Albert Einstein spent the last two decades of his life in a frustrating quest to bring together all the forces of nature into a single set of equations: a “unified field theory.” Even today, such a theory remains elusive.
Had Einstein studied political science instead, he might have had a much easier time developing a unified theory. From healthcare to land use, nearly every policy that comes out of our national government can be explained by the influence of one thing: big money. This holds strongest at the national level, where the government has the luxury of deficit spending. For state and municipal governments, which have to deliver services within a limited budget — education, garbage pickup, public safety — it’s much harder to completely ignore constituents.
Take the mystery of why federal officials, guided by intelligent and experienced advisors, continue to lead us into unpopular wars that exacerbate the very problems they were intended to solve. For example, in 2001, al Qaeda was a small band of rebels stuck in tribal areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Today, after 15 years of military invasions, régime changes, bombing raids, drone strikes and the delivery of American-made weapons to various rebel groups — policies endorsed by both the Democratic and Republican parties as the proper response to 9⁄11 — al Qaeda and its even more brutal offspring, ISIS, have grown exponentially, spreading throughout the Middle East and into West Africa and Southeast Asia.
Under our unified theory, these disasters are easily explained. The arms industry needs a foreign policy that preserves a level of fear and violence around the globe sufficient to sustain trillion-dollar defense budgets; the Iraq War alone generated $138 billion in government contracts. Oil and gas producers need access to energy resources around the globe, meaning a strong U.S. military presence in energy-rich regions to support corporate-friendly rulers who will suppress populist movements.
Let’s apply our theory to the latest foreign policy mystery: why Donald Trump, despite Russian sympathies, launched an air strike against Russian ally Bashar al-Assad.
Although the arms industry lavished more than $14 million on Republican congressional candidates in 2016 (compared to $9 million on Democrats), Hillary Clinton was its favorite presidential candidate, receiving more than $1 million while Trump received only $320,000. Yes, Trump had promised to drop even more bombs on ISIS — like Raytheon’s Tomahawk missile, at $1 million a pop. But Trump also threatened to improve relations with Russia, and this could not be tolerated.
While the War on Terror has been great for business, it is limited by the lack of sophisticated armies to clash with in the Middle East — except for Saudi Arabia, but we can’t bomb the Saudis because they buy their weapons from U.S. manufacturers and partner with our energy producers. Hostile relations with Russia — or even better, a second Cold War — are necessary if U.S. military budgets are to continue to consume more and more of our discretionary spending. “The [Berlin] Wall came down [and] all defense budgets went south,” an executive at defense contractor L‑3 Communications explained to shareholders in August 2016. How do you convince the American people to support trillion-dollar weapons systems like the F‑35 Joint Strike Fighter to fight a bunch of cave dwellers in Afghanistan? Even the “mother of all bombs,” dropped in April, cost only $170,000.
Once Trump was elected, the arms industry kicked into high gear. Boeing gave $1 million to Trump’s inauguration, and Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon collectively spent more than $13 million in lobbying during Trump’s first three months in office.
It didn’t take Trump long to get the message. He launched missiles at Syria, an ally of Russia, and promised to support NATO, which is carrying out maneuvers just hundreds of yards from the Russian border. After the Syria strike, missile makers Raytheon and Lockheed Martin rallied on Wall Street, along with other defense stocks, like General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman.
So our foreign policy is back to normal, serving corporate interests rather than the public. It doesn’t take an Einstein to understand that.