The Austin Chronicle

https://www.austinchronicle.com/columns/2003-02-07/144252/

Page Two

By Louis Black, February 7, 2003, Columns

Before we get to the meat of this editorial: South by Southwest is about four weeks away. Expect a ton of information on what is going to be a great year for SXSW in upcoming issues. It all kicks off with the SXSW Music Festival's alphabetic listing of the bands so far accepted, which can be viewed online at www.sxsw.com/music/festival/.


What follows are two separate editorials that wed at the end.

1) The War

Any simplistic attitude about the Iraq situation does it a disservice. Regardless of personal convictions, constant rethinking of the situation by both the people and the government is demanded. In Thomas Friedman's editorial in Wednesday's New York Times, he leans toward favoring the war. Disputing fears that many (I among them) hold, he argues that neither Muslim governments nor "the Muslim street" harbor any affection for Saddam Hussein, and all will (secretly) greet his removal by the U.S. with relief. The real problem, Friedman writes, lies within this country. Not in the conflict between pro- and anti-war contingents, but instead, he argues, with administration foreign-policy experts who are planning an "audacious" reconstruction of postwar Iraq, remaking it into a democratically run, economically sound government, using the post-WWII rebuilding of Europe as the prototype. This will require U.S. involvement, militarily and financially, for decades. Most Americans, Friedman believes, especially those in favor of the war, harbor Grenada fantasies: We're going to go in, take out Hussein, initiate regime change, and leave. Both the anti- and pro-war factions are missing the true situation, ignoring what is in the best long-term interests of the Iraqi people and this country. Trusting the "audacious" vision of Bush's policy people may be the best course, no matter how difficult.

Imagine an alternative universe where neither 9/11 nor the interaction between the Muslim and Western world is a factor. The arguments in favor of invasion in this scenario are great. Hussein is a monster -- a vicious, brutal dictator who has not only ruthlessly ruled for more than three decades but is, additionally, a destabilizing and threatening force throughout the region. Having our country take him out, committing to a significant economic and political rebuilding of Iraq, is attractive. A stable, thriving Iraq would benefit not only its citizens but the region and the world, as well.

The argument against that notion questions whether the U.S. is the world's policeman. By what moral authority or, more importantly, specific criteria does this country decide which governments are so deadly to their people and dangerous to the world that we have to initiate regime change? The enthusiastic pursuit of this role seems especially odd coming from a Republican administration. Recent attempts at constructive intervention in Africa proved disastrous. The Gulf War was a response to Hussein's invasion and a belief that, if not confronted, he wasn't going to stop with Kuwait. In the former Yugoslavia, NATO was responding to a regime that had fought three wars in less than a decade, with substantial civilian causalities.

I more or less supported both those military engagements, though many friends disagreed, regarding this as more evidence of my delusional, hallucinatory politics. Both those situations were a response to ongoing activities. During the worst of Hussein's internal abuses, we remained on the sidelines. Only now are we engaged, due to Hussein's supposed threat to this country. Initiating rather than responding to military action is an enormous difference that is being minimized by the explicit and dubious connection of Hussein to 9/11. Not only a UN renegade, atomic- and biological-weapon manufacturer, Hussein is as one with al Qaeda. If he is not stopped, this country is in imminent danger from Hussein, the certain author of the next devastating terrorist attack.

In that universe, I'm not sure where my final sympathies would lie, but back to ours. Friedman's judgment of the impact of a U.S. invasion on the Middle East seems overly minimized. Moreover, the response to Hussein's removal -- whether relief or not -- wouldn't necessarily directly affect the larger perception, attitude, and response of the Muslim world to the U.S.

If ever there were a quick-fix group, the Bush administration is it. Supposedly committed to infrastructure-rebuilding in Afghanistan, it quickly shifted attention to Iraq. Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were the enemies, but, in an Orwellian moment, our nation woke up one morning to find Hussein's face on the wanted posters instead of bin Laden's. There is no easy or quick solution to the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, where the crazies in control on both sides seem to believe greater conflagration and ultimate annihilation are paths to peace. Yet if our goal was to stabilize the Middle East, regardless of how difficult the undertaking, negotiating that mess would be our greatest priority.

2) The Budget

Talk-show host Bill O'Reilly has expressed the very common Republican-right sentiment that government is too big and any program cut or tax cut is good. All he depends on government for, internationally, nationally, and locally, is to provide protection, and that is it. He gets nothing else from government. Anything else it does is not only excessive but unnecessary. Using this across-the-board budget crisis to cut government to the bare bone will fulfill the right-wing vision and serve the future. The tax cuts are great, but spending needs to be cut much more dramatically.

All O'Reilly needs is protection. He gets up in the morning, takes a shower, and goes to the bathroom. The faucet pours water; the toilet flushes. He eats breakfast with the unspoken assumption the food is safe. He drives on streets and stops at lights. His house doesn't flood because of the sewer system. He lives in a regulated, protected society because of police; his house is safe because of the fire department; the frontline for his health is EMS. On the way to work, he is not attacked by the desperately poor. Unlike in many Third World oligarchies, his glass doesn't need to be bulletproof, nor is he likely surrounded by armed guards. He works in radio. Many of the people who make his show possible were educated at public schools, and some probably went to public universities. Here's the puzzle. Color in all the different ways government is responsible for those activities. For extra credit, see how far you can expand the list.

The right and the libertarians argue that if government stopped performing these functions, private enterprise would take them over. If they couldn't be made profitable, then they're not services worth providing. The deterioration of mental health care in this country over the past three decades is certainly a poster child for that way of thinking.

The argument against big government and extensive taxation assumes that the government has exceeded its authority and responsibility. Its very size makes it economically inefficient. Money is unnecessarily wasted. Cutting social programs will better serve us all. This is garbage, and tragic garbage at that. Government provides all kinds of services that we don't even think about to all of us every day. The ridiculous strategy, which argues eviscerating taxes and destroying social services will be compensated for by our giving more to the Salvation Army, et al., is lunacy. These programs were not crafted by closeted Leninist Democrats whose loyalty was to Moscow and the ghost of Karl Marx. They are legitimate responses to serious problems. Eliminating a well-meaning but liberal knee-jerk response to a social problem does not also eliminate the problem; it doesn't even begin to deal with serious issues. Yet this is the right's response to most social concerns.

For your consideration:

1) We are more dependent on government services and funds than almost any of us ever consider. 2) The government does a lot of things wrong; it also does a lot of things right. 3) The government costs a certain amount to run; expanding the budget while cutting taxes is creating a financial burden. If it isn't on us, then it's on our children, regardless of what the president says. The only outside cure is an overly robust economy, which is not likely to exist soon, and the consequences of which we are living through now. 4) The social safety net is for the health of the society, not the fantasy of bleeding-heart liberals with no grasp of the real world. 5) Social spending creates more jobs and pours more money into all aspects of the economy than military spending. 6) Cutting the budget cuts jobs, which impacts negatively on the whole society. 7) There are people gleeful over the tax cuts and budget cutting who will be shocked when one of the consequences turns out to be that they're losing their jobs. Budget cutting has enormous ripple consequences.

And:

1) Tax cuts on dividends will not stimulate the economy. Ask large institutional and personal investors; they stand to gain the most from the cuts, and they have no faith in the consequences. They're staying out of the market because they're nervous about the war and see no reason to be optimistic about the economy. 2) Job programs and tax cuts for the lower and middle classes, as well as extended unemployment benefits, no matter how repellant to anti-government conservatives, directly and positively impact the economy. 3) Republicans don't believe in big government when it helps people out or provides social services. When it comes to a woman's right to choose, tort reform, corporate welfare, and defense and security spending, they can't get enough. 4) Massive tax cuts matched by budget increases in a down economy with a war pending is beyond stupidity. It approaches insanity.

Coda:

The Presidency: Anti-war, anti-Bush-administration activists are attacked for being unpatriotic, not trusting the country or the president. Bush wants to go to war with Iraq; all reasons given serve that agenda, they don't drive it. During the very beginning of the Clinton administration, the agenda was a massive reorganization of the national health care system. The medical establishment, insurance companies, and the right took it out as much by assaulting the president and misleading advertisements as by any reason or arguments.

Among the dominating social and economic issues of the last decade have been health care-related concerns -- the consequence of Clinton's failure.

Expect the next decade to be dominated by a weak economy and precarious international politics -- the consequences of Bush's successes.

The Wedding: Given Bush's short-attention-span political agenda, which is going to be devastating at home, do we really want to trust the same administration to rebuild and reconstitute a country abroad? Despite the best intentions and most astute observations, invading Iraq will be a long-term disaster. end story

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