The real reason we rushed into (another) war

The influence of the rich extends far beyond economic and fiscal policy

Topics: Libya, War Room,

The real reason we rushed into (another) warPresident Barack Obama answers a question on the ongoing situation in Libya during his joint news conference with President of El Salvador Mauricio Funes at the National Palace in San Salvador, El Salvador, Tuesday, March 22, 2011. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)(Credit: AP)

Forget the State Department-approved euphemisms: We all know that America is now at war in yet another corner of the Arab world. Granted, our newest and shiniest military entanglement differs in its particulars from Iraq and Afghanistan, but it’s still jarring to watch American leadership leap once more unto the breach with such alacrity. Foreign policy commentator Steve Clemons, in a post titled “Obama Moved at Warp Speed on Libya,” put the breakneck pace of events in perspective: Coalition forces, he writes, moved to impose a no-fly zone as little as 31 days after the initial outbreak of violence. In Yugoslavia, it took over a year.

Taking 31 days to formulate a response isn’t exactly “dithering,” as some of Obama’s critics initially characterized his response. In fact, even supporters of intervention should be struck by how quickly we dove in to such an open-ended (though, for now, ostensibly limited) commitment. With our military already overextended and our economy still far from healed, how is it that we committed to such a large gamble with so little hesitation or public debate?

Maybe it’s because those in charge are gambling with other people’s money. In the past month, both Ezra Klein and Kevin Drum have written solid pieces noting that the policy preferences of the poor and middle class have ceased to matter at all to either major American party. But whereas Drum and Klein addressed only how the outsize political influence of the rich affects economic and fiscal policy, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz noted that it also distorts how we go to war. In a recent piece for Vanity Fair, he wrote:

You Might Also Like

Inequality massively distorts our foreign policy. The top 1 percent rarely serve in the military — the reality is that the “all-volunteer” army does not pay enough to attract their sons and daughters, and patriotism goes only so far. Plus, the wealthiest class feels no pinch from higher taxes when the nation goes to war: borrowed money will pay for all that. Foreign policy, by definition, is about the balancing of national interests and national resources. With the top 1 percent in charge, and paying no price, the notion of balance and restraint goes out the window. There is no limit to the adventures we can undertake; corporations and contractors stand only to gain.

In other words: The more powerful the rich have become, the more they’ve shifted the cost of war downward. And because the interests of the rich are effectively the only interests now being represented in government, politicians have no incentive to avoid policies that exert pressure on the middle and lower classes. For the people in charge, war has gotten cheaper than ever.

That makes the Obama administration’s promises of a “limited engagement” hard to swallow. The official policy of the United States in Libya is regime change, and the Obama administration faces no formal or material constraint on its ability to escalate the conflict. Even if they were to deploy a significant ground force to Libya, the reaction from Congress would be feeble at best — perhaps some symbolic outrage and an impotent, inconclusive Senate hearing.

That’s why the White House has scarcely bothered to consult with the legislative branch while pursuing military intervention. Congress has spent the past few decades gradually ceding its capacity to conduct meaningful oversight on matters of war. After all, if it doesn’t affect their constituency, why should it affect them? Better to have no say on the issue, so they won’t have a record their opponents can run against.

For these reasons, even supporters of intervention in Libya should be alarmed by the manner in which the United States now goes to war. Even if the rebels were to seize Tripoli with only modest American assistance, and even if they were to install a functioning liberal democracy in Gadhafi’s place, that would not change how America entered this conflict in the first place. Nor would it have any bearing on how we enter future conflicts.

Because no matter how the conflict in Libya ends, the rich will still be the only meaningful political constituency in this country. War costs them little. And until that changes, we can look forward to a continual state of war at the expense of everyone else.

Ned Resnikoff is a freelance writer and researcher for Media Matters for America. The opinions expressed above are his alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of MMFA.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>