Representative David Obey has proposed a “war tax” in the Share Our Sacrifice Act. This is, I presume, a progressive’s idea of fiscal responsibility. Most families would pay an additional 1% of their net income as a surtax to their 1040 form income taxes, with exemptions for families with an immediate member of the household who actually served in Iraq or Afghanistan since the 2001 attacks, or who lost an immediate relative in either the attacks or in military operations in one of those two theaters. Progressively higher surtaxes would kick in for families with below-the-line income of over $150,000.
I am in favor of supporting America’s war efforts, and I am in support of deficit reduction. But Obey’s proposal is not a good idea, either from the standpoint of the war effort, or from the standpoint of deficit reduction. But I will nevertheless indulge in a pluck at low-hanging fruit here, and point out why this is a bad idea.
This “war” is unlike any “war” we’ve ever been involved in. We are “at war” with… what or whom? Al-Qaeda? Islamo-facism? Terrorism? Terrorism is a tactic; al-Qaeda is a network of terrorists with vaguely similar sorts of political agendas; Islamo-fascism is an (ill-defined) ideology which we are prepared to tolerate in an ally (read: Egypt, the House of Saud) while still using as a rallying cry against our enemies (read: Iran, al-Qaeda). These are not things that we can be “at war” against, at least not in the traditional meaning of a war in that there is no organized political, national, or military opponent against which we can deploy our military.
I’ve previously floated the idea that maybe we were at war with the nascent Caliphate of Osama bin Laden, which would be one of the first times I can think of in history that one nation went to war not to a) displace the government of a hostile nation-state, b) suppress a rebellion against its own government, or c) conquer geographic territory but rather to prevent a nation-state from being created. Perhaps Muslim resistance to the Frankish Crusades would count as another such effort to prevent the creation of a new nation-state (they failed and had to wait 200 years and several internal political realignments to reconquer that territory), and maybe the Boer War would count for that, too.
Maybe U.S. military efforts to capture Pancho Villa, who had political aspirations above his banditry, are the most similar to what we’re doing now. Those actions were on both sides of the Rio Grande and we didn’t exactly have permission of the Mexican government to conduct military activities within their borders, although the Mexicans were hardly in a position to object. But that was all over relatively quickly.
We were at war with Iraq and Afghanistan — we displaced the governments of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein and replaced them with governments friendlier to us. We occupied those nations militarily after succeeding in those efforts, and an insurgency against our puppet governments bred underneath us. So now, we’re supporting those governments from insurgents who would topple them. So what we are doing now is not war, it’s something else, something which lacks a concise moniker. Let’s call it “nation-building.” Our record at doing this sort of thing isn’t all that great, but that doesn’t mean this is necessarily a bad thing to do or that we can’t succeed. The nations we are building in Afghanistan and Iraq are significantly friendlier to us than those which preceded them and we will be better-off strategically if they succeed enough to the point that they can defend themselves (but not if they grow so powerful they become regional powers in their own right).
So the “war” that Obey wants us all to pay a supplemental tax on is a chimera, not a “war” in the true sense of the word, the sense meant by the Constitution when it gives Congress the power to declare war and the President the power to make war. This “war” will never really be over until and unless we decide it is. We get to decide when Iraq and Afghanistan are strong enough to stand or fall without our involvement. And they probably never will be as long as anyone still lives who reads this post on the date of its publication — at least, I predict that no one alive today will ever again see a day when there are not active-duty U.S. military forces deployed to Iraq in significant numbers. I’m not so confident about making such a prediction in Afghanistan, a nation with little strategic significance and few natural resources.
Congressman Obey is one of the most liberal members of Congress* and so he is hoping, I suspect, to make the public groan under the pressure of this tax and demand that the “war” come to an end so the tax will end also. He is deceiving himself, and in the process, unwittingly proposing a deception on the American people — because even if this were an honest “war” tax, the “war” will never really end and therefore it will become a permanent tax.
If Congressman Obey thinks the American people are undertaxed, let him say so. If he thinks that we must raise taxes to solve our governmental deficit, let him say so. A credible, non-frivolous argument can be made to support such a claim. Myself, I’d prefer to see some cuts in government spending, but David Obey never saw a non-military spending cut he didn’t detest with the same sort of virulent hatred which normal people would reserve for pederasts. And if I’m going to be made to pay more taxes, I want to see the government being more responsible with that money than it has proven to be. Giving a government run by the likes of Obey more money strikes me as about as wise as giving a packet of matches to a developmentally-handicapped child who is already playing with gasoline.
* Wisconsin is a weird place — you can represent an almost completely rural district, like Obey does, and still be so ultra-liberal guys like Michael Moore tell you, “Whoa, dude, dial it back a little bit.”