But the biggest American addiction of all is hardly mentioned – the country’s massive dependency on war. On that problem, the country is living in denial, at least for those among its political class.
While Trump is feuding with Republicans and Democrats over passing his budget for tax cuts and social spending, one item remains off-limits for debate. The Congress is whistling through a record miltary spend of $700 billion for next year. That’s an increase of some $50 billion on last year’s budget for the military, which itself was something of a record.
As the US-based National Priorities Project audits, American military spending consumes over half of the annual $1.1 trillion discretionary budget. That allocation represents about 10 times what the US federal government spends on either education or healthcare out of its annual discretionary budget.
Putting that $700 billion annual military expenditure into a global context, the US spends 10 times more than either Russia, Britain or France. Or, put another way, the US spends the same aggregate amount as the next nine top world military spenders combined, including China, Russia, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia and South Korea.
David Stockman, who worked as a senior economist in the Ronald Reagan administration during the 1980s, has compared the present military spend with previous peaks during the Cold War. In equalized dollar terms, he estimates that the current $700 billion figure is roughly double what the US was spending at the height of the Cold War during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
Another data point, in 1968 when the Vietnam War was raging, the annual American military spend was $400 billion, according to Stockman.
Even during the 1980s, when President Reagan launched an unprecedented arms race against the Soviet Union – the US military budget reached a peak of $550 billion a year. That is, $150 billion less than what the Trump administration and Congress are proposing. A quarter-century after the Cold War supposedly ended.
There are many reasons why this insatiable consumption of national resources for the military should be deplored.
One good reason is the appalling neglect of social needs for millions of Americans. Trump is pushing through a $1.5-trillion tax cut plan – which the Tax Policy Center calculates will largely benefit the super wealthy and corporations. That giveaway for the richest top 10 per cent of the population will be paid for by brutal cuts in public spending on healthcare, social welfare, education, housing, and medical and scientific research.
If the US government slashed its military spending instead, it is estimated that all Americans would have top-class, universally free health and education systems.
Logically, as the US stockpiles more and more weapons, other nations are obliged to increase their defenses. This dynamic leads to further tensions, mistrust and misapprehensions. As the world’s top military spender, the onus is on the US to scale back. If it did so, that would serve to deescalate the military spending by other nations.
America’s war economy – for that’s what it is – has other far-reaching deleterious impacts. The US weapons industry accounts for half of the world’s arms trade. The planet is awash with America-made weapons, which fuels regional conflicts and non-state terror groups.
Furthermore, with such an engorged military, the ineluctable logic is for US governments to seek wars in order to maintain its war economy. America’s “scramble for Africa” is a topical case in point.
The historical record shows that no other nation has been involved in as many wars as the US since the Second World War. There’s no comparison. Historian William Blum has documented dozens of US wars around the world. The major ones include Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and a host of clandestine ones in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. The death toll from US military conduct over the past seven decades is reckoned to be about 25 million.
Why is the US addicted to war? A major reason is do with the failure of American capitalism. The US economy is propped up by its military-industrial complex, comprising giant weapons manufacturers like Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon. These companies have enormous lobbying influence on government, think tanks and corporate media, which perpetuates in the “warfare state”.
However, this war economy is unsustainable, as David Stockman and others remark. It is leading to cataclysmic American fiscal debt and social decay. It is also fomenting a highly unstable world of international tensions and conflict. Washington’s belligerence towards China, Russia, Iran and North Korea is a corollary of its irrationally disproportionate military forces.
The dangerous state of affairs was warned about some 55 years ago in 1961 by President Ike Eisenhower during his farewell address to the nation. Eisenhower foretold the grim emergence of an all-dominant military-industrial complex that would pose a danger to the US nation and the world.
It’s not just the rest of the world that suffers from America’s addiction to war. American society and democracy are also casualties. Just imagine how much healthier, better educated, more prosperous, more cultured American citizens would be if they did not have to feed their war-addicted economy with an annual fix of $700 billion.
The final irony is that America’s other pathological addictions are intertwined with its war habit. Its Big Oil addiction, the opiate crisis fueled by illicit drug business behind the war in Afghanistan, and the proliferation of military weapons in society, are all, in one way or another, rooted in America’s addiction to war.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik.