November 11, 2021

In an age of TV politicians, President Joe Biden is a figure from another age. He is deeply unexciting and suffering from advanced age – a time in life which the great Charles de Gaulle compared to a `shipwreck.’

No mobs of baseball hat-wearing yahoos are about to storm the Capitol for Biden’s sake. However unexciting he may be, President Biden has acted with courage and foresight to enact what America so badly needed: moving away from a wartime to a peacetime economy.

America’s economy has been on a full wartime footing since the Vietnam War. The US Navy alone operates 11 big deck attack carriers, and twice that number of small carriers. A French admiral told me ruefully over a very nice dinner one night that the US Navy’s budget alone was larger than his nation’s entire military budget. US annual military spending amounts to nearly half the world’s total military outlays.

When invited to the Pentagon to consult on the Mideast and Afghanistan, I have always been amazed by the beehive of activity there. America’s vast military-industrial complex was in overdrive. It looked to me like America’s number one activity was war. Not big ones, like WWII, Korea or Vietnam but many small conflicts all over the globe – what British imperialists used to call ‘little wars.’

As many Americans have noticed, their huge nation has been falling apart. US infrastructure has been rusting or crumbling since the early 1960’s. Bridges, railroads, telecommunications, airports, seaports, and highways have not been adequately renovated or restored. For example, key bridge tunnels in my native city, New York, have become perilous due to lack of maintenance and modernization. Politicians love to spend billions on glamor projects but hate spending on basics.

No president since Eisenhower has dared to seriously rebuild or repair the United States. Compared to effectively modernizing Europe, the US often looks thirty years behind and depressingly backwards.

Unfortunately, Biden’s renewal plans, which will cost upwards of 2.5 trillion dollars are to be financed by higher taxes. The imminence of such increases and printing of billions of newly minted dollars has of course ignited a storm of inflation, now running at over 6.2% in the US alone. Meanwhile, the Pentagon continues to spend trillions of dollars preparing for more small wars and gearing up for a big-time conflict with China.

It would have made better sense to raise the hundreds of billions needed to finance the anti-Covid campaign and Biden’s national renovation campaign by extracting the money from the terribly bloated military budget. That would have been the other act of courage needed by the Biden White House. But Biden has not so far been able to even shut the totalitarian Guantanamo prison due to opposition from southern Republicans and, of course, the military.

Biden and his team realize that the coming head-on competition with China will require a modernized United States. Otherwise, it might look more like an updated version of the creaky old Austro-Hungarian Empire than the champion of the western world.

While the US has been wasting trillions on its little colonial wars (‘war on terror’), China has been investing in infrastructure and a brand-new military. Having now been defeated in Vietnam and Afghanistan, the US military risks a much bigger shellacking by China.

The balance of military technology is fast turning against the United States as a major Pacific War looms on the horizon. In that event, the US will be at a serious geostrategic disadvantage by being forced to fight a war thousands of miles from its home bases on the US West Coast while China’s military will operate virtually next door to its home.

This is a war that the US should at all costs avoid. No one can even adequately explain what winning a war with China entails. How do you defeat a colossus on the other side of the world’s largest ocean? Better fix US infrastructure and avoid a fight. As US founder Ben Franklin said, ‘no good war; no bad peace.’

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2021

This post is in: China, Military and Security Affairs, USA


  1. Brilliant analysis, as usual, Eric. It’s just too bad that all US politicians are far more interested in making politics their career instead of doing a one-shot in governance to fix things.

  2. I remember the doddering old ‘shipwreck’ that Churchill became towards the end. Biden has a bit to go.
    The Americans have since WW2 spent nearly as much, annually, for defence as the rest of the world combined. This hasn’t changed and look what they’ve accomplished. Cuba’s infant mortality rate is lower than that of the US. Look at how well they have handled the Covid pandemic; they have in excess of 780,000 fatalities. As of a couple of days back their mortality rate was 5 deaths per 1M and Cuba was at 0.4 deaths per 1M. There is something drastically wrong with their choice in priorities.
    I suspect the Americans would have difficulty with a ‘big war’; they have not fared so well with the little ones they have gotten into, starting with Korea and ending with Afghanistan. America has been fortunate that in past, all their fights have been outside their country; for the next one, they might not be so lucky. Taiwan is specially vulnerable.
    I think their education system has failed dramatically, and I’m not sure about the Canadian system. I’ve tutored a Grade 12 student in mathematics last year, and her text was far better than I recall our text from 55 years back. Critical evaluation is missing from their education system and I suspect ours also. I’ve heard some Americans state on numerous occasions that they are responsible for England and Canada not speaking German. I’m not sure what they are teaching, anymore.
    The ‘big spend’ is largely ‘smoke and mirrors’. Little of the finance is going towards ‘real’ infrastructure and a lot of it is directed at ‘social’ infrastructure. One engineering website notes, “the infrastructure part is only $550 billion (less than 30%) and the other $1.25 trillion goes to other things.” The social infrastructure is open to mismanagement and abuse and I can see a lot of this money being wasted on patronage. Their huge nation will continue to deteriorate. They are not putting anything in place to improve it. It’s a matter of looking at the actions of the general population; even their courts have become more politicised. I think that Biden has the right idea, but is thwarted by his own party. Some republicans are so tightly involved with ‘carbon abusers’, who are more interested in their own objectives. Biden will spend his efforts in putting out party ‘fires’ and not doing essential work.
    As far as climate change goes for countries having a populatio of over 100M, on a per capita basis they are #1, with China at half their CO2 output. India is approximately 10% of the US. Canada is up at the top, too. Part of Canada’s high per capita is the small population, cold climate and long travel distances. Climate change will have a big effect on the world’s activities during the next century. The 1% are continuing to fly off to their holiday spaces; this will have to stop, but there is no indication that it is slowing down. There is no indication that they are trying ‘to mend their ways’ or even aware of it; drastic adjustments have to happen. Even the recent COP 26 was a dismal failure with hundreds of celebrities jetting over in their private planes for the ‘social party’. If COP 26 was serious, the meeting would have been held by videoconference and there would be no need to travel and add carbon. The problem is worse, the city of London is looking at expanding the Formula 1 racing circuit. GM is looking at bringing out a new 600 HP Corvette. It appears that Greta Thunberg is a lone voice in the wilderness.
    The world appears to be headed in the direction of WWIII.

    • The “Taiwan is specially vulnerable.” comment is a bit of a non-sequitor and needs a bit of explaining; it was my thought at the time. What I was thinking: The US military presence in the world in on a ‘downturn’, and I don’t think that Taiwan should feel very comfortable about their circumstances, with the dragon at its doorstep.

  3. America has always relied on war as an excuse to give trillions of dollars to the richest people in history and i am certain they are not stupid enough to take on China with ships that can have a 20 foot hole blown in their sides with a dingy loaded with explosives. When America spent 13 billion on an aircraft carrier China built a hundred antiship sink it. They’re probably going to start a cold war to give an excuse to increase their already insane military budget until they suffer total economic collapse in about 10 years. Sit back and watch the fall of the Roman Empire all over again.

    • Totally agree. There are so many problems that will only wish as entrenched interests and ignorance prevent solutions. If l was an American l would think about an exit plan.

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