Above photo: “Let’s Make a Deal,” an original work by Mr. Fish.
The US is a de facto one-party state where the ideology of national security is sacrosanct, unsustainable debt props up the empire and the primary business is war.
When all else fails, when you are clueless about how to halt a 7.5% inflation rate, when your Build Back Better bill is gutted, when you renege on your promise to raise the minimum wage or forgive student debt, when you can’t halt the Republican suppression of voting rights, when you have no idea how to handle the pandemic which has claimed 900,000 lives – 16% of the world’s total deaths although we are less than 5% of the world’s population – when the stock market fluctuates on wild rollercoaster rides of highs and lows, when what little help the government offered to the labor force — half of whom, 80 million, experienced a period of unemployment last year — sees the termination of the extended unemployment benefits, rental assistance, forbearance for student loans, emergency checks, the moratorium on evictions and expansion of the child tax credits, when you watch passively as the ecocide gathers momentum, then you must make the public afraid of enemies, foreign and domestic. You must manufacture an existential threat. Terrorists at home. Russians and Chinese abroad. Expand state power in the name of national security. Beat the drums of war. War is the antidote to divert public attention from government corruption and incompetence. No one plays the game better than the Democratic Party. The Democrats, as journalist and co-founder of Black Agenda Report Glen Ford said, are not the lesser evil, they are the more effective evil.
The US, burdened by de facto tax boycotts by the rich and corporations, is sinking in debt, the highest in our history. The US government budget deficit was $2.77 trillion for the 2021 budget year that ended Sept. 30, the second highest annual deficit on record. It was exceeded only by the $3.13 trillion deficit for 2020. Total US national total debt is over $30 trillion. Household debt grew by $1 trillion last year. The total debt balance in our government Ponzi scheme is now $1.4 trillion higher than it was at the end of 2019. Our wars are waged on borrowed money. The Watson Institute at Brown University estimates that interest payments on the military debt could be over $6.5 trillion by the 2050s. None of this debt is sustainable.
At the same time, the US is facing the ascendency of China, whose economy is projected to overtake the US economy by the end of the decade. Washington’s slew of desperate financial tricks – flooding the global market with new dollars and lowering interest rates to near zero – staved off major depressions after the 2000 dot.com crash, 9/11 and the 2008 global financial meltdown. The cheap interest rates led corporations and banks to borrow massively from the Federal Reserve, often to paper over shortfalls and bad investments. The result is that US businesses are deeper in debt than at any time in US history. Added to this morass is rising inflation, caused by businesses that have increased prices in a desperate effort to make up for lost revenue from supply chain shortages and rising shipping costs, the economic downturn and the slight wage increases triggered by the pandemic. This inflation has forced the Fed to curtail the growth of the money supply and raise interest rates, which then pushes corporations to further raise prices. The desperate measures to stave off an economic crisis are self-defeating. The bag of tricks is empty. Massive defaults on mortgages, student loans, credit cards, household debt, car debt and other loans in the United States is probably inevitable. With no short-term mechanisms left to paper over the disaster, it will usher in a prolonged depression.
An economic crisis means a political crisis. And a political crisis is traditionally solved by war against enemies inside and outside the nation. The Democrats are as guilty of this as the Republicans. Wars can get started by Democrats, such as Harry S. Truman in Korea or John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam, and perpetuated by Republicans. Or they can get started by Republicans, such as George W. Bush, and perpetuated by Democrats such as Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Bill Clinton, without declaring war, imposed punishing sanctions on Iraq and authorized the Navy and the Air Force to carry out tens of thousands of sorties against the country, dropping thousands of bombs and launching hundreds of missiles. The war industry, with its $768 billion military budget, along with the expansion of Homeland Security, the FBI, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the National Security Agency, is a bipartisan project. The handful of national political leaders, such as Henry Wallace in 1948 and George McGovern in 1972, who dared to challenge the war machine were ruthlessly hounded into political oblivion by the leaders of both parties.
Biden’s bellicose rhetoric towards China and especially Russia, more strident than that of the Trump administration, has been accompanied by the formation of new security alliances such as those with India, Japan, Australia, and Great Britain in the Indo-Pacific. US aggression has, ironically, pushed China and Russia into a forced marriage, something the architects of the Cold War, including Nixon and Kissinger with their opening to China in 1971, worked very hard to avoid. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, after meeting recently in Beijing, issued a 5,300-word statement that condemned NATO expansion in eastern Europe, denounced the formation of security blocs in the Asia Pacific region, and criticized the AUKUS trilateral security pact between the US, Great Britain and Australia. They also vowed to thwart “color revolutions” and strengthen “back-to-back” strategic coordination.
Warmongering by the Democrats always comes wrapped in the mantle of democracy, freedom and human rights, making Democrats the more effective salespeople for war. Democrats eagerly lined up behind George W. Bush during the calls to invade Afghanistan and Iraq in the name of “humanitarian intervention” and “liberating” the women of Afghanistan, who would spend the next two decades living in terror, burying family members, at times their children. Even when Democrats, including Barack Obama, criticized the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq while running for office, they steadfastly voted to fund the wars to “support our troops” once elected. Now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), says “an assault on Ukraine is an assault on democracy,” the same argument Democrats clung to a half-century ago while launching and expanding the disastrous war in Vietnam.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, is currently crafting legislation he proudly calls “the mother of all sanctions bill.” The bill led in the House by Gregory Meeks of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also a Democrat, demands that the administration “not cede to the demands of the Russian Federation regarding NATO membership or expansion.” NATO expansion to Ukraine along Russia’s borders is the central issue for Moscow. Removing this for discussion obliterates a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Sanctions under the legislation can be imposed for any act, no matter how minor, deemed by Ukraine to be hostile. The sanctions cannot be lifted until an agreement is reached between the government of Ukraine and Russia, meaning Ukraine would be granted the authority to determine when the US sanctions will end. The proposed sanctions, which target Russian banks, the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline, state-owned enterprises and leading members of the government and military, including President Vladimir Putin, also calls for blocking Russia from SWIFT, the international financial transaction system that uses the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency.
“The legislation would grant at least $500 million in foreign military assistance to Ukraine, in addition to the $200 million in new assistance sent over the last month,” writes Marcus Stanley. “This makes Ukraine the third leading recipient of US military assistance globally, after Israel, and Egypt. While it wouldn’t come close to giving Ukraine the ability to combat Russia on its own, it may come with US military advisors that would increase the danger the US would be drawn into a conflict. The bill also takes steps to directly involve countries bordering Russia in negotiations to end the crisis, which would make it much more difficult to reach an agreement.”
While cutting Russia off from SWIFT will be catastrophic, at least in the short term, for the Russian economy, pushing Russia into the arms of China to create an alternative global financial system that no longer relies on the US dollar will cripple the American empire. Once the dollar is no longer the world’s reserve currency the dollar will precipitously drop in value, perhaps as much as by two-thirds, as the pound sterling did when the British currency was abandoned as the world’s reserve currency in the 1950s. Treasury bonds, used to finance America’s military-based balance-of-payments deficit and the ballooning government budget deficit, will no longer be attractive investments for countries such as China. The nearly 800 US military outposts abroad, sustained by debt – the Chinese have lent an estimated $1 trillion to the US on which they collect hefty interest – will dramatically shrink in number. Meanwhile, the massive US interest payments, at least in part, will continue to fund the Chinese military.
The US domination of the world economy, after 75 years, is over. It is not coming back. We manufacture little, short of weapons. Our economy is a mirage build on unsustainable levels of debt. The pillage orchestrated by the capitalist elites and corporations has hollowed the country out from the inside, leaving the infrastructure decayed, democratic institutions moribund and at least half the population struggling at subsistence level. The two ruling parties, puppets for the ruling oligarchs, refuse to curb the rapacious appetites of the war industry and the rich, accelerating the crisis. That the rage of the dispossessed is legitimate, even if it is expressed in inappropriate ways, is never acknowledged by the Democrats, who were instrumental in pushing through the trade deals, deindustrialization, tax loopholes for the rich, deficit spending, endless wars and austerity programs that have created crisis. Instead, shooting the messenger, the Biden administration is targeting Trump supporters and winning draconian sentences for those who stormed the capital on January 6. Biden’s Justice Department has formed a domestic terrorism unit to focus on extremists and Democrats have been behind a series of moves to de-platform and censor their right-wing critics.
The belief that the Democratic Party offers an alternative to militarism is, as Samuel Johnson said, the triumph of hope over experience. The disputes with Republicans are largely political theater, often centered around the absurd or the trivial. On the substantive issues there is no difference within the ruling class. The Democrats, like the Republicans, embrace the fantasy that, even as the country stands on the brink of insolvency, a war industry that has orchestrated debacle after debacle, from Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq, is going to restore lost American global hegemony. Empires, as Reinhold Niebuhr observed, eventually “destroy themselves in the effort to prove that they are indestructible.” The self-delusion of military invincibility is the scourge that brought down the American empire, as it brought down past empires.
We live in a one-party state. The ideology of national security is sacrosanct. The cult of secrecy, justified in the name of protecting us from our enemies, is a smoke screen to hide from the public the inner workings of power and manipulate public perceptions. The Democratic courtiers and advisers that surround any Democratic presidential candidate – the retired generals and diplomats, the former national security advisers, the Wall Street economists, the lobbyists, and the apparatchiks from past administrations – do not want to curb the power of the imperial presidency. They do not want to restore the system of checks and balances. They do not want to challenge the military or the national security state. They are the system. They want to move back into the White House to wield its awful force. And now, with Joe Biden, that is where they are.
Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. He previously worked overseas for The Dallas Morning News, The Christian Science Monitor, and NPR. He is the host of the Emmy Award-nominated RT America show On Contact.