Guns vs. butter

Opinion

President Bush’s announcement that he wants another $87 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan ignited a storm that is expected to rage in Congress for months. It signals the intersection of the war and the economy in a crisis that could determine the outcome of the 2004 elections.

The $87 billion is just for next year. Cheney and Rumsfeld say there’s no telling how much more will be needed, for a war with no end in sight. And it’s on top of the $450 federal budget deficit projected for this coming year. The Congressional Budget Office and mainstream economists are talking about deficits in the trillions over the next several years.

Republicans as well as Democrats are raising questions. Members of Congress have just returned from their August break back home, where they heard the unease among their constituents. Folks are worried about their job security, about their future.

Government figures show we’re in a “jobless recovery” – meaning production is up, the stock market is up, but jobs are vanishing, especially in the relatively well-paying manufacturing sector. More than 3 million jobs have been lost in the last two years.

Meanwhile, just a few days before Bush’s speech, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the U.S. a D+ on the state of our infrastructure – the school buildings, bridges, roads, rail lines, electric grids, water pipes and reservoirs that make our country work. These are also things that provide good paying jobs.

Democrats and Republicans alike are assailing the administration for “poor planning” in its conduct of the war. Poor planning, certainly. But there is more to it.

The architects of this war were never interested in democracy in Iraq, or the well being of the Iraqi people. As U.S. occupation chief Paul Bremer has said several times, this administration’s priority is privatizing Iraq’s largely publicly owned economy, especially its oil. Just as Bush wants to privatize everything from schools to wildlife areas in the U.S., so in Iraq his main interest is grabbing control of the country’s resources. In both cases, it’s for the benefit of Bush’s corporate backers. But beyond that, Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz see Iraq as a base for military/corporate control over the region stretching from East Africa through Central Asia. They don’t want an “exit strategy,” because they don’t want to get out.

American soldiers, our sons, daughters, husbands, wives, are the cannon fodder in this crusade. They are paying with their lives. Now America’s working families are being asked to pay the bill, by sacrificing health care, education, retirement security, clean air and water, even soldiers’ and veterans’ benefits, while the wealthy are given tax breaks. And the threat of terrorism has grown greater because of the policies of this ultra-right administration.

It appears that many Democrats and Republicans will not object to the military portion of the $87 billion – the bulk of the funds – but will put up a fight over money for reconstructing Iraq. Some are saying, “We need to support our troops, but why should we pay for rebuilding Iraq when we don’t have enough money to pay for our own needs here at home?”

But the U.S. has an obligation to the Iraqi people. As the country that attacked and is now the occupying power, the U.S. is responsible for paying the costs of rebuilding Iraq. Who should pay? The American people did not start the war. This administration lied to us to take us to war. Its corporate cronies are profiting from the war and occupation with multi-billion-dollar no-bid contracts. These cozy contracts should be terminated. Reconstruction of Iraq should be paid for out of the ill-gotten war profits of Halliburton et al. Money can also come from the Pentagon budget, and from raising, not cutting, taxes on the super-rich. Obviously, that won’t happen without a fight.

Fundamentally, this administration cannot be trusted to bring peace, democracy and economic reconstruction to Iraq. Authority for beginning that process should be handed over to the United Nations.

And this administration cannot be trusted with the security and well being of our troops. The way to support our troops is to bring them home to their families and to thriving communities with well-paid jobs.

That’s the heart of the battle over the $87 billion. It has the power to bring this reckless administration down in November 2004. Bush’s Iraq war could well become Bush’s Achilles’ heel.



Susan Webb is a member of the Editorial Board of the People’s Weekly World. She can be reached at suewebb@pww.org