Alibi V.13 No.11 • March 11-17, 2004 

Ortiz y Pino

The War is the Economy, Stupid!

In recent weeks, the Albuquerque Journal's young Latino conservative columnist (Ruben Navarette), its young, preppy, conservative columnist (Rich Lowery), and at least two of its tired old Anglo conservative war horses (Cal Thomas and Charles Krauthammer) have all been steadily beating out page upon page of opinion to an identical rhythm.

As their kick-off contributions to the Bush election effort, they all are inspired to repeat multiple variations of the same creaky, logically-deficient script: the Democrats are confusing Iraq with Vietnam; the economy is rebounding wonderfully; the nation would be crazy to risk sending Dubya back to the ranch in Crawford in such perilous times.

While neither Navarette nor Lowery seem old enough to remember Vietnam, both Thomas and Krauthammer are, and they should know better than to pretend that Vietnam's lessons have no bearing on what faces us in Iraq.

The problem is not that the Democrats can't get past Vietnam. The problem is that the Republicans seem all too willing to pretend there was nothing worth learning from what happened over there. Or, more accurately, their collective interpretation of the lessons learned in Vietnam is so far off the mark as to make it potentially very dangerous stuff.

Thirty years after Richard Nixon declared "victory" and we got the last of our troops out of Saigon just before it was over run by the Viet Cong, it seems clear that some of the key lessons for us to have learned there should have been:

1) You cannot rely solely on our technological superiority to defeat a determined, deeply rooted nationalism or independence movement.

2) You do not win people's hearts and minds by bombing them from 30,000 feet.

3) We need to expend more energy understanding what is motivating the people who oppose us than in attempting to obliterate them.

4) If our government lies to us, the American people will turn on it when we eventually discover the truth.

There are of course as many "lessons learned" from Vietnam as there are people who choose to probe that painful chapter in our history. But I think consistently those four are repeated on most scholars' lists.

But not on the Gang of Four's list over at the Journal's editorial page. No, what they learned from Vietnam (or in the case of Navarette and Lowery, what they've been told others learned from Vietnam) looks quite different:

1) Wars should be run by soldiers, not politicians.

2) We should not allow world opinion to ever deter us from forceful, decisive action.

3) The United States' national interests should be so closely linked to American corporate interests as to be virtually indistinguishable.

4) Ultimately, since it is the victors who get to write history, the only moral consideration in warfare is winning.

Starting from that list, it is no wonder they can look at the quagmire that has become Iraq and see only opportunity when the rest of us see torture, heart sickness and pain ahead.

But there is another aspect of what our Vietnam experience should have taught us that needs to be considered. This is important because 40 years after Lyndon Johnson tried to wage war many time zones away from home while imposing no domestic belt tightening and succeeded only in bringing the whole house of cards down around his head, Dubya is intent on trying that same goofy, slight of hand tactic.

The Republican strategists have their fingers crossed that a rebounding U.S. economy will cause voters' concerns over our Iraq adventure to dwindle—or even disappear. But the reality now, as it was in Vietnam, is that the war and the domestic economy are completely intertwined. They are two, totally linked aspects of the same phenomenon, not separate ones.

Our economy cannot improve as long as we are siphoning the billions of dollars out of it that the war requires. Our economy cannot improve as long as education, housing, health care and environmental assistance are all being sacrificed to maintain the dozens of new bases half way around the globe that this war requires. Our economy cannot improve as long as massive consumer debt fed by the backbreaking deficits that Bush is racking up serves as a lead weight around the recovery's ankles.

Our economy cannot improve as long as credit reserves are dried up due to our international debt growing by many billions each month, debt we pay with interest to countries like China and the OPEC nations that are buying treasury bonds ... another result of the war in Iraq.

So when the headlines trumpet an economic upturn ahead, it is nothing more than spin as long as we are waging war. Most American households cannot afford to buy the goods produced by our industries, because they are so deeply in high interest rate credit card debt while their wages are not increasing. So "the recovery" exists only in the minds of Wall Street investors who play their own little game of craps off to the side, a tangent to the real world of Middle Class America.

No, in this election year it truly is not just the economy, stupid. Now the War is the economy and until we extricate ourselves from the bog in the Middle East, we cannot move forward economically. That's the unifying issue that this election should spotlight.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.