America’s economy is addicted to war

This is a reaction to the Oct. 31 opinion piece in The Garden Island by Walter Lewis, “America must lead in fight against ISIS, Ebola.”

The U.S. has bombed, invaded or occupied 14 Islamic countries: Iran, Libya, Lebanon, Kuwait, Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Kosovo, Yemen, Pakistan and now Syria, all just since 1980. Amnesty International says in modern warfare 85 percent of casualties are civilians. The Obama administration is responsible for bombing seven of them, and now the Pentagon says the Syria-Iraq campaign against ISIS will last for years.

Every time, we are told that U.S. service members must give their lives and hundreds of millions spent to preserve freedom, democracy and human rights. But overwhelmingly, the opposite has happened; countries emerge fractured along sectarian lines and their social structures torn apart. Can American foreign policy through four presidencies be so wrong so often?

Not when you consider that oil extraction and export continues unabated regardless of what faction is in charge in the immediate region. Iraq pumped $100 billion worth last year, according to a UN report. Also the security of Israel, top recipient of U.S. foreign aid, is enhanced when destabilization prevents a regional nationalist leader from rising to power.

And there is the war profits dividend. When Obama announced the Syria bombing campaign, shares of Lockheed Martin and other arms suppliers broke new ground on Wall Street. Additionally, weapons provided to the Iraqi army and to gunmen that are hoped to do the U.S.’s bidding in Syria often fall into the hands of ISIS or one of the al Qaeda factions, resulting in weapons manufacturers’ increased production by supplying both sides.

Most recently, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen announced an end to the quantitative easing program, citing a rising export market but also a 16 percent increase in military spending (according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis) as indicators of a healthy, stable economy. Equally so, it indicates the health of the economy relies on funding the military industrial complex, that in fact we are addicted to war.

The reason there was no Ebola vaccine at the outbreak is because pharmaceutical companies invest research and development resources to create products that sell in lucrative Western markets, like mood-altering pills or sleep pills or Viagra. They don’t research unprofitable cures for diseases that may befall a relatively few impoverished people. Likewise, there is no near-term profit to build clean water systems or health care centers that prevent spread of disease, even though the costs to the local and global economy from disease outbreak is far greater than the cost would have been to build them.

Common to ISIS and Ebola is that they are consequences of a profit and market driven global economic system. The Ebola epidemic and the humiliation and violence visited upon an entire region of Earth’s people by imperial powers since the early 20th century, and today’s resulting blowback, are unintended consequences when the next quarterly earnings report, and not the welfare of the seventh generation, is the defining motivation.

An economy that does not require continual growth as the current capitalist model does and that balances resource extraction and waste emission to not surpass Earth’s capacity is in the offing. Whether by design or collapse of the existing system, the ways we work, live, eat, get around and shop are going to change here on Kauai. Whether it is one or the other depends in large part on the visionary qualifications of leaders to comprehend, communicate and unite.

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Kip Goodwin lives in Wailua.

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