Collateral damage

Pumping up the military budget to preposterous proportions, Bush threatens to ruin the country in order to save it.

By Robert Scheer
Published February 7, 2002 2:01AM (EST)

Now we get to see just how cowardly the Democrats in Congress can be. President Bush has proposed the most preposterous military buildup in human history -- annual spending of $451 billion by 2007 -- and nary a word of criticism has been heard from the other side of the aisle. The president is drunk with the popularity that his war on terrorism has brought, and those sober Democrats and Republicans, who know better, are afraid to wrestle him for the keys to the budget before he drives off a cliff.

The red ink that Bush wants us to bleed to line the pockets of the defense industry, along with the tax cuts for the rich, will do more damage to our country than any terrorist. The result will be an economically hobbled United States, unable to solve its major domestic problems or support meaningful foreign aid, its enormous wealth sacrificed at the altar of military hardware that is largely without purpose.

Why the panic to throw billions more at the military when even the Pentagon brass have told us it is not needed? Our military forces, much maligned by Bush as inadequate during the election campaign, proved to be lacking in nothing once the administration decided to stop playing footsie with the Taliban and eliminate those monsters of our own creation. It was obviously not a lack of hardware that made us vulnerable to the cruelty of Sept. 11 but rather a failure of will by President Clinton, and then Bush, to brand the Taliban as terrorists and then to take out the well-marked camps of al-Qaida with the counterinsurgency machine we have been perfecting since the Kennedy administration.

Clinton authorized the elimination of Osama bin Laden in 1998, but the spy agencies simply failed to execute the order. Neither, apparently, were they competent enough to track Al Qaeda agents from training camps in Afghanistan to flight schools in Florida. All this even though these agencies possess secret budgets of at least $70 billion a year, combined.

Despite the ability to read license plates from outer space and scan the world's e-mail, our intelligence agencies lost the trail of terrorists who easily found cover with lap dancers in strip joints.

The bottom line is that we need sharper agents, not more expensive equipment. There is not an item in the Bush budget that will make us more secure from the next terrorist attack.

That being obvious, Bush is now resorting to the tried and true "evil empire" rhetorical strategy, grouping the disparate regimes of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an "axis of evil."

This alleged axis then becomes the rationale for a grossly expanded military budget, the idea being that the United States must be prepared to fight a conventional war on three fronts.

However, no such axis exists. North Korea is a tottering relic of a state whose nuclear operation was about to be bought off under the skilled leadership of the South Korean government when Bush jettisoned the deal. Iraq and Iran have been implacable foes for 25 years, and both were despised by the Taliban and al-Qaida.

Meanwhile, a key Muslim ally of the United States, Saudi Arabia, produced 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers -- and bin Laden. Saudi Arabia is also where al-Qaida does its biggest fundraising and yet, inexplicably, it is excluded from the new enemies list.

Even if the accepted goal were the overthrow of the three brutal regimes targeted by President Bush, that would hardly require an expansion of a war machine built to humble the Soviet Union in its prime.

Is Bush the younger now telling us that his father failed to topple Saddam Hussein because he lacked sufficient firepower? The road to Baghdad was wide open after we obliterated the vaunted Iraqi tank army in a matter of weeks. Or does Bush the younger have even more grandiose plans in mind?

His astonishing budget makes sense only if we are planning to use our mighty military in a pseudo-religious quest to create a superdominant Pax Americana.

Bizarre as that sounds, it may be the real framework for Bush's proposed spending orgy. In any case, almost every non-American speaker at the World Economic Forum in New York expressed fear at this specter.

Even our own Bill Gates was alarmed at the United States' apparent hubris: "People who feel the world is tilted against them will spawn the kind of hatred that is very dangerous for all of us."

Is it too much to ask that these billions, our billions, be spent to enhance our security rather than further erode it?

Robert Scheer

Robert Scheer is a syndicated columnist.

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