2010 elections key to building a green, demilitarized economy

In a Dec. 4 editorial entitled, “The Welfare State and Military Power,” the Wall Street Journal actually said something I agree with: you can’t have both guns and butter.

Of course, the WSJ warned increased domestic spending advocated by the Obama administration inevitably crowds out military spending. If the current health care reform passes, the American people will come to expect a new role for government.

Left unchecked, the WSJ says, the US will end up like most European countries, which spend a greater share of their GDP on health care, pensions and jobless benefits and less on the military. Europeans prefer their benefits and have no stomach for foreign occupation.

The WSJ maintains US power globally is dependent on its military might. By following the path of greater domestic spending, the Obama administration is risking our status as a global power.

I’m reminded the WSJ reflects ultra right wing sections of the US ruling class who seek US corporate global domination, backed by unrestrained military might. These forces dominated US politics for 30 years and were defeated in the 2008 elections and are bludgeoning the Obama administration.

There are also contending forces within the Obama administration including more sober minded US ruling class circles that see new global realities. The American people can be decisive in shaping the outcome of this struggle, beginning with the 2010 elections.

Today’s world is far different from post WW II. New global trade blocks are forming; new powers like China, India and Brazil are rising, and new crises have developed like climate change, which require global collective action. It’s a world US capitalism must accommodate itself to or risk deeper conflict with.

The dispute between the US and the new progressive government in Japan illustrates this new reality. Japan has been saddled with a US military presence since World War II, including 47,000 troops and scores of bases. A majority of Japanese wants the US military to leave.

Neo-conservative luminaries like Dick Cheney, Frank Gaffney, William Kristol and their ilk echo the sentiments of the WSJ. They insist Obama’s stress on diplomacy weakens the US global position. They are livid over Obama’s call to begin an exit of US troops from Afghanistan in 2011.

Given the failed Christmas Day bombing of a US airliner and other terror threats, the ultra right will shamelessly exploit the legitimate fears of the American people. The Republican right wing will try to ride these fears to victories in the 2010 mid-term elections and the presidency in 2012, or at least weaken the Democratic majorities leading to gridlock.

It must be acknowledged terrorism is real and a real concern for the American people. Having adequate security is an important function of our government and must be organized competently and funded appropriately. But 87% of the military budget is spent on troops and only 8% on homeland security.

Terrorism will not be defeated by a US occupation of Afghanistan. Ultimately it will be addressed through regional and global collective action and economic, educational and social development.

In any case, the current path of guns and butter is unsustainable. Nearly half of the US discretionary budget, $711 billion a year, is spent on the military. The domestic agenda articulated by President Obama and the Democratic Congress is not possible with a continuously expanding military budget.

The needs of US society are glaring and urgent, beginning with the jobs and health care crisis, crumbling infrastructure, education funding and skyrocketing college tuition.

There is a growing movement led by organized labor and environmentalists to transform the economy and create millions of new green jobs. This can’t be accomplished without addressing a change in our foreign policy and demilitarization of our domestic economy.

The fight to deepen and extend the policy of diplomacy to include shutting down foreign military bases, eliminating weapons systems, etc. must be coupled with a process of converting military production to civilian use without any job loss. It will be difficult to convince people otherwise.

There are some important openings in the fight to change US foreign policy, including the declaration by Obama for a nuclear free world, his determination to reach a new START agreement with Russia, and the elimination of some weapons systems.

But the struggle over health care reform taught us corporate interests in the health care or military industries bitterly resist any challenge to their profits. Both are deeply embedded in the US economy and nearly every congressional district has some military related employment.

Military contractors donated $23.7 million to federal campaigns in 2008 and over $150 million lobbying Congress. The payback is $200 billion in contracts, not including billions more for maintaining the nuclear weapons industry.

When Defense Secretary Gates announced a 4% increase in military spending and the elimination of some programs, the military industry and their think tanks howled. This would leave the US vulnerable to attack, they screamed. In the end, $1 billion was added to overall military spending.

The Foreign Policy in Focus “Unified Security Budget” recommended $55 billion in cuts to unneeded weapons systems. Of the programs they outlined the Obama administration sought to cut eight including the F-22 combat aircraft. Congress passed six of the eight cuts despite frantic resistance of the military corporate lobby.

The movements are simply not yet strong enough to effect far reaching change. The challenge is to organize majority movements for a sustainable and demilitarized economy. This must include electing people to Congress who are committed to this direction, beginning with the 2010 elections.

The American people need a wide-ranging discussion in communities, union halls, places of worship, and campuses about our national priorities and foreign policy. We need a different understanding of what makes us safe and what doesn’t and how our future depends on a green demilitarized economy at home and peaceful cooperation abroad.






John Bachtell
John Bachtell

John Bachtell is president of Long View Publishing Co., the publisher of People's World. He is active in electoral, labor, environmental, and social justice struggles. He grew up in Ohio, where he attended Antioch College in Yellow Springs. He currently lives in Chicago.