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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 3/26/14

The Cost of Empire, in Ukraine and at Home

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At a time when so many Americans are struggling economically, our nation continues to pay a steep price for its global empire -- and in more ways than one.

Consider this: On March 12 a bipartisan Senate deal was reached which would extend urgently-needed unemployment benefits. Although the measure received Republican support in the Senate, it was expected to meet considerable resistance in the GOP-controlled House.

But activists had been optimistic that public pressure could force the House's hand. Things were looking, if not rosy, then certainly not hopeless. John Boehner's objections had already been refuted and Republicans in the Senate were chastising their house colleagues. And yet a vote isn't expected until sometime this week at the earliest.

This extension is urgently needed. And yet 12 days have passed since the bipartisan Senate deal was struck. Why the delay?

Chalk it up to the Cost of Empire.

The New Cold Warriors

The agreement hasn't even come up for a vote in the Senate. There's been so much old-fashioned military grandstanding over Crimea that they haven't found the time.

In their hearts, politicians from both parties know that US options are severely limited. While Russia's actions are brutal and unjust, nobody in either party is advocating direct military confrontation. Beneath the bluster, most elected officials agree that our only potential moves involve diplomatic gestures, stricter sanctions, and emergency loans for the Ukrainian government.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio's recent editorial in Politico was supposed to lay out eight forceful steps the president was supposedly failing to take in Ukraine. But those "forceful steps," many of which were already underway, turned out to be the kind of diplomatic gestures that lead to Republican mockery when undertaken by Democrats.

The Republicans are rhetorically fiddling while the economy burns. The fact is, there's not much else that can be done -- and they know it.

The Cost of Empire

We pay the Cost of Empire both directly and indirectly. The full extent of our national security spending isn't fully known, but a reasonable estimate places the total figure at approximately $1 trillion per year. The published Pentagon budget is only part of the total cost, while NSA and other "black box" budget items make up the rest.

Some of that goes for legitimate defense, but much of it supports a global military presence that is both unneeded and excessive in this single-superpower era. The United States has 702 military bases and a total of 4471 installations and 68 countries around the world, at an annualized cost  of approximately $100 billion.

(The five-month unemployment insurance extension worked out in the Senate, by contrast, would cost only $10 billion or so. But, despite the fact that borrowing rates are still extraordinarily low, it was agreed that the UI extension needed to be "paid for." So the money is to come, not from the cost of empire, but primarily out of federal pensions. Austerity thinking goes hand-in-hand with imperial hauteur.)

One of the greatest indirect costs of empire is paid in our national attention. This saber-rattling diverts our national conversation away from urgent and fixable economic problems. Long-term unemployment remains at crisis levels. Wage stagnation is strangling the middle class, and debate over minimum-wage legislation is also being sidelined for this imperial posturing.

We urgently need a national debate about economic policy. Instead we're treated to endless empty tirades from the likes of Lindsay Graham and John McCain in the Senate, and from Sarah Palin and her ilk in the media circus.

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Host of 'The Breakdown,' Writer, and Senior Fellow, Campaign for America's Future

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