What Price Security?

Much is made by the largely anti-Bush pundits these days of the fact that the nation allegedly is being spent into bankruptcy through a combination of tax cuts and the inordinate expense of the Iraqi War, called most often the war against terrorism by the administration. Without doubt, the nation is mounting a huge debt that the "sky is falling" chicken-littles insist will become the next generation's albatross…indeed, perhaps the next two or three generations' budgetary albatross, choking "our children" into total financial disaster.

This recalls the shades of Reagan years of the 80s, when the Great Communicator spent the nation into an ocean of red ink from which the naysayers insisted it would never recover, since the debts would have to be paid by the next generation, etc., ad infinitum, the usual argument that never seems quite to prevail. The proof, obviously, is that the generation following the Reagan years has suffered not at all from his defense-spending spree, but has enjoyed unparalleled prosperity. The generation following the ocean of red ink generated by World War II also did not drown in it but prospered mightily.

Memories of the Reagan era provoke, besides the monetary factor, thoughts about the state of the world when Reagan left office, especially with regard to the question of whether or not the citizens of this country were better off in 1989 than they were in 1981. In 1981, the Cold War was still in full sway when Reagan took office, both the USA and the Soviet Union armed to the teeth, with other nations acquiring nuclear weapons, and Mutually Assured Destruction the only philosophy inveighing against the Evil Empire's ambition to rule the world, as it did all of eastern Europe and Eurasia and beyond to the Pacific Rim. Shortly after Reagan left office in 1989, the Soviet Union folded completely, many of its satellite states opting for independence, and the Soviet threat was ended.

This happened, for the most part, because Reagan rebuilt the U.S. military into a fighting machine, the likes of which the world could never have imagined, inducing the Soviets to try to keep up but bankrupting them in the process, particularly as they waged and lost (with U.S. help to the Afghans) the war in Afghanistan. Granted, the Soviet system, by definition, was already doomed to financial failure, but the USA made the failure happen - in relative terms - overnight. Was the product, actually amounting to making the whole world a much safer place, worth the expense? Most people would say it was. An added benefit was the readiness of the military machine to evict Saddam from Kuwait in 1991, thus keeping him from overcoming Saudi Arabia and the other Arabian Peninsula countries and essentially controlling oil production worldwide, either directly or indirectly.

The legacy of the current administration will be similar to that of Reagan's…and costly in terms of both blood and treasure. By rooting out the Taliban in 2001 and waging the successful Iraqi action, Bush and company have mounted debts (in blood, unfortunately, as well as treasure) in behalf of ridding the world of terrorism. This means that future generations will have cause to thank this one for spending what it took to accomplish security. This would be true even if that generation were called upon to help foot the bill, as it might be. But, it will not have to shed its blood in the process, as more than 700 Americans have done in the last year or so. Hopefully, it will also someday be delivered from the fear of getting on an airliner or even just eating in the wrong restaurant at the wrong time, when an idiot homicide/suicide Moslem bomber decides to start his trip to the 52 virgins while at the same time consigning innocent "infidels" to whatever punishment Mohammad declared. There can be little doubt that the current battle against Islamic fundamentalists, now operating worldwide in their cowardly terrorism approach, is the "next great conflict" of modern history, and it should have been begun years ago. Bush et al should be thanked for making it sooner rather than later. Afghanistan and Iraq may be only the beginning, as terror-sponsoring states are brought to heel.

So the debt rises and, as the president said from the very beginning, the road to peace will be long and, at least inferentially at first, costly, as directly known by now. So what! Much of the debt - incurred through Treasury Bonds and EE Bonds, for instance - is owed to the American people themselves. They will pay taxes on the interest they earn, and they will insist on sound fiscal policy to see that the debts are repaid. This has to do with taxing and spending, and the holders of the notes will see both as vital elements for them and their representatives to watch carefully. This is good, but even if it had little to do with the overall picture, the citizen must ask: What price security?

May 2004