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Empire Is Complicated

By David Stockman  |  December 5, 2018

Great heroes need great sorrows and burdens, or half their greatness goes unnoticed. It is all part of the fairy tale.

– Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn (1968)

It’s all quiet on the Wall Street front.

U.S. financial markets are closed in honor of President George H.W. Bush.

Indeed, Bubblevision is all about Imperial Washington today.

They’ll talk of his rare bravery as a young man, of his lifelong commitment to duty, of his basic decency.

And we can be touched by his passing, by the sense of loss his family surely feels, even by Bob Dole’s salute to his old friend and rival.

But, respectfully, let’s not forget the complicated parts of this legacy.

President Bush occupied the White House at what now looms as the critical turning point of 21st century geopolitical history, the fall of the Soviet Union.

In almost an instant, “Cold War Logic” was no longer operative.

Almost as quickly, the conversation turned to “the end of history,” “new world order,” and the “unipolar moment.”

President George H.W. Bush and the band of military-industrial-intelligence complex all-stars he put together seized all of those ideas with interventionist, regime-changing zeal.

Manuel Noriega in Panama was the pilot episode. By 1991, Saddam Hussein was all lined up to become the first “next Hitler.”

The Mainstream Media, still an undivided creature of the Establishment, flogged the story 24-7. If left unchecked, we were told, “Sadly Insane,” as one frightened young tot called him, according to his frightened you mom, would invade the entire Middle East.

“He gassed his own people!” was the endless refrain.

The other justification was that Saddam’s government had invaded another country.

We’re told today that one of 41’s greatest decisions is his decision not to carry the ’91 invasion – “Desert Storm” and “Desert Shield” were the “working titles” – all the way to Baghdad.

So, in a sense, we can and maybe should celebrate President George H.W. Bush, the last restrained imperialist.

Still, here we are, 30 years into Forever War.

Mere weeks ago, of course, we observed the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I – a war the United States had no business fighting.

President Woodrow Wilson maneuvered America into the “Great War” in April 1917 when it was nearly over. It was all about getting himself a seat at the “peace” table.

Wilson wanted to reshape the world according to his messianic vision, fulfilling, as one of his sycophants put it, “The noblest part that has ever come to the son of man.”

Thus, America shed its Republican tradition of anti-militarism and non-intervention and plunged into Europe’s carnage.

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s Winston Churchill, explaining the situation to William Griffin, editor of the long-defunct New York Enquirer, in August 1936:

If you hadn’t entered the war, the Allies would have made peace with Germany in the Spring of 1917. Had we made peace, then there would have been no collapse in Russia followed by Communism, no breakdown in Italy followed by Fascism, and Germany would not have… enthroned Nazism.

From Wilson’s historically erroneous turn, it was a short trip to the prevailing “Indispensable Nation” folly that animates Imperial Washington to this very day.

Nothing noble came of Wilson’s intervention.

What would have ended in a bedraggled armistice of the exhausted, the broken, and the bankrupt became precise peace of vengeful victors, triumphant nationalists, and avaricious imperialists.

By altering the course of history, Wilson midwifed the defining terms of 20th century conflict, including totalitarianism in Russia and Germany, the Great Depression, and the Holocaust.

World War II is a product of Wilson’s “peace.” So is Keynesianism.

Imperatives created then spawned Nixon’s 1971 destruction of sound money, Reagan’s failure to tame Big Government, and Greenspan’s destructive cult of monetary central planning.

Wilsonian “interventionism” is the breath of life for the Welfare State and the Warfare State.

From that worldview, too, flowed the Bush dynasty…

When the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989 and the death of the Soviet Union was confirmed two years later, a dark era in human history came to an end.

George H. W. Bush should have declared “Mission Accomplished.

He should have slashed the Pentagon budget from $600 billion to $250 billion. He should have demobilized the military-industrial-surveillance complex. He should have put a moratorium on all new weapons development, procurement, and export. He should have dissolved NATO. He should have dismantled America’s network of far-flung military bases. He should have cut our standing armed forces from 1.5 million to 200,000.

He should have led a global disarmament movement, as did his Republican forebears during the 1920s.

Unfortunately, George H.W. Bush was not a man of visionary peace.

And during the past 27 years, Imperial Washington has lost all memory that such was ever possible.

Now, it’s as feckless, misguided, and bloodthirsty a center of power as were Berlin, Paris, St. Petersburg, Vienna, and London more than a century ago.

And we know that, in 1991, the real threat to world peace was that “Pax Americana” would not go quietly into the good night…

About That Tweet…

This is the one:

I am certain that, at some time in the future, President Xi and I, together with President Putin of Russia, will start talking about a meaningful halt to what has become a major and uncontrollable Arms Race. The U.S. spent 716 Billion Dollars this year. Crazy!

I agree, of course, that the U.S. “defense” budget is “crazy!” I’m not so sure the solution lies in tripartite talks with China and Russia.

The Donald – often “right” when he’s so “wrong” – should indeed be concerned about the Middle Kingdom. But the real concern has nothing to do with “tariffs,” theirs or ours.

We’ll explore some of the “second-order” issues regarding U.S.-China relations in the December issue of The Stockman Letter, which we’ll publish Friday afternoon, December 7.

It’s an important “Mother of All Yield Shocks” story – especially if you want to protect your wealth and profit when opportunities present…

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David Stockman

David Stockman is the ultimate Washington insider turned iconoclast. He began his career in Washington as a young man and quickly rose through the ranks of the Republican Party to become the Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan. After leaving the White House, Stockman had a 20-year career on Wall Street.MORE FROM AUTHOR