The talk is all of stimuli and other matters economic
– how do we re-inflate the balloon of American prosperity? Reality has taken
a hat-pin to it, and trillions
have gone up in the smoke of foreclosed mortgages and credit-default swaps.
Panaceas are not lacking. Paul
Krugman says it doesn't matter what we spend our money on, as long as we
throw it away rapidly and without forethought. I have no doubt that soon we'll
be hearing the ghost of Huey Long promising "Every
man a king!" I fully expect the Townsend Plan to come back at some
point, along, perhaps, with a revival of interest in pre-Leninist forms of Marxism.
Along these lines, President Obama and his party have come up with a "stimulus
package," and I must pause to remark how important language is to these
people. It's a "package," you see, just
like a Christmas gift, only better, because they, the politicians, get to
play Santa Claus and shower their constituents with presents. This legislative
larceny is predicated on the oddly counterintuitive notion that we can and should
our way out of poverty – that the sins of our profligacy can be forgiven
if only we indulge in yet more ravenous forms of gluttony.
To ordinary Americans, this kind of Washington-think is wholly alien: it is
After all, when normal human beings are in financial trouble they cut back
on their spending, as they are doing
now. The American polity, in its younger days, would naturally apply the
same logic to government, but, in our dotage, we impart magical powers to the
organs of the state, which can produce wealth out of thin air, with only the
aid of a printing press. Oh, yes, we
understand – albeit vaguely – that this is debt for future generations to pay.
Yet we recall – even more vaguely – old bromides like "We
owe it to ourselves," which are embedded in our collective memory like
flies in amber, and we are reassured.
Putting aside Bizarro economics, for now, and my wholesale rejection of same,
there is one way we can stimulate the economy with a mighty injection of cash
into the hands of one and all. No, not another government subsidy, but the cutting
of the single largest federal expenditure down to a manageable size: the
U.S. military budget.
Larger than all the other "defense" budgets in the world combined,
this unimaginable sum is not even known, for sure, but of one thing we can be
certain: the hidden costs are much more than anyone suspects. Covert "black
operations" are run on an off-the-books
budget that we peons are not entitled to see.
Consuming nearly half of all government spending, the military budget maintains
empire unrivaled in the history of the world. The U.S. operates a network
of bases in dozens of
countries, on every continent. The Pentagon is the biggest landowner on
earth. This is not only tremendously expensive, but also completely unnecessary
and even harmful to our national interests.
Why, for example, do we need bases in Germany, of all places? They are there
on account of a
war fought a generation ago, and they stayed because of a perceived
threat from the Soviets that vanished into history along with Stalin's ghost.
The hidden costs of empire are not limited to the CIA's secret slush funds
– a much greater proportion of this sum amounts to invisible yet all too real
opportunity costs, lost avenues of investment that were, instead, diverted
to the military-industrial complex. Militarism distorts not only the economy,
but also the progress of science, which is channeled in directions that are
rather than productive. Yes, it's true that military applications have often
spun off useful byproducts, but if the original aim and intent of scientific
research were directly applied to productive and pacific civilian projects,
it 's reasonable to expect the results would have been far more fruitful.
The reason for the huge outlay in military expenditures has nothing to do with
America's national security: after all, we don't even inspect all the cargo
coming into our ports. How concerned with real security are we, anyway? Not
very. What matters, in this game, is the financial security of certain
economic interests, as well as the ideological
agendas of pressure groups within U.S. society.
The Pentagon establishment wants to start building a new
generation of nuclear
weapons, over some opposition in the Obama administration. That these weapons
only add to the danger of global annihilation, and therefore reduce our security,
is irrelevant: what matters is that a powerful political constituency exists
for the pattern of our military spending, with a very organized and well-funded
lobby to continually push for bigger, better, and progressively more expensive
In making a point about how a complete fraud like Mikheil Saakashvili, the
despotic president of Georgia, managed to make such headway in Washington circles,
Professor Stephen Walt trenchantly observes:
"The United States has a uniquely permeable political system. If a
foreign diplomat can't persuade the State Department, Treasury, or Defense,
there are 435 congressmen and 100 different senators for them to go to work
on. As Ken Silverstein shows in his fascinating and funny book Turkmeniscam,
there are also a host of lobbying and PR firms who are happy to help foreign
governments sell their story here too."
This permeability is even more conducive to domestic lobbies, such as those
deployed by the arms manufacturers and the ancillary industries that piggyback
on America's overseas presence. A good example is Halliburton
and its offshoots,
which provide all the comforts of home to our centurions at the far frontiers
of the empire. Add to this corporate factor the foreign
lobbyists and their domestic fellow travelers, and you have the broad outlines
of the War Party's political coalition, the means by which they retain their
iron grip on policymaking.
Up against this colossus stands – what? Or, rather, whom?
Well, it's just you and me, folks, and a few other scattered, badly disorganized
and under-funded peace groups. And that's it. There's no pro-peace lobbying
organization with any heft, and certainly not with any funding. The anti-interventionist
blogger Professor Juan Cole recently noted this vital lack, and he's absolutely
right when he says:
"The reason AIPAC and its constituencies among the Evangelicals and
American Likudniks has been so successful is that there is virtually no countervailing
political force. Madison and other Founding Fathers set up the U.S., as Ian
Lustick has argued, on the assumption that on most important issues there would
be opposing factions who would check each other in the legislature. The drawback
of their system is that when there is only one effective faction on an issue,
it completely dominates politically. Madison's system worked to prolong the
heyday of Big Tobacco far beyond what was reasonable. Anti-smoking campaigners
who knew that smoking kills you dead could not make headway with Congress because
the tobacco-growing and cigarette industries would counter-lobby.
"But on some issues there is no one on the other side of it to lobby and
threaten congressmen. Thus, there was not much percentage until recently in
pushing for an end to the boycott on Communist Cuba, since the Florida Cuba
lobby would punish you politically and virtually no one would reward you."
Putting aside the choice of "Big Tobacco" – as a libertarian, and
a smoker, I say leave them the heck alone – Professor Cole is quite correct:
there is virtually no opposition to the War Party in the halls of government.
The enemies of peace are organized,
their efforts, and they have plenty of money to throw around. The peacemakers,
on the other hand, are disorganized, divided, and poor. This imbalance is what
– more than any other single factor – has given the War Party so many victories
in recent years. We will not defeat them until we out-organize them on the ground.
The potential is there, but it is – so far – tragically unrecognized.
Such a Peace Lobby, if you will, would seize this moment in our history, when
there really is a good chance that a mass movement to cut the "defense"
budget could get off the ground. By arguing for a "peace stimulus,"
one that would allow bigger tax cuts for all and put more money in the hands
of oppressed taxpayers, the organizers of such a campaign could make a larger
point: that an empire is bad
economics, as well as bad foreign policy.
You want a "stimulus"? Forget all those condoms and start cutting
back the Pentagon. We could cut our military budget by 30 percent without even
feeling it, although I would suggest a 50 percent reduction – to start.
Sound radical? Well, as Ron
Paul remarked more than once, you'd be surprised how much of our military
expenditures amount to maintaining our overseas empire and really have nothing
to do with the defense of the continental United States. Get rid of the empire,
and we can finance the rebuilding of the American economy – or, at the very
least, our decayed infrastructure – several times over.