The Permanent War

Joel Bleifuss

In his State of the Union address, George W. Bush laid out his plans for the coming year: a permanent state of war that will be financed in large part by cuts in domestic spending.

All but declaring war, Bush said that Iraq, North Korea, Iran and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil. He promised not to wait on events while danger gathers and not to stand by while peril draws closer and closer. Axis powers be warned: Our war on terror is only begun.

In so doing Bush sided with Pentagon hawks, who since September 11 have vociferously advocated a war against Iraq. Such an extensive war will be expensive. Bush heralded his plan to implement the the largest increase in defense spending in two decades (putting the budget 14 percent above the Cold War average) and develop and deploy effective missile defenses.

As far as the economy goes, he proposed that we defeat this recession by making permanent last years tax cuts, the bulk of which benefited the rich, and by running a deficit that will be small and short.

This appears to be a tactical maneuver on the part of the Republicans. Even with a short-term deficit, the combination of continued tax cuts and increased military spending will require reductions in government programs. Once the short term passes and balanced budgets return, the axe will really fall. Expect the Republicans to exploit wartime budgetary constraints to take out programs that have been on the Republican hit list for years.

In his speech, Bush again called for Social Security privatization. He didnt note that a personal retirement account heavily invested in a company like Enron would yield only privation. In fact, he didnt mention Enron at all. The war-time president didnt need to.

With few exceptions, members of Congressconcerned about their re-election prospectshave been reluctant to take on this popular president directly. The milquetoast response by House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt that followed the presidential address failed to point out Enrons close working relationship with the White House and the fact that CEO Kenneth LayKenny Boy to his friend George W.helped pump $4.5 million of Enron lucre into Republican Party coffers.

Bush is inoculated against criticism by his immense popularity. That popularity, like the war on terror, shows signs of becoming self-perpetuating. No one wants to take on the man who has promised to protect Americans and the homeland against tens of thousands of dangerous killers spread throughout the world like ticking time bombs, scheduled to go off without warning. For should the threat be defused, what would we be left with? A president who is the craven rent boy of transnational energy corporations and Pentagon contractors.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Illinois) is one of the few vocal Bush critics. The reality is that every single opportunity hes had to help working people and retired people, she told the Chicago Tribune, hes chosen instead to help the wealthiest individuals and corporations.

Hers was a rare voice of dissent in a mainstream press that has been loathe to question the wisdom of administration policy. On January 23, a group of 18 foreign affairs experts, including high-ranking former military leaders, intelligence analysts and diplomats, released an open letter to President Bush urging him not to extend military action to Iraq. As one of the signatories, Ambassador Edward Peck, the former chief of the U.S. mission to Iraq, commented, If we are truly interested in and concerned over the vital issues of peace and stability in the Middle East, attacking Iraq is precisely what we should not do.

Their letter, organized by the Institute for Policy Studies, was all but ignored by the U.S. mainstream media. Today, views like those of Peck, who was also the deputy director of President Reagans task force on terrorism, are beyond the pale. America is at war.

Joel Bleifuss, a former director of the Peace Studies Program at the University of Missouri-Columbia, is the editor & publisher of In These Times, where he has worked since October 1986.

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