The "Thinking Brains" of Foreign Policy

On my right, we have the military-industrial complex. If you haven’t (yet) watched “Why We Fight”, the excellent documentary by Jarecki, I recommend you do. Particularly during election time, it’s always good to be reminded about the threat to checks and balances in the government.

McCain is interviewed in this documentary – quite interesting position he lays out (I hope this arouses your curiosity – seriously – watch this documentary!)

On my left, “top foreign policy experts“. I love this graph:What this says is that “experts” completely changed their predictions within 11 months – does this suggest that asking for their opinion is probably rather useless, as it is bound to change with the ebb and flow of realities on the ground?

Is there any predictive value to this? I really doubt it: this poll, if it does anything at all, only re-affirms what everyone already knows. I hope we are not using these “expert opinions” to inform our foreign policy strategy (oh wait. we are.)

Why We Fight

Before I finish my “three part series” on refugees, I thought I would share some thoughts on the joyful subject of American military spending.

For an in-depth look at the American military-industrial complex, watch this documentary entitled “Why We Fight” (E. Jarecki, 2005). If you’re not in the mood to watch a full length feature about a pretty dry topic (I recognize that not everyone is into nerdy things like military spending), you should at least watch President Eisenhower’s farewell address, which is the first 3 minutes of the movie. Like him or not, he was definitely a visionary, and his words of warning ring so true today…

Facts about military spending

(Source: Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation)

This graph shows the proportion of our military spending that is earmarked for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

(Source: Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation)

Why is the US spending so much on its military? Besides the fact that the military-industrial complex continues to have a huge influence on how much of the federal budget is allocated to military spending, it feels like the United States is construing its domination of the world as a matter of hard power – we are the strongest, mightiest nation on Earth because of our military. We used to dominate the global scene through our economic, political and military influence, but the former two have decreased sharply in recent times.

In terms of economic power, the United States is now contending for top dog with emerging market economies (China… India…. ), and economic interdependence makes it very difficult to truly dominate the world through that channel (thank god).
In terms of political influence, apart from Africa which apparently loves the United States and George W Bush, the US is confronted with the fact that its voice is not as powerful as it used to be.
I recognize that these are all debatable points – the point is that we really need to ask ourselves why the US is spending over half a trillion dollars/year on its own military, and if the reasons for doing so are valid.

Note: the US spends about $70 billion on education annually…. wonder why 63% of Americans aged 18 to 24 failed to correctly locate Iraq on a map of the Middle East. Seventy percent could not find Iran or Israel. Nine in ten couldn’t find Afghanistan on a map of Asia. And 54% did not know Sudan was a country in Africa“(2006, National Geographic.)

“Why We Fight” offers an interesting perspective on the relationship between the US government, and the military and its industries. It should fuel further examination of the reasoning behind astronomical spending on conventional military activities in a world where the threats that loom the largest are no longer conventional…. Our failure to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan are testament to this.