By Kelse Moen
Yesterday, the Iraq War turned five years old. The past five years have left nearly four thousand Americans dead, as well as hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and have so far cost the American taxpayers over 5oo billion dollars. They also show a remarkable ebb and flow concerning the war in popular opinion. First there was the widespread flag-waving and French-bashing–a time when John Kerry needed to downplay his anti-war opinions for the sake of electability. This was followed by a steady erosion of support, culminating in 2006’s rout of the Beltway Republicans, when popular belief held a pro-war Republican would be unelectable in 2008. But now, with the economy headed into a recession, people are turning their focus primarily to economic concerns. This is great news for John McCain, the fiercest hawk in the race. But is it possible to separate war from economics? Can we, as it were, have our cake and eat it too?
For John McCain, the answer is clearly yes. The senator who, as Matt Welch described, thinks that the US doesn’t bear enough cost in policing the world and should engage in a widespread policy of “rogue state rollback” (think Iraq repeated ad nauseam) nevertheless promises to cut taxes and spending. The advocate of what will likely one day be a trillion dollar war takes pride in his opposition to congressional earmarks, which in comparison constitute a trifling cost.
As many commentators have already realized, our economy is suffering from what could be called “the Iraq recession.” Though John McCain claims to hold Ronald Reagan as a role model, he could learn more from the eighteenth century economist Adam Smith. That luminary of intellectual conservatism opposed the British Empire for diverting money from the domestic economy and into the government and military. This led him to support the fledgling American Revolution. Yet the old maxim of peace and commerce with all nations has given way to the imperial mercantilism that Smith despised.
The American people have spent the last five years paying, in blood and treasure, for an ill-founded war. Now the economy is finally buckling under the pressure, as it inevitably would. The Republicans need to remember–and quickly–that freedom at home is inimicable to imperialism abroad. Unfortunately, in John McCain’s world, big government may be reprehensible in America, but it does wonders everywhere else.