The U.S. Future Is In Jeopardy
Francis Anthony Govia
The Muffin Post
A View of Manhattan from Forest Hills
By now it is well circulated the article by Paul Krugman “America Goes Dark”, New York Times. Mr. Krugman paints a picture of what is perceptibly the decline of the United States as a nation. According to Krugman “the lights are going out all over America — literally. Colorado Springs has made headlines with its desperate attempt to save money by turning off a third of its streetlights, but similar things are either happening or being contemplated across the nation, from Philadelphia to Fresno. “
Most of us would accept a little dimming of the lights in the United States was it not for a more troubling reality expressed by Krugman. Cash strapped systems are cutting back on seemingly everything. Teachers are being laid off. Educational programs are being cancelled – and services that were provided by the government for generations have apparently become not so essential after all – they are no longer being offered.
The near future does not bode well for Americans either. Planned austerity measures by state and local governments are expected to be “a major drag on the economy’ and lead to even more “devastatingly high unemployment,” says Krugman. This is what the citizens of this great nation have to expect in an economy already rocked by 9.5 % unemployment and a stubborn recession that refuses to go away.
Only a short walk down the block in the neighborhood, and there are many “For Rent” signs in a place once teaming with business. Jobs are being offered at half the salary they used to be offered a few years ago, and when they are offered at all, there are so many qualified applicants from whom to choose it becomes harder for the unemployed to get back on their feet. So how is it possible that America is going so backward?
Krugman’s case for the U.S. stepping backward – when other nations are doing otherwise — is attributed to the many decades of rhetoric by voters demonizing waste and big government. The voters are somehow responsible for the roads that will not be paved, the investments that cannot be made in education, the lights that are being extinguished, and the “essential services” that are being halted. But isn’t that awfully generous a conclusion – for some? Krugman appears to have absolved the government, special interests groups, and bureaucrats who dictate policy for the U.S. of the problems that now plague our ability to move forward.
Krugman’s conclusion is not an error of judgment. It is a voice of careful calculation. The fact is most of us are tired of hearing what has caused the U.S. to decline, or at least, are unwilling to accept it. Scholars must find new ways to define failure, and where to assign the responsibility for it. Every writer is guilty of assigning too much blame on one thing or another.
Not many want to hear that the country’s military expenditures and war effort have sprung out of control. We do not want to accept a conclusion that if we do not rein in costs we will go the way of the Soviet Union — a country buckled by the sheer weight of those who planned for war. For reasons of special interests, partisanship, or simple ignorance, some of us refuse to accept that the U.S. lost a grand opportunity at the close of the Clinton era (when our nation had a budget surplus) to keep putting her best foot forward. It chose to invest in an unnecessary war in Iraq instead of investing in its people where it would have gotten a better return. Like any bad investment made by an investor, the nation now sees more red. Our purpose to do better simply got derailed.
The war in Iraq was one we could have done without. The war in Afghanistan, considering the unprincipled attack on the World Trade Center and the pseudo-military attack on the pentagon, was a war of necessity. Managing these two wars have placed an unmitigated burden on our economy and society. We must fast lose our appetite for war or the nation will decline at an even faster rate.
The priorities we made for our war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan have so tapped our treasury, and have given so little in return, that the U.S. is digging itself an early decline and it is hastening the rise of China. To meet new challenges and overcome our current fiscal handicap, the U.S. will have to do the following. It must ignore hawks and special interest groups who advocate war with Iran. It must give priority to its domestic programs over its foreign policy initiatives, and allocate more of its funds to the former. It must consider earnestly whether the nation can bear the burden of any new taxes before they are instituted. It must curtail expenditures dedicated to its current theatres of conflict, and give more priority to diplomacy. It must cut costs at home.
By count of the National Priorities Project, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have already cost the U.S. $1.9 trillion, of which $741 billion have been spent in Iraq. These war funds do not include requested funds for fiscal year 2011, and that will be evident when Congress completes their budget process in the fall. Wise heads would think that in order to invest in education, health, infrastructure development, and social services, the country must at least wind down and eventually curtail its effort in Iraq, and stubbornly refuse to engage in any new major war effort. The Federal, State, and local governments could then concentrate on putting resources (including the best of the young) into projects where they would likely get a better return. Not so. While there is hope for cutting the war effort in Iraq, Afghanistan is likely to cost the U.S. more in the near future. USA Today published an article by Richard Wolf in May which revealed that for the first time since 2003, the war in Afghanistan had outpaced Iraq’s. As president Obama ratchets up his administration’s plan to defeat a resurgent and tenacious Taliban in Afghanistan, it is expected that costs will surpass the $105 billion allocated to it in 2010 fiscal year.
Is there a way to get out of this fiscal quandary, manage current wars, and improve our society? The Nation’s brightest have now turned to the past for answers. They advocate that we will have to ask the richest 2% of Americans to go back to paying the tax rates they paid during the Clinton-era boom to end the regression. The “U.S. Is Bankrupt and We Don’t Even Know It” read the headline written by Boston University professor of Economics, Laurence Kotlikoff in an article published by Bloomberg last Tuesday. With due respect to professor Kotlikoff, and other fine scholars who acknowledge the same, the U.S. is bankrupt and we know it because many of us are feeling the pains. We hope for change. No one knows for sure if rolling back the tax benefits given to the rich by George W. Bush – a recommendation implied by Krugman – will improve the “F” given to the U.S. by the International Monetary Fund in its recent review. Is that the change we need? According to Kotlikoff, the U.S. will need “an immediate and permanent doubling of our personal-income, corporate and federal taxes as well as the payroll levy set down in the Federal Insurance Contribution Act” to accomplish that goal. Such a tax hike will give the U.S. “a surplus equal to 5% of its Gross Domestic Product this year – a standard the U.S. must maintain for many years to come to meet spending” that is scheduled.
So how do we meet the obligations of the nation staggering under $130 trillion in debt? It order to meet those obligations, National Review recently cited an article in Forbes written by Bruce Bartlett that says the country needs an 81% increase in taxes. See, “The Other National Debt” by Kevin D. Williamson. That recommendation spells disaster to most. Which American family can afford to pay double its current taxes? Who can afford to pay – that much more in taxes?
The case for maintaining the U.S. eminence in the world cannot be settled by a mere doubling of taxes, or by increasing the tax burden on the rich. Such an aspiration can only be achieved by the redoubling our efforts at home, cutting some of our costs here and even more of that we spend for our military ventures overseas. Americans must look inward, and tackle what ails us at home. We must give up the mentality of hawks and special interest groups who are trying to impress the world with our military projections and accoutrements but ignore that the true strength of a nation is what is developed within. Societies grow rich during times of peace, and not when they are systematically engaged in conflict.
It appears that U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates agrees with this fierce reality. Last Monday he announced a number of measures intended to cut costs in the Pentagon’s budget. See, “Pentagon Plans Steps to Reduce Budget and Jobs”, New York Times. By his analysis, the “U.S. is unlikely to repeat a mission on the scale of those in Afghanistan and Iraq anytime soon.” The nation simply cannot afford to undertake any more “forced regime change followed by nation building under fire.” Gates appears to subscribe to a new military doctrine that calls for “building partner capacity”: “helping other countries defend themselves or, if necessary, fight alongside U.S. forces by providing them with equipment, training, or other forms of security assistance.” He warned against a “creeping militarization” of U.S. foreign policy, and advocated a strengthening “for diplomacy and development and for greater emphasis on civilian programs.” See, “Helping Others Defend Themselves” by Robert Gates, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2010. But by far, it seems, the U.S. needs to change its way of thinking, and do away permanently with minefields that occupy too much of the nation’s time and resources.
Minefields in our past that threaten to derail our future are known to most people before the words are written. Specifically, the Middle East is the zone of conflict that presents the most danger to the U.S. standing as a superpower.
U.S. commitment to the Israel’s security, considering Palestinians’ aspiration for nationhood, is a minefield. The U.S.-Iran impasse over the nuclear refinement, or what could also be easily defined as the bookends of a U.S.-Iran-Israel standoff, absorb too much us of the nation’s energy. That too is a major minefield.
The cessation of hostilities between Israel and the Palestinian people is important to the U.S. For that goal to be realized, Palestinians who live in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem must receive the acceptable compromise leading to the building of Palestinian state. Israel and the United States cannot continue to prepare for war indefinitely, and if history has thought us anything, technological superiority in military terms have never been a sure purveyor of peace.
Moreover, the militarization of Israel’s foreign policy, and its ‘freedom of action” to use force unilaterally whenever it wants, is of considerable angst to the U.S., and a danger to our interests. They engender a whole host of negative factors, and could at any moment interfere with the world’s access to cheap and unmitigated flow of fossil fuels that the permutations of conflict would inevitably bring. The U.S. must devote considerably fewer resources to its allies, including Israel. Should the Palestinians achieve nationhood soon, the U.S. and Israel would disrupt a strategy on which the fundamentalists in the region thrive through grievances and misuse.
The U.S. Iran impasse over the refinement of nuclear fuel is even more critical, and dangerous to the U.S. in the near future, especially if it leads to the war for which the hawks agitate. The U.S. should absolutely not get into a war with Iran for such an undertaking will have a disastrous effect on the economies of the world that are already burdened with increased costs of energy – battered into stagnation and recession, and a whole other list of symptoms that are negative, and resultant from the war in Iraq.
War with Iran will cause the U.S. in excess of what it has already spent in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will expose us to a whole new level of terrorist activity. Even if the U.S. were to achieve its military purpose, the nation will have the burden of managing a country more than three times the size of Iraq and with over twice the population.
Despite the fantasies of the hawks, the costs of war with Iran would be detrimental to the U.S. standing as the world’s lone super power. The likely beneficiaries of such a war would be China and/or Russia, which is exactly the opposite result those interested in U.S. national security would hope to result. War with Iran goes totally against the grain of what Robert Gates foresee as a possible doctrine for U.S. military engagement in the hour of now. It is counterproductive to our need to rebuild the nation, balance the nation’s budget, and pay down its debt.
While wise heads would hope that the U.S. would sidestep that possible minefield, they are many (including the Tea Party) who have endorsed the U.S. getting entangled in a war with Iran. They are pushing the U.S. into making the same mistakes, and to undertake the same faulty analysis that lead to war with Iraq. A case for war was made by Jeffrey Golberg in an article published by Atlantic entitled “The Point Of No Return”. This article is worthy of examination considering the nation’s appetite for war. Writers Fynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett have since debunked Golberg’s argument in their article published by Foreign Policy. See, “The Weak Case for War with Iran”.
Goldberg and company believe that a war between the U.S. and Iran is necessary to Israel’s security, and should be undertaken “so that Israel won’t have to” which appears an implausible reason to sacrifice American lives as any most have heard. The Leveretts counter that American lives are not dispensable. They cautioned against the U.S. going to war with Iran for what has been described as a necessity to save Israel from experiencing “a dilution of quality” or “an accelerated brain drain” over perceived security concerns. The U.S. should not go to war to bolster “Israelis’ perception regarding their country’s raison d’être” implied the authors.
The Leveretts stated the most compelling reasons for the U.S. to maintain a commitment to non-military engagement in regard to Iran. In the light of those who would have the U.S. relinquish its rights to dictate the terms and chain of events leading to this nation’s engagement in another major war, the U.S. should state clearly and succinctly to the Israelis that it does not condone the bombing of Iran’s nuclear facilities by Israel, and should that nation move unilaterally against the U.S. wishes and take such steps, it will do so without help, and its efforts will be obstructed. The U.S. should never have to act as any other nation’s bouncer in a bar room.
Consider the U.S. has to now constructively engage in diplomacy with allies and foes alike, it should roll back sanctions against Iran, and manage the issue of nuclear proliferation within the strict understanding of Article IV of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. It must capitalize on Iranians’ psyche that have long abhorred the use of weapons of mass destruction through its experiences at the receiving end of that form of military aggression by Saddam Hussein. It is within reason that the U.S. preserves its empire and standing among nations.
LISTED & SUGGESTED READING:
• “America Goes Dark” by Paul Krugman, New York Times, August 8, 2010.
• “Afghan War Costs Now Outpace Iraq’s” by Richard Wolf, USA TODAY, May 13, 2010.
• “U.S. Is Bankrupt and We Don’t Even Know It” by Laurence Kotlikoff, Bloomberg, August 10, 2010.
• “The Other National Debt” by Kevin D. Williamson, National Review, June 21, 2010.
• “Pentagon Plans Steps to Reduce Budget and Jobs” by Thom Shanker, New York Times, April 9, 2010.
• “Helping Others Defend Themselves” by Robert Gates, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2010.
• “The Point of No Return” by Jeffrey Goldberg, Atlantic, September 2010.
• “The Weak case For War with Iran” by Flynt Leverett, Hillary Mann Leverett, Foreign Policy, August 11, 2010.
• “After Iran Gets The Bomb” by James Lindsay & Ray Takeyh, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2010.
• “Iran’s Nuclear Programme: The Western Opposition is more Geo-political than Legal” by Dr. Subhash Kapila, South Asia Analysis Group, September 27, 2005.
• “Iran Sanctions: The Road does not Inspire Confidence” by Bhaskar Roy, South Asia Analysis Group, June 17, 2010.
• “Iran’s Nuclear Program” by The New York Times.
• “Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons,” IAEA.
• “Decline and Fall” (When the American Empire Goes, It is likely to Go Quickly) by Niall Ferguson, Foreign Affairs, March/April 2010.
• “The Geography of Chinese Power” by Robert D. Kaplan, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2010.
Francis Anthony Govia received a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations at Boston University where he studied U.S. National Security and Foreign Policy with teachers who inspired him, such as General Fred F. Woerner (Ret.), Ambassador Stephen R. Lyne (Ret.), and Joseph Fewsmith. He received a law degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and is a contributor to Activist Post.