The Iraq War Comes Home to Roost

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Like the Katrina disaster two years ago, the collapse of the I-35 bridge in Minneapolis, MN is yet another reminder of the real effects of the capitalist policy of “guns before butter”. A key bridge in a city with some of the worst rush hour congestion in the country, it is just one of the 73,784 U.S. bridges found by the American Society for Civil Engineers (ASCE) to be “structurally deficient or functionally obsolete” – including 64.8 percent of the bridges in Washington, DC. The thirteen people who lost their lives are just part of the tragedy.

The disrepair of the country’s roads and the lack of an efficient public transportation system results in an incalculable amount of lost time, stress, and exhaustion, as over ten million U.S. workers now spend an hour or more each way on their way to work. In the ten years beginning in 1995, the number of miles driven has increased by 23 percent, while the length of the roads has gone up by 2 percent. That’s a tremendous increase in traffic and wear, particularly on urban arterial roads, 27 percent of which are now classified as “poor”. Between 1960 and 1965 the U.S. built 144,000 miles of new highway. Between 2000 and 2005 it added just 59,000 miles, although the population has grown by over 60 percent since 1960. This graphically reflects the real priorities of the ruling class – to invest the minimum necessary to keep commerce moving and profits flowing.

During the post-WWII economic boom, the capitalist class could afford to make some concessions to the working class while still pursuing its aggressive foreign policy.  Now, faced with a looming economic crisis and a choice between imperialist adventures abroad and fixing crumbling schools, social services, and infrastructure at home, the ruling class’ only solution is to increase the attacks on workers at home and around the world.

The ASCE report gave U.S. public infrastructure an overall grade of “D”, concluding that $1.6 trillion would be needed over a five-year period to address problems with roads, bridges and other systems. This seems an incredible amount of money, which we are constantly told is not there.  And yet billions upon billions of dollars have been spent in Iraq, which has benefited no one but the big corporations and their cronies in government. It has certainly not benefited the 3,750 U.S. soldiers killed so far in the war, or the 1,809 Iraqi civilians killed in July alone.  And just think how many bridges, schools, and hospitals could be built with the estimated $12 million being spent every hour on the occupation?

A safe and efficient transportation network is clearly in the public interest. Massive investment is needed to rebuild and modernize it, including the expansion of rail, light rail, bus, and other forms of mass public transportation, which will not only increase the system’s efficiency, but also reduce fuel costs and the impact on the environment. Further privatization of the system is not the answer; a “solution” some have advanced in the aftermath of the Minneapolis collapse. On the contrary, the entire system should be nationalized under democratic public control.

To ensure that public resources are put to efficient and fully accountable use, the government must end the practice of using private contractors, and instead launch a massive program of public works, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs with union wages, benefits and representation.  It is clear that the current big business government will never do this.  Nor will the big business government to follow.  For this to happen, U.S. workers will need a party of their own, a party that puts the interests of the majority first. We cannot expect the representatives of another class to defend our interests.

For its part, the Bush administration is in a mess, with the rats jumping ship faster than ever.  White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and chief architect of Bush’s electoral campaigns and presidency, Karl Rove, have all left in recent weeks, the latter two under a cloud of scandal and controversy.

With the Iraq War rapidly draining the national treasury and the public’s patience, it’s no wonder they want to get out while they still can, most likely into lucrative careers in the private sector.  A recent opinion poll showed that Americans are as concerned about corruption in government and the economy as they are about the war in Iraq. This is an indication of things to come, as opposition to the war begins to shift to domestic issues, as the war inevitably starts to wind down.

General Petraeus’ much-anticipated report will be more of the same: partially-reached benchmarks that herald “progress”; vague promises of at least a partial withdrawal of the troops at some point in the future; an impassioned appeal for “just a little more patience and time”; and the assertion that the light can be seen at the end of the tunnel.  General Westmoreland dragged out the Vietnam War in much the same manner.  U.S. imperialism has already been strategically defeated in Iraq, it is now a question of what they can salvage. Although they will eventually be forced to pull out the bulk of the combat troops, they will resist and delay a total withdrawal as long as possible, as they are compelled to defend their interests in the region, chiefly the Saudi oil fields and to combat Iran’s growing influence. Even more alarming for the ruling class is the danger to the economy presented by the meltdown in the housing and mortgage market. The stock market has swung wildly up and down over the last few weeks, as investors alternate between extreme panic and irrational euphoria.  The Federal Reserve has been forced to lower interest rates, which will only exacerbate already rising inflation. Despite this effort to loosen credit, demand for homes fell 12.2 percent to a six-year low in July. Home foreclosures rose 9 percent in July from June, a 93 percent increase from a year ago, as once white-hot housing markets now suffer the greatest number of loan failures.

According to Martin Feldstein, president of the National Bureau of Economic Research, “The multiplier effect of home price declines and declines in consumer spending could push the economy into recession.” Ironically, even “free marketer” President Bush has promised a government bail out to prevent the total collapse of the sector and its spread to the rest of the economy.

This is the picture confronting U.S. workers as we enter the 2008 electoral campaign.  None of the main candidates are speaking seriously about universal health care and education, repealing anti-labor laws, immediately ending the war or creating jobs through massive investment in rebuilding the country’s infrastructure. Working people are being made to pay for the crimes and greed of the capitalist class. The end of even the illusion of an economic “boom” will mean an intensification of the class struggle. The only lasting solution is a fundamental transformation of society: socialism.

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