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Sunday, December 06, 2009
Can You Spare Some Change? Not in This America
Posted by Austin Cline
So Obama has approved a "surge" of troops in Afghanistan, ensuring that the war there will continue for the foreseeable future. This is coming after already dramatic troop increases, outstripping the pace of troop deployment throughout the Bush administration. Although Obama has denied that our commitment to war there is "open ended," talk is cheap. In fact, the only thing cheaper than talk may be the lives of Americans placed in the hands of America's ruling class which sees foreign wars as a means towards preserving and enhancing their power over the nation.
On a practical level, America's commitment is indeed "open ended" in that we have a standing commitment to use war in the Middle East to preserve the power of wealthy American corporations and individuals. This has not been renounced nor will it be. The Obama administration hasn't even renounced Bush's policy of making war on those who are no current or immediate threat. Quite the contrary is the case because the government has admitted that the Taliban is no threat to the U.S. and al-Qaeda exists in Afghanistan in tiny numbers, yet the entire surge of 30,000 troops is predicated on suppressing both.
Liberals have been predictably disappointed, though they really should have seen this coming. The hope that Obama would take this opportunity to pull out of Afghanistan was an exercise in absurd naiveté. It's true that he promised change, but when has he managed to make genuine, fundamental changes that would alter structures of power or power relationships in America?
Pulling out of Afghanistan would take down by a couple of notches the power of the military and deprive many corporations — both private contractors and military suppliers — of significant income. This income is making such corporations very wealthy rather than going to fund jobs, building infrastructure, or providing health care at home. The Obama administration has shown little willingness to stand up either to the military or to industry, much less take away some of the source of their power.
Conservatives were predictably underwhelmed, complaining that Obama isn't going far enough to follow the recommendations of military leaders. Glenn Beck inadvertently pulled back the curtain when he asserted that Obama was obliged to do what his generals wanted. Colbert mocked this idea that the generals outrank the president, but Beck merely revealed the truth that the president is expected to do what the nation's ruling class tells him.
Obama himself didn't even try to pretend that American troops are being increased for the sake of Afghanistan, for their democracy, or to help women. Such excuses have been used in the past to mask the fact that troops are there to serve American interests — though specifically the interests of America's ruling class, since the average American has no interest in Afghanistan but a lot of interest in money going towards health care or jobs rather than guns and armor.
The people in Afghanistan and Iraq certainly aren't benefiting from our support of corrupt governments which brutally oppress women and gays, which ignore basic human rights, and which are barely distinguishable from the governments we overthrew. Thus the conservative criticisms of Obama's announcement can be seen as concern that he is being insufficiently obedient to what the ruling class is telling him, but as far as I can see he's doing everything they demand and more.
Deploying Troops & Funds for the Ruling Class
America's ruling class wanted massive bailout funds for a few select banks and investment firms without any strings attached, and they got it. They wanted no return to the old financial regulations which would have prevented the current economic crisis, and they got it. They want the government to retain the power to spy on, arrest, and detain Americans on a whim, and they got it. They want an international copyright treaty that will transfer to copyright holders unprecedented power over consumers, and they will likely get this as well. You don't think that they also want a series of open-ended foreign wars?
War abroad creates excuses to use the state security apparatus at home. War creates profits for well-placed corporations and individuals, transferring wealth via the government from the dwindling middle class to the ruling class. This also comes with the added bonus of depriving the government of funds that might go to programs that would enhance the health and welfare of the rest of us.
War creates an outlet for the jobless, allowing for higher levels of unemployment without as much risk of social unrest — and what's left can be more effectively contained by a militarized police force which enjoys broader powers in the context of the government's war policies. Finally, it's clear to those who study the issue that a principle driving force of international terrorism has been hatred and resentment against America — not because of our "freedom," but because how we and our proxies invade, occupy, and brutalize Muslim populations. Continuing war and occupation in Afghanistan thus effectively preserves and enhance the very excuses needed to stay there.
Extended war in Afghanistan serves all the interests of the ruling class and none of the rest of society. It will waste more resources, destroy more lives, increase debt, and reduce the ability of the American economy to ever provide a stable, secure future. Even worse, it will make it easier for the U.S. to move on to the next conflict, maybe Iran or Pakistan, just as being in Afghanistan made it easier to move into Iraq.
What Did You Expect?
For the amounts we're spending to make war in Afghanistan, we could probably just bribe enough Afghans to make a significant impact favorable to the U.S. and still have change left over. However, bribing Afghans doesn't put money in corporate coffers, doesn't make American workers feel more insecure, and so doesn’t further any of the interests of America's ruling class to acquire and exercise ever more power over an ever more submissive society.
The government is made up of people who have to live in the same society as everyone else, which means that they — and thus also the government — are subject to the same social, political, and class pressures as the rest of us. One of these pressures is the obvious and natural self-interest we all have to survive: to provide for our families, to make our future somewhat predictable and stable, and to find ways to ensure that our children do better than us.
The people who can best provide all this are the people with the most money, and thus the people with the most money are the ones with the most influence over the decisions and actions of government officials. They constitute the ruling class because they have the most influence, direct and indirect, over all the decisions which affect everyone's lives: political, economic, social, cultural, religious, etc.
Some politicians are conscious of the fact that they are being bought and paid for — that they are making decisions favorable to the wealthy because that ensures future economic security for themselves and their family. Some are in denial, rationalizing their decisions by telling themselves that what's good for wealthy corporations must also somehow be good for the working classes whose own economic stability and power somehow manages to keep shrinking anyway.
Obama is not making fundamental changes that many liberals hope for because he knows he works for them, not for us. Yes, he was voted in by the people but he convinced them to vote his way with money raised primarily from the upper class and corporations. What's more, you and I won't be giving him or any of his family a well-paying, high-power job when he leaves office, nor will any of us be giving him millions to speak at local rotary clubs and schools.
All of that largesse will come form the wealthy corporations and organizations which are benefiting from his policies — or perhaps I should say his one policy of generally retaining the status quo. If you really want change you can believe in — genuine, fundamental change rather than tinkering around the edges — don't hand power over to someone whose long-term comfort and security depends on the good graces of those whose power depends on there not being any of those changes you hoped for. Making changes requires having power and you frankly don't. So if you want to make changes, you have to take power from those who already do have it and who are determined to hold on to that power in order to prevent the changes you believe in.
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