Saturday, October 11, 2008

Election Talk Across the Pond

Another piece of commentary dealt with the 2008 election, and was published across the pond, in a British Quaker weekly, The Friend, of London, in its August 8, 2008 issue.
Here’s a slightly edited version:

Qpinion - - Dismal predictions: a commentary on the US election

In the US, it’s the season for election predictions, so here are mine.

Not about the horse race. We all read the same polls and I have nothing to add.

And not about endorsements: make up your own minds, Friends.

Instead, this forecast is about some post-election developments, events I consider highly likely, regardless of who is inaugurated next January.

Three such developments, to be exact. First the list, and then the explanation.

One: The war-swap. We’ll start getting out of the ‘bad’ war (Iraq) to make more room for the ‘good’ one (Afghanistan).
Two: A return to conscription, on the salami plan - a slice at a time, disguised as ‘national service’.
Three: The torture transition: It will appear to be ‘stopped’, but behind the scenes will gain acceptance as a ‘last resort’ tactic of American statecraft.

No doubt the rhythm and character of these events will differ depending on the election outcome. But that said, I still see them looming on the horizon after the campaign hoopla dissipates.

Why? Because of a maxim which sums up many years of experience, observation and study, namely: in the US, our militarism affects politics more than politics affects our militarism.

For me this principle manifested in 1964 - my first election. One candidate told us he would not send American ‘boys’ to Vietnam to do what those ‘boys’ should do for themselves, as his rival threatened.

As one of those American ‘boys,’ I said, "That’s for me!" I wasn’t alone: that candidate was swept into office, winning all but four states.

But within a year of his huge landslide victory, this same president had us in exactly the war he’d promised to avoid. The war lasted ten years, and it was just as bad as - nay, worse than - we had imagined.

In 2008, this principle is galloping toward re-verification in the current contest. Look closely and you will see that both candidates are in substantial agreement on each of these matters.

There’s not much mystery as to why. The momentum of our military industrial complex is massive, pervasive, non-partisan - and it hates failure.

Iraq has become the template and archetype of military failure; so we are being prepared to trade it in for a promised victory in Afghanistan. This ‘forgotten war’ has been sold much more successfully, not only to Americans but to many other governments as well.

Nevertheless, the transition will be difficult, because in truth the US combat forces are desperately over-stretched worldwide. The gap between supply and demand is huge and growing. (See the chart at left) Shifting some divisions from Iraq will hardly close the gap. The relentless demands of imperial adventurism, even without Iraq, require a massive rise in US troop strength. And both major candidates are promising such expansion.

Where will such an increase come from?

Recruiting, contractors, immigrants - none has filled the gap.

Enter the draft - renamed, repackaged and with the usual unobtrusive escape hatches for the more affluent.

As for torture, I fully expect the new president to denounce it and pledge that the US will not let it happen again.

But then I also expect we will be told that we must look ahead, there’s no time for recriminations, so there will be no penalties for those who created our gulags; nor, beyond symbolism (closing Guantanamo?), will the system be dismantled or even closely examined.

In other words, this most repulsive of weapons will be put on the shelf - but kept handy for use the next time a ‘ticking bomb’ scenario or some other temptation of power becomes irresistible. Torture will be rejected rhetorically, but accepted as precedent.

I find this last prospect the most odious on this gloomy list.

Let’s hope I'm mistaken. And hey - I’m a Christian, so I do believe in miracles.

But short of that, the rule still applies: In the US, our militarism affects politics more than politics affects our militarism.

I don’t see that changing this year.

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