Trump who blew the security for the troops and personnel on this planned trip by announcing a secret trip publicly. CNN reports:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi canceled a planned trip to visit troops in Afghanistan Friday, after — her office alleged in a statement — the White House leaked the details of the congressional delegation’s commercial plane travel.

In the middle of the night, the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service provided an updated threat assessment detailing that the President announcing this sensitive travel had significantly increased the danger to the delegation and to the troops, security, and other officials supporting the trip,” Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said. “This morning, we learned that the administration had leaked the commercial travel plans as well.”

Which, to borrow the parlance of the Internet, is VERY big, if true.

It’s one thing for Trump, as he did on Thursday, to rescind the military plane Pelosi and the rest of her colleagues were planning to fly on as a way of exacting revenge on her for asking the President to delay his planned “State of the Union” speech on January 29. To do so publicly — White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted out the letter Trump sent to Pelosi — is to raise the stakes. To leak commercial travel plans to make absolutely certain that Pelosi can’t go on the trip is a bridge even further.

Now, to be clear, this is an allegation made by Pelosi without corroboration to date. And, the White House denies it. “When the Speaker of the House and about 20 others from Capitol Hill decide to book their own commercial flights to Afghanistan, the world is going to find out,” a White House official told CNN’s Sarah Westwood and Kevin Liptak. “The idea we would leak anything that would put the safety and security of any American at risk is a flat out lie.”

It appears that Mrs Pelosi is copying The New York Times and The Washington Post narrative style of “slander the President, acknowledge somewhere buried in the article that the slanderous charge is unsubstantiated, but get that slander out there so people hear it and read it!”

It is a shoddy attempt for the news media to manipulate its consumers all while “protecting itself” from libel.

The unfortunate fact is that it does work, at least insofar as to galvanize the anti-Trump crowd into a very solid bloc of insanely angry Americans. Further, in using the classic style in which a drug addict or active alcoholic manipulates people to pity him or her, Mrs. Pelosi and the media act like the druggie teenagers arrayed as one against Dear old Dad, who is the only adult in the house.

The White House. But, still.

To put a bit of adult analysis on this story is very simple, but it is honestly not very thrilling. To be honest, it is probably more fun to be like the mainstream media and the Democrats – energized by passion, doing stupid things publicly and getting attention and praise for it.

But here is what appears to be the hard cold boring reality behind this saga.

President Trump is committed to getting a change made in how the United States handles illegal immigration. For decades, the country has been getting slowly infiltrated, if not invaded, by immigrants who at the very least game the welfare and social support mechanisms of various levels of US federal, state and local governments. When people come into the country illegally and go on welfare, taxpayers start paying non-citizens for being here. Taking care of even 100,000 illegal immigrants with such programs is likely to be extremely expensive. Housing, food, healthcare, schooling, legal protection by police… it goes on and on.

But there are not just 100,000 such people here. Last year, the Border Patrol apprehended well over four times that number. 467,000 illegals were apprehended in 2018. Estimates show anywhere from 12 million to 22 million illegals presently living in the United States. While it is certainly doubtful that all of them are gaming the welfare system, they are in the country, unknown, untracked, and not being good citizens by paying taxes and supporting our agreed-upon infrastructure and services the same way that American citizens are.

That is a huge money drain.

Add to that the drugs that do flow across the Mexican border, a fair infusion of criminals like murderers and rapists, and the possibility of terrorists making use of the open border to infiltrate the US and the situation becomes both costly and dangerous.

This is why President Trump wants to change it with a barrier running the length of the US-Mexico border.

While it is unlikely that all 2,000 miles need to have a wall, we certainly need more of a barrier than what we have now, and the barriers that DO exist are extremely successful in cutting the flow of illegals. From the high point of 2000, immigration apprehensions have on the whole fallen by quite a bit. This chart shows the track through 2016.


But our 467,000 apprehensions is an enormous number – larger than the population of the city of Long Beach, California! 

This is an enormous number, but it is far lower than the 1.6 million that got caught before the existing barriers were built. This is also the number of illegals that were caught. We do not know how many were not caught.

Now, President Trump begins to look like the adult in the room, because he wants to fix this, bringing the numbers down much closer to zero, and also finding a way to vet and interview immigrants that truly can contribute to the US dream as Americans. So, as part of creating a real border security apparatus, he wants to extend and even complete the Border Wall. It is not very expensive – even a $50 billion price tag is only about 1.3% of the bloated federal budget this year, and President Trump thinks the wall can be finished with half that amount. At this time, he is only asking for about $5 bn.

And all Nancy Pelosi will say is “no!” So, like a good parent, the President refuses to reward such behavior by giving her what she wants. Now there is a partial government shutdown. President Trump took it on himself, but he is correct. He is doing this because the Democrats are doing this childish druggie routine. And he cannot reward this behavior.

Pelosi and her loyal sidekick Senator Charles Schumer are like a clique of druggie kids in the class, disrupting everything by commanding some attention. But it seems they are gradually losing it, and the government remains shut down. However, they wanted to act like it is Trump’s fault, so Nancy Pelosi was trying to do “business as usual” and go to Afghanistan for whatever reason (do they want her?).

And the President said, “hey, not so fast. You have a partially closed government, and I have been here every day waiting for you to negotiate a deal. You have to be nuts to think this shutdown is not going to affect you, so you cannot use our military transportation while the government is shut down. It is only fair.”

Now who is looking like the bratty teenager?

For some people who read articles like this, the answer will probably still be “President Trump.”

But maybe if they put down the cannabis and the booze and read facts for a change, their heads will clear up and they will come to see what the rest of properly thinking people have already seen.

In this feud, there is an adult in the room. And he is having to manage the childish behavior of a woman six years older than he is.

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New York Times hit piece on Trump and NATO exposes alliance as outdated and obsolete (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 61.

Alex Christoforou

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RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou take a quick look at the New York Times hit piece citing anonymous sources, with information that the U.S. President dared to question NATO’s viability.

Propaganda rag, the NYT, launched its latest presidential smear aimed at discrediting Trump and provoking the establishment, warmonger left into more impeachment – Twenty-fifth Amendment talking points.

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Via The American Conservative


The New York Times scored a serious scoop when it revealed on Monday that President Trump had questioned in governmental conversations—on more than one occasion, apparently—America’s membership in NATO. Unfortunately the paper then slipped into its typical mode of nostrum journalism. My Webster’s New World Dictionary defines “nostrum” as “quack medicine” entailing “exaggerated claims.” Here we had quack journalism executed in behalf of quack diplomacy.

The central exaggerated claim is contained in the first sentence, in which it is averred that NATO had “deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years.” This is wrong, as can be seen through just a spare amount of history.

True, NATO saved Europe from the menace of Russian Bolshevism. But it did so not over 70 years but over 40 years—from 1949 to 1989. That’s when the Soviet Union had 1.3 million Soviet and client-state troops poised on Western Europe’s doorstep, positioned for an invasion of Europe through the lowlands of Germany’s Fulda Gap.

How was this possible? It was possible because Joseph Stalin had pushed his armies farther and farther into the West as the German Wehrmacht collapsed at the end of World War II. In doing so, and in the process capturing nearly all of Eastern Europe, he ensured that the Soviets had no Western enemies within a thousand miles of Leningrad or within 1,200 miles of Moscow. This vast territory represented not only security for the Russian motherland (which enjoys no natural geographical barriers to deter invasion from the West) but also a potent staging area for an invasion of Western Europe.

The first deterrent against such an invasion, which Stalin would have promulgated had he thought he could get away with it, was America’s nuclear monopoly. By the time that was lost, NATO had emerged as a powerful and very necessary deterrent. The Soviets, concluding that the cost of an invasion was too high, defaulted to a strategy of undermining Western interests anywhere around the world where that was possible. The result was global tensions stirred up at various global trouble spots, most notably Korea and Vietnam.

But Europe was saved, and NATO was the key. It deserves our respect and even reverence for its profound success as a military alliance during a time of serious threat to the West.

But then the threat went away. Gone were the 1.3 million Soviet and client-state troops. Gone was Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. Indeed, gone, by 1991, was the Soviet Union itself, an artificial regime of brutal ideology superimposed upon the cultural entity of Mother Russia. It was a time for celebration.

But it was also a time to contemplate the precise nature of the change that had washed over the world and to ponder what that might mean for old institutions—including NATO, a defensive military alliance created to deter aggression from a menacing enemy to the east. Here’s where Western thinking went awry. Rather than accepting as a great benefit the favorable developments enhancing Western security—the Soviet military retreat, the territorial reversal, the Soviet demise—the West turned NATO into a territorial aggressor of its own, absorbing nations that had been part of the Soviet sphere of control and pushing right up to the Russian border. Now Leningrad (renamed St. Petersburg after the obliteration of the menace of Soviet communism) resides within a hundred miles of NATO military forces, while Moscow is merely 200 miles from Western troops.

Since the end of the Cold War, NATO has absorbed 13 nations, some on the Russian border, others bordering lands that had been part of Russia’s sphere of interest for centuries. This constitutes a policy of encirclement, which no nation can accept without protest or pushback. And if NATO were to absorb those lands of traditional Russian influence—particularly Ukraine and Georgia—that would constitute a major threat to Russian security, as Russian President Vladimir Putin has sought to emphasize to Western leaders for years.

So, no, NATO has not deterred Russian aggression for 70 years. It did so for 40 and has maintained a destabilizing posture toward Russia ever since. The problem here is the West’s inability to perceive how changed geopolitical circumstances might require a changed geopolitical strategy. The encirclement strategy has had plenty of critics—George Kennan before he died; academics John Mearsheimer, Stephen Walt, and Robert David English; former diplomat Jack Matlock; the editors of The Nation. But their voices have tended to get drowned out by the nostrum diplomacy and the nostrum journalism that supports it at every turn.

You can’t drown out Donald Trump because he’s president of the United States. And so he has to be traduced, ridiculed, dismissed, and marginalized. That’s what the Times story, by Julian Barnes and Helene Cooper, sought to do. Consider the lead, designed to emphasize just how outlandish Trump’s musings are before the reader even has a chance to absorb what he may have been thinking: “There are few things that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia desires more than the weakening of NATO, the military alliance among the United States, Europe and Canada that has deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years.” Translation: “Take that, Mr. President! You’re an idiot.”

Henry Kissinger had something interesting to say about Trump in a recent interview with the Financial Times. “I think Trump may be one of those figures in history,” said the former secretary of state, “who appears from time to time to mark the end of an era and to force it to give up its old pretenses.” One Western pretense about Russia, so ardently enforced by the likes of Julian Barnes and Helene Cooper (who, it may be safe to say, know less about world affairs and their history than Henry Kissinger), is that nothing really changed with the Soviet collapse and NATO had to turn aggressive in order to keep that menacing nation in its place.

Trump clearly doesn’t buy that pretense. He said during the campaign that NATO was obsolete. Then he backtracked, saying he only wanted other NATO members to pay their fair share of the cost of deterrence. He even confessed, after Hillary Clinton identified NATO as “the strongest military alliance in the history of the world,” that he only said NATO was obsolete because he didn’t know much about it. But he was learning—enough, it appears, to support as president Montenegro’s entry into NATO in 2017. Is Montenegro, with 5,332 square miles and some 620,000 citizens, really a crucial element in Europe’s desperate project to protect itself against Putin’s Russia?

We all know that Trump is a crude figure—not just in his disgusting discourse but in his fumbling efforts to execute political decisions. As a politician, he often seems like a doctor attempting to perform open-heart surgery while wearing mittens. His idle musings about leaving NATO are a case in point—an example of a politician who lacks the skill and finesse to nudge the country in necessary new directions.

But Kissinger has a point about the man. America and the world have changed, while the old ways of thinking have not kept pace. The pretenses of the old have blinded the status quo defenders into thinking nothing has changed. Trump, almost alone among contemporary American politicians, is asking questions to which the world needs new answers. NATO, in its current configuration and outlook, is a danger to peace, not a guarantor of it.


Robert W. Merry, longtime Washington journalist and publishing executive, is the author most recently of President McKinley: Architect of the American Century

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