Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The financial crisis and 9/11

Boston University Professor Neta Crawford offers up five predictions about how the global economic crisis and US military spending will intersect and suggestions for how the American government could prevent them from becoming inevitable:
First, a no-brainer: the U.S. budget will need to be cut to pay for the "rescue." Unless we can mobilize a strong counterweight, the cuts will mainly come from domestic programs — education, health, alternative energy, infrastructure improvements. There may be cosmetic cuts to some military programs.

Military spending will continue to be essentially unproductive but its share of government spending may grow. The military spending that focuses on healthcare and education for veterans is "productive," but that may suffer in this climate. We must push for meaningful military budget cuts. For instance, we might argue for a commission on closing U.S. overseas military bases. We should argue for cutting military programs like missile defense, which are both destabilizing and wasteful.

Americans will remain afraid — and rightly so. Homeland security is, in a word, a mess. Current U.S. foreign policy results in too many accidental killings of Afghan, Pakistani, and Iraqi civilians, and creates more resentment abroad. Economic anxiety will feed into feelings of insecurity.

There will be pressure to approve any program that is said to create jobs, including programs to sell military equipment and nuclear technology overseas. We've seen it already. The long-term counterproductive aspects of these programs will be deemphasized. We need to resist the jobs-at-any-cost mantra and emphasize not only how military spending is less productive than other modes of spending, but also how military and technology export programs have a tendency to "blow back."

As after 9/11, American leaders will likely become even more cautious about domestic and foreign policy. Our "leaders" will hunker down, think small, and point fingers. Unless we can mobilize a dramatic rethinking of U.S. foreign policy, it will likely remain much the same no matter who is in the White House. Now is the time to push for creative solutions and stress the need for big thinking. We need to stress how the conventional wisdom has been wrong, not only on U.S. foreign policy but also on the environment, health care, education, and energy. The progressive community needs to continue to be farsighted, proactive, and bold.

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