Whatever the rationale -- and politicians invent and discard rationales to escape accountability faster than HIV mutates to escape antiviral cocktails -- in the end it is all about money and power.
Often war becomes a convenient vehicle for keeping power and making money, and Bush's "war" is no exception. The problem is that every time a new "big" problem gets attention, other problems lose attention. And there is NO big problem bigger than war.
War talk has already undermined our small efforts to end AIDS in Africa and scattered our already scattered focus on HIV in the United States. There is a quiet struggle going on between Democrats and Republicans -- the republicans want to up money for war contractors and the military and cut everything else including money for AIDS.
This fight is why billions approved for "homeland defense" have not actually gotten out of Washington yet. When that money hits the streets this spring, we will hear a lot about terrorism and very little about AIDS as public agencies find it possible to get big money for fighting terrorism and less than ever for coping with the epidemic.
The ICAAC Convention that just finished in San Diego proves the point.
With its seminars on bio-terrorism, its keynote speeches on fighting biological warfare that replaced those on fighting HIV, this famous science convention sent a signal that AIDS is out and WAR is in. The real danger to those of us concerned about HIV is WHERE the money to fight that war comes from.
Money for testing smallpox vaccines, trying out therapies for potential dirty nuclear bomb victims and teaching thousands of workers and the public how to protect themselves from bio-terrorism is 'in' and dramatically outspending all of the efforts to end AIDS.
Since 1983, when Ronald Regan put Dr. Tony Fauci in charge of the effort to end HIV, Dr. Fauci has been an eloquent spokesman for the last seventeen years on AIDS. At this year's ICAAC convention, Dr. Fauci spoke about bioterrorism. This makes those of us who want to see an increased focus on AIDS nervous.
While there are real reasons to be concerned about Saddam Hussein and other maniacs (including our own true believers) it is instructive to study why war is such a popular public pastime of politicians over the centuries and what the impact of and reasons for war now will be on our efforts to stop HIV.
Not many years ago, Machiavelli wrote a book called "The Prince." In this book he explained how useful enemies are to rulers. There has always been a dance of convenience between countries and their enemies. Having an enemy is often a political godsend.
An enemy takes your own people's mind off of their problems (for example off of the increasingly scary state of the U.S. economy), makes it possible to paint people who disagree with the leader as unpatriotic, shores up support for the leader and cements the leader's control over their political rivals and government bureaucracies.
Often having an enemy is convenient for BOTH sides of the aisle. For example, it props UP Hussein, keeping him popular among Arab clerics and leaders who might otherwise find him a liability as WELL as keep the attention of U.S. voters on war instead of the stock market which has collapsed.
Perhaps this is why Gorbachev on the eve of his ending the Soviet Union's role as the evil empire said he would do something worse that anything the Soviet Union had previously done to the United States - - he would remove our enemy.
Having an enemy, however, is not all good. It tends to create very short lived periods of popularity, witness how quickly George the Senior and his victorious Gulf War lost his popular mandate in time to give Bill Clinton the American presidency in 1994.
This is because it is expensive to have wars. Throughout history, from the collapse of the French monarchy to the end of the Soviet Union, the real culprits have been leaders spending countries into long-term depressions.
As of now, Bush's experts anticipate it will cost the U.S. 100-200 billion dollars for the war against Iraq. This is ONE THOUSAND TIMES MORE MONEY THAN GEORGE BUSH GAVE TO THE GLOBAL AIDS FUND. This is hundreds of times more money than we have invested in testing for an AIDS vaccine. This is a thousand times more money than prevention efforts. A hundred times more money than is available for ALL medicines here in the USA.
And there is every reason to believe that some of the money to pay for this war will come from money now going to fight HIV, buy medicines for the sick, and keep prevention efforts going. Especially given Bush's abstinence-only orientation toward stopping HIV transmission.
So here we are -- at a national scientific convention on infectious diseases focused on bio-terrorism instead of HIV. There seems to be money for anthrax, small pox and other agents of the new evil empire instead of funds for childhood vaccines, HIV microbicides, etc.
There are those who will argue that we must do both. In truth, we will not.
There is more money being spent to feel you up at airports than is being spent to find an AIDS vaccine. Which would make you the safest?