America: Hooked on War and Getting Poorer
There's plenty of good money to be made /
Supplyin' the army with tools of the trade …
– Country Joe and the Fish
I hallucinate easily, a hangover from time spent in an acid-rock commune in London in the fevered 60s. Most evenings when I switch on the television 6.30 news with its now cliched pictures of deep sea oil spurting from BP's pipe rupture, I see not bleeding sludge but human blood surging up into the Gulf of Mexico.
I've learned to trust my visions as metaphors for reality. The same news programmes, often as a dutiful throwaway item, will show a jerky fragment of Afghan combat accompanied by the usual pulse-pounding handheld shots of snipers amid roadside bomb explosions, preferably in fiery balls. My delusional mind converts this footage into a phantasmagoria where our M60 machine guns are shooting ammunition belts full of $1,000 bills.
Blood, oil, bullets … and cash.
Why is nobody talking about the Afghanistan adventure as a cause of our plunging recession? Or at least citing the 30-year-old endless war as a major contributory factor in wasting our money to "nation-build" in the Hindu Kush while our own country falls to pieces on food stamps, foreclosures and child poverty – one in five kids – that would put the world's poorest nations to shame?
Iraq was George Bush's war. But, as Republican party chairman Michael Steele correctly says, "Afghanistan is Obama's war of choice", and a losing proposition. Historically, Bush and Dick Cheney merely toyed with Afghanistan while visiting shock and awe on Iraq. But President Obama is really, really serious about it. He told us so on his campaign trail, but most of us refused to believe him. We told ourselves: oh, he's a closet pacifist, or he'll somehow find a way out of the impasse, thus sealing a devil's pact with our own consciences.
Obama's "way out" is to dig deeper in so that he'll be able to get out, it's said. Where have we heard that before? Exit strategy, my foot. Obama is a willing prisoner of his generals, the latest four-star foot-in-mouther being General George Casey, army chief of staff, who a few days ago confessed to CBS News that the US could face another "decade or so" of persistent conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. (He then fudged it, but the cat was out of the bag.)
Our Afghanistan war, which began in 1980 under the Democrats (by weaponising Afghan resistance to the Soviets), and is now truly a bipartisan war, is as bankrupt as our economy. No connection? None that I can hear from Republicans or Democrats and the "liberal base". The war without purpose or common sense is simply a given, like the weather. Other than a few lonely members of Congress, like Florida's Alan Grayson (who introduced a bill titled "The War Is Making You Poor"), the antiwar Texas libertarian Ron Paul and Illinois's Tim Johnson, hardly anybody in public life dares to make a connection between teachers' pink slips, personal bankruptcies (6,000 a day now), our rotting infrastructure, lengthening queues at unemployment offices, child poverty … and the war.
You won't hear a peep from mainstream liberals such as Keith Olberman or Rachel Maddow. Nor, when Pentagon-funded war industry jobs are on the line, from any of the congressional liberals in my Southern California delegation such as Henry Waxman and Maxine Waters, who, after routine grumbling, just voted for yet another $30bn for the lost war that shores up our local weapons and aerospace industries.
Nobody knows whether, if the Iraq-Afghan wars came to a miraculous stop and we shipped the troops home tomorrow, leaving the homegrown Pashtun and Hazara factions to fight it out among themselves, the money would automatically return to our failing economy. But it's a question worth asking out loud. In 2008 Obama Democrats junked the war as an election issue in favour of the economy, and they won by avoiding as a political third rail any connection between the trillions spent fighting colonial wars in the Middle East and the billions we refuse to spend on our own people.
As a people we Americans are hooked on a permanent war economy that only here and there, in drips and drabs, creates immediate jobs while undermining any long-term possibility of recovery. The good news is that contracts for new unmanned Predator drone bases have been awarded to deprived areas of South Dakota, Wisconsin and Missouri, much to the local citizenry's joy. Some stimulus.