Dude, Where’s My Peace Dividend?

In the 1970s and 1980s, Americans were conditioned with the idea that the extraordinary growth in military expenditure for the U.S. to “win the arms race” with the USSR would somehow lead to a “peace dividend.” That’s what the elected officials of the United States and its NATO allies called it. Eventually the Soviet Union did collapse under the weight of its own economic dysfunction and hyper-militaristic bureaucracy. When the Berlin Wall came down on November 9, 1989, compelled by massive nonviolent noncooperation with the dictatorial regime, it seemed that the leaders of the world might finally declare the peace dividend we had all been expecting. Mankind as a whole seemed to have hope that the specter of nuclear war had vanished and that a constitutional democracy could operate as a benevolent superpower.

It wasn’t long before President Bush Sr. replaced the old war with a new one. The New York Times disclosed official transcripts of a conversation between US Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, and Saddam Hussein where she said, “We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts like your border disagreement with Kuwait. James Baker (Secretary of State) has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction.”

Soon after, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and America’s action toward war was swift. King Hussein of Jordan, one of America’s strongest allies in the region (and whose wife was American), told the New York Times that the day of the invasion, Bush gave him 48 hours to negotiate a withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

The Jordanian king secured a promise from Saddam to withdraw all of his forces within a week to avert war. King Hussein could not understand why the deal was undermined by the Bush Administration. The US and its Allies proceeded to annihilate the Iraqi army it had supported for 10 years during the Iran-Iraq War which ended in 1988. George Bush had been able to maintain diplomatic relations with Saddam when Saddam was waging war against Iran, but not when he was offering to withdraw from Kuwait. Thus began the Gulf War in 1991 and a process of political destabilization in the Middle East that has been a pretense for ongoing military intervention to this day.

Harvard public policy professor Linda Bilmes published a study in 2013 estimating that the true cost of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will run between $4 trillion and $6 trillion, including ongoing healthcare for veterans and interest on the war debt. A similar study by Brown University put the price tag at $4 trillion, but both of these studies preceded the rise of ISIS and do not account for rising tensions with Iran and Syria, or Russia in the Ukraine.

Where’s the peace dividend we were promised throughout the Cold War, that payback for defeating the evil superpower that prevented America from spreading peace and democracy by way of its “benevolent hegemony?” Where’s our $4 trillion? The war hawks and politicians in Washington D.C. will tell you it is being reinvested to defeat terror and secure American interests abroad; that the elusive dividend payment is just another war or two away. In an October 2014 interview with USA Today to promote his book Worthy Fights, President Obama’s former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director, Leon Panetta, stated that “we can expect kind of a 30-year war” that would need to include Nigeria, Yemen, Libya and other threats. Those who profit from the military-industrial complex will continue to recognize a return on their investments. The American people will only realize a peace dividend when their government begins to practice peace instead of war as a means to foreign policy.