Last night, when President Bush demanded another $87 billion to fund military occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, he realized the worst fears of the nation's founders.
In the name of a war on terror that has failed to achieve its stated goals, and that wise analysts suggest has actually made the United States and the world less secure, the president signaled his willingness to empty the federal treasury to pay for precisely the sort of foreign entanglements against which George Washington and Thomas Jefferson warned in their farewell addresses.
Bush told the nation he would spend whatever it takes to maintain these military adventures abroad, even as rising death tolls, bombings and threats raise doubts about whether they are making America more secure. The United States already has a military budget that costs this country roughly $400 billion annually, but Bush wants U.S. taxpayers to spend more on his war games.
The $87 billion figure is far greater than Bush let on before Iraq was attacked last spring, yet it is undoubtedly another deception. Serious military analysts suggest that the true cost of the war will be much more.
Even if the United States were to turn over responsibility for stabilizing Iraq to the United Nations - as it should - there would still be costs. But those costs could be covered within current military and international development budgets.
What the president did not mention in his speech is that the $87 billion more he seeks to fund his occupations abroad could pay for 1.4 million new teachers at home. It could help 11 million low-income families meet housing needs. It could provide health care coverage for 30 million children.
For Wisconsinites and residents of other states that are struggling to maintain state and local services in the face of economic doldrums, the $87 billion would balance every state budget.
Overseas, the United States should begin to address the conditions that create the frustration and resentments that lead to terrorism. The president's $87 billion could, according to UNICEF, meet the basic human needs of every impoverished person on Earth.
In the face of so many unmet needs at home and abroad, how can President Bush justify a hike in what is already the largest military budget in the world? The purpose is not to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan, nor even to fight terrorism. The president is laying the groundwork for the sort of perpetual war that James Madison warned would pose the greatest threat to the American experiment.
"Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other," argued the man who authored many of the Constitution's checks on executive excess before himself serving as the nation's fourth president.
"War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes; and armies, and debts, and taxes are the known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. In war, too, the discretionary power of the executive is extended; its influence in dealing out offices, honors and emoluments is multiplied; and all the means of seducing the minds are added to those of subduing the force, of the people. ... No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."
Madison warned, "War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war, a physical force is to be created; and it is the executive will which is to direct it. In war, the public treasuries are to be unlocked; and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war, the honors and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed; and it is the executive brow they are to encircle. The strongest passions and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast, ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venal love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace."
President Bush has realized Madison's fears.
Copyright 2003 The Capital Times