On Native Ground
SPENDING MONEY WE DON'T HAVE ON ARMS WE DON'T NEED
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- There's nothing that gets the Republican Party excited more than spending more money on making war.
The defense contractors are breathing easy now. The brief flurry of talk about reorganizing the armed services to reflect actual strategic threats ended on Sept. 11. Now, the money spigots are open wide like at noother time since Ronald Reagan's first year as president.
In his State of the Union address on Jan. 29, President George W. Bush used the threat of an newly created "evil axis" of North Korea, Iran and Iraq to make his case for the biggest increase in military spending in20 years. He is seeking a 14 percent increase -- $48 billion -- to a defense budget that will total $379 billion. That's more than the Pentagon's budget(in inflation adjusted dollars) during the height of the Vietnam War. The current "war on terrorism" is costing us about $1 billion a month. Certainly, there has to be enough money in the current $350 billion defense budget to cover that?
No, there isn't, say the Republicans. Even though the defense budget is currently designed to have enough resources to carry out operations such as the current one in Central Asia, the GOP says more is needed.
The question to ask is how much is going to go toward military readiness and practical, proven weapons designed for the real world? We all know the answer to that. The defense budget is one of the biggest corporate welfare programs going, with billions spent on unnecessary items themilitary often doesn't want.
The result is that the big ticket items such as new fighter planes and anti-ballistic missiles will always get billions while the mundane items such as uniforms, boots and combat gear for soldiers don't even merit a separate line item in the defense budget. Many soldiers have to dig into their own wallets to buy field equipment, while defense contractors spend millions lobbying Congress for more money. There are no lobbyists inWashington speaking for the grunts in the field.
With better accounting and oversight and a procurement policy that buys only what is needed, we could save tens of billions of dollars and not compromise military readiness. That means spending more money on the non-glamorous parts of the military budget -- training, logistical supportand spare parts and equipment maintenance -- and less on weapons systems that exist mainly to get defense contractors rich.
As for Iraq, Iran and North Korea -- the "axis of evil" that Bush isusing as justification for spending billions more on defense at the expense of domestic priorities -- the three nations are hardly working together totake over the world. Iran and Iraq still hate each other and the memory of the appallingly bloody war the two nations waged between 1980 and 1988 is stillfresh in their minds.
As for North Korea, it is an ally to neither country and remains a starving and backward Stalinist state. The only link it has to Iran and Iraq is the sale of the only commodity that North Korea has to export -- ballistic missile components. Unmentioned is that North Korea has sold more missile parts to Pakistan than it has to either Iran or Iraq.
The threats these three nations pose to the U.S. vary. Iraq is supposedly the furthest along with weapons of mass destruction, but the continued overflights of U.S. satellites and surveillance aircraft have kept Iraq's efforts in check. North Korea dismantled its nuclear program in 1994 and suspended flight-testing of its long-range missiles in 1999 in exchange for economic aid. Iran's capabilities are the most limited of the three, namely because it doesn't have much money and it's looking for more Western trade and investment.
In other words, the situation in all three nations had been under control -- until Mr. Bush took office. The unification talks between North Korea and South Korea ground to halt after the Bush administrationdecided to scuttle the peace process begun and aided by President Clinton.
Iran has reaching out to the West and has offered more help to the U.S. in the Afghanistan campaign than our supposed ally Saudi Arabia. And Iraq realizes that if it makes any threatening moves, it will be obliterated by the U.S.
North Korea, Iraq and Iran had no role in the Sept. 11 attacks, but they are being threatened with war. Saudi Arabia, where the bulk of the money and manpower to carry out the attacks came from, is not. And Pakistan, which aided the Taliban and is staring down India in a game of nuclear "chicken," is now a ally in the "war on terror."
Does any of this make sense? Only if you see all this as an opportunity to prop up a corrupt and illegitimate government with thethreat of endless war.
The Bush Administration is advocating increased militarization here and abroad to wage a war without end. It's time to start asking what the human and financial cost of such a strategy will be for America and the rest of the world.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for morethan 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).