10/31/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Prisoners of War

The worst financial crisis since the Great Depression has sparked a great reckoning. Barack Obama now argues that it represents a "failed philosophy," "the idea that if we give more and more to those with the most, prosperity will trickle down to everyone else." His broadscale indictment of the "era of greed and irresponsibility on Wall Street and in Washington" plasters John McCain, a self described "foot soldier in the Reagan revolution, to his record, and exposes his recent cross dressing as a populist tribune.

Yet, the Iraq War, surely the worst foreign policy debacle at least since Vietnam, has had little effect in challenging the "failed philosophy" that an imperial America is the "indispensable nation" needed to police the globe. Even as Congress balked at the $700 billion bail out of Wall Street and Republicans filibustered against even a token $50 billion stimulus plan for Main Street, next year's $700 billion military budget was passed without a murmur.

Today in the New York Times, the Institute for America's Future which I co-direct published an "op ad" entitled Prisoners of War. It makes the simple point that we will be unable to put our nation back on track at home if we remain prisoners of war abroad.

For the ad and back materials, go here.

We are spending about $12 billion a month on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The latter will end costing $3 trillion. More troops are being dispatched to the former. We maintain an empire of over 700 bases across the world. Our navy polices the seven seas. We spend as much on our military as the rest of the world combined -- and that is apparently not enough. Both major party political candidates are committed to increasing the size of the military and the amount we will spend on it.

Yet the military has no answer to the major challenges we face to our security -- a globalized economy of increasing instability, the rise of India and China, increasing global indebtedness that can't be sustained, a growing dependence on foreign oil, catastrophic climate change and the accompanying resource struggles.

Even, as a study from the Rand Corporation, the Pentagon's own think thank notes, the declaration of a Global War on Terror has detracted from a sensible strategy to deal with al Qaeda and its allies. We've turned fanatics into warriors, inflating their importance and adding to their attraction. We've squandered lives and money in Iraq, alienating our allies, exhausting our military, and emboldening our adversaries. We've slighted the global intelligence sharing, financial pressure, and aggressive policing which are the core of a realistic strategy, and weakened the necessary public campaign to appeal to moderate Islam and isolate the suicidal zealots. When you carry only a hammer, as any carpenter would tell you, more and more things start looking like nails.

Just as the financial crisis calls into question the market fundamentalism of the last years, one would think the Iraq debacle would trigger a debate about our imperial policies and our distorted priorities. Sadly, the absence of a serious peace movement has left the cloistered world of our national security managers undisturbed. As we head into what surely will be an election that brings a sea change to our politics, we remain prisoners of war.