Monday, March 2, 2009

American Empire: Recession or Not, Full Speed Ahead!

I have hypothesized that our current economic troubles might force Washington to give up its expensive war policy and replace empire with being a good neighbor. In October Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies published a very short and very troubling essay warning that U.S. economic adversity might, instead, entice Washington to rely even more on the one source of U.S. influence that remains undiminished: the military.

According to Ms Bennis,

The current economic crisis holds enormous dangers, even beyond its direct threat to jobs, homes, savings, and the well-being of millions of ordinary people in the U.S. The challenge will be, as ever, to find within the dangers the opportunities for positive change.

One rarely acknowledged danger is that while U.S. economic clout in the world is dropping dramatically, there is no concomitant drop in Washington's drive to remain the dominant power in the world. That means that as U.S. economic power wanes and with it, the diplomatic and political influence that follows money, what's left is military force.

The continuing rise in the military budget under Obama, his knee-jerk expansion of the war in Afghanistan even before completing his own policy review, and the failure so far to cancel huge weapons programs that are no longer useful in the post-Cold War era unfortunately give credence to her fears. Despite the double whammy of recession and a Bush era legacy of military failure, Washington appears still committed to the Bush Administration addiction to force as the primary means of achieving its goals.

Overreliance on a tool just because it's the only tool you have is a strategy of desperation. Contradictory evidence does exist--e.g, slow Iraqi pullout moves, rumors of willingness to talk with Iran, and calls for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--but Obama Administration movement toward war has been very rapid. In contrast, movement toward peace has been lethargic and inconsistent. No demands for an end to Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank; no talking to Hamas; no formal Administration recognition that Hamas was the legally elected Palestinian government; no formal Administration recognition of the slowdown in Iran's nuclear program reported by the U.N.; no major new economic aid program for either Pakistan or Afghanistan; a steady stream of Preditor attacks on Pakistan; and no clear Administration call for broad, unconditional talks with Iran. One might say that Obama is moving cautiously, but it is hardly encouraging that he is tiptoeing toward peace while rushing into war.

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