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War Without End

Nagasaki bomb, August 9, 1945

Today is the 65th anniversary of the dropping of an atomic bomb on Nagasaki. Three days earlier, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. People continue to argue, and surely will as long as the human race survives, about the morality of President Truman’s decision to explode what, sixty-five years later, remain the only atomic bombs ever used in war. One thing is certain, though: the bombs brought the war with Japan to a close.

Now we find ourselves in a war apparently without end. Recent coverage of the war in Afghanistan, plus the release by wikileaks of over 91,000 reports on the war from 2004 to 2010, suggest not just that it is not going well, but that if we are to achieve our stated objectives, we may need to be there for decades to come. See, among many, this piece from today’s NYT, in which Gordon Goldstein (author of Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam, about which I wrote two Januarys ago) is quoted as arguing “that it’s clear the counterinsurgency and population-protection policy, as set out in Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal’s manifesto last summer, is failing, reminiscent of the grandiose plans Mr. Bundy promulgated in Vietnam in the 1960s.”

Bush began the war in parallel with tax cuts. As we continue to fight, the politicians who most ardently support the war ask that we cut taxes further. At what cost domestically? With the economic downturn cutting into local tax revenues and the federal government unable to fill the gap, much of the damage can be seen at the local level through cutbacks in government services. Three such examples were provided two days ago in a NYT article:

Plenty of businesses and governments furloughed workers this year, but Hawaii went further — it furloughed its schoolchildren. Public schools across the state closed on 17 Fridays during the past school year to save money, giving students the shortest academic year in the nation and sending working parents scrambling to find care for them.

Many transit systems have cut service to make ends meet, but Clayton County, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta, decided to cut all the way, and shut down its entire public bus system. Its last buses ran on March 31, stranding 8,400 daily riders.

Even public safety has not been immune to the budget ax. In Colorado Springs, the downturn will be remembered, quite literally, as a dark age: the city switched off a third of its 24,512 streetlights to save money on electricity, while trimming its police force and auctioning off its police helicopters.

Faced with the steepest and longest decline in tax collections on record, state, county and city governments have resorted to major life-changing cuts in core services like education, transportation and public safety that, not too long ago, would have been unthinkable. And services in many areas could get worse before they get better.

The length of the downturn means that many places have used up all their budget gimmicks, cut services, raised taxes, spent their stimulus money — and remained in the hole. Even with Congress set to approve extra stimulus aid, some analysts say states are still facing huge shortfalls.

Cities and states are notorious for crying wolf around budget time, and for issuing dire warnings about draconian cuts that never seem to materialize. But the Great Recession has been different. Around the country, there have already been drastic cuts in core services like education, transportation and public safety, and there are likely to be more before the downturn ends. The cuts that have disrupted lives in Hawaii, Georgia and Colorado may be extreme, but they reflect the kinds of cuts being made nationwide, disrupting the lives of millions of people in ways large and small.

(Glenn Greenwald used this NYT article as the starting point for his recent post, What Collapsing Empire Looks Like.)

And yet, over at The Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol offers President Obama three tips today on how to save his failed presidency. The concluding summary:

So: No tax hikes, no Afghanistan deadline, no Ground Zero mosque. It’s really pretty easy. They’re all the right thing to do (as you surely know with respect to Afghanistan and the mosque, and must suspect with regard to taxes). Doing these three things will stabilize your approval rating and could lead to an uptick before the election. November will be rough but not disastrous.

Ah, it’s so simple. Just keep fighting a lost war without paying for it. And while you’re at it, engage in a bit of demagoguery to suggest that we’re going to fight Moslems of all stripes, at home as well as abroad. At least Kristol didn’t suggest dropping atomic bombs on Afghanistan and Iran. Oh, but wait. His next and final sentence is, “Then major cuts in domestic discretionary spending in the budget early next year, and military action against the Iranian nuclear program—and you’ll have a real shot at a successful presidency.”

Um, so we should start another war? And pay for it with still more cuts in domestic spending? And this is the best hope for a successful presidency why?

I’ve been somewhat critical of Obama lately, but let me be clear. I sure am glad he’s our president rather than McCain, who would surely be trying out all of Kristol’s ideas. Still, I fear the direction in which we are headed and hope Obama takes clear steps to bring our wars to an end.

Categories: Government, Politics, War
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