If America was really serious about the economy, it would end the ‘war on terror’

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I’ll be upfront: I hate war. These simple three words were etched in my mind forever as I stood in front of Gallery Room 3 at the open air memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt in Washington, DC (see picture). In 1936, FDR said: “I have seen war. I have see war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded… I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed… I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.” I have not seen all that FDR had seen, but as a conscripted serviceman in the South Africa military near the end of apartheid, I have seen enough to know that I hate war.

I particularly hate the “war of terror” being perpetrated by the American government. And I think that every business person and young graduate in America – and around the world – should hate it too. And, where possible – especially if you are American – do something to end it (unless you’re in government or the arms industry, I suppose – but more on that below).

Last month, Jeh Johnson, General Counsel for the US Department of Defense gave a speech at the Oxford Union (watch it on YouTube, 24 mins) and said that the ‘War on Terror’ must, at some point, come to an end:

“Now that efforts by the US military against al-Qaida are in their 12th year, we must also ask ourselves: How will this conflict end?… ‘War’ must be regarded as a finite, extraordinary and unnatural state of affairs. We must not accept the current conflict, and all that it entails, as the ‘new normal.’ Peace must be regarded as the norm toward which the human race continually strives… There will come a tipping point at which so many of the leaders and operatives of al-Qaida and its affiliates have been killed or captured, and the group is no longer able to attempt or launch a strategic attack against the United States, that al-Qaida will be effectively destroyed…”

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow interviewed Johnson last week, and introduced the segment as follows:

“When does this thing we are in now end? And if it does not have an end — and I’m not speaking as a lawyer here, I am just speaking as a citizen who feels morally accountable for my country’s actions — if it does not have an end, then morally speaking it does not seem like it is a war. And then, our country is killing people and locking them up outside the traditional judicial system in a way I think we maybe cannot be forgiven for.”

All the while, this ‘war on terror’ is costing the country huge amounts of money and stripping America of its liberties. And this is where it becomes a business issue – not just for Americans, but for all of us.


War on terror posterThe Obama administration has made it clear by their actions that they wish to stoke the flames of war. The polices adopted over the last few years leave no doubt that they are accelerating, not winding down, the war machine in Washington, and have used the ‘war on terror’ to dramatically – and scarily – increase their domestic powers. In the name of the War on Terror, the current president has diluted decades-old Miranda warnings; codified a new scheme of indefinite detention on US soil; plotted to relocate Guantanamo to Illinois; increased secrecy, repression and release-restrictions at the camp; minted a new theory of presidential assassination powers even for US citizens; renewed the Bush/Cheney warrantless eavesdropping framework for another five years, as well as the Patriot Act, without a single reform; and just signed into law all new restrictions on the release of indefinitely held detainees.

Glenn Greenwald, a Guardian columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues, suggests something even more sinister in a Common Dreams blog:

“There’s no question that this ‘war’ will continue indefinitely. There is no question that US actions are the cause of that, the gasoline that fuels the fire. The only question – and it’s becoming less of a question for me all the time – is whether this endless war is the intended result of US actions or just an unwanted miscalculation.

It’s increasingly hard to make the case that it’s the latter. The US has long known, and its own studies have emphatically concluded, that ‘terrorism’ is motivated not by a ‘hatred of our freedoms’ but by US policy and aggression in the Muslim world. This causal connection is not news to the US government. Despite this – or, more accurately, because of it – they continue with these policies.

But what one can say for certain is that there is zero reason for US officials to want an end to the war on terror, and numerous and significant reasons why they would want it to continue. It’s always been the case that the power of political officials is at its greatest, its most unrestrained, in a state of war… If you were a US leader, or an official of the National Security State, or a beneficiary of the private military and surveillance industries, why would you possibly want the war on terror to end? That would be the worst thing that could happen. It’s that war that generates limitless power, impenetrable secrecy, an unquestioning citizenry, and massive profit.”

Paradoxically, Republicans want to reduce government power but are normally in favour of war (over generalisation, I know, but it is generally true). Maybe the right wing of America should work out which they want more: war or smaller government? End the war, and reduce government power. Republicans should be shouting for this war to end.

But what has this got to do with you, and the ‘future world of work’ (the theme of this blog)?

The obvious answer is that when you step back from your own industry and look at the economy as a whole, the ‘war on terror’ is a huge additional cost in the system. The total cost over the last decade has been $ 1.5 trillion (see a running cost ‘clock’ at costofwar.com). There is a small argument that says that these ‘costs’ are actually paid into the American economy in the form of contracts paid to the arms industry, to defense contractors and to personnel. I am no fan of “trickle down” economics at the best of times, and don’t buy this argument at all. The goal of government spending should never be to enrich a few, and that is what has happened in the era of massive military outsourcing. (Even worse when the firms most enriched have strong ties back to the government making these decisions, such as Halliburton’s link with Dick Cheney – in most countries that would be labelled corruption).

So, for example, during the last ten years of the ‘war on terror’, the government has pulled the plug on much of NASA’s funding, ended the space shuttle era and effectively closed down Cape Canaveral. Because $ 1.5 trillion has to come from somewhere. And, apparently, you’re not allowed to raise taxes to pay for it.

But this is another hidden effect of the ‘war on terror’ – government funding of research and innovation takes a big hit.

Worse than that, America has got a lot less free over the past ten years. Not in reality on the ground, yet, but in concept and principle. The authors of “Funky Business” (here on Amazon.co.uk), Jonas Ridderstrale and Kjell Nordstrom, are two of my favourite business speakers. They constantly remind people that at the heart of America’s success is the fact that America is – at heart – not a country, but an idea. It is the idea of freedom and the ultimate expression of what happens when you give people freedom: freedom to innovate, freedom to experiment, freedom to pioneer, freedom to try, freedom to fail, freedom to try again, freedom to go, be, do. And it is the ‘idea’ of America that has fueled advancement, innovation and development over the past century.

The ‘idea’ is breaking down.

The American economy is suffering – partly because of this. American industries (except those in the military-industrial complex) are suffering – partly because of this. And the American psyche is suffering – partly because of this ‘war on terror’.

It’s time to call time on this. Not for some dovish, pacifist reasons (although those alone would be good enough for me personally), nor for legal, moral and humanitarian reasons (although those should be enough for most people), but for business and economic reasons too.

What can you do to help end the ‘war on terror’? Do that in 2013!

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