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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

We did it?

<ng the chants of “U.S.A.” and “We did it,” it felt only natural to be proud of what my country had just accomplished. The man responsible for over 3000 American deaths on September 11, 2001 and for murdering thousands of people of all nationalities and religions all over the globe has been brought to justice, and it was good old American perseverance, resourcefulness, and creativity that finally brought that hated man down.

Yet, that feeling of pride that I experienced Sunday night couldn’t help but be weighed down by a persistent sense of uneasiness and ambivalence. We did it? Generally, I like the idea of government functioning as a representative of the general public, of the collective “we.” However, for that to be the case, “we” have to be invested in what government does, “we” need to have some skin in the game.

Unfortunately, since the whole nation was affected by 9/11, only a fraction of it has been exposed to the costs of the ensuing 10-year war on terror. Over the last decade, the United States military has invaded and occupied two countries, almost endlessly built up its military and intelligence establishments, and done it all on the nation’s credit card. In fact, for the first time in the country’s history, our taxes were cut as we entered war. Instead of asking the country to make the shared sacrifices that should be necessary for a democracy to go to war, we were told to go shopping.

And yet, the thing is that there wasn’t anything inherently wrong with asking the country to go shopping and return to life as normal. I actually think that it was, in part, a great move, because it was exactly the opposite of what bin Laden wanted us to do. In fact, one of his primary motives all along was not to beat us on the battlefield, but rather to bankrupt the American economy, ending our reign as a superpower. As Daveed Gartenstein-Ross of Foreign Policy Magazine writes, “One lesson bin Laden learned from the war against the Soviets was the importance of his enemy’s economy…. Indeed, bin Laden has spoken of how he used ‘guerrilla warfare and the war of attrition to fight tyrannical superpowers, as we, alongside the mujahidin, bled Russia for ten years, until it went bankrupt.’” Bin Laden wanted to draw us into battle, into a terrain that he knew and thus a war that would draw a huge amount of American resources, miring us in quagmire after quagmire until we collapsed.

The problem then with cutting taxes and going shopping was that we still went to war! Except, “we” really did not go to war. Military families went to war; soldiers went to war; intelligence agencies went to war; the government went to war; defense contractors went to war; but these groups represent a fraction of the American population.

In the end, not only has this meant there has been minimal collective ownership of our government’s foreign policy, but that military decisions have been made without taking into account their costs and benefits to the population at large.

I have always felt that part of what is supposed to be special about democracy is that it should allow the costs and benefits of government actions to be felt by the nation as a whole. Of course this creates a culture of oneness within a nation, which is all well and good. But more than that, it should increase a country’s hesitance towards going to war. For, if people who are not just voluntary military personnel have to pay the cost of war as well—even if it is just a 1% war surtax—the country is much less likely to either go to war or let existing wars escalate.

What we’ve done though, is create a system where our military can go to war by adding trillions to our debt, shielding the vast majority of the country from the real costs of the war. While given our current situation I think it is a good thing that Osama bin Laden has been killed, I also think that our current situation sucks.

Politicians are entering a huge debate about how to cut the government’s long-term deficits and debt. The unfortunate thing is that the population at large will feel the consequences of these decisions, and I have little doubt that among increased hassles at airports and a struggling economy citizens will start to ask, “we’re making cuts now because we spent money on that?”

Ten years after 9/11, the main perpetrator is dead. Yet, after ten years of war and the growing irrelevance of Al Qaeda among a democratizing Middle East, not only have “we” not done much, but it’s not farfetched to imagine that pushed to accept the costs of our military decisions, “we” would not have been in this position in the first place.

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