THINKING FOR OURSELVES
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, Mar. 7, 2009
Within a few short days President Barack Obama managed to push through a stimulus package to prop up the deepening economic crisis, propose a 10-year budget plan that restores government to a role in protecting people and advancing essential priorities for health, education and the environment, and announce a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.
His address to Congress, followed by his speech to the Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C., has restored thoughtful conversation to the public sphere, asking people to think together honestly about problems and solutions. These actions give substance to our new president’s promises of hope and change.
Obama’s address to Congress was followed by an embarrassing Republican response delivered by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal who emphasized the Republican conviction that government is useless and has no role in helping people face crisis. Jindal then joined a small pack of Republican governors pledging to reject parts of the stimulus package to show how seriously they take their ideology.
Jindal believes that Louisiana can afford to reject the extension of an additional $100 million in unemployment benefits because for much of last year it enjoyed an astonishing 2% unemployment rate – even though it ranks 4th in children living below the poverty line, and 46th in high school graduation rates. This was due to massive federal spending on infrastructure. From the rebuilding of houses, bridges, roads, water lines, levees and public spaces, Louisiana is probably the best example of just how much the proposed stimulus and budget can affect local economies.
Most welcome in all of these efforts was President Obama’s decision to place the costs of the Iraq and Afghan wars in the budget. Under the Bush administration these costs were kept separate from the ordinary budget process, concealing the true economic strain of these wars. This month we will pass the sixth year in Iraq, where we have spent $860 billion dollars.
We hope this is more than a gesture to accuracy in accounting. For the first time in nearly a decade Americans have the opportunity to face squarely the larger questions behind these numbers.
Do we as a people intend to keep forging a military empire on a global scale? Is protecting our access to resources through military might really how we believe we should live in the 21st century global community?
Right now most people in the U.S. reject the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But do we reject the use of military power to secure resources necessary to maintain our standard of living?
In this connection the early signs from the Obama administration are not so promising.
The President offers us the hope of a restored American Dream but has done little to help us question what we have been doing to sacred places and other peoples to sustain that dream.
The simple truth is that our ways of living have been achieved by bringing destruction and death to much of the planet.
The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Pakistan are more than these specific military engagements. They stem from a deeply-held belief that the U.S. has a right to take what it wants from the rest of the world. We believe it is normal to maintain a global army, ready to force other people to do our bidding. Today we have 761 foreign bases, and are planning on building more, including ones in Iraq.
President Obama has found the words to help us rethink much of what has been destructive under the previous administration. Now we need to help him think more honestly not only about the economic costs of wars but about the imperial designs hidden behind them.