Secret Santa 

The war machine that keeps on giving

President Bush and Colin Powell, like Grinches stealing Christmas, pretty much destroyed what was left of the holiday spirit with their decision that Iraq’s weapons declaration doesn’t meet their approval. I guess that’s no surprise to anyone. But still and all, doubling our troop concentration and moving at flank speed toward war only days before Christmas adds really bad timing to already dubious intentions. While the rest of the world searches desperately for the elusive Peace on Earth, Fortress America hones her weapons of war.

The reaction to the White House statements had an immediate effect, sending the stock market plunging as nervous investors quaked at the risks of war in the Middle East. And no wonder—Israel, India, and Pakistan are all known to have nuclear weapons. It is probably safe to assume that they, as well as others, have biological and chemical weapons too. When Bush’s “cold war” with Iraq goes red hot, who’s to say what devils will be loosed upon the land?

Then there’s the problem of America’s oil addiction, and what increasingly desperate steps we may take to satisfy our gluttonous hydrocarbon appetite. Bush-backed protests threaten to topple the democratically elected, but not pro-Bush, president in Venezuela, throwing that country into chaos and significantly reducing its huge oil exports to the U.S. A full-blown war with Iraq—and the unknown and unintended consequences of a conflagration of the area’s geopolitical and religious tensions—carries the potential to shut down oil shipments from the Persian Gulf, resulting in crushing economic repercussions both at home and abroad.

While Santa Bush heads off to Iraq with a fat sack of Predator drones, “smart bombs,” and satellite-guided cruise missiles, there are plenty of folks here at home who would much appreciate some gifts—or at least the support they were promised by this “greatest nation on earth.” Across the spectrum, Americans have been hard hit by the collapse of the stock market, the minimal interest rates their savings now earn, and the bankruptcy of major corporations in which their 401(k) retirement funds were invested. Older Americans wonder how they can pay the outrageous price for prescription drugs, medical care, and skyrocketing property taxes, while our youth, even the most talented among them, look forward with trepidation to coming out of college under the crushing burden of tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

Those in the middle, the Baby Boomers, can look forward to a dubious future in which the promises of “social security” evaporate. The demographics show there will be far fewer young workers to support Boomers in their old age. Unless the young workers are taxed without mercy, there’s no way they will be able to support both themselves and the medical and social needs of the giant Boomer generation. The effect, of course, is that Boomers never get to retire—they stay in the workforce out of economic necessity, and wind up making it even harder for young people to gain livable wage jobs. Given the size and cost of the real needs of the people of this country, it seems a twisted fantasy that Santa Bush thinks we need to spend more than a billion dollars a day on the military. To put it in perspective, what we are now spending on global military adventurism in one week would cover the entire state budget of Montana for a year and a half with no state taxes or fees on our citizens. Think about that in light of the fiscal crises now sweeping states and local governments across the country. One week equals more than one full year of running Montana’s government—all expenses paid. Fifty two weeks in a year of military spending. Fifty states in the Union. You get the picture. As always, priorities are a much bigger deal when times get tight—and state budgets across the nation are 70 billion in the red these days. Two months of the military budget would cover it handily.

Santa Bush and his little elves in Congress have plenty to worry about right here at home without trying to run the entire world from the White House. But of course, it would take considerably more courage, more foresight, and more conviction to actually turn America’s armored sled around and head it back to base and pound those swords into plowshares. Plus, it’s a lot harder being a real Santa—everybody wants something different, and there’s way too much weight in the pack to actually tote the load of America’s needs.

Much easier to give the order, push the button, then slip away to the undisclosed location.

“But wait!” you say: “What about the terrorists (upon which our self-absorbed, jingoistic attentions have been so narrowly focused since Sept. 11)?

Which brings us back to the season—and message—of Peace on Earth. Nobody ever said it would be easy.

So play “What If” for a minute. What if our fearsome, armored “sleds” were carrying food, medicine, and clothing to the world instead of bombs this Christmas? What if we split the difference and spent half of the estimated two trillion dollars a war in Iraq will cost on humanitarian purposes instead? We could change “Why do they hate us?” to “They don’t hate us anymore.” What if every child who was capable of going to college got to go for free? What if no senior citizen ever had to worry about not being able to get the medicine and care they needed, and the question of “heat or eat” was never asked again? What if we really went for it and instead of wild and risky military spending that drags America into staggering debt and an uncertain future, we invested in domestic and international needs, not bullets, bombs, and missiles? What if?

Just a fantasy? Perhaps. But Peace on Earth is still a gift worth wishing for. The alternative it seems, is Earth in pieces.

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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