The American Warfare State and its Costs

The American Warfare State and its Costs
Introduction of the Speakers to a Committee for the Republic Salon

Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)
Senior Fellow, Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University
16 April 2019, Washington, D.C.

Good evening.  I’m Chas Freeman, the founding chair of the Committee for the Republic.

A few of us formed the Committee in early 2003, when we were concerned about the likely domestic consequences of the military adventurism our country was about to embark upon in the Middle East.  We feared mounting damage to the traditions and civil liberties of our republic.  So we began a series of salons – in John Henry’s and Ann Crittenden’s living room in Cleveland Park before attendance soon outgrew it – to educate ourselves on the constitutional, political, and economic implications of our nation’s global empire and the uses of force it entails.

Tonight, we dig back into the monetary and geographical details of this subject.  Our two speakers will address the costs of our imperium to our economy, governance, security, and domestic tranquility.

Catherine Lutz is a professor of both anthropology and international studies at Brown University.  Catherine leads the “Cost of War” project at Brown’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs.  (I have a less exalted perch there.)  She focuses on the present and future financial consequences of American military adventurism.  Her project doesn’t cost a lot but it may well be the most significant and impactful thing that the Watson Institute does.

David Vine – who is, like Catherine, a professor of anthropology but at the American University – is an important contributor to the Cost of War project.  He studies the sprawling overseas base structure that the United States has created to sustain its global primacy, the costs of this, and the foreign policy consequences of America’s maintenance of multiple garrisons in foreign lands.  I should add that, among other distinctions, David is an expert on the U.S. base at Diego Garcia in the British Indian Ocean Territory.  Last November, the International Court of Justice ruled last that Mauritius, not Britain, is entitled to sovereignty over Diego Garcia.

Just one comment before I turn the podium over to Catherine and David.

The United States Congress is elected to serve as the formulator and monitor of the nation’s policies and budgets.  But, in recent decades, it has done next to nothing to discharge these constitutional responsibilities as they relate to U.S. military activities.  It has instead yielded its authority to declare war to a presidential monocracy.  It has failed either to track or to fund the costs of the many wars presidents have launched.  And it has rubberstamped presidential expansions of the U.S. military presence overseas.   By yielding the power to authorize wars of choice to the president, our legislators have effectively destroyed the separation of powers that is the bedrock of our constitutional democracy.  In doing so, they have removed the checks and balances that frame sound foreign and fiscal policies.   The result is policies that are at once unsound, unaffordable, and apparently uncorrectable.

I’m sure I’m not alone in viewing this congressional dereliction of duty as an appalling comment on the state of our republic in the post-Cold War era.  The citizens of our country must now rely on a private, university-based effort for basic information about public policy issues of vital importance to us and to our descendants.  We owe Catherine, David, and their colleagues a great deal for stepping forward to do the work congressional committees should be doing but aren’t.

I’ve asked Catherine and David each to speak for no more than ten to fifteen minutes before we invite you to ask questions and make comments.  When you do, I would appreciate your both identifying yourselves and keeping your interventions brief.  Many will want to take advantage of Catherine’s and David’s s expertise.   We will adjourn no later than 8:15 pm.

Please join me in welcoming Catherine and David.