Friday, February 24, 2006

Why We Fight

Tonight I went to a special screening of Eugene Jarecki's documentary Why We Fight. It was a special screening because Eugene Jarecki himself was present for a Q&A after the film.

On 1961-01-17, just before leaving office, President Dwight D. "Ike" Eisenhower gave a farewell address to the nation. In that speech, Ike warned of the danger to our democracy from the unchecked influence of the Military-Industrial Complex. Sadly, his fears have been realized over the intervening 45 years.

I have said this before, but the United States is seeking to bully the rest of the world into doing things our way. In the short term, that strategy may produce favorable results, but in the long term, it does enormous damage both to our standing in the world community and to the fabric of our own republic. The current administration pays feeble lip service to the notion of "winning hearts and minds," but then it approaches allies and foes alike with blinding arrogance, tramples on the weak, and alienates those who might be amenable to our efforts.

As Rome grew in territory, it required a large standing army, which led to the general Julius Caesar's political power, culminating in making himself dictator for life. The brutality and bribery with which he gained and held power remain legendary more than twenty centuries later. Ultimately, though, Rome found that military might could not sustain its vast empire. Once the myth of Roman invincibility was shattered by the Huns and the Goths, the Roman Empire was set on an irreversible course of decline.

President Bush — even moreso than Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr., or Clinton — is bent upon establishing an American Empire that will follow the same trajectory as Rome's. The United States is the unrivaled military power in the world today, but our exercise of that power is feeding the resentment of the world. We cannot station garrisons in every nation that has essential raw materials to protect our access, so if we piss off enough people long enough, they will throw off the yoke of American domination. Last year, the United States had a record deficit, record military spending, record trade deficit, and record profits for both oil companies and military contractors. Those enormous profits were not used to build schools and hospitals and houses, nor were they even plowed back into R&D to make better and cheaper weapons systems; they were simply a massive transfer of wealth from the taxpayers of future generations to the shareholders of today's arms dealers. The conjunction of Bush's collusion with the Military-Industrial Complex and his assertion of unlimited executive power, form the greatest danger to American democracy in at least 140 years. Perhaps the American Empire will take as long to unravel as the Roman Empire did, but even if the fall does not come in our lifetimes or even within the time it takes our grandchildren to pay off Bush's debts, we owe it to posterity to change course and restore balance between the needs of the citizens and the needs of arms dealers.