The universe always balances out, although it may take a strange path to reach equilibrium. In an odd kind of way, the American Republic has balanced two massive investments in our collective future. The Global War on Terror and the Great Corporate Bailout have now cost American taxpayers roughly equal amounts about a trillion dollars each.
One huge difference in those trillion dollar twins is that it took more than seven years to run up the military tab during the Long War, while our Congressional representatives, under two different Presidents, approved that much bailout money in less than one year.
Both programs share a common purpose to preserve the American Way of Life. That, of course, is generally considered to be a good thing by Americans. We have a long history of funding wars and subsidizing businesses in the name of safety and prosperity. Apparently most of us consider it to be a necessary expense.
Unless, of course, it isn’t. A lot of taxpayers don’t consider those trillions to be money well spent. When these folks total up the sums, they include costs that have little to do with dollars, and they question the value received in return for what has been given.
Is the Long War we’re fighting across the Arc of Instability making America safer? There’s really no way of knowing. We haven’t had any outsiders attack us lately; terrorist attacks on American soil these days are strictly home-grown and small in scale when compared to Timothy McVeigh and his Oklahoma City truck bomb. But Al-Qaeda is stronger than ever in many parts of the world, the CIA tells us; that doesn’t sound like much of an improvement in safety.
Has it been worth our trillion-dollar investment? If that much money can stimulate the massive American economy, imagine what it could have done to improve security, living conditions and infrastructure in Afghanistan. Surely that would have brought us a better return and more good will than the cost of the bombs we poured into Baghdad and the ones we keep raining down on innocent Afghan villagers by mistake.
Was the desire for Homeland Security worth the lives of thousands who died because of it? That answer is simple no, not one, not ever. Not even those whose sacrifice was noble, not even the heroes who gave their lives so others could live. At any price, their magnificent example comes at too high a cost.
But we keep asking more soldiers to sacrifice their all, including the seven who died today in battles fought across Afghanistan. We still occupy Iraq and we have a billion-dollar, heavily fortified, high-maintenance embassy on 104 acres that we own in the heart of Baghdad. That fortress is ten times larger than a typical US embassy compound, but that’s probably a good thing there would be many more dead soldiers and diplomats if it was smaller and less secure.
“The presence of a massive U.S. embassy by far the largest in the world co-located in the Green Zone with the Iraqi government is seen by Iraqis as an indication of who actually exercises power in their country,” reported the International Crisis Group in 2007.
That same message of imperial power is being delivered now in Afghanistan and Pakistan. More than a billion dollars will be spent to fortify our embassy in Kabul and build an even larger one in Islamabad. Our legislators see these long-term investments as necessary and approve the cost with few complaints. Those three embassies are seen as Christian fortresses in Muslim territory; their existence is tolerated by most of the people, but a fanatical minority willing to fight infidels to the death will draw strength from their presence.
Back here in the Homeland, we are told our trillion-dollar bailout of finance corporations was necessary for our own economic good. Was it worth its weight in inflated U.S. dollars? It’s too early to tell, we are also told, but the early returns look bleak. Throwing buckets of money into corporate pockets certainly didn’t help the half-million workers who lost their jobs in June, and it comes too late for 150,000 others who gave up all hope last month of ever finding a job.
We don’t call that kind of government spending “socialism” in America because we don’t like that word. It triggers images and slogans from our brainwashed youth that we know are false, but we still succumb to the hypnotic mantra they evoke: Socialism Is Bad. Still, a lot of free-market loyalists suddenly became business socialists in the same moment they became eligible for federal welfare. We showed them the money; they abandoned all their principles and took the money.
But that doesn’t mean they plan to alter their practices. A coalition of financial services corporations are now actively working against a proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency that would regulate mortgage loans and credit card accounts and suchlike. The coalition might even be spending some of the stimulus money we gave them to lobby against any further accountability and oversight, but we’ll never know because we never demanded a full accounting of that money.
At least the Long War and the Great Bailout have been bipartisan political efforts. Republicans directed the early years of the Long War and set Phase 1 of the Bailout into motion, while Democrats have consistently supported all military spending and led Phase 2 and Phase 3 of the Bailout with enthusiasm.
In our nation’s capitol, political differences are often just political theater. When it comes down to the reality of funding wars and protecting corporate interests, both parties are quick to spend taxpayer dollars and borrow money in the public’s name. Within the halls of Congress lives a 150-year-old consensus that legislators must maintain an American military presence around the globe in order to remain safe at home. So that’s what they do. During the past 50 years another consensus has grown, one that tells them to prop up failing corporations in order to protect stockholders and investors. So now they do that, too.
For employees and for soldiers, there are no such protections. That’s the real American Way, and despite President Obama’s rhetoric of Hope and Change, it looks to remain that way for a long time to come.