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Actually Afghanistan is a war of choice

2010 July 3
by Ian Welsh

Michael Steele’s comments on Afghanistan remind me of my favorite definition of a gaffe: “saying the truth in the worst way possible.”

To whit, Steele said that Afghanistan is a war of Obama’s choosing, and that everyone who’s occupied Afghanistan has come to grief over it.  Now one can quibble a bit over the details of who came to grief and who didn’t, but basically he’s right.  Afghanistan went badly for the Russians and the British, most recently.  There’s a reason Afghanistan is called the “graveyard of Empires” and if the US isn’t careful it’ll be the graveyard of the US empire.

Likewise, yes, this is a war of choice for Obama.  He could have done his review, said “hey, there are almost no al-Q’aeda fighters in Afghanistan anymore, so we won, let’s go home.”  He could have said “fighting in Afghanistan is seriously destabilizing Pakistan, which is far more important than Afghanistan, so let’s go home.”  He could have said “yes, if we leave, some al-Q’aeda camps might spring up but we can always bomb them and anyway there are plenty of failed states where al-Q’aeda can set up camps and we can’t occupy all of them.”

The point is that continuing in Afghanistan was a choice.  Obama could have chosen otherwise.  Not being in Afghanistan will not create an existential threat to the US.

So yeah, Steele was right.  Of course, being the RNC chairman, Steele isn’t allowed to say things that make sense and contradict Republican warmongering.

Now here’s a truth that Steele didn’t tell.  Obama has to stay in Afghanistan because war spending is one of the only reliable forms of stimulus he has.  The economy is in bad shape, and it needs that stimulus.  Since he can’t get a new large stimulus through Congress that means he MUST keep the Afghan war going if he doesn’t want an economic disaster, which would then lead to an electoral disaster.

This is the sad truth of America: the only acceptable form of Keynesian spending is military Keynesianism. Instead of hiring tens of thousands of teachers, building a high speed rail network across the country, refitting every building to be energy efficient and doing a massive solar and wind build-out to reduce dependence on oil, well, the US would rather turn Afghans and Pakistanis into a fine red mist.

That fine red mist is what’s keeping the American economy from going under entirely.  And so, even if it’s the wrong thing to do, even if it’s the graveyard of America’s Empire, the war will continue.

14 Responses
  1. anon2525 permalink
    July 3, 2010

    July 3rd Ian Welsh: Now here’s a truth that Steele didn’t tell. Obama has to stay in Afghanistan because war spending is one of the only reliable forms of stimulus he has. The economy is in bad shape, and it needs that stimulus. Since he can’t get a new large stimulus through Congress that means he MUST keep the Afghan war going if he doesn’t want an economic disaster, which would then lead to an electoral disaster.

    June 28th Ian Welsh: What polls show is that the majority of Americans are more concerned with jobs than deficits, for example. This isn’t a case of “elected to be austere” this is a case of elite priorities.

    So, if he wanted to run on a policy of “let’s start of government jobs program”, Obama (and the democrats) could. He and the democrats could propose a domestic jobs program and make the republicans in the senate filibuster (an actual filibuster, not a Reid filibuster, where the threat of a filibuster causes the bill to be withdrawn). He could run against the “elite priorities.” He has a choice, but he hasn’t chosen the “domestic jobs program” option. His priorities are the same as the “elite priorities.”

    Also, neither cutting military spending or a domestic jobs program would have an effect, positive or negative, on GDP between now and November, although aid to states and cities would prevent the job losses that are in the pipeline. The primary effect would be to let people know that something was being done and that in the future the economy would be getting some help.

  2. anon2525 permalink
    July 3, 2010

    “start of government jobs program” should be “start a government jobs program”

  3. anon2525 permalink
    July 3, 2010

    Now here’s a truth that Steele didn’t tell. Obama has to stay in Afghanistan because war spending is one of the only reliable forms of stimulus he has.

    If we define “stimulus” to be public/government spending that increases GDP, then military spending is not a stimulus.

    Dean Baker writes:

    Global Insight’s model projected that after 20 years the economy would be about 0.6 percentage points smaller as a result of the additional defense spending. Slower growth would imply a loss of almost 700,000 jobs compared to a situation in which defense spending had not been increased. Construction and manufacturing were especially big job losers in the projections, losing 210,000 and 90,000 jobs, respectively.

    The scenario we asked Global Insight to model turned out to have vastly underestimated the increase in defense spending associated with current policy.

    The projected job loss from this increase in defense spending would be close to two million. In other words, the standard economic models that project job loss from efforts to stem global warming also project that the increase in defense spending since 2000 will cost the economy close to two million jobs in the long run.

    For some reason, no one has chosen to highlight the job loss associated with higher defense spending. In fact, the job loss attributable to defense spending has probably never been mentioned in a single news story in The New York Times, Washington Post, National Public Radio, or any other major media outlet. It is difficult to find a good explanation for this omission.

    http://www.truth-out.org/1109097

    Given that military spending is not stimulative, we’re left with only one reason that politicians do it: it is wasteful spending that benefits their supporters. In other words, it is a gov’t jobs program for the right-wing, namely weapons builders and mercenaries, AKA, “military contractors.”

    Jeremy Scahill write:

    Overall, contractors now comprise a whopping 69% of the Department of Defense’s total workforce, “the highest ratio of contractors to military personnel in US history.” That’s not in one war zone—that’s the Pentagon in its entirety.

  4. Ian Welsh permalink*
    July 3, 2010

    For example, defense spending means that the government is pulling away resources from the uses determined by the market and instead using them to buy weapons and supplies and to pay for soldiers and other military personnel. In standard economic models, defense spending is a direct drain on the economy, reducing efficiency, slowing growth and costing jobs.

    Take away that war spending and the US will have less jobs. Guaranteed. This is not a zero sum game, it is a negative sum game. That money will not be spent on other things. In order for Dean to be right the money has to be shifted. Right now private industry is not spending, they will not suddenly decide to spend if military spending is reduced. This is the central insight of Keynesianism: in a Depression, the government is the only actor which can spend. Yes, spending on things other than the military would be better, but that’s not on the table.

    And actually, right now, given the structure of the US economy, I doubt if the money went into the private sector that it would do much more than drive up profits and wealth for the top 1%. Right now the US needs a major restructuring of its economy so that the private economic engine works again.

  5. July 3, 2010

    anon2525: Arguing that creating jobs is popular with Americans and deficit reduction isn’t is, while no doubt true, beside the point. The opposite is true among our congressmen, the President, and the people who feed their campaigns. Those are the opinions that count at the moment.

    That can change, but not quickly or easily.

  6. anon2525 permalink
    July 3, 2010

    Arguing that creating jobs is popular with Americans and deficit reduction isn’t is, while no doubt true, beside the point. The opposite is true among our congressmen, the President, and the people who feed their campaigns.

    Is it beside the point to the democrats? I thought that the point was “what policies will get you elected or re-elected in November?” The view that is popular among the population (“jobs are more important than the deficit”) should be the one that leads to electoral success. Or, have I gotten this whole “election by popular” vote wrong? Will the congresspeople and their campaign staffs be electing themselves?

  7. anon2525 permalink
    July 3, 2010

    In order for Dean to be right the money has to be shifted.

    Let’s look carefully at what he said. In outline what he said was:

    - The corporate media are pushing the argument that standard economic models predict that moving the economy away from the use of fossil fuels will cause the economy to lose jobs.

    - So, let’s use those standard economic models and apply it to military spending. Lo and behold, those models show that military spending will cause the economy to lose jobs, too.

    - If the corporate media thinks that it is Important and Responsible and Serious to point out that moving the economy away from the use of fossil fuels will cause the economy to lose jobs, then that same media should consider it Important and Responsible and Serious to point out the same consequence of military spending.

    Baker makes two points:
    – Military spending is not stimulative, as many people contend
    – The corporate media does not inform people about this point

    We can then infer what we think this means about the corporate media and politicians who support military spending.

  8. Oscar Romero permalink
    July 3, 2010

    “So yeah, Steele was right. Of course, being the RNC chairman, Steele isn’t allowed to say things that make sense and contradict Republican warmongering.”

    I agree, Steele was right. But it’s not only Republican warmangerers who don’t like Steele’s remarks. Even Firedoglake, which I contribute to, is loaded with comments taking potshots at Steele. The principle involved doesn’t seem to matter to diehard Republicans or diehard Democrats. A pox on both their houses.

  9. Brian permalink
    July 3, 2010

    I’ve contributed to FDL too, and I don’t see anywhere they take potshots at Steele. They quite justifiably pointed out the stupidity of his not mentioning how and who got the US into Afghanistan from 2001-2009, his support of the war when Obama was “surging” there, and stated that nearly every Republican supports the war there. That seems fair enough to me, not a potshot.

    But they seemed to hold the DNC in equal contempt for their “We love the war more” response to his comments, and they definitely held that Steele spoke an accidental truth about the unwinnable nature of the war there.

  10. Bernard permalink
    July 3, 2010

    congress does re-elect itself. since they can out spend the competition and do, the mere participation of “voters” is merely for show. it is all a sham anyway. something like 96% of Congress is re-elected, every election. new people are few and far between.

    the money the incumbents have is used to counter any challenge from outside. A club, for the few, by the few and paid for by the Elite who own the Congress.

  11. Bill permalink
    July 3, 2010

    War funding is also the last way left for Dems to slide through favored legislation without having to face a potential filibuster. It’s a given the GOP will afll in line where the military is concerned. How else would Nancy Pelosi force a House vote on the cat-food commission’s virtually guaranteed raid on Social Security?

  12. Celsius 233 permalink
    July 4, 2010

    With all due respect Ian; there’s nothing new here. Without a draft; this is a privatized war as are all of the wars we are fighting.
    The majority of Americans are disconnected from the basic realities of just what is going on with the U.S. government.
    This disconnect is palpable and dangerous and is probably not reversible.
    There was a laughable story in Huffpost today titled;

    Clinton: Activists Being Crushed By ‘Steel Vise’ Around The World

    Link; http://tinyurl.com/3alt6bc

    And of course the U.S. and Canada weren’t mentioned as part of the problem.

    Denial has infiltrated most western societies like a malignant cancer; it’s an illness born of willful ignorance; and frankly, I’m done with stupid human tricks. I’m increasingly finding it difficult to justify our continued existence on this still, most beautiful planet.
    Thankfully, it will survive us.

  13. July 4, 2010

    Foreign wars don’t stimulate the economy. On the contrary, they actually drain resources away from our economy and flush them down the toilet abroad.

  14. July 4, 2010

    At this point in time the war spending is not stimulative. When Georgie Bush rushed us to war in Irag…, based on completely fabricated evidence…, that was for economic stimulus effect. And it worked. The economy rebounded just enough to secure him re-election. But today…, the spending is just keepping the Bomb and Bullit Builders (Military-Industrial Complex) employed so we don’t have a complete economic meltdown. And even if we could magically move all that spending toward an new domestic stimulus package…, it would just be kicking the can down the road. Stimulus needs to have a purpose. Just throwing money at a problem and waiting for “something to come along” as Krugman said three times on his interview with Charlie Rose the other night…, isn’t just dreaming…, it’s hullucinating.

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