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 Middle East.
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.