According to a report in the February 7th New York Times, President Obama’s proposed budget for the 2011 fiscal year has an estimated $1.267 trillion budget deficit – and that probably is based upon some hopeful economic assumptions. It is clear that for the longer term, deficits of this magnitude cannot be sustained, but while commentators will talk about the need to cut domestic spending or to maybe – dare we – raise taxes on our wealthy citizens, banks and corporations, few are talking about the $846 billion gorilla in the room: the massive expenditure of resources mandated to preserve and to protect American military domination of the world. That $846 billion not only represents the cost of the military services but also probably the cost of intelligence services – and maybe does not even include some secret programs the government forgot to mention. It is not clear whether this figure also represents the costs for past wars – such as for veterans’ pensions and for health care.
While informed commentators like Paul Krugman are correct when they say that short-term concerns about the deficit are misplaced and must be endured for the sake of economic recovery, even he does not link the long-term solution to redefining – which has to mean retrenching – America’s military intervention abroad. This means not just systematically disengaging from misbegotten wars such as Bush’s Iraq and now, sadly, Obama’s Afghanistan, but also avoiding other possible military intervention in virtually every nook and cranny in the world: Yemen for example. In the eight years of President Bush’s budgets, this country engaged in a financial adventure in Wonderland raising domestic and national security spending while cutting taxes for the wealthy. “Deficits don’t matter,” as Vice President Dick Chaney so famously declared. President Bush and the Republican Congress borrowed from our future as recklessly as did the Wall Street speculators, but now the bill is coming due. No politician seems ready to challenge the American people to pay fully for our current and future commitments for both butter and guns. Maybe, they hope that economic recovery will magically remove the dilemma.
Regardless, it is unlikely that magic will work this time, which leaves this country with a choice. If we want the social programs and the economic recovery this country needs, we cannot have those at the same time as America continues on the path of extensive military intervention. And the political will to limit America’s military intervention cannot be mustered until the hysteria about the extent to which Al Qaeda can harm the United States is challenged and a less military-oriented strategy to counter it is developed. This will not be easy because politicians can score points by hollering about being soft on the “war on terror,” just as some used to speak about liberals being “soft on Communism.” But for this country’s long-term economic welfare, the link between widespread military intervention and the impossibility of keeping our deficits at a sustainable level must be recognized. This country needs to develop a strategy to counter al Qaeda based more on – but not just on – a combined political, police-work and counter-intelligence strategy. This will be quite a challenge given the right-wing media machine, but it must be done for the country’s sake.
More on this to come in future posts.