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Going to War Is Easy

[1]“A continual state of war”: No need to consult Congress or those who must pay the cost.

Ned Resnikoff at Salon.com’s War Room [2] writes a fine piece on “The Real Reason We Rushed into (Another) War [3].” Fine and troubling. But don’t let that stop you: Mr. Resnikoff’s piece is worth reading in full, but here are some key excerpts, with a strong passage from economist Joseph Stiglitz. Dr. Stiglitz has often been quoted here for his prediction that the Iraq war—remember, the one we were driven into almost a decade ago by leaders of the fiscally conservative Republican party? (our words, not his)—will end up costing $3 trillion. But we digress . . . Here’s Ned Resnikoff:

With our military already overextended and our economy still far from healed, how is it that we committed to such a large gamble with so little hesitation or public debate?

Maybe it’s because those in charge are gambling with other people’s money. In the past month, both Ezra Klein [4] and Kevin Drum [5] have written solid pieces noting that the policy preferences of the poor and middle class have ceased to matter at all to either major American party. . . . Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz noted that [the outsize political influence of the rich] also distorts how we go to war. In a recent piece [6] for Vanity Fair, he wrote:

Inequality massively distorts our foreign policy. The top 1 percent rarely serve in the military—the reality is that the “all-volunteer” army does not pay enough to attract their sons and daughters, and patriotism goes only so far. Plus, the wealthiest class feels no pinch from higher taxes when the nation goes to war: borrowed money will pay for all that. Foreign policy, by definition, is about the balancing of national interests and national resources. With the top 1 percent in charge, and paying no price, the notion of balance and restraint goes out the window. There is no limit to the adventures we can undertake; corporations and contractors stand only to gain.

“The interests of the rich are effectively the only interests now being represented in government.”

In other words: The more powerful the rich have become, the more they’ve shifted the cost of war downward. And because the interests of the rich are effectively the only interests now being represented in government, politicians have no incentive to avoid policies that exert pressure on the middle and lower classes. For the people in charge, war has gotten cheaper than ever.

. . . Even if [the White House] were to deploy a significant ground force to Libya, the reaction from Congress would be feeble at best—perhaps some symbolic outrage and an impotent, inconclusive Senate hearing.

. . . Congress has spent the past few decades gradually ceding its capacity to conduct meaningful oversight on matters of war. After all, if it doesn’t affect their constituency, why should it affect them?

“Even supporters of intervention in Libya should be alarmed by the manner in which the United States now goes to war.”

. . . No matter how the conflict in Libya ends, the rich will still be the only meaningful political constituency in this country. War costs them little. And until that changes, we can look forward to a continual state of war at the expense of everyone else.

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Ned Resnikoff is a freelance writer and researcher for Media Matters for America [7].

•  See also Steve Clemons’s Washington Note post titled “Obama Moved at Warp Speed on Libya [8],” in which the foreign policy blogger asserts that “there is simply no truth to the notion that Obama dragged his heels in orchestrating action [in Libya].”

•  And “Unequal Sacrifice [9]” by Andrew J. Bacevich, a West Point graduate, Vietnam veteran, and author of Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War [10].

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Photograph by Platon, from a portfolio [1] on American soldiers and their families published in the Sept. 28, 2008, issue of The New Yorker.

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