President Obama has issued a number of executive orders over the past two years that have overridden the obstructionist Congress to give Americans what they voted for: a left-looking centrist administration. Among other things, he has negotiated an historic treaty with Iran that stops nuclear proliferation, tried to end the stalemate over creating a path to citizenship for illegal aliens, issued new regulations that help address climate change, and extended overtime pay to millions of Americans.
But in foreign policy and national defense, it’s the same old same old that we’ve had since World War II. President Obama, someone who claims he’s seeking peace, is lifting sanctions on the sale of lethal arms to Vietnam. How could selling arms to yet another country help the cause of world peace?
The standard answer to that question for the past 70+ years has been that arming a nation serves as a deterrence to other nations. As applied to Vietnam, the argument goes something like so: China will be less willing to push its weight around the South China Sea and will draw Vietnam closer to the United States, both militarily and economically. The big issue in the mainstream media is not whether we should be selling arms, but if we extracted enough in return in terms of prodding Vietnam to increase press freedom and political expression.
On closer inspection, this argument makes no sense. How can arming a totalitarian government that allows no press freedom and little dissent make the region or the world more secure? And how does Vietnam fit into a strategy of military containment of the Chinese? What would such a strategy look like? Or are we building up the fire power for the next regional conflagration, between Vietnam and China or a Chinese ally serving as proxy?
The United States is the leading supplier of arms to the rest of the world and has been for many decades. We account for almost 53% of the $40.4 billion in total world trade in arms. In second place, with a mere 19.3% of world arms trade, is Russia. Our guns help keep the flames of conflict alive in many regional war zones. If Obama were interested in a real turn in American foreign policy, he would stop all sales of American arms to other countries. The objection that other countries would step into the vacuum and develop arms businesses of their own doesn’t hold water, because if their governments could afford to subsidize weapons industries the way the U.S. government does, they would have done so long ago.
Making and selling military grade weapons are a big business for a handful of American manufacturers who have had their claws into Congress and both political parties since World War I. Often the organization making military grade equipment is affiliated with a company that sells guns to U.S. consumers. By ending the arms embargo to Vietnam, President Obama is making the world safe—safe for American military businesses that is!
One could cynically interpret the Iran nuclear agreement as about opening Iranian markets to a wide range of U.S. goods and services. It could serve as the foundation for the two countries to move closer together, which always results in America supplying the former enemy turned friend with arms.
Even as the Obama Administration makes deals to benefit American arms manufacturers, it has also proposed spending a trillion dollars to create a new generation of smaller, more tactical nuclear weapons. The administration’s costly plan would rebuild the entire U.S. nuclear arsenal, including the warheads, and the missiles, planes and submarines that carry them. The Congressional Budget Office estimates these plans will cost $348 billion over the next 10 years, but the National Defense Panel, appointed by Congress, found that the price tag could reach $1 trillion.
I thought Obama wanted to end the use of all nuclear weapons. What easier, or less expensive way, to do so than to let our aging nuclear arsenal grow obsolete and not replace it? The sad and simple truth is that only a madman would use a nuclear weapon, because of the damage that it inflicts not just on the site that is bombed but on the rest of the world through raised levels of radiation leading to more cancers and other diseases. Some predict that the next generation of nuclear weapons will release less radiation, but the operative word here is “less,” which is not “none” or “less than five years’ worth of dental x-rays.” Remember, too, our military will be less reluctant to use weapons they think are “safer.”
What the President doesn’t seem to understand is that you end nuclear weapons by getting rid of them, not by developing new ones. And you end war not by supplying arms to other countries, but by stopping arms sales and encouraging negotiations.
The scary thing is that Obama and Hillary Clinton are relative doves when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. Led by presumptive nominee Donald Trump, all the Republicans are talking about increasing military budgets. All say they would be faster to send soldiers into foreign lands and slower to remove them once in. Obama merely wants to sell arms and develop new nuclear weapons to subsidize our military industries. The Republicans, under the leadership of George W. Bush and Richard Cheney, were willing to start a war to help a broad range of military contractors, including suppliers of mercenary forces. Now Trump even said he would keep the option of a first-strike use of nuclear weapons on the table.
I understand the focus that progressives have placed on economic issues this election cycle, especially in support of the candidacy of Bernie Sanders. But even as we continue to move Hillary Clinton and mainstream Democrats further left on economic and social issues, we can’t forget that under both Democrats and Republicans, we have long had an anti-democratic, immoral and ineffective foreign policy that helps no one but large international corporations and military contractors.