The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War

Citation: Franklin Spinney, "The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War," Challenge: The Magazine of Economic Affairs, Volume 54 Number 1, January-February 2011, pp. 54-60.

[Note: A slightly modified version of this essay is also Chapter 1 of the Pentagon Labyrinth.] 


Today, 20 years after the end of the Cold War and the disappearance of the Soviet Union, the United States spends more on defense than at any time since the end of World War II. This is true even if one removes the cumulative effects of 65 years of inflation from the current defense budget. Yet, notwithstanding the absence of a nuclear-armed super power to threaten our existence, this gigantic defense budget is not producing a greater sense of security for most Americans. 
Indeed, we have become a fearful nation, a bunkered nation, bogged down in never ending wars abroad accompanied by shrinking civil liberties at home. We now spend almost as much on defense as the rest of the world combined, yet the sinews of our supporting economy, particularly the all-important manufacturing sector, are weakening at an alarming rate, threatening the existence of the high-income, middle-class consumer society we built after World War II.  
President Obama promised change, but he is under intense pressure to increase the defense budget even further, in part because he is continuing his predecessors’ war-centric foreign policy. At the same time, he is being pressured to reduce the rapidly increasing federal deficit, caused in part by the rising defense budget, but also by an ill-advised bank bailout and the cyclical effects of the worst recession since the end of World War II. Moreover, the president initially promised to place the Pentagon off limits, while he sought reductions in discretionary spending for civilian programs and only reluctantly put defense spending “on the table” when he convened a bipartisan panel to seek a comprehensive path to a balanced budget. Lurking in the background, hanging over the American people like a guillotine, lies the menacing possibility of cutting Social Security and Medicare. In short, Obama may have promised change, but he is continuing the establishment’s business-as-usual practices, including the grotesque diversion of scarce resources to a bloated defense budget that is leading the United States into ruin. Whether or not Obama’s defense policy is a question of his free will is quite beside the point.  
The salient question is: How did the American political system maneuver itself into such a destructive straightjacket? ... (continued here or here)