There is a lot of talk right now on Capitol Hill about the need to
balance the federal budget. Sadly, both Democrats and Republicans
alike are largely debating about how best to balance the budget upon the
backs of the poor and working people (who are many times the very same
people) and the elderly. First and foremost on the chopping block
appears to be Social Security and Medicare -- the lifeline for millions
of seniors in this country and the only hope for any sort of retirement
for the vast majority of people in this country.
Meanwhile, belying any real interest in balancing the budget, the
extension of unemployment benefits for millions of people out of work
through no fault of their own is being made contingent upon tax breaks
for the wealthiest Americans.
At the same time, what is largely absent from this debate is
discussion of the war, which includes military actions in Afghanistan,
Iraq, Yemen, allied Pakistan, military exercises in the Yellow Sea and
elsewhere, and the maintenance of over 800 U.S. military bases
throughout the world. To put the latter into perspective, Great Britain
and Ancient Rome, at the very height of their Empires, never had more
than 40 military bases internationally.
The U.S. is always at war, whether the pretext is fighting Communism
or terrorism, or, as is usually the actual case, fighting against
national liberation efforts and for the ability of U.S. corporations to
expand their domain and control.
While President Obama had promised during his campaign to "change the
mindset that leads us to war," and while many of us, myself included,
believed him, Obama could not even wait until his first weekend in
office before launching one of his many (many more than Bush) drone
attacks into Pakistan, predictably killing mostly civilians. In
addition, just after it was announced that he won the Nobel Prize for
Peace, Obama, almost to spite the Nobel committee, announced the "surge"
in Afghanistan which is putting 30,000 more American lives in jeopardy,
leading to a massive increase of civilian deaths in Afghanistan over
those killed during Bush's tenure, and further inflaming tensions in the
Indeed, Obama has been more hawkish than Bush in a number of ways as
seen, for example, in his re-commencing funding for the brutal "red
berets" of Indonesia -- which even Bush refused to do on human rights
grounds -- and in his re-commissioning the 4th Fleet in the Caribbean
which Eisenhower had de-commissioned in the 1950's.
In the end, while Obama is rightly criticized for being too
conciliatory to the rich and powerful -- to Wall Street bankers and to
the Republicans -- he is unflinchingly harsh when it comes to unleashing
violence throughout the world.
And so, the war goes on unabated. If it were not enough that the
war is currently costing the lives of tens of thousands of innocents
abroad as well the lives of thousands of young U.S. military personnel,
most of which signed up because they could not find work here, the war
is eating up more and more of the federal budget. Depending upon how
one counts, the war (both current and past military actions which we
continue to pay for) accounts for around half of the total budget of the United States.
No matter how you count, it is clear that the current Af-Pak and Iraq
wars will cost this country well over $1 trillion. A modest proposal
for cutting the deficit would be to start there, and to try at all costs
to spare social spending for the growing needy in our country.
As Noam Chomsky explains, the reason the war is not up for debate is
the fact that there has been a political consensus between the two
parties since World War II that the U.S. economy would continue to be
primed through military spending rather than social spending -- social
spending having the disadvantage, from the point of view of those who
rule this country, of distributing wealth downward rather than upward.
Military spending, on the other hand, amounts to a regressive tax
which requires the vast majority of working people to subsidize what
President Eisenhower decried as "the military-industrial complex" --
that is, high tech companies, weapons manufacturers, and the new
proliferation of mercenary organizations (e.g., Black Water, DynCorp and
many more) receiving lucrative defense contracts. Further, this
spending allows the U.S. to engage in military efforts abroad fought
(despite the more lofty goals claimed) in the interests of allowing such
corporate interests to expand their markets, and increase their
profits, even more.
It is this type of corporate welfare system, along with periodic bank
bailouts and tax cuts for the super-rich, which suits the two political
parties just fine. Welfare for the truly needy, however, is generally
abhorrent to them, and thus the limited nature of the current debate
about the federal deficit.
Of course, for those of us concerned about basic notions of fairness
and justice, and for those of us who are literally dying at the hands of
this system, this state of affairs is completely unacceptable, and must
be resisted. A good place to start would be the December 16 anti-war
demonstration in Washington, D.C. For more information, go to Stop These Wars.