The Breakfast Table

Military Waste

Dear David,

I hope you’re right that we’re not about to go to war with Iraq. I, too, am for cutting down on waste in the military. What ever happened to the fabled peace dividend? With the Cold War over, why not cut spending more than just to mid-Cold-War levels?

Did you see the story today about the spy satellite that exploded in Florida? Billions of our tax dollars up in smoke. Talk about government waste. And now we’re looking at pouring money into Star Wars again–one very expensive and utterly failed science fiction project.

As for how the United States might create a more secure world–we could start by not pouring money into repressive regimes that sponsor terrorism. The Washington Post today has a horrific story about a massacre of civilians by paramilitaries in the oil-producing region of Colombia. We’ve known for years that the military in Colombia is linked to death-squad activity. The Post story headline, “Colombians Say Army Ignored Massacre”–is more proof. “Government investigators said nine soldiers from the New Granada Battalion waved four vehicles carrying the paramilitary troops through an army checkpoint before and after the attack and at least one soldier participated in the killings.”

Colombians laugh at the idea that the money we pour into their military (now the largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the hemisphere) is used to fight the drug war. The military and it’s ugly paramilitary cousin is more interested in the civil war that has been raging for decades there, wiping out guerrillas, but also unionists, local politicians, priests, human-rights workers, and countless innocent civilians labeled “subversives.”

Indonesia is another case like this–for decades we have continued to pump military aid to the Suharto regime, and turned a blind eye to the genocide his troops perpetrated in East Timor.

Around the globe the United States confronts messes of its own making. There’s an article on the front page of the New York Times today about the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, thanks in part to the United States intervention there during the Cold War. Contrary to Albright’s red-white-and-blue declarations that we are fighting for the principle of democracy against the forces of darkness, the United States has repeatedly backed low-lifes we later find ourselves at war with. Saddam Hussein is just one example. We once shored him up to keep Iran at bay, now we’ve reversed the policy. The genuinely awful plight of the Kurds was supposedly a reason the United States fought the Gulf War. But Turkey, our ally, has been persecuting the Kurds for years. One of the worst stories from the Gulf War was the hope the Kurds maintained that the United States would ride to their rescue, as promised. They took George Bush at his word, and rose up to defeat Hussein. But when push came to shove, the United States backed out and abandoned them to their fate.

I agree we can’t solve every squabble around the globe. But at least we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to human rights violations, and cynically support some of the worst offenders.

Week 1:

Mon., 8/10; Tues., 8/11; Wed., 8/12; Thurs., 8/13; Fri., 8/14

Week 2:

Mon., 8/17; Tues., 8/18; Wed., 8/19; Thurs., 8/20; Fri., 8/21