Think of it as the chicken-or-the-egg question for the ages: Do very real threats to the United States inadvertently benefit the military-industrial complex or does the national security state, by its very nature, conjure up inflated threats to feed that defense machine?
Back in 2008, some of us placed our faith, naively enough, in the hands of mainstream Democrats—specifically, those of a young senator named Barack Obama. He would reverse the war policies of George W. Bush, deescalate the unbridled “Global War on Terror,” and right the ship of state. How’d that turn out?
In retrospect, though couched in a far more sophisticated and peaceable rhetoric than Bush’s, his moves would prove largely cosmetic when it came to this country’s forever wars: a significant reduction in the use of conventional ground troops, but more drones, more commandos, and yet more acts of ill-advised regime change. Don’t get me wrong: As a veteran of two of Washington’s wars, I was glad when “no-drama” Obama decreased the number of boots on the ground in the Middle East. It’s now obvious, however, that he left the basic infrastructure of eternal war firmly in place.
Enter The Donald.
For all his half-baked tweets, insults, and boasts, as well as his refusal to read anything of substance on issues of war and peace, some of candidate Trump’s foreign-policy ideas seemed far saner than those of just about any other politician around or the previous two presidents. I mean, the Iraq War was dumb, and maybe it wasn’t the craziest idea for America’s allies to start thinking about defending themselves, and maybe Washington ought to put some time and diplomatic effort into avoiding a possibly catastrophic clash or set of clashes with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
Unfortunately, the White House version of all this proved oh-so-familiar. President Trump’s decision, for instance, to double down on a losing bet in Afghanistan in spite of his “instincts” (and on similar bets in Somalia, Syria, and elsewhere) and his recently published National Defense Strategy (NDS) leave little doubt that he’s surrendered to Secretary of Defense James Mattis and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, the mainstream interventionists in his administration.