Providing for the Common Defense: Propaganda for a New Cold War

By Ron Widelec, a progressive, anti-war activist on Long Island and and a history teacher in New York City.

The organization that published the report is the U.S. Institute of Peace, which is mostly dedicated to providing a academic justification for American Empire.

On November 11th, a special committee empowered by Congress to examine American security published a 100-page report, published by the Orwellian-named U.S. Institute for Peace, titled Providing for the Common Defense. This report, riddled with historical inaccuracies and dripping with American exceptionalism, made one basic claim, which is hammered home again and again: America is in grave danger and must spend much more on its military. In many ways, the document had a similar feel to the infamous NSC-68 document, which argued the wonders of America, the horrors of the evil Soviets, and the laid down the ideological framework for the Cold War. Providing for the Common Defense lays out a similar case for the a new Cold War, once again using China and Russia as convenient boogeymen to justify endless war spending.

Historical Inaccuracies

Much like NSC-68, this report paints a commercially silly and ahistorical version of world, in which the United States is shining city upon on hill, bestowing its wonders for the improvement of all. According to this team of ‘experts,’ American power has provided peace and stability around the globe since the end of World War II. Absent from this assessment are the wars and instability caused by American military, including the recent examples of Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan, among others. Similarly, the document claims that America has been “defending democratic values and human rights abroad.” In reality, the U.S. has a history of toppling democratically elected regimes, is currently funding over 70% of the world’s dictatorships and has often allied itself with human rights violators, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. Putting aside the impact of American militarism abroad, the paper goes on to claim that American prosperity has been bolstered by our militarism. There is little doubt that some segments of the country, particularly weapons manufacturers, oil companies, and their wealthy stock owners, have been enriched by such actions. However, it is difficult to see how the rest of the country has benefited, especially at a time of massive inequality, lack of access to clean water for large parts of the county, tens of millions who do not have healthcare, and nearly half the country’s population being poor or low income. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is their false claim that the United State’s military has been underfunded for years. They even have the audacity to use the term austerity to describe spending upwards of $600 billion dollars annually, despite the fact that this number exceeds that of the next 10 nations combined. This team of ‘experts’ is far too educated and knowledgeable to have made these mistakes. There are only two explanations: one, they are so deeply imbued in American exceptionalism that they can no longer see objective reality, or two, they are simply lying.

War without Agency

One of the more insidious elements of the report is the way in which it discusses future war with a assumed inevitability and total lack of agency. When potential future wars are discussed in the report, it is always presented as something inevitable and beyond anyone’s control. Wars simply happen, rather than the U.S. government making a deliberate decision to go to war. America is inexorably “called into action in a country” or wars just “occur” as if out of thin air. Though no compelling reason is presented for a war, the paper speaks about potential war with China, and to a lesser degree, Russia, on nearly every single page. Increased spending is needed, they claim, because America must be able to wage of full country-to-country war with one of these powers while simultaneously still “projecting its power” in all other regions, lest a regional rival perceive an opening to project their power. Central to their thinking is a simplistic zero sum game analysis in which any increase in power by another country is a loss of power and direct threat to the United States. For example, the authors state that “the rise of China would present challenges for America and the World [italics added] even if Beijing pursued its interests through entirely legitimate means.” The fact that China is a rising power can only be seen through the lens of competition and conflict; every step forward for China comes at the expense of the U.S., if one uses this kind of thinking. In reality, this quote from the report gives away the real game by adding “and the world” to the equation. The built in assumption is that America’s strategic aims are good for the whole world, and thus, the aims of China or any other country must be bad for the world, a “world [that America] has done so much to build,” as the report states elsewhere. The reason they present it in this way is clear: despite never mentioning empire, this whole paper is actually about preserving the American Empire of influence all over the planet.

American Empire

The paper is full of ambiguous terms that are used interchangeably to describe American Empire while avoiding the actual word. The American Empire differs from the old colonial empires of the past. It is neo-colonial in nature, an empire of influence rather than direct control. America does not have colonies, per se, but it does have nearly 1000 military bases all over the world, exercises influence through foreign aid, sanctions, military threats, interfering with elections, overthrowing foreign governments, and, when all else fails, direct military action. A key theme in the paper is that specific countries are rising to become regional powers, such as China, Russia, and Iran. In no way are these countries threats to the people of the United States, but they are threats to “American interests abroad,” one of the key code words for American Empire. Other terms used in the report to represent hegemonic U.S. domination include U.S. global influence, U.S. national interests, power projection, America’s vital interests, liberal international order, and international security. All of these terms mean basically the same thing: America’s ability to exercise control over every region of the world at once. The report makes an effort the equate “defending the American people [and] American territory” with defending its “interests abroad,” but never even attempts to explain how or why this is so. It is presented as a self-evident truth, not worth even thinking about. Like most self-evident truths, it is presented this way to prevent people from actually thinking about it because even the most cursory of examination reveals the emptiness of the claim. Rather than think, we are told to feel. And the prescribed feeling is fear. The costs, they warn, would be “measured in American lives, American treasure, and American security and prosperity lost. It will be a tragedy — of unforeseeable but perhaps tremendous magnitude.” Thus, if you follow their twisted logic, the only way to protect American lives is to send American servicemen to fight, and kill, and die in foreign lands thousands of miles from home. The only way to preserve American treasure is to spend far more or it on the military. The only way to be more secure is to risk more wars with countries that refuse to obey American dictates. And the only way to preserve our prosperity, is the take more money away from sorely needed investments in the American people and shift them to the war economy.

This report, written by agents of empire, commissioned by Congressional war-hawks who collect huge sums of money from weapons manufacturers, uses historical lies, poor logic, and fear to convince the American people that the U.S military is underfunded to the point of crisis, despite spending more than the next 10 countries combined. If only President and General Dwight Eisenhower were around to remind us that, “every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” To this list, we can add those who thirst but but receive only lead-tainted water, those who are sick but cannot afford medicine, and many more that are denied access to the American dream in the name of preserving the American Empire. While Americans are increasingly asked to go without, the arms dealers, and their servants in Washington, will line their pockets as they loot the nation’s treasure. Perhaps it is another general we should quote, 4-Star Marine Corp. General Smedley Butler, who reminded us in 1935 that, “war is a racket… in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives,” both on the battlefield and at home.