Once upon a time,
as the Soviet Union decided, or felt compelled, to put an end to the �cold war�
-- a decade short of the new millennium -- Americans rejoiced with a sense of
relief from what appeared as a diminishing possibility of a nuclear
doomsday. And there was also a rebirth of economic optimism.
For three or four
years, the anticipated �peace dividend� became to most people more than a
political slogan. It seemed only logical for Americans then to assume that as
the only military superpower around -- which probably entailed an ever
continuing high level of defense spending -- there would be a significant
redirection of spending from defense to economic growth and/or education; and
for dreamers and egalitarians, even money to go around for universal healthcare
and social programs.
Even as Iraq
invaded Kuwait in August 1990 and the US mustered a coalition that would get
the Iraqis out in six months -- at a cost of between $60 and $70 billion -- the
concept of the peace dividend did not go away. Reason: the reimbursement
America received for most of its costs -- ultimately footed by Saudi Arabia,
Kuwait, the Persian Gulf nations, Japan and Germany; some critics claiming that
the United States made money on these war transactions, particularly when
considering the �sunk costs� for materiel and munitions dumped on the Iraq war,
some obsolete and all overpriced. So the idea of investing $100 to $150
billion a year in the nation�s future, instead of the Pentagon�s bottomless
pit, remained alive and well.
But two years
later, early during Clinton�s first term, political considerations,
particularly after Hillary�s false step with experimental health care, made any
restructure of defense spending next to impossible. And arch-conservative
Newt Gingrich�s 1994 takeover in Congress left no doubt that there was a zero
chance for a peace dividend. At that point, the political beast in
Clinton told him where he needed to be politically to stay in power. And
it was the center; that is, the center of the political right.
The era of
America�s political chameleonic experience saw its apogee with charismatic Bill
Clinton. It was during his two terms in office that the scant waters of
American liberalism were forced to pass through a filter to get any and all
progressive impurities out of the way . . . before they could be allowed to
merge into the American �mainstream.� The surviving Democratic Party became de
facto indistinguishable from the Republican Party: the same church, a similar
domestic agenda, and identical foreign policy dogma . . . just two different
collection plates for politicians to attain power.
It was obviously
chimerical to expect a redirection of funding towards the re-engineering of
American social structures. But many of us anticipated that investing in
education and health care had such an obvious societal high return, and a
medium term payoff, that even the heartless, conservative elite would adopt it
without second thoughts. But what did seem as obvious, and should make
sense to a nation, failed the ultimate test of the new capitalist era:
globalization. Why should the American entrenched power consent to
�wasteful� spending by educating Americans and keeping them healthy? Why
take this inefficient route when you can do it elsewhere at one-fourth or less
of the cost? To those who control wealth, and thus power, the world is
their community, their village; nations, or rather the people who inhabit those
nations, don�t count. To them, any peace dividend to be efficient and
effective must be solely in the form of tax cuts benefiting the wealthy.
Let the marketplace perform its own magic allowing capitalist selectivity to
evolve in the survival of the strongest productive species . . . which to them
translates into greater profits.
So we ended up
without a peace dividend but, instead, a nation in hock. Not only did our
imperial military needs remain at stratospheric levels, but now we have little
choice but to pay for our own wars of choice, be them in Afghanistan, Iraq, or
Lebanon ( . . . yes, Lebanon). Since we don�t have the money to defray
the cost of these wars, we�ll just pay with IOUs and hope that future
generations can honor them. And while we are at it, we might as well gift
our progenies with an even bigger task . . . one of rebuilding the nation�s
infrastructure that we have slowly allowed to crumble.
state of our nation�s infrastructure probably requires close to $2 trillion to
make it whole (drinking and waste water facilities; solid, hazardous and
nuclear waste; roads, bridges, rail, and other transportation; schools; energy;
aviation; parks and recreation . . . and the list goes on and on). (The
estimate given in 2005 by the American Society of Civil Engineers, $1.6
trillion, has been adjusted to incorporate their 20-25 percent recurring
�under-assessment.�) Not only are we doing little or nothing to remedy the
situation, but are getting deeper and deeper, perhaps as much as an additional
$50-75 billion a year, into an infrastructure hole. The lack of
leadership in coping with this reality by the federal government has been
faithfully replicated at the state and local levels, so that there won�t be any
political envy, or blame, to go around.
Now, Mr. Bush tells
us, we must not forget that �we are at war.� The �cold war� has now been
replaced formally with the �war on terror.� So now we must deal with a new
layer of totally inefficient and unnecessary fat: America�s Department of
We must appear to
the world at large as the densest people on the face of the earth to tolerate
this type of masochistic abuse.
Once upon a time,
back in 1990-1993, there was a glimmer of hope which we then envisioned as the
prospect of a peace dividend. But we let our duopolistic politicians
really screw things up; and under our democratic system, the bottom line is
that we are getting our just deserts -- no one to blame but ourselves.
� 2006 Ben Tanosborn
Ben Tanosborn, columnist, poet and writer,
resides in Vancouver, Washington (USA), where he is principal of a business
consulting firm. Contact him at email@example.com.