Is the "war on terra" the only issue that matters?

Is the
war on terra the only issue that matters in politics now?

That’s the argument Ron Silver famously made at the ’04 Republican National Convention (old video).

It’s the argument I hear over and over from Bush apologists.

Prediction: it’s the argument that rightist politicians will be pitching throughout the ’08 election cycle, which (lamentably) is rolling ahead full-bore already in spring ’07.

And it isn’t true.

Here’s how a friend framed it. He actually makes a respectable case here, and I give him props for the cogent argument.

But Nick, my whole point is…what does it matter what our Health Care system is if we’re facing the same type of suicide bombing campaign IN AMERICA that they’ve had in Israel, or God forbid in Iraq?

You don’t understand me…I’m a liberal. I’m not a right-wing asshole. But what good is liberalism if we don’t have a world to practice it in??

I’m also very pro-the world existing, always have been.

I don’t want us to throw up our hands and let terrorist cells metastasize all over the world, no president would allow that. Don’t believe the straw men that right-wingers keep building to scare you; it’s false.

I took a class in American foreign policy in college (which by no means makes me an expert, but does mean I know slightly more than the other bloggers) and in reading the books what struck me most was that American foreign policy has changed remarkably little in the last 100 years (I’m fascinated by this stuff). Don’t believe the hype; whoever has accepted the weighty mantle of commander-in-chief has acted very consistently to intervene overseas for U.S. interests (in the study of foreign policy, this school of thought, that the role determines things more than its occupant, is called Role Theory) . President McKinley annexed Guam, the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. Theodore Roosevelt built the Panama Canal, decided the U.S. could unilaterally intervene in Latin America, and sent The Great White Fleet circumnavigating the globe to show off American military might. William Howard Taft toppled a regime he didn’t like in Nicaragua and installed a puppet. Woodrow Wilson threw U.S. troops into World War I. Franklin D. Roosevelt brought us into WW2. Truman nuked Japan and invaded Korea. Eisenhower intervened in Vietnam and LBJ surged over 550,000 troops into the war. Reagan intervened in Lebanon, Grenada and Central America. Bush Sr. invaded Kuwait, Clinton continued bombing Saddam and launched Operation Desert Fox, as well as toppling Serbia.

My point (aside from thinking we really need to reevaluate whether we want to continue the 100 years of near-perpetual warfare) is that U.S. presidents have been consistently interventionist for a century (mostly for good motives) and you should not expect that to stop on a dime in another Democratic administration.

Why have American presidents, no matter what the person is like, or what he has promised, implemented consistently similar foreign policy? Because they have the same foreign policy equipment (the same Joint Chiefs of Staff, the same Armed Forces, the same CIA, the same intelligence data) that doesn’t change from the previous administration. So …

1) Whoever is president will respond similarly and do whatever it takes to protect us. No president wants to be remembered as allowing catastrophic consequences, and (from what history has shown) will likely err on the side of over-intervening, not isolationism.

2) What is the greatest threat to the lives of our citizenry, really? We lost over 3,000 Americans to terrorism on 9/11, which is horrible, but we lose 600,000 Americans every year to cancer alone (source). Lance Armstrong is involved in the National Commission on Cancer Survivorship, and they have found that at least 200,000 of those deaths are totally preventable with existing treatments, but are not treated (given basic chemotherapy) because our health care system is so lame (Armstrong discusses this near the end of this interview). Our wasteful, greedy culture is devastating our population in this area. It’s not hard to see health care is a huge threat, arguably the most important.

Also, I follow Jewish theology in saying that doing mitzvos, doing good, the spiritual quest for righteousness is the most important overriding goal of life, and if we do good, we can never truly be destroyed, where conversely, doing bad, bad motives, bad faith, will ultimately cancel out perceived gains. We can bomb every Iraqi village (or, as one poster suggested to me, nuke the Sunni triangle and nuke Iran) and satisfy our fear momentarily, but if we’ve sold our soul by tossing our moral code to commit such acts, what good will it do long-term? It would come back on us. We are only a great country because we are good. If we are not scrupulously good, we will never be great; karma won’t allow it.

3) What kind of society are we protecting from terrorism? This gets right back to the heart of my earlier post about the social contract. What if we wake up and realize the society we’re defending is a society that says “screw you if you’re sick! if you can’t pay, you die!”? The Army Times is reporting that soldiers coming home wounded are being deliberately shortchanged on their disability classifications to save money. The big picture is that right now our government, our society is fundamentally unrighteous, spiritually sick, and needs to be transformed. We agree to form a government and allow it to rule so we can ensure life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, and when a people fail at this and injustice is rampant, change is the top priority.

The Hebrew prophets always stressed this point, and were far harsher than I am in putting a return to righteousness ahead of national defense (in fact I can’t find a single prophet who didn’t do this). The Nevi’im (prophets) make people really uncomfortable (sometimes even me). They are in your face and get in your business. I want to be more moderate than Jeremiah here, who insisted that forsaking idolatry was the only overriding concern and wrote that we had to check ourselves, even if it took invasion by Babylonians (which he believed we deserved) to make us see we’re not keeping our end of the covenant and need to check ourselves. Of course Jeremiah was tortured and imprisoned several times by the ruling elite for saying this (the true prophets, from Abraham to Moses to Jeremiah are always against the ruling elite, and you should be too).

Rembrandt. The Prophet Jeremiah Mourning over the Destruction of Jerusalem. 1630. Oil on panel. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

predicted, Jeremiah saw Babylon conquer Israel in his lifetime. I don’t think we deserved 9/11, and Babylon isn’t going to militarily defeat us, but repentance is always a good idea, and it can’t be insignificant that now America has invaded Babylon, a spiritual Babylon (idolatry, moral anarchy, survival of the fittest) has invaded America at the same time. This is the premise of another great social justice blog by my friend Y-Love,

Anyway, I don’t think it’s at all radical or off-base to suggest that the means of defense is less crucial than what it is we’re defending. It’s just common sense. The type of society we are, correcting injustice, eschewing idolatry, these are the chief goals in my worldview. And given the growing inequity in health care harming more and more Americans, and killing more than terrorism, it’s no surprise that voters now list universal health care as their top domestic priority (Health Care Top Domestic Concern: Poll).

Expect to hear a lot on TV that war is all that matters, a lot of scare tactics. But it’s not true.

To recap:

1) Whoever is president will respond similarly and do whatever it takes to protect us.
2) Inequity in health care is killing more Americans than terrorism.
3) The overall social contract is the most important, and it is broken.

Isn’t building the riches in our vault just as important (if not moreso) than the Army guarding it?

Rebuild. Renew. Fulfill.