Recession Fears Crowd Out Iraq

by Laura Snedeker

Americans fear an economic recession, and the politicians couldn’t be happier. The downturn in the stock market accompanied by omnipresent feelings of looming collapse has granted a reprieve to both parties from explaining the catastrophe in Iraq.

President George W. Bush, who usually prefers to make America live in his imaginary prosperous reality while insulating himself from the poll numbers, appeared to concede some points to public opinion on Friday when he proposed an economic stimulus package totaling $140 billion in tax cuts and incentives to businesses and individuals.

“Continued instability in the housing and financial markets could case additional harm to our overall economy, and put our growth and job creation in jeopardy,” Bush said, while reminding Americans that the government cannot change the “fundamental dynamic” of the rise and decline of the market, and thus excluding himself from any blame should his policies exacerbate the situation.

Whether the threat of a recession is real and who is responsible are largely irrelevant to either the president or to the presidential candidates of either party, many of whom are reluctant to discuss concrete plans for ending a war that was not intended to be so long, so violent, or so costly.

A recent Gallup Poll shows that 38 percent of Americans believe economic problems are among the most serious issues facing the nation, while 25 percent believe the Iraq War is the most serious problem. The percentage who list Iraq as their top concern has declined ten percent since July of 2007, while concern over the economy has grown 22 percent over the same period.

The decline in concern over the Iraq War coincides with a reduction in the number of American soldiers killed each month and with the mainstream media’s loss of interest in the war. Officials credit the decreased violence to the so-called surge in troop levels (actually, an escalation) but the officials usually fail to mention that the U.S. military has also increased the number of air strikes from 229 in 2006 to 1,447 in 2007, as reported by The Washington Post.

The president’s sudden willingness to discuss the economy in less-than-glowing terms coincides with a recent statement by the Iraqi defense minister suggesting that his country will require U.S. forces for at least ten more years. While Iraqis will be capable of maintaining internal security by 2012, he said American troops may be necessary for border control to counter any “external threats” until 2018.

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) has seized the opportunity to divert attention from her pro-war record and reputation as a foreign policy hawk by focusing on the economy. Speaking at a Baptist church in California last week, Clinton outlined several welfare plans designed to help the middle class, and all three of the leading Democratic candidates have outlined plans to deal with the housing crisis and unemployment. Long-time Iraq War supporter Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) followed suit, proposing to lower corporate tax rates and suggested that the country’s economic problems stemmed from of out-of-control spending. The focus on the economy gives both parties a chance to present a united front against a less charged and more technical issue.

While Americans may not understand the apparently arbitrary workings of the market, they do understand taxes, unemployment and rising prices. An increase in the price of oil or milk is concrete and is felt immediately, while the war is more abstract and further removed from everyday experience. The majority of American families who do not feel the direct effects of the Iraq War can choose to ignore it by switching off the TV; they cannot ignore the loss of a job or a suddenly lighter wallet.

In the short-term, news of declining stocks encourages politicians to address the worries of the electorate, which further increases the amount of attention the mainstream media pay to economic problems and orient people’s concerns in one direction. There is a tipping point, however, at which the distraction becomes a problem in its own right, and another distraction is necessary. Perhaps a war in a Middle Eastern country would do the trick.

(Photo by PPDIGITAL of Macon, GA, via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)

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Anonymous said...

The irony here is that on the war, Bush really benefits from having to live up to astoundingly low expectations. Admittedly the surge and at the same time, a change in tactics on the ground have improved things. But because we have such a low opinion of our president, any improvement by the Bush admin is seen as a huge step forward. It's not. The surge and more importantly, inserting our troops into locales to get better intel and cooperation, are tactics we could have easily seen at the start of the war, the Romans took over the world using the same tactics for God's sake. You cannot control a populace without a knowledge of local customs and culture and an equitable division of interests back to those you have just defeated.

The economy is much more worrisome. 7 years of disasterous Bush policy have stacked up and are tipping over. If it were not for all the suffering by individuals right now, it would be fun to watch Bush squirm and try to get his hands around a tidal wave he cannot control

Laura Snedeker said...

Most people have apparently forgotten that the war was supposed to be relatively quick and easy and that the U.S. was never supposed to have to maintain a huge presence there for years on end (this was how they presented the war regardless of whether they actually did plan to turn it into a base for U.S. troops). Now anything less than complete and total disaster gets him praise.

It's disgusting when senior administration or military officials announce a new plan to - as you said - intsert troops strategically to get better intelligence - and act as though it's a novel, untested idea.

I do think the economy will get worse; I don't know if Bush and his minions agree. There have been plenty of signs that the economy is unstable (the housing crisis, the Shanghai index crash last year that was passed off as a blip, racking up more foreign debt, personal indebtedness).

He talks about non-interference in the natural market cycle in one sentence while talking about using government power to influence the market in another. I think it's more than just Bush policy that's caused our economic problems; There's also a general overreliance on foreign money and a free-market consensus between the parties that I can't see being reversed in the near future.

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