Wall Street and Hell’s Bottom*

Posted: September 30, 2008 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

Chalmers Johnson published a scathing, dead-on column on TomDispatch regarding the Wall Street bailout and the massive military spending bill passed by Congress during the chaos. Some excerpts:

…This is pure waste. Our annual spending on “national security” — meaning the defense budget plus all military expenditures hidden in the budgets for the departments of Energy, State, Treasury, Veterans Affairs, the CIA, and numerous other places in the executive branch — already exceeds a trillion dollars, an amount larger than that of all other national defense budgets combined. Not only was there no significant media coverage of this latest appropriation, there have been no signs of even the slightest urge to inquire into the relationship between our bloated military, our staggering weapons expenditures, our extravagantly expensive failed wars abroad, and the financial catastrophe on Wall Street.

The only Congressional “commentary” on the size of our military outlay was the usual pompous drivel about how a failure to vote for the defense authorization bill would betray our troops. The aged Senator John Warner (R-Va), former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, implored his Republican colleagues to vote for the bill “out of respect for military personnel.” He seems to be unaware that these troops are actually volunteers, not draftees, and that they joined the armed forces as a matter of career choice, rather than because the nation demanded such a sacrifice from them.

…In the past year, perhaps most disastrously, we have carried our Afghan war into Pakistan, a relatively wealthy and sophisticated nuclear power that has long cooperated with us militarily. Our recent bungling brutality along the Afghan-Pakistan border threatens to radicalize the Pashtuns in both countries and advance the interests of radical Islam throughout the region. The United States is now identified in each country mainly with Hellfire missiles, unmanned drones, special operations raids, and repeated incidents of the killing of innocent bystanders.

…Spending hundreds of billions of dollars on present and future wars that have nothing to do with our national security is simply obscene. And yet Congress has been corrupted by the military-industrial complex into believing that, by voting for more defense spending, they are supplying “jobs” for the economy. In fact, they are only diverting scarce resources from the desperately needed rebuilding of the American infrastructure and other crucial spending necessities into utterly wasteful munitions. If we cannot cut back our longstanding, ever increasing military spending in a major way, then the bankruptcy of the United States is inevitable. As the current Wall Street meltdown has demonstrated, that is no longer an abstract possibility but a growing likelihood. We do not have much time left.

I recommend reading the whole thing.

Now is a good time to rethink what the U.S. is up to in Afghanistan. “Winning” or “losing” are not the available choices in Afghanistan or Iraq, no matter how badly the major media outlets and political parties would like to frame these conflicts in this way. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan to topple a regime which refused to extradite a group of mass murderers and capture/kill said mass murderers. (This represented an attempt by President Bush to radically redefine traditional definitions of jus ad bello, but I digress.) Or so we said. As it turns out, capturing or killing bin Laden was never the U.S.’s operational priority:

Had the Bush administration’s priority been to capture or kill the al-Qaeda leadership, it would have deployed the necessary ground troops and airlift resources in the theater over a period of months before the offensive in Afghanistan began.

“You could have moved American troops along the Pakistani border before you went into Afghanistan,” said Lamm. But that would have meant waiting until spring 2002 to take the offensive against the Taliban, according to Lamm.

The views of Bush’s key advisers, however, ruled out any such plan from the start. During the summer of 2001, Rumsfeld had refused to develop contingency plans for military action against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan despite a National Security Presidential Directive adopted at the Deputies’ Committee level in July and by the Principles on Sept. 4 that called for such planning, according to the 9/11 Commission report.

Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz resisted such planning for Afghanistan because they were hoping that the White House would move quickly on military intervention in Iraq. According to the 9/11 Commission, at four deputies’ meetings on Iraq between May 31 and July 26, 2001, Wolfowitz pushed his idea to have U.S. troops seize all the oil fields in southern Iraq.

The “win” sold to the American people (or, more correctly, that the American people were clamoring for) was never possible, and in Afghanistan it is still not possible. All reports indicate that bin Laden is not in Afghanistan, but the United States’ forces are.

Will our current methods get us what we want? As Johnson noted above, and as I have argued before, the answer is no.

But the real question is not about methods; it’s about desires. What do we want from our involvement in Afghanistan? How would those desires (and the methods, for that matter) fit within a world-view shaped by the Sermon on the Mount? By the Passion? By the Resurrection?

I want to put something out there for your consideration. I want us to stop and consider that we did not have grand hopes for the future of the Middle East, and that our motives were not the most noble. I’m not talking about the motives or ideologies of the Bush Administration; those are well-documented. I’m talking about Americans in general. I want us to face the uncomfortable facts that we wanted war on Afghanistan because we were enraged, hurt, and angry, and we wanted war on Iraq because the Afghan regime fell to easily and too quickly to satisfy our desire for a fight.

Our behavior after 9/11 and up to today has been a resounding rejection of the teachings and example of Jesus. We should seek forgiveness from our God and our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Afghanistan and learn to take seriously the Way of the Cross.

*Hell’s Bottom is the name of the site where the Pentagon was constructed. Enjoy the symbolism.

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