We have hit a wall. Congress will not close down the war. It is not going to happen. The votes are not there, and that’s all there is to it. It’s time for a new strategy.
When the back-and-forthing is done, the present war-funding bill is vetoed and the veto is not overridden, as disgusting as it is, the war supplemental-appropriations bill will have to be passed and will be passed. That is the plain politics of the thing.
This is not to say that the Code Pink women should stop what they are doing, or that the sit-in people should take up their knapsacks and depart. Keep up the pressure. All forms of anti-war protest ought to continue, but at the same time, we have to face it: The war-money bill is going to pass without an end-the-war amendment on it. There will be no deadline or deadline-ish language in it. The Boy in the Bubble who lives in the White House is going to get his way.
Yet the plain, unamended bill that George W. Bush wants should not pass. He is asking for a give-me-the-money-and-shut-up bill, and he should not get that. The votes in Congress can be found to put a different amendment on the supplemental-appropriations war-funding bill. A tax amendment.
The politics are right for a bill with an amendment raising taxes high enough to pay for the war and the re-equipping of the Army, the Marines and the National Guard. That should come in at around the $250 billion level.
Not everybody should pay. The tax increase should be levied only on persons with incomes over $348,000 a year. This is the top 1 percent of income recipients—where, it is believed, most tax cheats are to be found.
This class of Americans has done nothing to contribute to the war except make money. They are conspicuous for not having gone to fight themselves, and for not having sent their own sons and daughters to fight and perhaps to die or be maimed. Moreover, they are the group whose campaign contributions went to elect the politicians who have dumped the war and its consequences on the rest of us and the world. If nothing else, they should pay a few dollars in reparations for the harm they have caused and for the profits they have garnered, which border on the stupendous.
According to The Times, “The top tenth of a percent reported an average income of $5.6 million, up $908,000, while the top one-hundredth of a percent had an average income of $25.7 million, up nearly $4.4 million in one year.” If this is a war against a form of terrorism that threatens the rich in America more than anyone else, they ought to at least pay for their own protection. The rule should be either sign up and fight, or fight by signing up your money.
President Bush will find vetoing this bill more painful than nixing a bill with timelines or deadlines. If he objects to its appropriating three times as much money as he asked for to carry on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (and the secret one in Somalia, among others), he will be told that the extra money is for the equipment and training that he failed to provide when he so improvidently went to war.
One of the most powerful arguments that the Democrats will have next year, if they care to use it, is that the President and his incompetent associates have so overreached and overused our ground forces that their future effectiveness is profoundly compromised. As it is right now, the United States has no reserve should a serious military situation develop somewhere else—a possibility which is anything but remote with a truculent, fight-first-talk-later-or-not-at-all foreign policy.
The Republicans, who have bullyragged the Democrats for years about how they are the party of national defense, have put themselves in the position of having all but incapacitated the Marines, the Army and the National Guard. According to all kinds of military people who are supposed to know, our forces are going to come apart if they must continue to fight Mr. Bush’s various wars at present strength levels.
The Democrats might consider another appropriations bill that would be much harder to get a broad public to go along with. It would have a time deadline in it, but not one commanding the President to pull out of Iraq by a certain date. This deadline would be different: It would provide that if hostilities in Iraq had not essentially ceased by a year from now, we would begin a national service/armed forces conscription.
Thanks to the unpopularity of the war, the Army is recruiting people with insufficient schooling to handle modern weaponry. It is also taking people with, we hope, only minor criminal records, even as it suffers a rising number of desertions. In Iraq, it is also relying on contractors (a.k.a. mercenaries), of whom there are said to be over 100,000—which, incidentally, would take the number of Americans now engaged in the fighting there up to about a quarter of a million.
If the people who run this country are determined to persist with the war, who are they going to get to fight it? The supply of volunteers is running low and not likely to grow, with stories of the parents of high-school graduates warning Army recruiters to stay away from their children.
It’s either got to be the contractors/mercenaries—who are unreliable, prone to alienating Iraqi civilians and sometimes uncontrollable—or conscripts. The Army doesn’t want to return to the draft; it doesn’t need and cannot use two million soldiers, and the country will not stand for conscripting 40,000 or 50,000 of the best young people while the rest of their age cohort are allowed to live ordinary civilian lives. If some are drafted for the Army, the rest must be conscripted into some kind of national service.
Many people who are too old to be caught up in the draft have lovely things to say about national service. It is only right that young people “give back”; it teaches citizenship; it teaches tolerance and respect for diversity; it provides youth with experiences that youth would otherwise not have; it is an education in patriotism and service; etc, etc.
None of these arguments will cut any ice with anyone with the least libertarian proclivities. Like military conscription, civilian national service may not be slavery, but it indisputably takes away a young person’s liberty—and liberty, it is written somewhere in granite, is what America is about.
The United States has two aircraft carriers, seven guided-missile destroyers and who can say what else in the Persian Gulf. Planned or unplanned incidents can happen and, in a trice, we can find ourselves in yet another “asymmetrical” conflict, this time with Iran. Such is the fruit of our foreign policies—which, you may say, are idiotic if not worse, but until we change them, we had best be able to back them up.