Friday, January 07, 2005

Up Against a Wall

In proclaiming a Global War on Terror the United States has taken on a mission very much like the Cold War (shadowy, conspiratorial enemy, infiltrating, lurking, etc). Only this time, the nation is fighting without the economic strength that was one of its major advantages during the Cold War. BushCheney neo-conservatives are fond of touting the collapse of the Soviet Union as the product of of the US military build-up of the Reagan years (Motto: “We spent ‘em over the cliff.”). America’s economic weakness in the first decade of the 21st Century will severely hamper our ability to pursue that strategy in an unending war.

The financial strain is beginning to affect even the Pentagon. Despite still lavish funding levels, the Washington Post reports that the Defense Department will be cutting programs in order to pay the costs of the ground war in Iraq. Fighting a protracted war, maintaining the world’s most powerful military and addressing domestic needs will be increasingly difficult at a time when the United States faces the challenges posed by a weakening dollar, trade imbalances and loss of manufacturing and other well paying jobs.

BushCheney refused before invading Iraq to estimate on the invasion’s cost, although they strongly intimated that costs would be minimal as would the need for an extended occupation. Now, almost two years after the invasion, BushCheney still cannot say what it will cost because they do not know. What Americans do know, however, is that costs are high and that Iraqi oil revenue is not offsetting those costs. BushCheney have created a wound in the US economy that will continue to hemorrhage, further weakening government ability to address domestic needs such as education, environmental protection and health care. At the same time, the war also literally bleeds the Army and Marine Corps as they die in the alleyways and highways of Iraq.

During the Vietnam War, America faced similar financial demands but could rely on its strong economy to provide guns and butter, as Lyndon Johnson was fond of saying. At least for a few years. The costs of that war finally escalated to the point where deficit spending contributed to an inflationary spiral that plagued the nation for over a decade. In 2005 the US economy is far weaker; and the financial impact of Iraq ware are evident now. BushCheney talk of drastic cuts in domestic spending to support the war on terror (ie, ground war in Iraq). Now, it seems, that even their cherished Pentagon programs are at risk.

In these circumstances, prudence requires that limited funds be used effectively. But BushCheney are pouring money into a needless war that has little to do with protecting this country from terrorist threats. Funds that support military operations in Iraq are not available address domestic security and anti terror needs such as container inspections at ports or airline cargo inspection. Instead we are paying for bullets, bombs and artillery against Iraqi nationalists and their jihadist allies, neither of whom would be in Iraq but for the American invasion. In the process, American actions generate anger and hatred that will further inflame Arab hostility against the US.

BushCheney’s willingness to waste resources is further evidenced by the National Missle Defense program. Former weapons inspector Scott Ritter recently published an analysis of missile defense and arms control. He states:
On Christmas Eve 2004, the Russian Strategic Missile Force test fired an advanced SS-27 Topol-M road-mobile intercontinental ballistic Missile (ICBM). This test probably invalidated the entire premise and technology used in the National Missile Defense (NMD) system currently being developed and deployed by the Bush administration, and at the same time called into question the validity of the administration's entire approach to arms control and disarmament.

Even though the Post article notes that National Missile Defense will be cut almost $6 billion in the 2006 budget, it remains a major BushCheney priority and will consume resources. And, like the war on terror, lack of measurable success has not led to meaningful questions about either the specifics or overall strategy. Instead, funds continue to flow into a system that will be of marginal value at best.

BushCheney is fast creating a government in the radical conservative image of its ideologues, a government that ignores all responsibilities save national defense. Funny thing is, BushCheney is not even doing much for national defense other than squandering funds and personnel in pursuit of misguided and harmful policies. In the meantime, America’s economic strength continues to wane.

Monday, January 03, 2005

At the Turn of Another Year

The first days of 2005 seem little different from the last few days of the old year. More death and destruction in Iraq, the horrible aftermath of the massive tsunami in the Indian Ocean. The Bush Administration entrenched in power for another four years. It’s hard to be optimistic with American forces bogged down in a relentless war in a nation few Americans (including our leaders) understand. Optimism requires the belief that somehow, the United States will rethink its approach to world affairs and become less unilateral and less militaristic in its relations with other nations.

But 2005 does offer hope for change. The future is always subject to change so a new year, like a new day or even the next hour, brings new potential. And despite the disappointments of 2004, I choose to remain hopeful. Hope is always preferable to despair because it offers the possibility for change, an alternative to the depressing state of the world. As a Progressive/Liberal, I still retain my faith in The People (of all nations) to recognize the interdependence of individuals and nations and the goal of economic justice throughout the world.

Even the massive devastation of the Indian Ocean tsunami offers some hope. The nations of the world are responding to the death and destruction by sending aid to the region. Pakistan, which only recently was threatening India with nuclear war, is sent relief funds to India. First world nations are dispatching military units to provide essential skills–medical personnel, engineers, logistics specialists–to contribute to relief and recovery. Instead of destruction, these soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen are serving communities and people shattered by the most destructive natural cataclysm of modern times. Their skills and professionalism are comforting survivors, giving them some hope in their grief and loss. So far, this aid has been slow in coming, the world’s generosity is not yet matched with organizational capacity.

I think perspective is the key to optimism. Perspective provides the context for understanding events that often seem so negative and anything but hopeful. Perspective allows me to look at any specific event in relation to others and to find (and see) hopeful signs amid the depressing ones. This is not a some feel-good, ignore the unpleasant realities approach to events but rather recognizing that few situations are completely hopeless or without some redeeming possibility. I offer two examples to demonstrate my point.

Thirty-four years ago on New Year’s Day I was a young soldier arriving in Vietnam, heading toward an infantry unit and combat in a war I believed was wrong. I was scared, lonely and depressed. Those feelings stayed with me as I patrolled the jungle with my unit. But I was lucky and came to realize that more with each passing day. At the end of each day, I was one more day closer to home, still alive. And somehow, my company managed to avoid the ambushes and fire fights that bloodied other companies in my battalion. I also saw the wonder of a beautiful country, the lush, richly diverse land which, even ravaged by war, still retained its beauty. I found comfort in that beauty which served to counterbalance my difficult circumstances.

My second example is more recent. In 2004 I worked my butt off campaigning for John Kerry, and like so many of my fellow Progressives, was bitterly disappointed with the election results. Staring at four more years of George W. Bush, now with commanding control of the federal government, it was hard to see anything but a black hole of war, economic injustice and further erosion of American democracy. Those remain very, very real dangers. But I also saw in that election effort a vast outpouring of energy and effort to challenge the reactionary cabal that reigns in Washington, DC. Since the election, I see little diminution of that energy. Although the results of the presidential and Congressional races were very disappointing, the many Progressives and Liberals who worked in the election are still willing to fight, to prevent the Republican kleptocracy from completely looting the public treasury and national resources. I see hope in the fact that Progressives now have nothing more to loose so we might as well push hard for what we believe and present a viable alternative to Republican war, deficits and favors for corporations and the wealthy.

Admittedly, this is hardly cause for joyous optimism at the turn of the year but it is what Progressives have at the beginning of the year. Looking at the positive side of Vietnam kept me sane and alive in 1971, keeping a similar perspective will keep me motivated in 2005.