Saturday, September 27, 2008

War & Economic Security

When a war against one little opponent that is “defeated” and totally occupied after only three days ends up costing $1 trillion, it is intuitively obvious that some relationship exists between a country’s foreign policy and its economic state of health. Exactly how that relationship works is a bit more complicated. I don’t pretend to have a complete understanding, but it does seem clear beyond any doubt that we should recognize that a relationship exists and be debating it.

Last night's Presidential Debate recognized that a linkage between foreign policy and economics exists; that was good. Unfortunately, despite the remarks of both about the distinction between tactics and strategy, neither really understands what that means: neither offered a clear strategic vision for this country. On the contrary, the two instead bickered about details, leaving fundamental questions of national strategy unaddressed.

Foreign policy and economic health are two critical pillars of long-term national security. The relationship between foreign policy and economics is particularly important when our foreign policy is based on endlessly expensive high-tech war against rebels with Kalashnikovs rather than patience, compromise, police action, diplomacy, winning friends, setting a good example, or any other of the many more modest methods of conducting foreign policy. Given the number of overemotional politicians who want a war with Iran (three times the size of Iraq) and seem quite ready to provoke a war with Pakistan (10 times the size of Iraq), exploring the relationship between a foreign policy based on violence and domestic economic health is clearly an urgent requirement for managing our country’s future in a rational manner.

One way utterly to obscure this relationship is to pay attention to gross national product. That statistic would count an armor-plated Humvee or a pile of white phosphorus terror bombs as having exactly the same value as the same dollar value of, say, solar generating equipment or educational facilities. But the difference between the former and the latter in terms of how it contributes to the quality of our lives needs no explanation. As a greater and greater percentage of our economic efforts goes into producing war materials whose long-run results are to increase global opposition to U.S. foreign policy and increase the number of soldiers who return home as invalids, the relationship between gross national product and the quality of life for the average American becomes increasingly tenuous. A long war is pure gold for war profiteers even as it rusts away the nation’s ability to generate the economic underpinnings of a comfortable lifestyle.

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