Washington policy wonks have a legendary fondness for dealing in big dollars. When Bush’s Budget Director Mitch Daniels was questioned about the projected cost of the Iraq war, he estimated “in the range of $50 billion to $60 billion.” Defense Secretary Rumsfeld gave his best guess the war would last no longer than six months. Of specifics and hard numbers, there were none.

For good reason. The eventual cost was somewhere near $3.5 trillion. Never mind the blatant hypocrisy of those Republicans who plunged us into yet another needless war with scarcely a thought as to the cost in men and material while screaming like stuck pigs at spending that same amount on AMERICA’s crumbling infrastructure and putting Americans back to REAL work.

With this in mind, let’s look at some creative alternatives to doing what we never seem able to do in our sad, recent history of warmaking … to win the hearts and minds of the common people. Not the ruling elites mind you … but common people.

In 2002, on the eve of being invaded (liberated), the Iraq people numbered just shy of 25 million. Now, if you divide that number into 3.5 trillion, you come away with an approximate cost to the United States taxpayer of $136,000 for every Iraqi man, woman and child.

We could have just given each Iraqi the equivalent of a Publishers’ Clearinghouse check, but that would likely have soon disappeared, Uncle Sam’s famed largess would have been all but forgotten and American capitalism would have benefited only marginally.

In future inevitable Middle Eastern squabbles, we will always be cozied up with the Saudis or whomever else controls access to the black gold. Hence, we need a way to create not just another bogus Arab Spring which would last no longer than the first summer solstice but a way of giving the Arabs something with lasting power and something we could control without firing a shot. Let’s give birth instead to an Arab consumer fetishism.

For the skeptics, considering how well this strategy worked in Asia. Two superpowers, China and Japan, despised Western ways. Even fought wars to keep us out. And now, those mighty nations have become the playground of American capitalists with the demands for what is new and shiny all but erasing any distant memory of Shintoism or Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Walmart and Starbucks have won over the multitudes.

Back to the drawing board. Using the Iraq misadventure as a template, what if we took that $136,000, bought every family a flat screen television assembled right here in the good ole USA? We then design those sets so they could only be capable of receiving three channels — each carefully monitored by the voice of America. Operating expenses would easily be recovered by commercial advertising and U.S. taxpayers would soon be seeing a nice return on their 3.5 trillion. Not to mention the resulting expanded markets for American goods.

No more of the “our god’s stronger than your god” nonsense popularized by the Bush entourage. Let them keep their religion. While we slowly erode their moral fabric and their sense of what is of true value (as Madison Avenue did for us generations ago), let’s divert some of those millions to the movers and shakers. Not the political and economic elites which have always been the benefactors of our invasions, but their religious leaders. If we can corrupt their imams and mullahs with a few million here and there (chump change compared to the cost of war), the faithful will follow.

Imagine morning prayers shouted out from all those crenelated minarets “The following passages are being brought to you by the friendly folks at your neighborhood Walmart.”

Most everybody is a winner here. We are better off not having vicariously slaughtered hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Our business community will be better off and the locals will be immeasurably better off. Even Congressmen will benefit by the intensified lobbying war between the purveyors of weapons and consumer goods. The only clear losers I see are the war profiteers, the armaments manufacturers, and the souls of an entire ancient race of people given over to the worship of America’s air-conditioned, chrome plated materialist paradise.

McGehee, a lifelong activist, settled here in 1973 and lives in Palouse with his wife, Katherine. His work life has varied from bartender to university instructor to wrecking yard owner.

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