The military budget of the United States is more than that of the entire Canadian government. More than U.S. $1 trillion to make war. And money.
The 2023 political year in the United States kicked off in theatrical fashion — in turmoil and dispute over the very first and simplest thing the new Congress had to do: choose a House speaker. This multiday psychodrama set the tone for what promises to be two years of conflict and obstruction between, on the one side, the new Republican majority in the House of Representatives and, on the other, the Democratic Senate and President Joe Biden’s White House. And all this without taking into account disruptions from the fringe of the MAGA troublemakers.
There are few looming battles more important than that around the budget. The threat of a partial shutdown regularly hangs over the federal government in the absence of an agreement between the parties where each now wields the right of veto on the decisions of the other.
The Republicans will want to scrutinize a series of Democratic programs, like health insurance for seniors, while Democrats are looking to open the valves to finance them. The battle will be fierce, as the two parties are diametrically opposed on these issues.
However, there is one point where the Democrats and Republicans have for years been as thick as thieves: the military. Incidentally, it is, by far, the biggest slice of the American budgetary pie, excluding automatic expenditures like pensions.
The agreement is such that no real debate on the appropriateness of spending billions ($808 billion for 2023, to be exact; an increase of 8%) seems possible.
Where Does the Money Go?
The military budget for fiscal year 2023 is actually more than $1 trillion when international aid and military pensions are included. Of the 15 or so federal departments, among them those of health, education, transportation and the State Department, which manages American diplomacy around the world, the two most important, year after year, are related to defense and veterans.
The Pentagon’s budget alone surpasses the combined military budgets of the nine military powers after the U.S., including China and Russia. American military assistance to Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion last winter is more than Russia’s overall military budget, and 50 times more than Canada’s.
And, just as remarkable, this infusion of limitless public funding comes with an equally unparalleled opaqueness. For decades now, voices have been raised on the right as well as the left for, if nothing else, an audit of the Pentagon to see how taxpayer money is being spent.
Among the handful of those who supported the measure during the last Congress were Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, and libertarian Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul. The establishment in both parties, as it does year after year, and Congress after Congress, quickly killed the initiative.
American private media, starting with the cable networks like Fox and CNN, which are more and more in recent years defined by their tribal affiliations to one party and their opposition to the other, have shown little interest in the issue. Political conflict between Democrats and Republicans, left and right, Trump and the anti-Trump, is good for business and generates clicks. A consensus between the two parties, as worthy of public interest as it could be on military spending of $1 trillion, is a harder sell, and because of this, fails to fuel public debate.
More Money, More Wars
If it were strictly a question of the management of public funds, that would be one thing. But there are also very real consequences, both direct and indirect, on war and peace around the world.
Since the start of the 21st century, the U.S. has bombed or invaded close to 10 countries, the majority of them without the knowledge of the American public. There were, of course, Afghanistan and Iraq. But how many people were aware of the bombings since 2000 in Pakistan, Somalia and Syria?
How many people know that one of the most brutal and deadly wars to rage in a decade is in Yemen, where weapons used by Saudi forces, often against civilians, come from the U.S.?
In the early 1990s, at the end of the Cold War, the American defense secretary, a certain Dick Cheney, initiated a strategic plan to “prevent the re-emergence of a new rival” on the international scene.
The goal of the plan, in so many words, was, ultimately, American domination of the planet. Controversial and contested, it was leaked and ended up on the front page of The New York Times in March 1992.
When, 30 years later in 2022, the Biden administration presented its own 10-year strategic defense plan calling for global dominance of American power and values, it was scarcely discussed in the public sphere.
In the mid-2000s, during the American invasion of Iraq, a brilliant documentary titled “Why We Fight” was released. It traced the rise of what former President Dwight D. Eisenhower in his farewell speech called the “military-industrial complex,” now a well-known expression. The point was already clear: It has nothing to do with a president, or a party — the U.S. is a deeply militaristic country, and it has built structures around the defense industry that have become increasingly more difficult, even impossible, to challenge.
At the center of the documentary is this quote, striking in its simplicity, by political scientist and former official with the Central Intelligence Agency Chalmers Johnson, “I guarantee you, when war becomes that profitable, you’re going to see more of it.”