Jared Olar: America in decline, America in retreat
It’s twilight in America.
As I write these words, the latest manufactured fiscal crisis threatening the federal government is "the sequester,” the automatic slight decreases in the amount of the massive spending increases that the government plans for this year.
OK, that wasn’t the most elegant sentence ever written, and I understand if it’s not the easiest thing you’ve ever tried to parse grammatically, so I’ll try again.
You perhaps have heard people talking about the sequester as automatic spending cuts in the federal budget. But they’re not spending cuts. Rather, the federal government this year will increase how much money it will borrow and spend by an unimaginable amount that it will never be able to repay — but unless Congress does something between now and March 1, the amount of that increase will be $85 billion less than it had originally planned to borrow and spend.
To sane human beings, $85 billion is inconceivably vast — but the feds blow through that amount of money about every eight days.
The sequester represents an 8 percent decrease in the borrowing and spending increase the Department of Defense will receive, along with a 5 percent decrease in the borrowing and spending increase that domestic agencies will receive.
This is what the government and political journalists call “spending cuts” — but don’t you believe it. The federal government has not cut its spending in decades. Rather, the folks in D.C. annually debate whether to increase spending by (let’s just use some slightly fictitious figures to illustrate the point) $2 trillion more than we need to spend (the Evil Party) or by $1 trillion more than we need to spend (the Stupid Party).
For decades, neither party has had the political will or fortitude or integrity to entertain real budget cuts. Whenever you see a nation’s leaders acting like that, you’re observing a nation in cultural, moral and spiritual decline, a nation exhausted, aging and visionless.
Moreover, to all appearances the federal government will continue its descent until everything comes crashing down, which President Barack Obama and the current members of Congress seem to think, or at least hope, won’t happen until they are safely out of office and have personally devoured more than their fair share of our money.
For now, however, the sequester will take a bite out of defense and domestic budgets. In particular, the Department of Defense has announced plans for furloughs of its 800,000 civilian employees, in case the sequester takes place and Congress fails to renew the federal spending continuing resolution which expires March 27 or does not raise the debt ceiling which the feds will smack into by May 18.
This hobbling of the Defense Department would come while other nations and entities both friendly and hostile have begun to notice that the U.S. is losing its national will and even its capacity to maintain its status as an international superpower. This overarching trend — seen in the military retreat in Iraq and Afghanistan in the face of intractable and undefeated foes, seen in the aging and shrinking U.S. fleet, seen in al-Qaida’s successfully driving the U.S. out of eastern Libya — will not be altered in the slightest even if Congress votes to eliminate the sequester.
Obviously, a nation buried under more than $86.8 trillion in liabilities (the vast majority of it due not to military spending but to Social Security, Medicare and federal employee pensions) won’t be able to project its power abroad, and in fact will be hard pressed to defend itself at home.
So it is that we now live in a world where the French — yes, the French, God bless them, not the U.S. — came to the rescue of Mali when it had fallen under al-Qaida’s cruel hegemony; a world in which an incredulous Malian citizen would say to an American journalist, “I have to tell you, we weren’t even expecting the French to come. We were expecting the Americans. America — you were here, in Mali, training soldiers! You’re supposed to be this big powerful friend of Mali — and then you just left. No one here understood that at all.”
Just a decade ago, with the Taliban and al-Qaida on the run and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein hiding from U.S. troops, Americans liked to mock the French as “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.”
Today an America lacking a moral compass is reduced to deploying assassination drones, capable of nothing more than a supporting role as the “surrender monkeys” liberate Timbuktu.
The night is falling. When will come the dawn?
Jared Olar may be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the newspaper.