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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Searching for Bobby’s endgame

    On Thursday, Jan. 17, Bobby Fischer – American chess Grandmaster and infamous social recluse – died in Iceland.

    Renowned worldwide for his brilliant foresight, the chess genius imbued Americans with a sense of national pride by becoming the first American to defeat the Russians at the World Chess Championship. With his passing, a major icon of the Cold War struggle recedes into the legends of history. Fischer, however, leaves behind an America still clinging to the myopic military strategies that defined the Cold War arms race.

    The world has drastically changed since the famed Spassky-Fischer duel in 1972. The geopolitical chessboard of Fischer’s era was a bipolar world, and the strategy of the game was nuclear buildup. Each new bomb was a powerful maneuver of intimidation. Due to the inherent drawbacks of a kill-and-be-killed game, however, the Cold War became a middle game of proxy struggles, pawn trades and third-world gambits like the Hungarian revolution of 1956.

    With Fischer’s passing, the Cold War is but a foggy haze blanketed by the smog of a globalized world. America still sits at the chessboard, but we have no opponent. When the Soviet Union fell in 1992, America’s great enemy disappeared. The anxieties of an enemy-free world evinced themselves immediately in the Defense Planning Guidance of 1992, written by Scooter Libby and Paul Wolfowitz. The neoconservative charter anticipated Bush’s current foreign policy with uncanny clarity: preemptively attack regional threats, abandon multilateralism if necessary and preserve American hegemony.

    Like Fischer at the height of his career, the might of our military outpaces all other contenders. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in 2007 the United States accounted for more than 50 percent of all military expenditures worldwide with a tab close to $640

    billion. The four closest other spenders – the U.K., France, Japan and China – each claim a minuscule four to five percent each. The board is not just tilted in America’s favor; it is overflowing with American knights and rooks and kings. If percentages alone don’t convince you of the asymmetry on the board, consider this: If the U.S. stopped increasing military expenditures but maintained the current spending levels, it would take China – even with its current sky-high growth – nearly 17 years to reach American levels of spending.

    If there is one lesson to be learned, however, in the post-Vietnam world, it is that military size does not translate to military effectiveness. Struggles have been more and more prolonged, pitted in rugged terrain against radical factions committed to fight to the death. As Bobby Fischer once said, “”All that matters on the chessboard is good moves.”” Well developed strategies, involving coalitions and endgame plans and not mere brawn will be the key to military success in a globalized world.

    Yet, Bush foreign policy hawks have strained their voices and broken their blue blood vessels crying for an all out war on “”Islamofascism.”” With escalating threats of war on nuclear-bent Iran and a gloated 2008 U.S. defense budget recently announced, there is no end in sight to this Sisyphean game.

    Worldwide, military expenditures have increased over 34 percent in the last 10 years. A globalized economy, according to neoliberal scholars, will decrease military tension. But as military spending increases and terrorist factions gain popularity among the dispossessed poor, that does not seem to be the course thus far. Part of the answer lies in the fact that military spending in many countries around the world, such as Chile, Peru and Saudi Arabia are linked by law to resource markets. As American appetites for oil and grain based energy continue to escalate, military expenditures will only continue to ramp up.

    James Madison once warned against such quagmires: “”No nation”” he wrote, “”could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”” A protracted struggle would breed insurmountable debt, crippling taxes and limited civil liberties. Sound familiar? America is in desperate need of a sound endgame.

    Thomas Barnett, military strategist for the Pentagon, has proposed such an endgame, based on not just brute strength, but coalition building capabilities. He proposes the military be divided into two forces: a massive attack force capable of crushing any enemy and a new transitional body called “”System Administrators.”” The latter group would be responsible for establishing what he calls “”staying power.”” America’s military has an unparalleleld capacity to wage war, but to uproot terrorists and build sustainable governing bodies, America needs internal partners.

    These changes will not be made without the aggresive campaigning of a progressive president. Only if the sleeping 18-24 demographic wakes up, learns the moves of the game and demands their peace dividend, will the military-industrial complex be forced off the table. Unfortunately, Fischer’s endgame continues to elude us. Stalemate.

    Matt Rolland is a junior majoring in economics and international studies. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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