"US Foreign Policy Is a Scam Built on Corruption"
Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs reminds us that war is a racket.
Major General Smedley Darlington Butler was, at the time of his death in 1940, the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. During his 34-year career, he fought in the Philippine–American War, the Boxer Rebellion, the Mexican Revolution, and World War I.
However, at some point after World War I, he began to have grave doubts about his profession. Over time, with study and reflection, he concluded that he had NOT spent his life fighting and killing for the American people, but for special interests in New York City and Washington.
As he memorably stated it in his 1935 book, War is a Racket:
I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.
Though war is indeed profitable for the financiers and industrialists who champion it, it is invariably a disaster for a free citizenry. As James Madison remarked in a 1795 pamphlet:
Of all the evils to public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops every other. War is the patent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes. And armies, and debts, and taxes, are the known instruments for bringing the many under the dominion of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors, and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds are added to those of subduing the force of the people! No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.
I thought of Butler and Madison this morning when a friend in Boston sent me an essay by Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs that begins as follows:
US Foreign Policy Is a Scam Built on Corruption
The $1.5 trillion in military outlays each year is the scam that keeps on giving—to the military-industrial complex and the Washington insiders—even as it impoverishes and endangers America and the world.
On the surface, US foreign policy seems to be utterly irrational. The US gets into one disastrous war after another -- Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Ukraine, and Gaza. In recent days, the US stands globally isolated in its support of Israel’s genocidal actions against the Palestinians, voting against a UN General Assembly resolution for a Gaza ceasefire backed by 153 countries with 89% of the world population, and opposed by just the US and 9 small countries with less than 1% of the world population.
In the past 20 years, every major US foreign policy objective has failed. The Taliban returned to power after 20 years of US occupation of Afghanistan. Post-Saddam Iraq became dependent on Iran. Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad stayed in power despite a CIA effort to overthrow him. Libya fell into a protracted civil war after a US-led NATO mission overthrew Muammar Gaddafi. Ukraine was bludgeoned on the battlefield by Russia in 2023 after the US secretly scuttled a peace agreement between Russia and Ukraine in 2022.
To understand the foreign-policy scam, think of today’s federal government as a multi-division racket controlled by the highest bidders.
Despite these remarkable and costly debacles, one following the other, the same cast of characters has remained at the helm of US foreign policy for decades, including Joe Biden, Victoria Nuland, Jake Sullivan, Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell, and Hillary Clinton.
That Professor Sachs’s essay is widely regarded as controversial shows the immutability of human nature. To me, it seems blatantly obvious that the U.S. government’s bellicose foreign policy is a racket. There is nothing about it that serves the interests of the American people other than those employed in the defense industry.
Nevertheless, we as a species seem hardwired to be suckers for pro-war propaganda. The world is chock-full of bad guys—invariably compared to Hitler with no evidence they even vaguely resemble Hitler—and the U.S. government appoints itself to vanquish them.
A large swath of the American people never cease believing this narrative, no matter how many times the pretenses are revealed to be false and the purported objectives are never achieved. Even though the U.S. government cannot balance a budget, organize a transparent presidential election, or defend our southern border, it constantly favors intervening in murky tribal conflicts thousands of miles away from our shores.
Click on the title below to reader Professor Sachs’s entire essay.