August 11, 2006


The terrorist plot foiled by British authorities is a reminder of several things. First, there really are fanatics who want to commit atrocities on innocent civilians.

Second, often plots of this kind are foiled by good intelligence and police work. Overwhelming military force is a pretty blunt instrument in dealing with a diffuse and decentralized threat. If overwhelming military force were the main ingredient in stopping terrorism, Israel would be the safest place in the world.

Third, the unnecessary war in Iraq has made the US less rather than more safe. The money and human resources consumed by the war—around $320 billion that we know about—could better be spent elsewhere. Supporters of the war often claim say “If we don’t fight them there, they’ll attack us here.” The recent threat is more proof that it isn’t a case of either/or.

Fourth, the spending and policy priorities of the nation’s leaders are seriously skewed and may do little to make us safer. As James Surowiecki points out in the August 7 and 14 New Yorker

…we have a defense budget that is over half a trillion dollars, forty percent higher than it was in 2001. More than half the federal government’s discretionary spending goes to the military, and, while a sizable chunk goes toward the fight against terrorism and the Iraq war, too much has nothing to do with the demands of a post-9/11 world.

Much defense money is being spent Cold War era high tech weapons systems that may well have once put the fear of God into the Soviet military but do little to counter the kinds of threats we face today.

The flow of lots of money to corporate defense contractors has been a boon to war profiteers but may have the effect of making us less safe:

…often in recent times expensive weapons projects have been given priority over mundane improvements that would help the military here and now. Earlier this year, for instance, the Senate cut funding for night-vision goggles for soldiers, while adding money to buy three new V-22 Ospreys, a plane that Dick Cheney himself tried to get rid of when he was Secretary of Defense. Similarly, we might have been able to afford appropriate body armor for the troops, and plates for the Hummers in Baghdad, if we were building only one new model of multi-billion-dollar jet fighter, instead of two.

The article also notes that the Congress recently eliminated $650 million for port security and $100 million for preventing the use of nuclear weapons in the US, all of which are less than a third of the cost of building a new destroyer.

Fifth, the mania for military outsourcing isn’t helping. In Joseph Heller’s classic Catch-22, Milo Minderbinder said “Frankly, I'd like to see the government get out of war altogether and leave the whole field to private industry.”

What was once a laugh line is becoming a reality. Since 2002, the 16 percent of Defense Department spending for Iraq and the war on terrorism has gone to contractors who often do what military personnel once did, provided of course that they actually do what they are paid to do.

This is, alas, not a given. As Business Week puts it,

The U.S. military has lost billions to fraud and mismanagement by private contractors in Iraq who do everything form cooking soldiers’ meals to providing security.

The article reports that payments to contractors “who provide food, shelter, security and other services” has jumped from $53 billion in 2000 to $104 billion in 2005. The article quotes Jeffrey Smith, former CIA general counsel, as saying “Iraq has attracted patriots and crooks—and there were probably some crooked patriots.”

This ideologically driven mania for privatization can have deadly consequences when profit trumps troop or public safety.

Sixth, the administration's fixation on tax cuts aimed mostly at the wealthy, which incredibly cost more than the the Iraq war, deprive the country of both needed services and legitimate security measures. If a jetliner explodes, it affects first class travelers too.

So, yes, there is a threat. But, yes, there have to be better ways of dealing with it.


Cuz Barb said...

As usual, I love your articles cuz.
I'm sure you're familiar with
It has a running total of the cost of the war in Iraq, and compares it to the cost of things like kids health, education, college scholorships, etc. An interesting site for anyone who reads and enjoys your informative blog.

HillbillyEno said...

Wow, where to start on this post? I enjoy reading this always well-written blog, but sometimes the posts are so puerile that I can't take it anymore.

First, you are right, there are individuals who feel it is morally o.k. to kill civilians to make a religious or nationalistic point. What's amazing is that some folks will consider terrorist actions (like Hesbollah's rocket attacks on Israeli schools) morally o.k. because of colonialism by the French half a century ago. My response to that is WTF?

Second, the aforementioned individuals are fully financed by outside resources. Since ther are few, if any, "private" resources in the Arab world, and religion and the "State" are completely intertwined. Therefore, it is the.....are you it comes....NATIONAL GOVERMENT of several countries that finance and plan the actions of many terrorists. The U.K. bombers included many unemployed 20 somethings with huge bank accounts. In West Virginia, that means oxycontin sales; but in the mid-east it means nation state involvment. Nations do respond well to overwhelming force, especially those in the mid-east. (see "Libya, Khaddafi" in wickipedia)

Third, if Iraq makes us "less safe", then why no attacks in this country in five years. Why did Osama bin Laden, hiding in a cave with only a tape recorder call Iraq the "most important aspect" of the war against the infidel in his last recording? How can you make such a blanket statement without ANY corraberating facts whatsoever? I think Robert C. Byrd's spending on unecessary projects have caused a spike in terrorist actions. Betcha can't prove that one wrong!!(see "bridges and highways to nowhere"; Webster and Pendleton counties. Oh by the way, those places are in WV. Since you guys are obviously in Charleston, you might not know that) My point is that your statement is conclusory with absolutely nothing to back it up. Its offensive to any thinking person, You can do (and have done) better.

Fourth and fifth, you are finally on to something. Military contracts are now and have always been fraught with questionable needs and practices. Cancellation of a totally unecessary submarine base in CT had Republicans howling. (Oh wait, those were all Democrats from CT weren't they) The point is you cannot lay this at the feet of this administration. Halliburton became huge during Clinton's Kosovo fiasco in the 1990's. Your point about outsourcing may be absolutely correct. I'm glad you cited specifics to prove your point....except you didn't. I'd like to know what examples you have.

Your sixth point is ridiculous. I'm a single parent public defender and guess what....I saved a boatload on my taxes. Now am I wealthy? Not by the standards of you journalistic types. Tax cuts in an system based on income will always impact those with more income. Furthermore, by every measure, the increase to the economy has resulted in State and Federal increases in tax revenue, so your point of "lost revenue" is just plain totally wrong.

What really struck me about your piece was the lack of any plan. If I by into your belief that more money from savings in Iraq will cure the threat, the least you could do is tell me how it will be accomplished. I constantly hear this meme.. more money, we are wasting money(see Barbs comment).... but no answers on exactly how the money will be spent to stop the threats.

Nice blog guys. Nice to have a WV site. Now stop being so totally predictable.