in WorldAffairs

A Preoccupation With War

No matter how hard they try, it would seem the specter of launching an unjust war, invasion and the sustaining of an occupation refuses to be shifted. But it is interesting to note the uses of this lingering historical footnote by an American administration with no clear progressive domestic agenda AND facing re-election (or not); and by a British government NOT facing impending elections but with a far more comprehensive set of domestic reforms they wish to push in to the public domain.

Mr Bush recognises he has not done anything for the ordinary American on the street, sure he tried to bribe the country with his tax return (every tax payer got a cheque of at least $500 in 2001 – as a return on excess taxes), but how long does that money last especially as its taken right back off you in sales tax (who saves ‘free’ money?!). Of course he knows has done nothing worth remembering for the ordinary American – he never intended to. His ticket to the White House was booked and paid for by an unholy alliance of neo-conservative king makers funded by Big Business – in this case, oil and defence industries. The remit was to ensure that the neo-conservative agenda of clear global dominance through the undisputed projection of force, thereby ensuring that defence spending became effectively uncapped, along the way fattening the treasure chest of an American empire by exploiting global markets through pliant regimes.

But none of this is of any consequence to his re-election campaign, he is betting on the American way of patriotism. With his campaigned TV adverts of the September 11 attacks movingly presented the message is clear – ‘War is the way to avenge this attack. War is the way to prevent other attacks. War is the way, George W Bush Jr is the man to lead the war. Re-elect him.’. There is no masking his position – he has said he is a ‘war president’ overseeing a war economy. (FYI – a country at war is not bound to exert normal limits on budgets nor uphold full respect for neither law nor human rights. Sound familiar?).

Results of Mr Bush’s domestic policies (or lack of) are well documented. From healthcare to education, environment to social services, his policies have done nothing to enhance American society and in most cases have actually set them back years. In short, they are failures. This is no surprise, they were not meant to be successful simply because his administration did not have them on its agenda. An agenda to reduce corporate and ‘rich folk’ taxes, reduce government scrutiny on big business, allow the plunder of resources from endangered ecosystems regardless of the global environment consequences. This actual agenda is being actively pursued. The ‘other’ agenda of social responsibility, justice and provision which all good politicians sell themselves on are simply vapourware.

So for Mr Bush, the War on Terrorism is the hot ticket to the stay in the White House – so long as the casualties (that is Americans killed or wounded) are kept well out of the compliant media’s view. Never mind how expensive its costing American tax payers to maintain such a staggering military occupation force in the middle east – this will all be repaid with interest when Iraqi oil starts flowing. Besides, Iraqi reconstruction contracts are awarded to US companies (mainly Bechtel and Halliburton) so all this money will ultimately flow back into the US economy.

It would be interesting to see if the contracts are are awarded to companies from the coalition partners in proportion to the cooperation offered.

As for Mr Blair, he has a problem on his hands. How to quieten the noise of opposition to the war in Iraq – the UK’s role in executing it and in maintaining the subsequent occupation – long enough to get his other policies due attention? But the questions won’t go away simply because the answers hitherto provided are completely unsatisfactory. On the case for war – we are told the government’s legal counsel said it was legal, but no evidence is presented to substantiate his crucial endorsement of action that clearly violates international law. Then we learn that perhaps he only did this under duress. What the government knew and when it knew it are still unanswered.

It would appear that for Mr Blair the War of Terrorism is a pain in the behind. Sure it keeps the special relationship smouldering and it clears the way for increased spending on defence. But it won’t win Mr Blair a third term in office. He knows this, he knows that he cannot even use it in his re-election campaign. It simply won’t fly.

Indeed it is interesting to see the main proponents of war reacting so different to the overall preoccupation with the war. One embraces it entirely – wanting to keep it in the public view for his own ends and to fill in where he has no viable policy (which is pretty much anywhere else, it has gone from ‘…its the economy , stupid’ to ‘its the war, stupid!’). The other cannot seem to get far enough away from this issue or try and get his other policies the necessary ‘airtime’. If only he could somehow combine the war with healthcare or the war with education….

Yet with all this preoccupation with the War (rightly so), Mr Blair’s government is unfolding some unprecedented reform of the legal system, sweeping reform of healthcare, education and a raft of other social programs. This is not to say they are good or bad reforms – just that they are proposed. Yet all the focus is on the War, the media that was so well behaved (by and large) and supported wholeheartedly the invasion of Iraq now seems unable to focus on anything else BUT the war and the claims and counter-claim from government to anti-war opposition.

Perhaps this preoccupation with war will benefit democracy. By keeping the war, its causes and its consequences in the public eye perhaps we might succeed in making those who take up the mantle of leadership more accountable to the led.

What do you think?