Ochenski: Double or nothing 

Teetering on the brink of disaster

I’m betting most members of Congress didn’t know the wager was “double or nothing” when President Bush rolled the fiscal dice on war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Montana’s entire congressional delegation voted to support the initial funding, but like most Montanans, Max, Denny, and Conrad probably couldn’t believe their ears when they heard Bush ask for an additional $87 billion this week. Bush’s request to double our current billion-a-week spending on senseless wars sounds like a madman’s logic—and it is. As our state and nation tumble into a black hole of debt, our Senators and Congressman would do well to ponder the consequences of Bush’s next bet a little more carefully.

If you’re of an age to remember Vietnam, Bush’s claim that “we will do what is necessary, we will spend what is necessary to achieve this essential victory,” probably sent chills down your spine. We have heard these lines before. They come complete with all the threats, both implicit and explicit, that accompanied the tremendous sacrifice of young Americans in that long ago, far away conflict.

We were assured back then, by Robert McNamara, who was secretary of defense for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, that unless we “stopped communism” in Vietnam, country after country in Southeast Asia would topple “like dominoes” to the red hordes. To prevent this, we were told that Americans must accept, without question, any level of sacrifice, any level of spending, to address this supposed imminent threat to our well-being.

Now, here we are 40 years later, and even though we didn’t “win the essential victory” in Vietnam, none of the threats of “communist domination” came true. Yet, once again we are being threatened by our country’s leaders with predictions of disaster unless we leap with both feet into the endless quagmires that Iraq and Afghanistan have become.

In his Sunday night address to the nation, President Bush told the American people that “we are fighting the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan today, so that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities.” What Bush is really doing, of course, is shamelessly exploiting the nation’s fear of the September 11 attacks while twisting the reality of who was responsible for those attacks. So far, no evidence has been offered that links Iraq, or Saddam Hussein, to the 9/11 attack. But then again, many of the premises upon which our nation rejected world opinion, degraded the United Nations, insulted long-time allies and plunged recklessly into war have been unsupported by evidence.

Obviously, we were lied to—not just by the president, who continues to lie to us about what’s at stake, but by virtually all the members of his administration about Iraq’s weapons, the cost and length of the war and what would happen after we “liberated” the Iraqis. Now, adding insult to injury and using outmoded Vietnam-era tactics, Rumsfeld says that if we criticize Bush or are recalcitrant in meeting the president’s every request for funding, that we are aiding the enemy.

What the American people are being fed by this desperate and disingenuous president and his administration is nothing but hogwash. We were told we had to go to Afghanistan to get rid of Osama bin Laden, the guy who really did engineer the 9/11 attacks. In Iraq, Saddam was the target for what Bush called “regime change.” Why it was America’s job to depose him was never clear, but we have now sacrificed almost three hundred American men and women, thousands of Iraqi civilians, and countless billions of taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars. Saddam, like Osama, remains uncaptured. Meanwhile, Bush’s “Road Map to Peace” has been shredded and burned by both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

What really puts this in perspective, however, is watching Montana’s legislators fight over a measly $25 million in federal funding, trying to backfill the gaping holes the last Legislature left in the state’s budget. Twenty-five million is how much we spend every two hours on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ironically, Bush’s massive spending request comes in the same week that the American Society of Civil Engineers released its “Report Card on America’s Infrastructure,” which you can read at http://www.asce.org/reportcard/.

In short, the report says America’s infrastructure is crumbling. “The need for infrastructure has never been higher. None of the 12 categories evaluated in 2001 demonstrated any significant growth or improvement. Conditions for roads, transit, energy, drinking water, waste water, dams and navigable waterways continue to decline. There was no progress in the condition of bridges, aviation, schools, solid waste and hazardous waste…our roads are more congested than ever, the number of unsafe and hazardous dams has increased, and our schools are unable to accommodate the mandated reductions in class size.”

The report estimates it will take $1.6 trillion to fix our infrastructure problems—or just about the same amount as Bush’s tax cuts for the rich and out-of-control military spending.

Pointing to last month’s east coast blackout, the ASCE report concludes, “While millions of Americans struggled to live without electricity for three days, millions more are still in the dark about the shaky state of our nation’s infrastructure.” The ASCE report may be right about millions of Americans being in the dark about our crumbling infrastructure, but it’s not millions of Americans who are making the budget decisions now, is it? No, it’s the Bush administration and the confused and defensive Congress, too enamored of their own brand of flag-wrapped patriotism to admit Iraq was a gigantic geopolitical mistake we never should have made and cannot afford.

Bush will be expecting quick action on his latest imperious request. While our Legislature agonizes over how to spend a piddling few millions, Max Baucus, Conrad Burns and Denny Rehberg will be voting on the billions Bush demands. They should read the ASCE report before they vote. If the option is “double or nothing,” they should do the nation and their home state a favor and vote for “nothing.”

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Missoula Independent.

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