by the Beltway elite
Endless war in Afghanistan is
an absolute necessity. Health care for Americans is a luxury that
by Glenn Greenwald
www.salon.com/, October 24, 2009
Something very unusual happened on The
Washington Post Editorial Page today: they deigned to address
a response from one of their readers, who "challenged [them]
to explain what he sees as a contradiction in [their] editorial
positions": namely, the Post demands that Obama's health
care plan not be paid for with borrowed money, yet the very same
Post Editors vocally support escalation in Afghanistan without
specifying how it should be paid for. "Why is it okay to
finance wars with debt, asks our reader, but not to pay for health
care that way?"
The Post editors give two answers. They
first claim that Obama will save substantial money by reducing
defense spending -- by which they mean that he is merely decreasing
the rate at which defense spending increases ("from 2008
to 2019, defense spending would increase only 17 percent")
-- as well as withdrawing from Iraq. But so what? Even if those
things really happen, we're still paying for our glorious, endless
war in Afghanistan by borrowing the money from China and Japan,
all of which continues to explode our crippling national debt.
We have absolutely no ability to pay for our Afghan adventure
other than by expanding our ignominious status as the largest
and most insatiable debtor nation which history has ever known.
That debt gravely bothers Beltway elites like the Post editors
when it comes to providing ordinary Americans with basic services
(which Post editors already enjoy), but it's totally irrelevant
to them when it comes to re-fueling the vicarious joys of endless
The Post attempts to justify that disparity
with their second answer, which perfectly captures the prevailing,
and deeply warped, Beltway thinking: namely, escalating in Afghanistan
is an absolute national necessity, while providing Americans with
health care coverage is just a luxury that can wait:
All this assumes that defense and health
care should be treated equally in the national budget. We would
argue that they should not be . . . Universal health care, however
desirable, is not "fundamental to the defense of our people."
Nor is it a "necessity" that it be adopted this year:
Mr. Obama chose to propose a massive new entitlement at a time
of historic budget deficits. In contrast, Gen. McChrystal believes
that if reinforcements are not sent to Afghanistan in the next
year, the war may be lost, with catastrophic consequences for
U.S. interests in South Asia. U.S. soldiers would continue to
die, without the prospect of defeating the Taliban. And, as Mr.
Obama put it, "if left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency
will mean an even larger safe haven from which al-Qaeda would
plot to kill more Americans."
Actually, a recent study from the Harvard
Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance documented that "nearly
45,000 annual deaths are associated with lack of health insurance"
in America. Whatever the exact number, nobody doubts that lack
of health insurance causes thousands of Americans to die every
year. If you're Fred Hiatt and you already have health insurance,
it's easy to dismiss those deaths as unimportant, "not fundamental,"
not a "necessity" to tend to any time soon. No matter
your views on Obama's health care reform plan, does it really
take any effort to see how warped that dismissive mentality is?
But it becomes so much worse when one
considers what we're ostensibly going to do in Afghanistan as
part of our venerated "counter-insurgency" mission.
In an amazingly enlightening interview with Frontline, military
expert Andrew Bacevich explains what that supposedly entails:
I think the best way to understand the
term "counterinsurgency" is to understand what the U.S.
Army and the Marine Corps today mean by that term. What they mean
is an approach to warfare in which success is to be gained not
by destroying the enemy but by securing the population.
The term "securing" here means
not simply keeping the people safe, but providing for the people
a series of services -- effective governance, economic development,
education, the elimination of corruption, the protection of women's
rights. That translates into an enormously ambitious project of
nation building. . . .
John Nagl says that in effect we are
engaged in a global counterinsurgency campaign. That's his description
of the long war.
Now, think about it. If counterinsurgency,
according to current doctrine, is all about securing the population,
if securing the population implies not simply keeping them safe
but providing people with good governance and economic development
and education and so on, what then is the requirement of a global
Are we called upon to keep ourselves
safe? To prevent another 9/11? Are we called upon to secure the
population of the entire globe? Given the success we've had thus
far in securing the population in Iraq and in Afghanistan, does
this idea make any sense whatsoever?
Can anybody possibly believe that the
United States of America, ... facing a federal budget deficit
of $1.8 trillion ... has the resources necessary to conduct a
global counterinsurgency campaign? Over what? The next 20, 50,
80 years? I think [there] is something so preposterous about such
proposals. I just find it baffling that they are treated with
seriousness by supposedly serious people.
So according to The Washington Post, dropping
bombs on, controlling and occupying Afghanistan -- all while simultaneously
ensuring "effective governance, economic development, education,
the elimination of corruption, the protection of women's rights"
to Afghan citizens in Afghanistan -- is an absolutely vital necessity
that must be done no matter the cost. But providing basic services
(such as health care) to American citizens, in the U.S., is a
secondary priority at best, something totally unnecessary that
should wait for a few years or a couple decades until we can afford
it and until our various wars are finished, if that ever happens.
"U.S. interests in South Asia" are paramount; U.S.
interests in the welfare of those in American cities, suburbs
and rural areas are an afterthought.
As demented as that sounds, isn't that
exactly the priority scheme we've adopted as a country? We're
a nation that couldn't even manage to get clean drinking water
to our own citizens who were dying in the middle of New Orleans.
We have tens of thousands of people dying every year because
they lack basic health care coverage. The rich-poor gap continues
to expand to third-world levels.
And The Post claims that war and "nation-building"
in Afghanistan are crucial while health care for Americans is
not because "wars, unlike entitlement programs, eventually
come to an end." Except, as Bacevich points out, that's
Post-Vietnam, the officer corps was committed
to the proposition that wars should be infrequent, that they should
be fought only for the most vital interests, and that they should
be fought in a way that would produce a quick and decisive outcome.
What we have today in my judgment is
just the inverse of that. War has become a permanent condition.
Beltway elites have health insurance and
thus the costs and suffering for those who don't are abstract,
distant and irrelevant. Identically, with very rare exception,
they and their families don't fight the wars they cheer on --
and don't even pay for them -- and thus get to enjoy all the pulsating
benefits without any costs whatsoever. Adam Smith, all the way
back in 1776, in An Inquiry into the Nature And Causes of the
Wealth of Nations, described this Beltway attitude exactly:
In great empires the people who live
in the capital, and in the provinces remote from the scene of
action, feel, many of them, scarce any inconveniency from the
war; but enjoy, at their ease, the amusement of reading in the
newspapers the exploits of their own fleets and armies . . .
Lounging around in the editorial offices
in the capital of a rapidly decaying empire, urging that more
Americans be sent into endless war paid for with endless debt,
while yawning and lazily waving away with boredom the hordes outside
dying for lack of health care coverage, is one of the most repugnant
images one can imagine. It's exactly what Adam Smith denounced.
And it's exactly what our political and media elite are.