"As of this past weekend, we are at war with Iraq. There has been no declaration of war, nor have troops clashed, but this is beside the point. To declare that one's spy service (the CIA) is actively pursuing the overthrow of another regime 'by any means necessary' is an act of war under any relevant definition of the word... The reasons this now is the season to prepare for war, are three fold: pure political economics, evasion of responsibility, and demographics." So writes Stirling S Newberry.

There Will Be War:
Why Bush Needs a Shootout in Iraq

stirling s newberry

As of this past weekend, we are at war with Iraq. There has been no declaration of war, nor have troops clashed, but this is beside the point. To declare that one's spy service (the CIA) is actively pursuing the overthrow of another regime "by any means necessary" is an act of war under any relevant definition of the word.

Wall Street, treading water for weeks on the selling of the rumor of war, bought the news rather heavily - finally, a direction, a solid declaration.

This step was inevitable for those who have been watching events carefully, the only question all along was when and how the executive branch would initiate hostilities against Iraq. This is not to defend the current ruler of that nation, he is a despot, a murderer of his own people, and a megalomaniac. But these are not the reasons we are going to go to war with him now, any more than they were the reasons we went to war with him previously. If they were, we would have removed him from power.

The reasons this now is the season to prepare for war, are three fold: pure political economics, evasion of responsibility, and demographics.

1. Political Economics

Many will tell you that a "recovery" is under way in the United States economy. The numbers do not bear this description out. While industrial output has risen for six straight months, almost all of this is government military spending, and the rest restocking of automobiles and construction materials from the fire sale interest rates of post 911. While the unemployment rate has stabilized, this is simply because many long term unemployed are deemed "out of the work force", and because many of the layoffs that are in the pipeline will occur in the September time frame, to avoid taking charges against earnings in the summer quarter. A patient is recovering when one is no longer pumping blood into him just to avoid his bleeding to death.

What is happening, instead, is a massive borrow and spend binge of the sort not seen since the first term of Ronald Reagan's presidency, and before that, by Lyndon Baines Johnson when he tried to have "guns and butter" during the late stages of the Vietnam war. Last year a government surplus of $150 Billion was projected for this fiscal year. The current Office of Management and Budget (OMB) estimate - that is the executive branch's rosy estimate - now runs $150 Billion - but a deficit, not a surplus. Thus, $300 Billion has been directly borrowed and spent already. This does not include several off budget items, nor does it include the almost certain to be passed $20 Billion in further counter-terrorism spending. The recent increase in the debt limit - the total amount the government is legally allowed to borrow - was by $450 Billion. It is likely that this additional debt ceiling will last us only through next fiscal year.

Not only is the borrowing going on, but it is going on in a way which backloads the cost. Many of the tax cuts effects are not visible yet, and the Treasury is financing all of the debt with short term paper. Apparently the Treasury Secretary is the only person in America who does not realize that now is the best time in a generation to lock in 30-year interest rates. The reason for this is simple. The executive branch wants to keep mortgage rates down in the near term. Mortgage rates are pegged to short-term government paper. If the government artificially forces all demand for government bonds into short term paper, by not issuing any long-term bonds, their prices go up. As a bonds price rises, its interest rate falls. This has the short-term effect of borrowing from the future to finance a present housing bubble.

But the borrowing pen that 911 filed with ink, is almost dry. In order to borrow more money, some new excuse will be needed. The failure of the attempt to permanently repeal the estate tax is a demonstration that the executive branch and the Republican party need more political capital to burn. Like a dot com, that means finding some newer bigger excuse to avoid turning a profit.

The obvious answer is a war.

2. Evasion of Presidential Responsibility

The current executive branch was caught with its hand in the cookie jar over Enron, and by a series of embarrassing revelations over the failures in the executive branch that allowed, by their own admission, the terrorist plot that culminated on 911 to go unhindered. The executive branch's response was a marked departure from 70 years of American political tradition. Since FDR came to power, every president, Democratic or Republican, has taken responsibility for what happened on his watch. Whether it was Eisenhower dealing with Civil Rights, Kennedy taking the blame for a Bay of Pigs invasion which had been planned under the previous administration, Johnson deciding not to seek another term because of the unpopularity of Vietnam, or even Richard Nixon admitting that he had "let the American people down" - to be president was to proudly reaffirm Truman's motto: "The Buck Stops Here".

The present Executive branch has broken with this tradition; in their view, there is nothing that has happened so far which was not the fault of the Clinton Administration. This has been the one constant of the executive branch's public statements. They maintain this view wven if this requires directly lying to the American public over the content of FBI memos, even if this requires lying about the state of negotiations in the middle east, and even if this requires trying to predate the recession by several months.

Even in the present times, the list of lies has grown so long, that "mainstream" journalists have finally started openly stating what everyone knew all along. The current executive branch lies; it employs a spokesman, Ari Fleischer, who lies baldly, nakedly and repeatedly; and it will continue to lie because it has not been challenged by the Congress or the Press in any meaningful way. But while one can secure public acquiescence by repetition of lies, one cannot secure something less tangible: confidence. One cannot secure the goodwill of the governed by lying. One can, however, distract them.

And this the executive branch has done.

The first step was a Potomac snow job. Washington DC and Buffalo NY share one thing in common: most of the snow comes horizontally and not vertically. The FBI director, Mueller, hyped up an FBI reorganization that had already happened, and changes to FBI regulations which he had already put in place. The Vice President barnstormed to create a fear of a "dirty bomb" knowing that they already had a suspect in custody, and that they intended to suspend the constitution shortly and hold him indefinitely, without charges and specifications. But there is a distinct limit to how much confidence reorganization can generate. Corporations that are in trouble "rearrange the deck chairs on the titanic" and generally the fuzzy good will it generates on Wall Street lasts less time than it takes to hand out the pink slips. The same is true of government shuffles on Main Street, especially when the people promoted in the FBI reshuffle are looked at in detail: seldom has a sorrier bunch of agents been promoted to head counter-terrorism activities. Ask yourself, who is the man who you would have least confidence in heading up Domestic Counter-Terrorism? How about the man who has bungled the Anthrax mailing investigation? His name is Thomas P Carey, and he is, indeed, now head of Domestic Counter-Terrorism.

The Potomac snow intensified as a "Homeland Security" department was proposed, that controlled neither the FBI, nor the CIA, nor any other intelligence gathering operation. While I am sure that FEMA is a good way to clean up after the mess, it is a terrible way to prevent it in the first place. We don't need a cabinet level department to coordinate picking the fragments of people's teeth out of nearby buildings after a bomb blast. While this proposal was a sop to Congress, which has been salivating for a chance to get on C-Span and look tough in late night speeches to empty galleries, it does nothing for the country. It does however underline the new ideology of the executive branch. Bi-coastal wordsmiths from both sides of the aisle detest the overtly totalitarian overtones of "Homeland Security". But this misses the point, it isn't bi-costal wordsmiths that are the shock troops of the executive branch's political forces.

The second step was to take a side detour to push a doomed raid on the Treasury on the behalf of multi-millionaires. The saga of the estate tax is too long to be recounted here, but suffice it to say that the Republicans have many farmers petrified that their farms will be taken away, when a quick check through county tax rolls indicate that most of the farmers in such terror of having their land price appreciate too quickly should, instead, be worried about the price of land collapsing as people leave agricultural areas.

But these were temporary. What is necessary, as moneyed elites from abroad have been saying for some time, is a next clear step in the "War on Terrorism". The Wall Street Journal, in particular, has been clear on reporting the concern of the wealthy in other nations about the seemingly listless and ineffectual manner the war has been conducted to date. Even supporters of the current executive branch have admitted the obvious: no important Al Qaeda members have been captured, no important plots foiled. While Afghanistan has been secured for the puppet regime that Karzai heads, this does nothing to reduce the threat to terrorist attacks on world financial centers. In other words, even those who back the current status quo were increasingly nervous over the lack of competence it was displaying.

Thus, in order to keep the focus away from the poor quality of leadership, previous executive failures - including failures of intelligence before 911, and the failure to bring down Al Qaeda's top leadership, despite billions spent and a completely free hand to use the most powerful military the world has ever known to its utmost - the executive branch needed to announce a new, larger fiasco to engage in.

The obvious answer, is a war.

3. Demographics

The final reason is demographics. While we no longer have the right to vote for the president, we have not yet done away with the need to secure a popular mandate periodically. Given that the majority of the Senate is elected from small states, and the House can be controlled by a coalition of solid south and rural Midwest - the executive branch has to deliver the bacon to these areas. This requires spending on projects that will go directly to these areas. The market is not cooperative in this way. Improving the economy might favor the south and Midwest, but it might not, and it certainly will not make sure that districts that line up correctly get the gravy, while the others get the shaft. In order to benefit with this kind of specificity, money needs to be allocated drop by drop. That means the military budget.

In the aftermath of 911 there was a massive swell of support for Bush to wage war on those who had hit the country. While the public level of support is still high, the underlying measures of real confidence have been eroding. Bush's "approval" number stands at 70%. However, when asked whether the US is "winning the war on terrorism", only 45% said yes. When asked whether they expected the government to be able to stop terrorist attacks, a majority said "no". One third feared a terrorist attack in their city. In other words, the flag may be waving, but the morale is also flagging.

Thus the executive branch has, quietly, written off convincing the vast majority of doubters. Instead, it is focusing on its core, and making sure they are as active as possible. This is in line with the strategy of right wing parties across the developed world. In Italy, France and The Netherlands, right wing governments have come to power, not because more people voted for them than in the last election cycle, but because many, many fewer people voted for the left, and the parties of the left were terribly divided.

This means that the executive branch must press forward with weapons programs, with defense build up and with all of the other actions that will pour money into the districts they need to win, without giving anything to those districts that they do not need to win. They might like to take additional seats, but as Rove's slipped disc shows, that isn't what they are banking on. How to make sure that the faithful stay motivated, and well paid?

The obvious answer, is a war.


Thus for these three reasons: the need to borrow, the need to burrow and the need to engage in targeted spending, the current executive branch must first create war hysteria among their core of supporters - with warnings of dirty bombs, with proposals for "Homeland Security", with dark warnings about how a state of emergency is in effect, with raw muscle to show that the constitution has been suspended. Then it must target an enemy. Clearly the hope is that by announcing a secret war, Saddam will be prompted to act precipitously. But if Saddam doesn't act, the new "first strike" doctrine will be used to initiate hostilities.

And when would the war go "hot"? Current projections on replenishing cruise missiles and other consumables of war indicate that the military will be armed by October or November. However, because of the bulk and heat of chemical protection gear for soldiers - it is highly likely that the actual offensive will be run starting in December or January. Politically, if the new Congress is more pliant than this one is, they can wait until January to get a formal declaration of war. If not, they can use the new "first strike" doctrine under the old Congress, and then present the new one with a hot war, 90% "approval" ratings, and a fait accomplis.

But one thing is certain, unless some other force intervenes dramatically: There Will Be War.

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