Belfast Telegraph

How security became the only policy that mattered

The starkest legacy of 9/11 is not the worldwide 'war against terror' - it is the Republicans' assault on the poorest Americans under the guise of homeland security, argues Jim Dee

The cost of America's post-9/11 wars has been steep in both blood and treasure. But, for US conservatives, the cycle of violence begun that fateful day handed them a golden opportunity to re-package their crusade to undermine and cripple social and economic policies that they've been targeting for decades.

To be clear, this hasn't been a diabolical plot by Republicans. It has just been classic 'make hay while the sun shines' opportunism.

It began when the World Trade Centre's ashes spawned a ballooning federal budget deficit fuelled by the military mission to punish al-Qaida. An unprecedented expansion in America's security apparatus followed. And it hasn't been cheap.

According to the National Priorities Project, from 2000 to 2010, the Pentagon's annual 'base budget' increased by a staggering 80%, from $303bn in 2000 to $545bn. Total base funding for the Pentagon since 2000 has been $5.9trn.

Then there are the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Including direct military outlays, US State Department spending and reconstruction costs, the tab for those now stands at $1.36 trn.

Domestically, the number of federal security jobs has skyrocketed by 377% since 9/11, with most being attached to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Created in 9/11's wake, DHS has seen its annual budget grow from $16bn to more than $76bn in the last decade.

A few years back, it emerged that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) - a DHS sub-section - had spent $500,000 for silk plants and artwork to adorn one of its new operations centres. The TSA also splashed out $350,000 on a new gymnasium.

A recent Los Angeles Times exploration of DHS spending found some equally astonishing outlays. For example, Cherry County, Nebraska, with a population of just 6,148, got thousands of dollars to equip cattle with devices to protect them from biological attack by terrorists. Thanks largely to the booming economy of the late-1990s, when George W Bush took office in January 2001, America had a $128bn budget surplus.

A year into Bush's first term - after his June 2001 tax-cuts that benefited wealthiest Americans the most, and the October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan - America posted a $158bn deficit.

Each subsequent year of Bush's eight-year tenure saw deficits grow, eventually reaching $458bn on the eve of the 2008 financial sector meltdown. Cumulative Bush-era deficits came in just shy of $2trn.

By the time Barack Obama completed his first year in office, in January 2010, America's deficit had more than tripled to $1.4trn. Annual deficits have remained north of $1trn ever since. As this debt mountain grew, Republicans saw the opening they'd been seeking ever since Democratic presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson championed dramatic expansions of government anti-poverty programmes, in the 1930s and 1960s respectively.

Now, a decade on from 9/11, the Republicans have convinced large swathes of the American public that the threat of the 'Demon Deficit' is far greater than that posed by al-Qaida.

And the fiscal fear-mongering has paid big dividends in recent months. In the April 2011 budget stand-off, Republicans secured a whopping $78bn in spending cuts.

Programmes targeted included $10m from food safety and inspection, $1.5bn from programmes designed to rehabilitate and repair housing for the poor and $504m from a programme that provides food and infant formula to low-income families. The new healthcare law that Obama helped pass in 2010 also took a big hit, with $2.2bn being cut from a $6bn federal loan program, aimed at creating not-for-profit health insurance co-operatives.

Some $1.4bn was cut from the Department of Energy, including hundreds of millions of dollars from programmes designed to develop alternative energy strategies and technologies. And $1.6bn was axed from the Environmental Protection Agency's budget.

Beyond budgetary targets, Republicans have also used post-9/11 national security concerns to beat their 'government is evil' drum and thereby bolster their push for fewer environmental and business regulations.

Of course, not everything has gone the Republicans way. The quarry they've been trying to kill for years - the government-run social security pension scheme that was a cornerstone of FDR's 1930s New Deal programme - remains alive and kicking.

Ten years on, Republicans have used post-9/11 realities to advance their domestic agenda. But, 66 years after his death, FDR still haunts them. And, with many Americans calling for New Deal-style public works spending to avert a double-dip recession, he'll likely remain the Republicans' nightmare for years to come.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph