"So many lies, so little time" is a phrase that comes to mind when I think of the 40 years I've spent up close and personal with the US military, half on active duty as an Air Force officer.
Where to begin? How about with those bomber and missile "gaps," those alleged shortfalls vis-À-vis the Soviet Union in the 1950s and 1960s? They amounted to Chicken Little-style sky-is-falling hoaxes, but they brought in countless billions of dollars in military funding.
In fact, the "gaps" then were all in our favor, as this country held a decisive edge in both strategic bombers and nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs.
Or consider the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that served to authorize horrific attacks on Vietnam in retaliation for a North Vietnamese attack on US Navy destroyers that never happened.
Or think about the consistent exaggeration of Soviet weapons capabilities in the 1970s (the hype surrounding its MiG-25 Foxbat fighter jet, for example) that was used to justify a new generation of ultra-expensive American weaponry.
Or the justifications for the Reagan military buildup of the 1980s — remember the Strategic Defense Initiative (aka "Star Wars") or the MX ICBM and Pershing II missiles, not to speak of the neutron bomb and alarming military exercises that nearly brought us to nuclear war with the "Evil Empire" in 1983.
Or think of another military miracle: the "peace dividend" that never arrived after the Soviet Union imploded in 1991 and the last superpower (you know which one) was left alone on a planet of minor "rogue states."
And don't forget that calamitous "shock and awe" invasion of Iraq in 2003 in the name of neutralizing weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist or the endless global war on terror that still ignores the fact that 15 of the 19 September 11th terrorist hijackers came from Saudi Arabia.
And this endless long con of the Pentagon's was all the more effective because so many of its lies were sold by self-serving politicians.
Exhibit one was, of course, John F. Kennedy's embrace of that false missile gap in winning the 1960 presidential election. Still, the Pentagon was never shy in its claims. Take the demand of the Air Force then for 10,000 — yes, you read that right! — new ICBMs to counter a Soviet threat that then numbered no more than a few dozen such missiles (as Daniel Ellsberg reminds us in his recent book, "The Doomsday Machine").
To keep the Air Force happy, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara settled on a mere 1,000 land-based Minuteman missiles to augment the 54 older Titan II ICBMs in that service's arsenal, a figure I committed to memory as a teenager in the 1970s. And don't forget that some of those missiles were MIRVed, meaning they had multiple nuclear warheads that could hit many targets.
It all added up to the threat of what, in those years, came to be called "mutually assured destruction," better known by its all-too-apt acronym, MAD.
And the Pentagon's version of madness never ends. Think, for instance, of the planned three-decade $1.7 trillion "modernization" of the US nuclear triad now underway, justified in the name of "overmatching" China and Russia, "near-peer" rivals in Pentagon-speak. No matter that America's current triad of land-based, submarine-based, and air-deployed nukes already leave the arsenals of those two countries in the shade.
Reason doesn't matter when the idea of a new cold war with those two former enemies couldn't be more useful in justifying the through-the-ceiling $750 billion defense budget requested by President Trump for 2020.
The Democrats have pushed back with a still-soaring budget of $733 billion that accepts without question the "baseline" minimum demanded by Pentagon officials, a level of spending Trump once called "crazy." Talk about resistance being futile!
In other words, when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars, the Washington establishment of both parties has essentially been assimilated into the Pentagon collective. The national security state, that (unacknowledged) fourth branch of government, has in many ways become the most powerful of all, siphoning off more than 60% of federal discretionary spending, while failing to pass a single audit of how it uses such colossal sums.
All of this is in service to what's known as a National Defense Strategy (NDS) whose main purpose is to justify yet more prodigious Pentagon spending. As Vietnam War veteran and professor at National Defense University Gregory Foster wrote of the latest version of that document:
"In the final analysis, the NDS is an unadulterated call for a new Cold War, with all its attendant appurtenances: more gluttonous defense spending to support escalatory arms races in all those 'contested domains' of warfare; reliance on bean-counting input measures (weapons, forces, spending) for determining comparative 'competitiveness'; reinforcement and reaffirmation of the sacrosanct American way of war; and the reassuring comfort of superimposing an artificially simplistic Manichean worldview on the world's inherent complexity and thereby continuing to ignore and marginalize actors, places, and circumstances that don't coincide with our established preconceptions."
Such a critique is largely lost on Donald Trump, a man who models himself on perceived tough guys like Andrew Jackson and Winston Churchill.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, he did, at least, rail against the folly and cost of America's wars in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. He said he wanted better relations with Russia. He talked about reinvesting in the United States rather than engaging in new wars. He even attacked costly weapons systems like the sky's-the-limit $1.4 trillion Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter.
Suffice it to say that, after two-plus years of posing as commander-in-chief, strong man Trump is now essentially owned by the Pentagon. America's wars continue unabated. US troops remain in Syria and Afghanistan (despite the president's stated desire to remove them). Relations with Russia are tense as his administration tears up the Cold War-era Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty negotiated by Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.
What to make of the president's visible capitulation to the Pentagon? Sure, he's playing to his conservative base, which is generally up for more spending on weaponry and war, but like so many presidents before him, he's been conned as well.
The con-man-in-chief has finally met his match: a national security state that, when you consider its record, has had far greater success at lying its way to power than Donald J. Trump.