Focusing on jobs and the war

Here in the winter of our discontent (to coin a phrase), we face two major simultaneous crises that are pulling at our national fabric in different ways: a really sour economy, and pending war. Neither seems well-suited to the other, although only one seems to be getting any attention in Washington.

Job layoffs are continuing in Prince William and throughout the country. The latest sad example is the elimination of more than half the 1,000 jobs at Micron Technologies in Manassas. Micron happens to be the largest employer (and taxpayer) in Manassas, and although most of these newly laid-off workers apparently do not live within the city limits, the move does signal that times remain tough.

At the same time, guess who is the biggest employer in Prince William County? Quantico Marine Base, which is more active than usual these days getting ready for war overseas. So let’s briefly review the state of things today: Civilian jobs are getting cut, and the military is gearing up for bigger things. Both events need urgent care, although one cannot do much to help the other.

The Bush Administration is being severely criticized for not doing nearly enough to alleviate either crisis. Although it puts much of it considerable emphasis on ridding the world of the ruler of Iraq, critics charge that the White House hasn’t really backed up its growl with adequate war-adjusted military spending (except to send more than 170,000 U.S. troops overseas to await further instructions).

As for the economy, “letting the marketplace play things out” doesn’t seem to be working too terribly well. Wall Street is suffering (due, in part, to that pending war) and a series of interest rate cuts has yet to take hold with any positive results. The old adage, “hold onto stocks for the long haul” has more and more people scratching their heads and wondering out loud if that is still the wise course of action, and also how long that haul may be.

Since everything, it seems, is altered by political considerations, the administration faces an ironic dilemma. The economy is bad news from all angles. The only thing that can neutralize it is something that’s even more important (at least as far as public perception goes). America at war and the overall threat of terrorism, in general is taking care of that right now. But timing is everything, and that’s where things get a bit dicey politically.

If the White House goes to war and the combat is over quickly, the less prominent the victory will have on the 2004 elections, where campaigning will begin in earnest with state primaries starting up (are you ready for this?) only a year from now. Conversely, the longer the Iraqi equation is drawn out (and the overt threat of other forms of terrorism), the less opportunity and time Democrats and others will have to re-focus everyone’s attentions back on the economy.

Rebuilding Iraq after we (or Hussein) destroys some of its vital infrastructure will not be nearly as politically popular as a war itself, so there may be those political strategists who perhaps don’t mind the stalling that seems to be going on right now while weapons inspectors, the U.N. and NATO try to sort themselves out. This is not to suggest that a start of war would be delayed longer than is prudent and optimized for our troops. One must really be a diehard cynic to buy into that notion. But what occurs in a desert region overseas in the next several weeks likely will have the biggest impact on the 2004 campaign than anything else. And perhaps the biggest impact on the world’s perception of this country in decades.

Even if the White House gets lucky and the economy pulls its own course-correction in the months ahead, winning a war with Iraq militarily will not quell the nagging global question of why we went to war in the first place. Flexing military might will be the easy part. But the administration also will have to demonstrate once and for all why it was necessary to have placed nearly 200,000 U.S. lives in harm’s way at a cost of tens of billions of tax dollars in a nation that most Americans could not find on a map. Besides shoving the economy off to the side for now, the White House seems to run the real danger of winning the battle, only to still lose the war at home.

John Merli has been a Prince William County resident since 1984, and a Potomac News columnist since 1985. He has worked in the media for more than 30 years. E-mail him at: [email protected]

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