Remember the Peace Dividend?
It came to mind as I watched the news about our latest war.
The Peace Dividend was supposed to kick in after the Cold War ended. This was in the late 1980’s and early ‘90s. George Bush the Elder was president. The idea was that money that had been going to the military to contain the Red Menace could either be redirected for use in building our country’s social capital — education, infrastructure, healthcare — or passed on directly to citizens in the form of tax cuts.
That would have made for a lively public debate.
It seems like a lifetime ago.
Let’s say you’re 28-years-old. If that’s the case, you’ve lived in a country (the United States) that has been at war for half your life, or since about the time you were finishing middle school. Kids that are starting high school today have never known anything else.
At a press conference on Sept. 23, Army Lt. Gen. William C. Mayville Jr., director of operations for the Joint Staff at the Pentagon, said our latest war in Iraq and Syria could take years to complete.
Did you hear that? The man said: Years.
You can be forgiven if a feeling of over-familiarity with this situation causes your eyes to glaze over. There was, after all, another time when you were told people in the Middle East were after us. There were Weapons of Mass Destruction being stockpiled in Iraq. We had the intelligence to prove it. And this gave us the right to add another war to one we were already fighting in Afghanistan.
Now our leaders are saying pretty much the same thing about a terrorist army called the Islamic State and, suddenly, a splinter group we’re all bound to be hearing more about, Khorasan.
We know the Islamic State is awful; they spent the summer massacring people. Lately, they’re into beheading westerners. Khorasan, we are told, is coming to bomb us. Evidently they’ve been working on a line of explosive clothing that can’t be identified by airport security.
So we’re bombing the hell out of these jerks before they bomb us.
Meanwhile, various pundits and scholars furrow their brows and question the legality of these attacks. They say this warmaking is unconstitutional.
But Congress is on vacation, getting ready for another election. You don’t see them rushing back to the nation’s capitol to debate whether or not another war is a good idea. War, it seems, has become a kind of national default mode. Never has President Obama received such praise from Republicans.
As to President Obama, you have to wonder what he really thinks as he watches what is left of his presidency being consumed by fear.
Fear, after all, is what this war is about. We’ve lived with this fear since the terrorist attacks in 2001. Those attacks shocked us to the core; we’ve never gotten over them. We’ve been making war, trying to keep our fear at bay, ever since.
Remember that Peace Dividend? Just forget about it.