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Budget Deficits Are the New WMDs

The deeper lesson of the Iraq war is how America marginalises those who would save her, argues Rosenberg.

Ten years ago, the US invaded Iraq based on a lie - the lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that threatened America's security. And as blogger  David Atkins recently pointed out, there's an almost exact parallel between the way in which the US went to war against Iraq 10 years ago and how the US is going to war against deficits today. In both cases, marginalising critical questions and dissenting voices are key.  

More on the parallels shortly. But first, let's reconsider the WMD lie. You didn't need a security clearance to figure it out. Iraq was where it always had been, right smack dab in the middle of the oil-rich Middle East. The US was still in North America, with the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Ocean and more between the two of them. And the US still imposed "no fly zones" over Iraq which ensured that any WMDs that might exist would not possibly leave Iraqi air space, much less, somehow cross two oceans to threaten the US, which Iraq had precisely  zero aircraft capable of doing. 

The idea that Saddam Hussein would turn his WMDs over to others to use against the US was only slightly less absurd - even if we weren't talking about turning them over to a mortal enemy like Osama bin Laden. Saddam was a brutal dictator, after all, a man accustomed to calling all the shots. No way he was going to slip his trump card -  if he had it - to someone else. The idea that Iraq really had WMDs -  after months of UN inspections had failed to find any trace of them - was difficult to believe, at best. The idea that they posed an imminent threat to the US was patently absurd. 

And yet, that was the premise for war. 

Oh, yes, I almost forgot.  If it turned out that Saddam really had WMDs after all, then the one thing we could do to change all the calculations would have been to invade Iraq. There was no possible way for Saddam to use them against the US or US forces outside of Iraq. And even if there were, he'd only be signing his death warrant if he did use them. But if the US attacked Iraq with the intention of overthrowing him, not only could those alleged weapons be used, the deterrence threat  against using them would have turned into an urgent motivation  to use them. 

So, to summarise: the US went to war with Iraq because of WMDs that could never plausibly be used, unless we went to war with Iraq.  If they even existed at all, that is.  

Debt hysteria marginalisation

Put this way, the whole thing seems absurd - which it is. But that's exactly  whyit was so important that critical, contrarian voices be stifled. Without their exclusion, the whole house of cards collapses in the twinkling of an eye. As Atkins points out, those marginalised weren't just "the likes of Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame - though that was part of it. 

The most important marginalisation was of a softer kind", which he describes as the multi-layered construction of what "Every Serious Person" knew - that "Colin Powell would never deceive the American People" that George Bush was a straight-shooter, that "UN weapons inspectors were a weak joke", etc, etc, etc. "To believe otherwise was unthinkable," Atkins writes. "It was the sign of a deeply unserious mind, unfit for the politics of adults." 

And thus, he concludes, "To truly learn the lesson of Iraq is to ask oneself what critical policy issue of the day carries the same force of conventional wisdom and marginalisation of contrarian voices." Which brings us to "the bipartisan march toward deficit reduction and the bizarre exclusion of Keynesian or countercyclical solutions from acceptable discourse on the economy" - a policy fixation that's actually guaranteed to prolong how long it takes for a full economic recovery, and thus make budget matters even worse.  

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