Monday, December 29, 2008

U.S. Troop Shortage & Recession: Unrelated Facts?

EXCERPT: Fact one: Washington rush to bail out the rich when the financial crisis hit. Fact two: relative to its global ambitions, Washington has a military manpower shortage. Fact three: the recession is leading to rising enlistments in the military. Proof of a connection? No. Nevertheless, might it tempt expansion-minded officials to welcome the recession?

TEXT: Washington’s response to the financial crisis has provoked considerable criticism over the past three months as Americans saw the rush of the Washington elite to protect their colleagues who control Wall Street firms and banks contrasting with the elite’s slow, halting steps to alleviate the suffering of common citizens. The absence of any genuine efforts to hold accountable the captains of finance for provoking this crisis by their knowingly risky behavior and the glaringly obvious lack of controls on how they will spend their bailout billions hardly need reiterating at this point. Whether or not this was an intentional effort by the rich to help themselves is perhaps still a point for debate, but the fact of how Washington responded to the crisis is now rather obvious.

A second fact that has recently become so clear that the media could hardly overlook it is the paucity of U.S. military forces relative to the demands of Washington’s expansionist agenda. For the incoming Obama Administration to frame the issue in terms of removing soldiers—who, one might think, now deserve a vacation—from Iraq in order to ship them to Afghanistan only underscores this shocking lack of manpower relative to ambition.

These two facts appear unrelated until one considers a third fact: the Pentagon has just reported that enlistments are up in response to the financial crisis!

The existence of this interesting third fact, which just happens to solve the problem posed by the second fact does not prove evil intent:

  • The rise in enlistments does not prove that Washington planned the financial crisis that it caused through a generation of rejecting regulation of the financial elite, encouraging the population to live beyond its means, and borrowing from the People’s Republic of China to fund overseas adventures.
  • It also does not prove that Washington’s scandalous handout of (again) unregulated billions to the CEO’s who had just showed themselves to be incompetent was designed to keep the elite in comfort while provoking continuation of financial distress for the rest of the population.

Whatever the truth of those issues, the convenient solution to the Pentagon’s manpower problem now evidently being provided by the financial crisis does raise this question: might it tempt an expansion-minded official to see the financial crisis as a blessing in disguise? After all, given the absence of a draft, all those foreign wars cause members of the elite no more personal harm than does the financial crisis itself. In truth, the foreign wars are highly profitable to the elite, who circulate between leadership positions in government and the military-industrial complex; similarly, the financial crisis seems to have been highly profitable to the elite, almost none of whom have so far been forced to fall on their swords in recognition of the enormous harm their limitless greed has caused. And as long as the unemployed are volunteering to fight those wars, there will be no need to engage in agonizing reappraisals to come up with a new foreign policy that would be, shall we say, more cognizant of global realities and U.S. capabilities.

So far, these are just a group of facts; no causal relationship has been demonstrated. Watch Washington’s behavior over the next three months to see if it matches the behavior of the last three months:
  • Look for the balance between funds made available to the “captains of finance” and funds made available to commoners (by new policies to, e.g., ensure that the unemployed and underemployed retain health coverage, ensure that those unfairly facing foreclosure because they lost jobs through no fault of their own have help to keep their homes, ensure protection of retirement benefits).
  • Look for steps to track the expenditure of bailout funds.
  • Look to see if distinctions are made between protecting individuals responsible for the totally unnecessary financial crisis we are in and protecting the institutions that they lead.
  • Look for moves away from foreign policy based on military solutions and hubris toward foreign policy based on realism that searches for compromise.

In such evidence will be found answers to the question of whether the elite comes down on the side of protecting Americans or pursuing its own agenda.

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