Saturday, January 28, 2017

William Astore - Weapons, Warriors, and Fear as the New Order in America

The U.S. bestrides arms production and dealing like a colossus. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, U.S. arms contractors sold $209.7 billion in weaponry in 2015, representing 56% of the world’s production... It’s estimated that there are more than 300 million weapons in American hands, nearly enough to arm every citizen, the tall and the small (even tots)...

Strangely, most Americans remain either wilfully ignorant of, or indifferent to, what their country is becoming. That American-made weaponry is everywhere, that America’s warriors are all over the globe, that America’s domestic prisons are bursting with more than two million captives, is even taken by some as a point of pride. 

I came of age during America's Cold War with the Soviet Union, witnessing its denouement while serving in the U.S. military. In those days, the USSR led the world's weapons trade, providing arms to the Warsaw Pact (the military alliance it dominated) as well as to client states like Cuba, Egypt, and Syria.  The United States usually came in second in arms dealing, a dubious silver medal that could, at least, be rationalized as a justifiable response to Soviet aggression, part of the necessary price for a longstanding policy of “containment.” In 1983, President Ronald Reagan had dubbed the Soviet Union an "evil empire" in part because of its militarism and aggressive push to sell weaponry around the globe, often accompanied by Soviet troops, ostensibly as trainers and advisers.

After the USSR imploded in 1991, dominating the world’s arms trade somehow came to seem so much less evil. In fact, faced with large trade deficits, a powerful military-industrial complex looking for markets, and ever more global military commitments, Washington actively sought to promote and sell American-made weaponry on a remarkable scale. And in that it succeeded admirably.

Today, when it comes to building and exporting murderous weaponry, no other country, not even that evil-empire-substitute, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, comes faintly close.  The U.S. doth bestride the world of arms production and dealing like a colossus. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, U.S. arms contractors sold $209.7 billion in weaponry in 2015, representing 56% of the world’s production.  Of that, $40 billion was exported to an array of countries, representing “half of all agreements in the worldwide arms bazaar,” as the New York Times put it.  France ($15 billion) was a distant second, with Putin’s Russia ($11 billion) earning a weak third.  Judged by the sheer amount of weapons it produces for itself, as well as for others, the U.S., notes Forbes, is “still comfortably the world's superpower -- or warmonger, depending on how you look at it.” Indeed, under President Obama, in the five-year period beginning in 2010, American arms exports outpaced the figures for the previous Bush-Cheney years by 23%. 

Not only has the U.S. come to dominate the arms trade in an almost monopolistic fashion over the last two decades, but it has also become the top exporter of troops globally.  Leaving aside the ongoing, seemingly endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. continues to garrison the globe with approximately 800 military bases, while deploying its Special Operations forces to a significant majority of the planet’s countries annually.  As TomDispatch’s Nick Turse reported recently, "From Albania to Uruguay, Algeria to Uzbekistan, America’s most elite forces -- Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets among them -- were deployed to 138 countries in 2016."  Think about that: last year, U.S. Special Operations troops were sent to more than two-thirds of the approximately 190 countries on the planet.  While some of these deployments were small, others were more impressive -- and invasive -- and often enough dovetailed with efforts to sell weaponry (which even has its own military acronym: FMS, or foreign military sales). 

Recall those Red Army trainers and advisers who often accompanied Soviet weaponry into the field a generation ago.  These days, travel the planet and the trainers and advisers you’ll see are overwhelmingly likely to be wearing U.S. uniforms or at least to be contractors working for Pentagon-allied, U.S.-based warrior-corporations.  Testing, touting, and toting American-made arms in far-flung realms is the common mission of the U.S. military these days, and business is booming. 

If all of this were to be summarized under one rubric, it might be Weapons & Warriors “R” Us, and it’s not just an international phenomenon.  Consider the surge in the production and sale of guns in the good old US of A.  It’s now estimated that there are more than 300 million weapons in American hands, nearly enough to arm every citizen, the tall and the small (even tots).  That old chestnut associated with early advertising for Colt Manufacturing has truly come into its own in twenty-first-century America: God created men; Sam Colt made them equal. 

These days, arms are everywhere, even prospectively in public schools, which, as Betsy DeVos pointed out recently in her confirmation hearings for secretary of education, should certainly be armed against “lone wolf” grizzly bears (if not Islamic terrorists).  Even liberals are now reportedly getting into the act, scarfing up guns in the aftermath of November’s election, apparently gripped by the rising fear of a coming Trumpocalypse.  This national mania for guns (and for carrying them everywhere) is mirrored by an abundance of domestic prisons and security firms, offering jobs that, unlike those in steel mills and manufacturing plants, can’t easily be outsourced to foreign lands.
Since the end of the Cold War, America has been exporting a mirror image of its domestic self: not the classic combo of democracy and freedom, but guns, prisons, and security forces…read more:
http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/176235/tomgram%3A_william_astore%2C_a_violent_cesspool_of_our_own_making/#more
(The author is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF) and professor of history)

see also
Pope Decries “Shameful and Culpable Silence” on Arms Sales