America’s Ongoing Imperial Scam

Biden ends speeches now with “God Bless the Troops,” writes Karen Kwiatkowski. He should respect their sacrifices with a more honorable foreign policy.

On Memorial Day, Joe Biden, accompanied by his wife Jill Biden, at Veterans Memorial Park, Wilmington, Delaware, May 25, 2020. (Adam Schultz, Biden for President, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

By Karen Kwiatkowski
Special to Consortium News

One week after the most attention-demanding election of our lifetimes, another Veteran’s Day came and went.  For the occasion, presumed President-elect Joe Biden laid a wreath at the Korean War Memorial in Philadelphia; whilst yet-to-conceded incumbent President Donald Trump held a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery. 

Both channeled and invoked the great reverence Americans still hold for veterans of the bygone Second World War and more complicated Korean conflagration.  Only some 300,000 of the men, and women, who fought in the former are still living.  No doubt we will continue to hear how many succumbed to Covid-19 in the past year, and whose fault that is. 

Yet, in his official statement, Biden added a personal touch — his son Beau’s service in Iraq — and a “personal commitment:” “I will never treat you or your families with anything less than the honor you deserve.”  If he really means it, rebalancing U.S. war-making authority and ditching the dated Second World War analogies would be a good start.

World War II remains the go-to conflict for commemoration almost 80 years after America entered the fray.  It marks the last time the U.S. Congress did its constitutional duty and actually declared war before sending America’s young men off to kill and die on foreign fields. 

A veteran greets Vice President Mike Pence in Bedford, Virginia, ahead of the D-Day 75th anniversary, June 6, 2019. (White House, D. Myles Cullen)

All subsequent wars,from Korea and Vietnam, to the Iraqs (1991, 2003, 2014), Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and a host of military deployments on every continent around the world were waged at the pleasure of the sitting president, amply funded by the Congress, yet conveniently never rose to the level of a declared war. 

Little Wars & Presidencies 

We should consider these wars linked to the presidents themselves, or — perhaps more accurately — to their executive staffs, and the Department of Defense.  War policy-making power has almost completely shifted from the peoples representatives (House and Senate) to unelected appointees often recruited from think tanks — these funded by an array of organizations interested not in peace, but in accessing tax dollars, and gaining revenues at home and abroad. 

Biden’s incoming national security team is chock-full of them.  War spending, even in the absence of any notable war, is so compelling that for years, a Congress often unable to come up with a budget ensured the flow stayed strong to the Pentagon — and its cousin, the CIA — through continuing resolutions. 

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So-called overseas contingency operations, or little wars, have seen their funding go “off-book,” as the Pentagon budget now covers just its routine expenses — wars are paid for on top of that budget, so long as the Congress can be convinced by their Pentagon liaisons.  And they nearly always are.

This obscene spending for military weapons, training, gifts to allies, technology enhancement — for everything from cyberwar, surveillance, data collection, AI, robotics — as well as for standard “pocketbook” weapons systems like the F-35 fighter and aircraft carriers, represent the Military Industrial Complex’s (MIC) mainstay. 

Consider a disturbingly accurate recent diagnosis of the current situation:

“…the U.S. Presidents and their aides are quite aware of the current state of the US military: it is a military which simply cannot win even simple conflicts…a military whose Air Force spent absolutely obscene amounts of money to create a supposedly 5th generationfighter which in many ways is inferior to US 4th generation aircraft!”

It is against this larded and incompetent backdrop — of economic dependencies for a war machine directed by men and women who’ve never fought a declared war, and scant understanding of what defending the nation ought look like — that Americans await an inbound president who now feels obliged to add the patriotic tick “May God protect our troops” at the tail end of speeches.

Empty Gestures

Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery, Nov. 11, 2020. (White House, D. Myles Cullen)

Veterans, Memorial, Independence, or even just Tuesdays — replete with military flyovers at football games amidst an age of pandemic — have become empty gestures.  VA hospitals across the country had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century, and it is there today that many of our Vietnam veterans — of another little war mainly designed to entertain Pentagon fantasies at their expense — rot, for lack of a better word. 

Ultimately, these sacrifices, all part of a larger Washingtonian game, hardy matter to anyone but Vietnam alumni’s wives, kids — and this generation’s numbers now also dwindle.

What purpose then, does obligatory national celebration — in prose or pageantry — of veterans actually serve in year 20 of intractable and hopeless wars?  Clearly, veterans and their families are the only ones who truly sacrificed anything.  Those negotiating massive defense contracts — including built-in clauses covering delays, flaws, and implicit corruption — won’t even sacrifice surplus profits for the good of the country. 

Money isn’t blood, and stock prices can’t compensate limbs (to the tune of 1,645 single or multiple amputee veterans between 9/11 and 2015). 

The war machine is largely about money (for select elites) and creating new and expanding markets (benefitting the same) — the modern veteran’s primary function is simply that of “patriotic” bait for the public.  In fact, trotting out idealized veterans rationalizes and justifies MIC-corruption — trading on the good will that most American have for those who served (even if the government they served was lying about why) is increasingly unworkable.

Military recruitment has long been a challenge, partly because Americans increasingly see through the systemic scam, and are left wondering whether it’s such a great deal after all.  Despite the Pentagon’s massive data collection efforts and widespread access to high school and college students, recruitment is becoming more and more difficult. 

The latest army and air force recruiting approach involves convincing economically-insecure parents to encourage their kids to get out of their basements, and pursue dreams of playing soldier in the woods or flying video game-like drones.  In an era where more young people live at home for longer, this approach may appeal to parents, but it’s also a tell. 

Despite repeated and routine public deference to veterans, the truth is out.  There are just too many truth bombs available from potential recruits’ family and friends; too much outrage at the increasingly exposed police militarization in America’s streets — many of their new hires practicing what they learned patrolling Baghdad or Kandahar, policing Baltimore and Kansas City. 

There’s scant solace in knowing top defense contractors rake in untold billions, whilst too many American families slip further through the cracks, unsure of whence their next thousand will come.  And here’s a truth uncomfortable for far too many privileged and polite liberals so ready for a quiet return to a Biden-induced normalcy: both Trumpism and left-leaning progressivism was partly fueled by that shared realization.

Our veterans, too, have a solid sense of this truth — a truth that’s often painful, embarrassing and sometimes shameful. The Pentagon has little intrinsic interest in helping veterans, except to the extent that veterans, individually or collectively, can both execute and justify profitable business-as-usual foreign policies — which are increasingly crass, contradictory, and unconstitutional affairs. 

To truly honor our troops and veterans, Biden’s bunch should be brutally honest about what Washingtonian war” is, and should respect the very real sacrifices of the “other 1 percent” who actually serve—by demanding a more honorable and restrained foreign policy.  That’s going to require more action than obligatory utterance, and admission of a final hard truth: 

The imperial scam we’ve kept calling a republic these past 70 years is collapsing, and it will take all of us — veteran and civilian alike — to ensure a soft landing.

Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D, is a farmer, teacher, and retired USAF lieutenant colonel, who spent years working in the Pentagon.  She was a notable critic and whistleblower in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion.  Karen was featured in the acclaimed documentary, “Why We Fight” (2005), writes regularly for, and has had her work published in Salon, The American Conservative, and the Huffington Post, among others.  She is a senior fellow at the Eisenhower Media Network (EMN), an organization of independent veteran military and national security experts.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.


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20 comments for “America’s Ongoing Imperial Scam

  1. December 18, 2020 at 13:38

    Typical thinking inside the box of a former Pentagon operative.

    All that matters is the formality of war declaration, not its validity, let alone its morality.

    Yankees replace the Nazis as world agressors, although the latter were confined to Europe only.

  2. DickNOz
    December 17, 2020 at 20:45

    US military spending will ultimately bankrupt the US when the US dollar loses its reserve currency status. in the 1990’s over 90% of countries kept asset in the US dollar, now it is less than 60% and declining. Also, the amount of corruption and waste in military spending is stratospheric. Russia produces military requirements within a government controlled manufacturing structure, and produce better systems on a tenth of what the US spends. The US develops its military as an alternative to diplomacy and uses it to enforce hegemonic aims upon allies and adversaries alike. Russia is preparing for war to hopefully prevent war.

    The US should support the troops by bringing them home; not by empty platitudes on veterans day. Ask yourself what the dead troops in Vietnam and the Mideast really die for?

  3. Bart Hansen
    December 17, 2020 at 18:06

    As for difficulties in military recruitment, I often think that the reason the minimum wage remains so low is to make the military more attractive than “parking cars and pumping gas” which now is defined as the gig economy.

  4. robert e williamson jr
    December 17, 2020 at 17:54

    The media is the blame for many things not the least of which is over using titles and such in their endless drivel.

    That I notice no one twists the arm of those who volunteers for military service and these days that is the only way one enlists to serve in the military.

    Same with cops, they volunteer for their jobs, then whine about every little criticism of the actions, and brother there are tons to criticize. Shooting any;l unarmed individual in the back when there is no threat to the officer is a military “free fire” tactic. Wiki it and you will see the American public never really understood it was used in Vietnam to send a message to civilians who were suspected of aiding the enemy.

    Chuck Yager has a comment there about his role in WWII.

    Now suddenly after the end of the draft if you have served in any of the conflicts since Vietnam you are immediately a hero in the eyes of Americas blind MSM and those who refuse to learn enough about what is really happening to know the difference between shit and shine-olla.

    I would remind everyone that it takes between 6 and 10 non-combatant military members to keep combat troops at the ready.

    Firemen and EMTs are the closest thing we have to everyday heroes in my opinion.

    The young hope to increase their career chances by serving and they are approached while still in high school to volunteer, a practice that needs to stop.

    Anyone who knows vets know damned well they get little from the VA, system that if combined with the ACA would both save money and increase the quality of their care.

    But here is some sage advice instead of taking issue with every statement folks make try and think about why we all are in this mess.

    It is the result of the government doing what it wants to do instead doing what Americans think need to be done. Remember our government is supposed to be working for us and right now it is exactly the opposite of that.

    This is our common problem. Our Common problem. FULL STOP!

    Volunteers are enabling the idiots in D.C. by ensuring the military has the manpower it needs. We never needed to go to Iraq but far too many exceptional Americans are willing to own the fact they they have been duped.

    Maybe this will mean something to you, I was duped once when I got drafted, no more for this ole guy. Fool me once and that is enough.

    If we all are truly “in this together” then we have very important work to do to clarify foreign policy and correct all the misconceptions about just exactly what is the proper course of action. The MICIMATT is not doing this. Never have and never will.

    You want to be a real hero start working to end the mangling of young bodies and civilians the spending of trillions of dollars in order to make the rich richer.

    We all have big problems because of our government and our government needs to be brought to accountability.

    I’m pretty tired of this “we” business. War has outlived and usefulness what so ever, we are on a dying planet, wise up, wake up and put up.

  5. JohnO
    December 17, 2020 at 14:23

    Nicely worded indictment from a courageous public servant. Brought me to tears.

    • December 18, 2020 at 13:32

      Former Pentagon operative “indicting” her employer, lol.

  6. Julie
    December 17, 2020 at 13:10

    An italian magistrate, Carlo Palermo, who escaped a bomb attack for investigating the connection between mafia, masonry, State, and C.I.A., discovered that such a plot had started and was known since world war II, by U.S., and other countries, which nowadays are ready to grab the global power.

    See: (to be transated from italian)

  7. Tom Moore
    December 17, 2020 at 13:05

    It is time t hat we return to using the more appropriate reference to the
    Department of War, rather than use euphenic, Dept of “Defense?”

  8. Richard Coleman
    December 17, 2020 at 12:26

    “God Bless the Troops”, huh? Well here’s a little known fact for ya Joe: the VA medical program doesn’t include DENTAL! Never did as far as I know. Don’t vets have teeth!? Isn’t dental care about the single most expensive (and unaffordable) routine medical expense most Americans as well as vets face? How about “blessing” them with that? Of course M4A would resolve this, but you’re not with that either, are you Joe?

    You know where you can stuff your “blessing” don’t you, Joe?

  9. December 17, 2020 at 12:07

    Biden’s son took the service route for the wealthy and politically ambitious. Navy lawyers sit thru two easy weeks of OCS to learn to salute and wear uniforms. Then he deployed to a very safe camp in Iraq for a few months, safer than working in Baltimore, where he did legal stuff from nice office. Then comes home to tell war stories.

  10. vinnieoh
    December 17, 2020 at 11:46

    During the first several years of Bush’s illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq I wrote many letters to the local paper, and a multitude of elected representatives. I was of course outraged over the whole affair, first and most importantly because we were committing mass murder in pursuit of a collection of bald-faced lies. But I knew that all and assembled had drunk a full draught of the Kool-Aid, and arguments I would make along those lines would fall on permanently deaf ears.

    So, I composed a long and very detailed letter to my then US Congressional Representative Ted Strickland detailing the abuse and disregard our soldiers were enduring to carry out this campaign: the “stop-loss” policies (remember?), the multiple rotations and deployments, the lack of protective gear. I also threw in, because I could just not help myself, the remark that “It is not possible to garner honor and glory in pursuit of a dishonorable policy.”

    I actually got a personal response from Mr. Strickland, a supposedly “progressive” or at least “liberal” (ca. 1990’s) politician. A one-liner that went something like this: “I can not, at this time, take any action that would endanger the safety of our troops.” That was the whole purpose of my plea to you, you fucking incompetent asshole.

  11. Randolph L Garrison
    December 17, 2020 at 09:29

    trump, trump’s family, trump associates and trump supporters need to be in prison for the traitorus acts, grand theft in every imageable way and the mass murder of over 300,000 Americans.

    • December 18, 2020 at 13:22

      The US mass-murdered millions of Third-World peoples in its foreign wars, since the end of WW II, incurring minimal losses.
      Even an inflated figure of US losses would not be anywhere near 300,000!

  12. John Moffett
    December 17, 2020 at 08:26

    Great article Karen. I am encouraged by the difficulty in recruiting people to go into the military. Keeping wages low and college expenses high seems to me like a heartless attempt to force some young adults from poor families into considering military service. I would love to see a national movement to educate kids about the horrors of war, and the unscrupulous MIC tactics (including video games) to entice new recruits.

  13. Hank
    December 17, 2020 at 07:09

    “God bless the troops”? How about America, especially now that the voting system has become so corrupted? Joe Biden doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the troops, especially if the troops are SUPPOSEDLY fighting to “spread freedom and democracy”. If you don’t have REAL democracy at home then what you are “spreading” abroad CAN’T be democracy, but tyranny! Biden and others always seem to invoke the “troops” because they know this resonates with many Americans who have a knee jerk reaction to “supporting” the troops. What he realistically could have said was “God bless the troops in molesting yet another nation”. He could care less about the troops as they are deployed to serve the rich man’s agenda. And after stealing an election(at least to THIS point in time!) those dead soldiers must be turning in their graves after supposedly giving their lives to protect democracy!

    • SPQR70AD
      December 18, 2020 at 09:24

      but the US has spread “democracy” all over the world by fixing elections and putting in their guy now they did it in the US

      • December 18, 2020 at 13:28

        “Democracy” either by fixing votes in client countries OR by installing puppet regimes through murderous bombings/invasions like in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

      • December 18, 2020 at 13:31

        “Democracy” by bombings and invasions too.

  14. Casfoto
    December 16, 2020 at 23:23

    Great article telling it like it is. We need a steady run of these articles

  15. jo6pac
    December 16, 2020 at 19:19

    Sadly there’s no hope biden and his chicken hawks will do anything but continue business as usual for the merchants of death. We know congress won’t say anything other than pass on more Amerikan tax payers cash to endless wars:-(

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