The War Economy

by dday

In his third major speech in three days, Barack Obama tackled the war's impact on the economy.

“Instead of fighting this war, we could be fighting for the people of West Virginia,” Senator Obama said today. “For what folks in this state have been spending on the Iraq war, we could be giving health care to nearly 450,000 of your neighbors, hiring nearly 30,000 new elementary school teachers, and making college more affordable for over 300,000 students. We could be fighting to put the American dream within reach for every American – by giving tax breaks to working families, offering relief to struggling homeowners, reversing President Bush’s cuts to the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, and protecting Social Security today, tomorrow, and forever. That’s what we could be doing instead of fighting this war.”

Now, this is something of an oversimplification. In a direct sense, the war in Iraq is propping up the economy, because it's adding manufacturing jobs in the defense sector. But those aren't the jobs we should be adding because they're not sustainable. What I'd like to see progressives do is carry this critique forward. People in this country overwhelmingly believe that Iraq spending hurts the economy, so we're already halfway there.

What hurts the economy is unnecessary DEFENSE spending in general; wars are started from time to time to justify that spending. The defense budget is a sacred cow that generations have considered off-limits in a bipartisan fashion. John McCain's mavericky charge against "wasteful spending" meets the water's edge at the defense budget. To Republicans and many Democrats, the defense budget is a magical portion of the ledger where more and more money can be stashed without harming the overall fiscal structure of the country.

If you want to call it the Iraq recession, fine; people are going to believe that, since they hate Bush, hate our involvement in Iraq, and think that Bush is clueless on the economy. But I hope that this goes the next step - talking about our unbalanced economy in general, with tens if not hundreds of billions squandered on contracting abuse and outdated weapons systems. This could be a real point of contrast with "More Wars" McCain. If we can get a mandate to look seriously at the military-industrial complex we've gone a long way. It's not going to be easily; defense manufacturing and jobs are cleverly spread throughout the country so that practically every member of Congress has a stake in keeping the budget dollars flowing to their districts (and having the campaign contribution dollars flowed back to them). But if we have this much of a mandate to change that transaction - 71% in that poll - we ought to take it.