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Commentary: Unthinkable is reality

By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large   |   Aug. 2, 2011 at 6:04 AM   |   Comments

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WASHINGTON, Aug. 2 (UPI) -- The nail-biting, cliff-hanger produced something that didn't pass mental math. To raise America's $14.3 trillion federal debt ceiling hours ahead of Tuesday's deadline by $2.4 trillion in two stages while committing to equal spending cuts over 10 years -- still with me? -- was more fool's bargain than bargain basement.

The complete collapse of the U.S. debt market where the unthinkable -- default and massive layoffs -- would occur was averted in extremis. Cutting back federal spending by $1 trillion up front -- $3 trillion short of what Standard and Poor's said was needed -- wasn't a done deal.

As for the whole package, done deals were anything but done deals.

The defense establishment and its powerful lobby wasn't about to roll over and play dead as it struggled to keep up with still ongoing military commitments in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

It is glaringly obvious that the deal doesn't go far enough to shield the world's most powerful nation from a credit rating downgrade that would remove one A from its long-held and jealously guarded AAA status.

The deficit-reduction plan is still a high-wire balancing act by a retired acrobat.

Commented former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a current Republican hopeful for president, spokesman Alex Conant: "Only in Washington would the political class think it's a victory when the government narrowly avoids default, agrees to go further into debt and does little to reform a spending system that cannot be sustained by our children and grandchildren."

A $900 billion increase in the debt ceiling by the end of this year and $1 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years coupled with a newly created joint committee of lawmakers who would be empowered to seek further deficit reduction measures in the $1.5 trillion range by November, to be enacted in December, and if that fails, as it's almost bound to, half the cuts to come in defense spending and the other half from "non-security discretionary spending." And if you don't buy this, you don't pass "GO," as in the game "Monopoly," and go directly to see your shrink.

The root of the problem is that the world's most powerful nation is saddled with a dysfunctional political system, where Congress -- now divided into three parties -- dictates unworkable policies to a weak executive.

The Pentagon can hardly be blamed for unwinnable campaigns of choice rather than wars of necessity.

Necessity example: Gulf War I (Aug. 2, 1990-Feb. 28, 1991). In 1978, Saddam Hussein had already said in a conversation with this reporter that all the hereditary regimes of the Persian Gulf have to go and be replaced by "progressive, socialist revolutionary regimes." There's no doubt if President George H.W. Bush hadn't mobilized a coalition to boot him out of Kuwait, Saddam's tanks would have kept rolling down the entire western shore of the gulf's pro-Western oil-producing states.

Gulf War II and the invasion of Iraq (March 20, 2003, through "Mission Accomplished" May 1, 2003) was strictly a war of choice with U.S. soldiers killed and wounded till present day and total expenditure exceeding $1 trillion. With 20/20 hindsight, some planners concede, albeit reluctantly, that the late Saddam Hussein was the best defense against Iran's aggressive theocrats with nuclear ambitions.

Another war of choice was the campaign to unload Libya's Moammar Gadhafi. Designed to last no more than a week or two, it is now dragging into its fifth month. NATO announced it had knocked out Gadhafi's TV capability only to see his TV propaganda continue without interruption. What was now a full-blown civil war seesawed back and forth across 600 miles of desert between Benghazi and Tripoli -- with no end in sight.

NATO intelligence failed to detect in the early days of the Benghazi-based insurgency the presence of Islamist Salafist militants in rebel ranks, known as the Transitional National Council government. The regime's air defenses were pulverized early in this vest-pocket war. And the NATO participants quickly ran out of bombs and missiles. But tiny Qatar flew to the rescue and opened its own reserve supplies. The United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Canada, Italy, Spain and Turkey from NATO, plus Japan and Australia, and from the Arab world, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were now involved against a geopolitical pygmy.

Gadhafi scored a major hit when TNC's chief military commander Gen. Abdel Fattah Younis was killed by dissident elements in an Islamist militia within the insurgency.

Younis was the only general in a rebellion made up of inexperienced civilians. Another tough break and embarrassment for NATO and the allies came with the revelation that a militant Islamist faction had been acting with ruthless violence inside the temporary capital of Benghazi.

NATO's credibility has taken several bad knocks since last March when the vest-pocket war against Libya got under way.

And the United States, with NATO allies and a coalition of mostly unwilling nations, is still busy after 10 years of warfare on several fronts in Afghanistan where the original purpose was al-Qaida, not Taliban. They are hardly synonymous.

Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida fighters took a powder through the Tora Bora mountain range into Pakistan in mid-December 2001 where he remained concealed by Pakistani sympathizers until U.S. SEAL commandos killed him May 2.

While the United States fought wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and encouraged allies to dethrone Gadhafi, the home front also spiraled down into the "Age of Greed," the title of a new book by Jeff Madrick with the subtitle, "The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present" reviewed by Sebastian Mallaby, the Paul A. Volcker senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, whose own book flagged "More Money than God: Hedge Funds and the Making of a New Elite."

Wall Street bonuses not only survived in wartime but kept increasing to all-time highs. CEO compensation for a major corporation in 1980 was 42 times the average hourly worker's pay in 1980; 85 times in 1990; 531 times in 2000. And in 2010, when the Fed said major corporations held a record $1.9 trillion in cash, the average total compensation was $11.4 million, a 23 percent increase in one year.

The Wall Street Reform Act is designed to curb excesses. Stay tuned -- till year's end bonus time.

© 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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