Two tidbits of note regarding the United States and its well-fed war machine, the first regarding a familiar problem child: the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Coming in at an overall and still-growing project cost of $1.7 trillion, the F-35 was intended to be a kind of flying junk drawer, filled to bursting with neat technological tools to solve any dilemma a hypersonic weapon of mass destruction may encounter.
Turns out, as many now know, the F-35 is basically just junk. It has never worked properly, never became the huge sales item the Pentagon was hoping for, and House Armed Services Committee chairman Adam Schiff recently called the whole program a “failure on a massive freaking scale.”
All this was before one of the things shot the shit out of itself in early March. You heard me.
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“A Marine Corps F-35B Joint Strike Fighter accidentally shot itself during a practice mission earlier this month,” reports Kyle Mizokami for Esquire, “causing more than $2.5 million in damage. Fortunately, the fighter jet was able to land, and the pilot was unharmed.”
One does not have to be von Clausewitz to grasp the fact that a flying war weapon capable of firing 25-millimeter PGU-32/U Semi-Armor Piercing High Explosive Incendiary-Tracer rounds from a side-mounted GAU-22 four-barrel, 25-millimeter Gatling gun at a rate of 3,000 rounds per minute is a damn dangerous thing to have on hand. The inability to prevent that weapon from destroying itself with one of its own weapons casts deep doubt on its place in the skies over “the battlefields of the future.”
Context, as ever, is king. As the nation wrestles with how to fund the Biden administration’s ambitious and expensive slate of policy proposals, a number of familiar voices have raised the inevitable chorus of “we can’t afford it!” Many of these voices belong to lawmakers who have spent the last several years practically pushing the F-35 down the runway to get it to fly and justify the expenditure. The very existence of hyper-boondoggle programs like the F-35 are a massive testament to the simple fact that we can afford to help people if we choose to. The trick is in the choosing.
Item two regarding the war machine is as purely American as it gets. As a Trump-established May 1 deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan looms, the same old pushback has returned. “We’ve got to be able to assure the world and the American public that Afghanistan will not be a source of planning, plotting to project terrorist attacks around the globe,” Sen. Jack Reed, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters last month. “That’s the minimum. I’m not sure we can do that without some presence there.”
Plus, there are all those mineral and natural gas deposits to exploit, all those mines to be dug and pipelines to be laid, all that money to be made. War is a profitable enterprise, though we do not discuss this in polite company… and that’s the funny part: The Pentagon’s newest excuse for staying in Afghanistan is all business. Simply put, they don’t want to get sued if they leave. From CNN:
Despite the signing of the Doha agreement last February that called for a full drawdown of US troops and personnel from Afghanistan by May 1, the Department of Defense issued nearly a billion dollars in contracts to 17 different companies related to work in Afghanistan past the withdrawal date. There are currently some 18,000 contractors in the country, of which 6,350 are American citizens.
With the deadline rapidly approaching and no formal decision from the White House, the future of the contracts, some of which have completion dates in 2023 and beyond, remains unclear, but the Pentagon could potentially have to pay hundreds of millions in settlements or face years of litigation if the US pulls out of the country on schedule or by the end of the year as President Joe Biden suggested is likely.
Please pardon the pun, but this is just too rich. If anyone still doubted that war in the United States is pretty much the biggest business of all, look no further than this report. Like any big contractor, the Pentagon can get sued if it stiffs the subcontractors… but in this case, “stiffing the contractors” means “failing to maintain a violent 20-year military occupation.”
Why bring these two items up? We are less than three months into a new presidential administration. None can argue that things aren’t on their way to being profoundly different now, when it comes to some matters of domestic policy. On foreign policy, the Pentagon and eternal war, however, very little has changed, right down to the rank absurdities that still make John Yossarian fume.
“Clearly what is needed is diplomacy and negotiations on contested matters,” linguist and historian Noam Chomsky tells Truthout, “and real cooperation on such crucial issues as global warming, arms control, future pandemics — all very severe crises that know no borders. Whether Biden’s hawkish foreign policy team will have the wisdom to move in these directions is, for now, at best unclear — at worst, frightening. Absent significant popular pressures, prospects do not look good.”
We have no laurels to rest on with Mr. Biden in the White House. His revival of a 21st century Truman Doctrine of goodwill or humanitarian military intervention around the world sounds good in a speech, but is perilous and expensive in the extreme. In too many ways, it is the same old business in a new wrapper, and even the wrapper ain’t that new.
Mr. Biden must break free of the war-footing inertia that has trapped so many of his predecessors. And we must keep up the pressure to urge him to do so.