Noticeably absent from the political discourse leading up to next week's election is any discussion of the two or three wars that our men and women in and out of uniform are currently fighting. With only a few exceptions, this year’s congressional races are ignoring our wars in the Middle East.
Republicans, naturally, are focusing their campaign on the slow pace of our ability to extricate ourselves from the Bush Recession. Although President Obama and the stimulus package have slowed the hemorrhaging of jobs, the turnaround has not been fast enough to satisfy everyone. The GOP’s game plan in ignoring the wars is a smart one for them – making sure the public does not remember that it was the Republican president and vice-president that brought us into these wars under false pretenses. In fact, had John McCain and Sarah Palin won in 2008, we might be fighting today in Iran as well as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan. And war is good business for Republican benefactors like Halliburton and Blackwater. So they’re happy to keep this out of the realm of public discussion.
Democrats are naturally fragmented on their approach to the wars. While the maxim “it’s the economy, stupid” dominates the campaign strategy, most Democrats are not leveraging the fact that the biggest drain on our economy is the four trillion dollar extravaganza in the Middle East. We are building infrastructure in Iraq using foreign labor, while our infrastructure here is crumbling and American jobs are not being created.
President Obama declared the combat mission in Iraq to be over, albeit without the grandiloquence of Dubya’s “Mission Accomplished” photo op. Yet, the streets of Baghdad are still dangerous, and unless we change our policy, American troops will be in harm’s way for years to come.
Like in the ‘60s, some Democrats are reluctant to speak out against the wars because they are afraid of being accused by the pro-war faction of not supporting the troops.
So despite the fact that American (and Iraqi and Afghan and other) men and women are dying, and despite the fact that war is no longer the choice of last resort, this election is not about the conflicts. We are letting our status as a military superpower diminish our status as an economic superpower as we pump more lives and treasure into these adventures.
Once the mid-term election is over, we will begin the long process of the 2012 presidential election. Will these never-ending wars finally become an issue? Will a lame duck President Obama finally act as Commander-in-Chief and unequivocally direct the military to accelerate withdrawal? Will the normally bellicose Republican Party finally become fiscally conservative and realize that the way to fix the economy is to make the same draconian cuts to the defense budget as they promote for education and social programs? Or like in 1968, will there be viable anti-war presidential candidates and an uptick in anti-war demonstrations that the media can’t ignore to help drive the political establishment toward a more realistic and economically viable approach to dealing with those that wish us harm? Realistically, it doesn’t matter who carries the anti-war banner. But someone has to.