Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. Photo Credits: Alex Brandon AP
United States Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown Jr. recently said that there was a need in the Air Force for a low cost, lightweight fighter jet to replace aging F-16 fighter jets (Axe 2021). Astute readers will know that such a jet has already been attempted, the F-35. Since 2001, the US government and Lockheed Martin have worked to create the next generation of fighter jets at a total cost of $400 billion as of 2020 (Grazier 2020). At $21 billion a year, the F-35 project alone is capable of paying almost half of the estimated cost of $48 billion a year for free college education in the United States as proposed by Senator Sanders (Golshan 2019). However, as President, Biden has within the first month in office already approved $200 million in weapons sales through Raytheon to Jordan, Chile, and a NATO agency (Mehta 2021). As such, we can likely expect the Air Force to get their wish as we once more return to Obama-era global interventionism. Whereas in the previous five years we have seen blunter edged, loud, bragging styles of military engagements through Trump, we are now more likely to see a return to what was aspired to by Donald Rumsfeld and perfected by Barack Obama: “A new kind of war,” one with “sustained engagement that carries no deadlines” is the perfect distillation and crystallization of the American Empire’s need for consumption of resources (Rumsfeld 2001). And now with President Biden we might see a proliferation of such acts.
American culture has long been critiqued for its consumerism. Post-industrial America and much of the West has been absorbed fully in consumer culture. As Americans, the concept of “freedom” can be seen most clearly in what we can purchase and consume. The right to bear arms is not a right to be exercised against tyranny, but rather a marketing tool to sell personal defense handguns. The right to free speech is the right for conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones to sell you snake oil. It is also the right for corporations to buy influence. Through Citizens United, money is equivocated by law to freedom. Even as other countries across the world entered mandatory lockdowns to prevent the spread of Covid-19 there was intense backlash in America. This is partly because such a lockdown would deprive us of the one freedom that we exercise most often and care the most about: our freedom to make consumer choices. Due to this, we did not have a lockdown like many other countries did. Nowhere in America were things fully closed to the degree that you saw in nations like Vietnam, China, or Australia. We do not see the health and wealth of us all in common as an expression of freedom, rather we view ourselves in our personal kingdoms. We lack the culture and social structures that would allow us to define freedom or express it in any other way.
So, what happens when this rabid consumer culture is married with imperialism? What is unleashed when a society built on infinite economic growth and consumption must grow more and consume more? A Lovecraftian horror is thrust upon the world, its maw wide open and ready to engulf the planet. While conquest defined empires of the past, consumption is what defines the American empire.
President Joe Biden has already authorized bombings in Syria, citing Iranian backed militia groups, that have left 22 people dead (De Luce, Gains, Gubash 2021). This news comes the same day that Democrats capitulate to the Senate parliamentarian on a minimum wage increase (Linton, Segers 2021). Biden and the rest of the Democratic party have thrown their hands in the air in mock shock and disappointment over an issue for which they cared very little. However, the bipartisan support for war can be seen in the 93-2 confirmation for Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, a man who was previously on the board of Raytheon and will receive close to $1.7 million in payments from Raytheon (Shabad 2021; Capaccio, Allison 2021). Beyond Secretary Austin we can see the White House’s appetite for war only grows with other nominations such as Neera Tanden to head the OMB. Tanden has previously stated that Libya should repay the United States in the form of oil after the removal of Gaddafi (Greenwald 2015). This is the model of empire as consumption. We liberated you, now give us your resources. This harrowing model of global politics is repeated endlessly by administration after administration.
This immediate move into warfare is not novel in any way. Trump’s first military order came in early February of 2017, and Obama’s first military order was a mere three days into his presidency (Merica, Brown, Zeleny 2017; Zenko 2017). Now as we move into the Biden presidency, we see the persistence of American imperialism taking precedence above all other policy matters. While elected officials and talking heads berate the left for wanting minimum wage increases, green energy, an end to foreign wars, or any other policy goal and speak about the difficulties involved they have no issue ordering and defending the death of people across the world.
We have seen once again the broken promises and empty words of the Democratic party. In our discussions with our fellow workers, we must draw attention to this betrayal. We must continue to further class consciousness with those around us. We must continue to develop our own infrastructure and organizations to more effectively combat these warmongers and imperialists. Ultimately it is capitalism that is the driving force for these horrendous acts of war. Through its overthrow we will see the day where all peoples of the world are liberated. Until that day comes, we must continue our work in solidarity and in strength. Day by day, more and more of the working class of this country sees how little the imperialist machine cares for them and how much they might gain from its overthrow.
Axe, D. (2021, February 25). The U.S. Air Force Just Admitted The F-35 Stealth Fighter Has Failed. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidaxe/2021/02/23/the-us-air-force-just-admitted-the-f-35-stealth-fighter-has-failed/?sh=13cb405d1b16
Capaccio, A., & Allison, B. (2021, January 10). Biden Defense Pick to Get Up to $1.7 Million From Raytheon role. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-01-10/biden-defense-pick-to-get-up-to-1-7-million-from-raytheon-role
Golshan, T. (2019, June 24). Bernie Sanders's free college proposal just got a whole lot bigger. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/6/23/18714615/bernie-sanders-free-college-for-all-2020-student-loan-debt
Grazier, D. (2020, October 21). Selective Arithmetic to Hide F-35's True Costs. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from https://www.pogo.org/analysis/2020/10/selective-arithmetic-to-hide-the-f-35s-true-costs/#:~:text=The Navy spent a total, or $7.5 billion per ship.
Greenwald, G. (2015, November 05). Leaked Emails from Pro-Clinton Think Tank Reveal Censorship and Pandering to Israel. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from https://theintercept.com/2015/11/05/leaked-emails-from-pro-clinton-group-reveal-censorship-of-staff-on-israel-aipac-pandering-warped-militarism/
Linton, C., & Segers, G. (2021, February 26). Senate parliamentarian rules Democrats cannot include minimum wage hike in COVID-19 economic relief bill. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/minimum-wage-covid-relief-bill-senate-parliamentarian/
Luce, D. D., Gains, M., & Gubash, C. (2021, February 26). Biden orders airstrikes in Syria, retaliating against Iran-backed militias. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/biden-airstrikes-syria-retaliating-against-iran-backed-militias-n1258912
Mehta, A. (2021, February 11). State clears first three foreign military sales of Biden administration. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from https://www.defensenews.com/global/the-americas/2021/02/11/state-clears-first-three-foreign-military-sales-of-biden-administration/
Merica, D., Browne, R., & Zeleny, J. (2017, February 03). How Donald Trump's first military action went from the Obama White House to deadly raid - CNN Politics. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from https://www.cnn.com/2017/02/03/politics/yemen-raid-trump-obama/index.html
Rumsfeld, D. (2001, September 27). A New Kind of War. The New York Times, p. 21. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/27/opinion/a-new-kind-of-war.html
Shabad, R. (2021, January 22). Senate confirms Lloyd Austin as first Black defense secretary. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/senate-confirms-austin-first-black-defense-secretary-n1255322
Zenko, M. (2017, January 20). Obama's Final Drone Strike Data. Retrieved February 26, 2021, from https://www.cfr.org/blog/obamas-final-drone-strike-data
David Flora is a bartender living in the South with a bachelors in political science and is currently seeking a masters in public policy. Much of his organizational work and praxis involves fellow restaurant industry workers. He believes the restaurant industry in particular is an important part of a revolutionary workers movement.