Elizabeth Turpen: Isn’t it Ironic…


So, here’s my just-in-time submission that will pick up on a couple themes from recent posts. It was an honor to be asked to contribute to TWN in Steve’s absence. I’ve never blogged before, so I await the potentially well deserved keyboard lashings in response to this rant.
I will start with my recommendation for Peter, “duck and cover.” However, before I get rolling, let me simply state that insufficient attention to the threat of nuclear terrorism started with daddy Bush, continued through Clinton, and W is simply a continuation of the trend. Let me, however, point to one major advantage W has that annihilates any excuses for not doing everything, absolutely everything, possible to prevent a reenactment of 9-11 with nukes. With public attention focused on the terrorist threat, W, if he really wanted to, could easily garner support for laser-like focus and a corresponding allocation of resources to address the problem. (Vastly different than the Clinton cruise missile attacks on Afghanistan in August of 1998 that were viewed as a “wag the dog” scenario to detract from the Lewinsky scandal.)
As you all will recall, in the introduction to the 2002 National Security Strategy, President Bush wrote that the greatest threat lies “at the crossroads of radicalism and technology.” Now here’s the first irony that makes me want to cry. We currently spend roughly $1 billion annually on the Nunn-Lugar programs to address the most likely source of “loose nukes.” (As aptly cited in Peter’s TNR article, the collapse of a heavily WMD-armed Soviet empire continues to serve as a veritable “Home Depot” for terrorists.) By contrast, the budget request for missile defense in FY2006 alone hovers at $9 billion. A conservative estimate of the total price tag for Iraq and Afghanistan in the first four years is $75-80 billion annually. Per month we’re willing to spend $83 million to address the most likely source for terrorist acquisition of nuclear bomb-grade materials (as well as nasty bugs and chemical munitions); $750 million on missile defense; and $5 billion on war operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
And another example that’s a pet peeve of mine: expenditures for hi tech intelligence gathering hardware as opposed to the language specialists and analysts requisite to decipher the incoming data. In December last year, Senator Rockefeller caused a stir by questioning projected allocations estimated at $9.5 billion for a satellite imaging system that many viewed as largely duplicative of existing capabilities and a questionable allocation of scarce resources in light of today’s threat. Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office has determined [PDF] that the shortfalls in foreign language specialists within our national security apparatus (Army, FBI, State Department, etc.) are as high as 50 percent in some cases. The irony in this example is that technological advances increase the amount of data being collected, thereby increasing the need for foreign language specialists by 30 percent each year. The contrast with respect to long-term investments in human resource needs? Although individual agencies offer training and incentives for recruitment of foreign language specialists, only one federal program, the National Security Education Program, is specifically designed to train and recruit language specialists into our national security agencies, and it is funded at somewhere between $8 and $15 million per year. Now I realize that analyzing satellite images doesn’t require foreign language skills. My point here is one of endless investments in hi tech hardware of dubious utility versus the human resource needs to adequately understand and effectively respond to the challenges.
Examples like this abound. A simple look at the trends in our federal budget allocations underscores the point that we do not have a “coherent, national policy that attacks this threat multi-dimensionally.” Our current national security investments represent a 13 to 1 ratio in Pentagon spending to the amount spent on everything else we do in the world (our diplomatic corps, contributions to the UN and international financial institutions, bilateral aid, the Millennium Challenge Account, HIV/AIDS, etc.). If there’s a political dimension to the GWOT (actually GWIZ is my favorite from the array of catchy acronyms found on this blog), then we need to do some serious retooling of budget allocations to achieve a multi-dimensional response.
This budget profile represents a Cold War hangover intensified by the political sloganeering that allowed W to be a “war president” ad infinitum, but was wildly inaccurate and misleading as to what this struggle really entails. General Richard Myers, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, said he “objected to the use of the term ‘war on terrorism’ because if you call it a war, then you think of people in uniform as being the solution”. According to Myers, future efforts required “all instruments of our national power, all instruments of the international communities’ national power”. The solution was “more diplomatic, more economic, more political than it is military”, he added. Exactly. But four years out, we’re no closer to achieving an appropriate balance among our instruments of power. In fact, any hopes of achieving balance look increasingly grim.
This imbalance in our instruments of power is not solely the Administration’s doing. The President’s FY2006 budget request included a thirteen percent increase for the foreign affairs account – the largest single percentage increase in any of the stovepiped functions that comprise the US federal budget. (You go, Condi. That’s the insider advantage for sure.) Problem is that such increases have insufficient support in Congress from right to left. Right-wingers hate it, well, because it’s foreign aid, UN contributions, etc. The left won’t support it because similar increases are not forthcoming for domestic needs. This is not a guns versus butter thing. It’s domestic butter versus international instruments that’s currently at issue. (If you think the “soft” security accounts don’t matter, just look at Indonesians’ attitudes about the United States pre- and post tsunami. A little disaster relief can go a long way in improving a badly tarnished image.) And, true to form, if the House has its way, the foreign affairs account will get slashed back to its rightful place – about a four percent increase from FY2005 allocations.
I’ll rely on Karl Rove’s own eloquent summary here. “Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers.” A coherent, multi-dimensional strategy would have done both – prepare for war and understand our attackers. Instead, GWOT gave us a War President, desired increases in the regular Pentagon budget, two wars with insufficient attention to everything that followed “major combat operations”, a drain on the national treasury via supplemental requests, and little progress in achieving any coherence. GWOT, in fact, makes for a particularly lousy Grand Strategy [pdf].
I was working for a conservative Senator during September 2001, and I don’t remember conservatives “preparing for war.” I do recall that on September 12, 2001, we were told it was our patriotic duty to go shopping. As to who is making the sacrifices beyond our decreased tax burden, the following notices from Defense Department flowed into my inbox from late Friday, August 5, to this morning.
Killed in Afghanistan were:
Pvt. 1st Class Damian J. Garza, 19, of Odessa, Texas;
Pvt. John M. Henderson Jr., 21, of Columbus, Ga.
In Iraq:
Pvt. 1st Class Nils G. Thompson, 19, of Confluence, Pa.;
Gunnery Sgt. Theodore Clark Jr., 31, of Emporia, Va.;
Spc. Jerry L. Ganey Jr., 29, of Folkston, Ga.;
Spc. Mathew V. Gibbs, 21, of Ambrose, Ga.;
Sgt. 1st Class Charles H. Warren, 36, of Duluth, Ga.;
Sgt. 1st Class Victor A. Anderson, 39, of Ellaville, Ga.;
Staff Sgt. David R. Jones Sr., 45, of Augusta, Ga.;
Sgt. Ronnie L. Shelley Sr., 34, of Valdosta, Ga.;
Staff Sgt. Chad J. Simon, 32, of Madison, Wis.;
“Conservatives” didn’t prepare for war. The KIAs listed above prepared for war. Karl Rove conservatives were busy (re)tooling slogans for posturing and political gains. And, the U.S. public continued to live very comfortable lives, while those paying close attention sought therapy for themselves due to the insanity of it all.