The dogs of war will eat your future.

The historical record of the US in coddling dictators, and torturers, violating international law, and invading other countries, mocks the claim that we are fighting for human rights, democracy, and national sovereignty.

 “This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”  Dwight Eisenhower.
Two years ago, Joe Biden’s agenda signaled that the Democratic party wing of our governing class was finally ready to deal with the long accumulating crises facing the country – rising economic insecurity and inequality, crumbling competitiveness, armed insurrection, and a relentlessly hotter plant. It was never going to be easy. The costs of transition to a secure and prosperous future are enormous – and it is a task of decades.

Still, in his first year Biden took important steps– investment in infrastructure, technology, clean energy, social programs, and work force diversity. He spent what was needed to stop a Covid depression. And he withdrew us from the 20-year quagmire in Afghanistan, forswearing “regime change” and promising a foreign policy for the middle class.

A year later, we Americans can kiss tomorrow goodbye.

With the support of our politicians, plutocrats and pundits, Biden has now committed us to a 4-front global crusade against Russia, China, Iran and a confused, contradictory “terrorist” hit-list of mostly African nations and people. Even if we are lucky enough to avoid a nuclear catastrophe, the wars will drain away resources required for domestic renewal.

Yet none of these “enemies” has the capacity now, or in the foreseeable future, to threaten the survival, well-being and/or vital interests of our republic. And the historical record of the US in coddling dictators, and torturers, violating international law, and invading other countries, mocks the claim that we are fighting for human rights, democracy, and national sovereignty.

The core conflict in each theater of war is over the American governing class’s control of other people’s geographic neighborhoods – Eastern Europe, the South and East China Seas, the Middle East and Africa. To justify its huge budget after the collapse of the Soviet Union, our military-industrial complex has roamed the world for three decades seeking monsters to destroy. In the 43 years of the previous Cold War, the US intervened militarily in other countries 46 times. In the following 25 years we intervened 188 times. Today we have an armed forces presence in 80 countries and 750 bases around the world.  As Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright famously asked the then Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell, “What’s the point of having this superb military you are always talking about if we can’t use it.?

Analysts on both left and right have long concluded that the “superb” military is bloated, inefficient and way over-priced. The war machine budget for this fiscal year $842 billion. Add the money for veterans’ benefits, homeland security and the State Department and you reach a “national security” tab of over $1.3 trillion. A lot of money for a military that hasn’t won a serious war since 1945.

So far, the political cost has been minimal.  Richard Nixon abolished the draft, virtually wiping out the grass-roots antiwar movement. A decade later, Ronald Reagan showed politicians how they could borrow money from the rest of the world to finance the military, spend enough to muffle domestic discontent, and cut taxes while still playing the role of “fiscal conservatives.” Because our IOUs – US dollars – were in demand as the world’s most important currency, we wouldn’t have to pay it back.

So long as these “forever” wars were limited to distant places most Americans couldn’t find on a map, and the contracts were deftly allocated among Congressional districts it was all politically manageable. Protected by distance and dollars, Americans could root for Team America on their infotainment channels.  Protected from their constituents, their leaders could continue to play and profit from the “Great Game” of global geopolitics.

But the new, expanded Cold War is rapidly raising the ante. With more formidable opponents, the costs are already accelerating beyond our capacity. At the same time, US economic and political power is diminishing, requiring even more reliance on the military to exercise global domination. Which in turn makes it harder to pull out and cut our loses.

The commitments made are already beyond our current capacity. Ukraine has used up 13 years of Stinger anti-aircraft and five years of Javelin missiles. The US produces 14,000 155 mm artillery shells a month. Ukrainians have burned through that much in two days.  The Ukraine says it needs 300 to 500 more tanks. NATO promises 200 and complains its war industries “are under strain.”

This is just the beginning. The war with Russia is openly seen in Washington as a rehearsal for a war with China in the next 2-5 years. This will require a further quantum leap in spending. The Air Force is already short 1,650 pilots, and this year the Army plans to cut 10,000 soldiers because it can’t get enough recruits.

A war with China would require a huge sea-going armada. The Navy says it needs to go from 280 to 500 warships –by 2045.  War game exercises have concluded that we would run out of long-range naval missiles a week after the shooting started in the Taiwan Strait.  One Navy commander recently complained: “In five years, instead of delivering 10 fast attack submarines, I got six. Where’s the other four?”

Biden pledges to make Taiwan a “porcupine” of missiles aimed at China when we have a $19 billion backlog in weapons promised to Taipei.

The new Cold War is locking the politically powerful military-industrial complex into an indefinitely rising market. The question of price, never taken very seriously in the Pentagon, is now completely irrelevant. After all, there is a war on!

Long-term, cost-plus contracts are cascading out of the Pentagon into a corporate feeding frenzy. The industry is scrambling for technical talent and hi-tech components that are already in short supply. One of Biden’s early successes was a program to subsidize US production of semi-conductors to make American industry more competitive. But with the escalating demands of the military, the new technologies are more likely to flow into the next generation of weapons than into household robots, smarter phones, or other commercial products.

US industry – by far the world’s largest exporters of arms – is also flooded with orders from Europeans who can’t deliver on their own promises to the Ukraine. Not to worry, say the pundits, the US can afford it all. The military budget is only 3 – 5 percent of our GDP. Even if it doubles, so what?   But the question is not one of abstract macroeconomic accounting. It is whether we have the financial and political capital to pay for a new global war and deal the metastasizing problems at home.

Some history should help here.  As he escalated the Viet Nam War, Lyndon Johnson assured us that America – which then produced 40 percent of the globe’s GDP and was running trade and domestic surpluses –could have both “guns and butter”, i.e., that we had enough money to achieve victory over the communists in in Southeast Asia and over poverty at home. A few short years later, broken and bitter, Johnson told his biographer that “That bitch of a war,” had killed “the woman I really loved -- the Great Society…All my programs. All my dreams to provide education and medical care to the browns and the blacks and the lame and the poor.”

Our current 15 percent share of global GDP now is slightly less than China’s. We run chronic trade and fiscal deficits.  The dollar still dominates, but has slipped from 70 to 60 percent of global reserves in the last 20 years.  And our aggressive confiscation of a growing list of foreigners’ assets is making investors nervous. Even the Saudis, whose commitment to price oil in US currency is a pillar of the dollar preeminence, are openly considering accepting payment in Yuan now that China is their number one customer. Two-thirds of the world’s countries trade more with China than with the US.

One investment manager says, “Right now, for the first time in my memory, we have an international financial crisis in which the dollar has been weakening rather than strengthening. I wonder if this is a sign of things to come.” Maybe yes. Maybe no.  But in any case, domestic political resistance will put a straitjacket on the government’s capacity to borrow for both guns and butter.

Our political capital has shrunk even faster than our economic power.  The share of Americans who trust that their government will mostly do the right thing fell from almost 80 percent in Lyndon Johnson’s time to 20 percent today. And the once conservative Republican Party has become a wrecking ball of nihilism. Reflecting this, the President’s latest domestic-side budget is visionless and defensive. He calls for cutting the federal deficit and says he hopes to protect existing domestic programs with taxes for the rich, which of course are dead-on-arrival in a reactionary and irresponsible Republican House of Representatives.

Wrapping himself in American exceptionalism, Biden opened his global crusade by promising the world that Americans are eager to sacrifice to bring their values to the world. “We stand up to bullies…This is who we are.”

Rather that’s who we—undertaxed, undrafted, and unwilling to stand up to violent bullying at home -- say we are.  But when push comes to shove there is little stomach for sacrifice. Already public support for the Ukraine adventure seems to be following the patterns of Viet Nam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  An initial rush of jingoist flag- waving and bravado. Then, second thoughts about the costs and dangers, followed by disappointment…and eventually boredom. Last May, support for sending weapons to the Ukraine was at 60 percent. In January, 48 percent. The issue divides along domestic partisan lines, suggesting that many Americans feel more threatened by the other American political party than by Vladimir Putin.

Biden’s own faith in the willingness of Americans to discomfort themselves in order to police the world quickly wilted. When the war drove up the price of gasoline, he opened up the Nation’s emergency oil reserve to deflate voters’ anger at paying another buck a gallon.

A majority oppose sending troops to the Ukraine.  But troops are already there, as trainers and “inspectors” -- although the Pentagon won’t tell us how many. Whatever that number is, it will grow. Americans will die. And the neo–Cold Warriors will demand revenge.

Today, opposition to Biden’s aggressive foreign policy mainly comes from the anti-Biden radical Right – and will all but disappear if a Republican wins the White House. Just as Donald Trump’s posture of isolationism disappeared when he found out how much fun it was to threaten other countries with our super military. Eventually, we can expect anti-war feeling to expand among Democrats. Meanwhile, progressives talk wistfully of the need for “diplomacy”. But Biden seems to be uninterested in anything short of unconditional surrender, and perhaps war criminal trials to boot. Since he is all they have now for 2024, Democrats who disagree mostly shut up.

Another prolonged war will also accelerate the military mind-set that is spreading throughout our already gun-saturated culture -- from increased surveillance and war weapons for local police to the infusion of battle language to guide our lives. (e.g., to succeed in life, you need to be a ‘warrior”.)  In a 2021 poll, forty percent of Americans said they would accept a military coup.

 Seeds of McCarthyism are already sprouting. After a bipartisan Congressional hearing on China, the Chair, Mike Gallagher, a “moderate” Republican from Wisconsin, suggested that anyone who questioned a hardline against China was a friend of the Chinese Communist Party.” Echoing the equation of dissent with disloyalty, the liberal Paul Krugman writes: “it’s no secret that many people on the right and a few on the left actually want Putin to win.’

So, if their domestic agenda has any chance of being revived, progressives will have to build on the public’s second thoughts, challenging the bipartisan War Party over America’s fundamental priorities. As in the past, and like it or not, a successful anti-war movement will have to build not so much on the ravages that our imperialism is imposing on the rest of the world, but on Americans themselves.

We simply do not have enough financial, political and social capital to have both the guns of empire and the butter of national progress.

The dogs of war may be unleashed to attack “over there,” but they will feed here at home. And devour our future.

A shorter version, We Must Challenge the Bipartisan War Party was published in the Nation Magazine, May 1-8, 2023.

Jeff Faux

Jeff Faux, Member of the Editorial Board of Insight, is the founder and former president of the Economic Policy Institute and the author of the new book "The Servant Economy: Where America's Elite is Sending the Middle Class".