Andrew Cockburn’s The Spoils of War confirms, with more up-to-date information, my decades-old cynicism about American politics and foreign policy. The gist of the book is it’s impossible to be too cynical about these things and that that most of American politics is entirely fraudulent. The US is not just “failing to live up to its own high ideals”, but is a classically dishonest and brutal imperial power much like all of the others on our historical-villain list.
The book is made up of 17 chapters about American foreign and military policy, the War on Terror, our interventions in the Middle East, and the associated graft which were written between 2014 and 2020, together with an introduction and a few short linking passages and updates.
I am not expert on any of the specific topics Cockburn writes about and would be happy to hear criticisms. A few bullet points:
* The American military and American foreign policy are dominated by faux-Keynesian pork barrel spending and the international arms trade. Afghanistan has been a money sink and had an immediate stimulating effect here and there in the US, but in the long run it has been a drag on the economy overall. Military procurement is dominated by high tech weaponry, and the weapons and equipment most useful for the wars we actually fight (like the A-10, or minesweepers, or gear for troops on the ground) are neglected. Military threats are enormously exaggerated (“threat enhancement”) in order to squeeze money out of Congress – neither China nor Russia as serious a threat as is claimed. In general, bombing from the air is always much less effective than we wish. The transsonic missile system is impossible.
* Investigation of Saudi Arabia’s role in terrorism (including both the 9/11 attack and the 1993 WTC trade center attacks) has been repeatedly blocked. Even before the Soviet invasion (which we worked to provoke) the US was playing its own role in the encouragement of militant Islam in Afghanistan, and now in Syria we are cooperating with a late stage of al Qaeda.
* Most of the trillion dollars we spent in Afghanistan was leached off in graft somewhere or another, and Goldwyn Sachs helps enable the graft. Once the money stopped coming in, no one in Afghanistan had any reason to continue fighting (as we saw). Claims that we suppressed opium production in Afghanistan were fraudulent, and much of the fighting in Afghanistan was just turf battles between drug lords, who claimed to be Taliban or anti-Taliban, as convenient.
*Mostly for financial reasons (arms sales) the US is complicit with the Saudis in the genocidal war in Yemen. Our use of international sanctions as a weapon of war also kills babies.
*Many or most of the relevant think tanks and academic scholars are linked to the foreign policy establishment one way or another, and many are also in the pay of the Saudis or the Gulf States.
* In foreign and military policy, thee’s no paticular reason to think that Democrats are less bad than Republicans.