American King Kong and the Law of the Jungle

Ronald Reagan is credited with the aphorism: “Government does not solve problems, it subsidises them.” The standard reaction of a high or low-ranking official to an emerging problem is an attempt to fill it with money, without burdening himself with unnecessary thoughts about how the problem arose or how many additional costs its resolution entails.

The approval of the military budget for the fiscal year 2020 by the Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress (which began on October 1) looks like a typical example of such a bureaucratic approach. The Congressmen, of course, are not officials, but politicians. But the bulk of the work on the preparation o f a multi-volume document fell to the legislative apparatus and bureaucrats from the relevant federal departments, as well as on numerous lobbyists from the defence sector. As a result of lengthy and often heated discussions, it was possible to reach a common denominator of $738 billion; 3.1% more than last year.

The American analysts are proud to note that, as before, the US defence budget exceeds the combined military spending of the next ten of the world’s biggest military spenders. According to the words used in Washington, America in world politics and military affairs is the “800-pound gorilla in the jungle”. It is not only afraid of anyone around it, but also single-handedly sets the rules of conduct for all other less powerful inhabitants of the tropical forest.

But if everything is so good, then why is everything so bad?

Why is Russia, with its annual military spending of $50-60 billion considered as America’s most dangerous rival in the 2020 budget? Why is China perceived as a strategic challenge, despite spending only a third what the United States does on its defence? And why is the same President Trump stubbornly twisting the arms of his NATO allies, demanding more and more allocations to maintain the security of the West? Is the budget of $738 billion not enough? Why is the "800-pound gorilla" recklessly rushing about through the forest, not finding trust for itself from other inhabitants or at least confidence in its own security?

Perhaps the fact is that the 800-pound American King Kong has long ago ceased to resemble a titanium skeleton with steel tendons and iron muscles, and the gorilla has plumped up and became swollen over the years, having lost its former sporting appearance and strength? Of course, in the Pentagon’s budget there is excessive fat, not at all related to national security strengthening. For example, lawmakers obliged the administration to impose sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 and Turkish Stream gas pipelines - apparently with the aim not to start the lengthy process of negotiating a separate bill.

Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Pipes
Alexei Grivach
The transit of gas through Ukraine is too sensitive for Russia and Europe, at least ahead of the launch of Nord Stream 2. Until it is completed, the United States will continue to have the opportunity to discredit Russian gas supplies to Europe in order to promote its own LNG on the market.

But still, most of the Pentagon’s budget items are quite rational and justified. Probably, the level of corruption accompanying military purchases in the United States is hardly higher than in countries that are considered America's real or potential rivals. In general, the American King Kong is still in good physical shape, even if we admit that his best years are already behind him.

Then it remains to be assumed that the problem lies not in the degeneration of muscle tissue, but in the processes taking place in the skull of the former sovereign of the jungle.

The Hollywood King Kong in all its remakes was not only the most powerful, but also the smartest creature on its island. We cannot say this about the real American King Kong in today’s world politics.

It is quite characteristic that, against the backdrop of an increase in defence spending in its 2020 budget, the US plans to further reduce allocations for the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which implements assistance programmes for foreign countries, not to mention the United States' contributions to numerous international organisations. The shortages appeared immediately after the 45th president of the United States came to power. The idea of ​​“smart” foreign policy did not seem to hover at all over the White House or Capitol Hill when the budget parameters for 2020 were agreed upon.

But this is not even the saddest thing. The unfortunate diagnosis of a split personality (if we don’t use graver medical terminology) clearly appears from the text of the budget. The legislature included in the budgetary legislation a long list of things it categorically prohibits in the foreign policy of the executive branch - from the recognition of Crimea as part of Russian territory to the purchase of Chinese drones. Judging by the text of the law, the US president is perceived by many congressmen as an incompetent and irresponsible adventurer who, if his hands are not tied, can make a lot of trouble for the United States. A significant number of members of Congress do not put one iota of faith in the US Commander-in-Chief. It is no coincidence that the process of approving the budget for 2020 almost coincided with the launch of the impeachment procedure against Donald Trump in the House of Representatives.

At one time, Otto von Bismarck remarked on confidence in Russia: “Never believe Russians, because Russians do not even trust themselves.” How can America’s allies, friends and especially opponents trust Washington, if in Washington itself, one branch of the federal government shows complete distrust of the other branch? In this case, even the defence budget cannot provide salvation, whether it’s worth $738 billion or a trillion.

The White House probably believes that the United States is ultimately capable of crushing all its opponents with a more solid economic base, virtually unlimited financial resources (as long as the dollar remains the world's main reserve currency) and undeniable technological advantages. But the harsh jungle laws of modern global politics are much more complicated than the rules which dictate the size, stamina and physical strength of inhabitants of the animal kingdom. The history of evolution knows many examples of how the powerful rulers the planet suffered crushing defeat, laid low by small and almost invisible animals, scurrying between the legs of giants.
Russia and the US: Where Will the Growing Alienation Lead to?
Ivan Timofeev
Opposing Moscow is one of the few issues enjoying consensus in Congress. The Kremlin is a convenient bugbear for everyone. On the other hand, the American intervention rhetoric is also gaining momentum in Russia. Radicals and hawks on both sides are actually supporting and amplifying each other.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.