It looks like anti-war candidates Ron Paul and Barack Obama are getting the most campaign contributions from members of the military. I’m not sure exactly what that proves at the end of the day, but certainly it’s a reminder that “the troops” are hardly marching in lockstep behind the Bush/McCain perpetual war agenda.
In 2002, President Bush announced the creation of the Millennium Challenge Account to “expand our fight against AIDS” and aid democracy in developing nations. He promised that the program would receive $5 billion a year beginning in FY 2006 and beyond.
America is leading the fight against global poverty, with strong education initiatives and humanitarian assistance. We’ve also changed the way we deliver aid by launching the Millennium Challenge Account. This program strengthens democracy, transparency, and the rule of law in developing nations, and I ask you to fully fund this important initiative.
Yet just a week after this speech, Bush released his FY 2009 budget that requests a funding cut for the program. Although Congress has repeatedly underfunded the program, Bush’s requests for the program have never come close to $5 billion. Funding levels for FY 2009, however, fall to a new low:
|Fiscal Year||Budget Request|
|FY 2006||$3 billion|
|FY 2007||$3 billion|
|FY 2008||$3 billion|
|FY 2009||$2.225 billion|
The Wall Street Journal notes that Bush’s $2.225 billion request is enough to just “provide packages to Ukraine, Moldova, Jordan, Timor-Leste and Malawi.”
Not only has Bush backtracked on his the Millennium Challenge Account, but he largely ignored democracy promotion on his recent Middle East trip. In Saudi Arabia, Bush spent time with King Abdullah, but never met with “one Saudi dissident or political activist, much less a democrat.”
Not surprisingly, democracy activists in the Middle East say they feel “disappointed” by Bush.
Conservatives opposed to redeployment in Iraq have consistently claimed that U.S. troops are on their side:
President Bush: The [military] families gathered here understand that our troops want to finish the job. [Link]
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ): I want to — and I want to tell you something, sir. I just finished having Thanksgiving with the troops, and their message to you is — the message of these brave men and women who are serving over there is: Let us win. Let us win. [Link]
Yet U.S. troops disagree. Yesterday, the Center for Responsive Politics reported that members of the military donated the most not to McCain, but to two anti-war candidates:
Individuals in the Army, Navy and Air Force made those branches of the armed services among the top contributors in the 4th Quarter, ranking No. 13, No. 18 and No. 21, respectively. In 2007, Republican Ron Paul, who opposes U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, was the top recipient of money from donors in the military, collecting at least $212,000 from them. Barack Obama, another war opponent, was second with about $94,000.
These donations reflect the military’s disapproval with the Iraq war and President Bush’s handling of it. A recent Military Times poll found that just 46 percent of U.S. troops now believe that the country should have invaded Iraq, and only 40 percent approve of Bush’s handling of the war.
I think it bears mentioning that, in my view, the debate that’s broken out in comments here and periodically elsewhere around the web as to whether or not it took any particular political courage for Barack Obama to oppose the war in the fall of 2002 is a bit irrelevant. Whatever you may say about Hillary Clinton, pro or con, she obviously didn’t take the position she did on Iraq because of short term political calculations. Clinton wasn’t up for re-election until 2006. For people in her position, the cynical calculus and the substantive calculus wound up giving very similar answers.
For Clinton, the politically smart thing to do was to make her best judgment as to whether or not a vote for war would look smart in retrospect, and vote accordingly. Someone in Obama’s position didn’t face any real political risks in any direction. But the only cynical reason to speak out strongly against the war would have been a conviction that such speaking out would look smart in retrospect. Basically, political and substantive judgments track very closely.
It’s different for someone facing the Max Cleland scenario of a tough 2002 re-election battle where you might really think that an invasion would be a long-run disaster but that you had no choice other than to support it. Neither Clinton nor Obama were in that position. Both could have gotten away with saying or doing just about anything. But both were ambitious people looking to do things that would look smart in the medium- to long-run. And only Obama did, in fact, do something that looks smart in retrospect. To mention the book once again, one argument I make is that while it’s hardly a law of nature that “good policy is good politics” when it comes to something like Iraq it’s really difficult to get the politics right in a vacuum. It makes a ton of sense, even in the most cynical possible terms, to try to build your political strategy on a foundation of sound substantive judgment.
[Our guest blogger, Peter Swire, is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and served as the Clinton Administration's Chief Counselor for Privacy.]
The Bush administration wants to place more black boxes on private-sector computer networks. We’ve already learned a lot about the NSA wiretap program and its Narus STA 6400 splitter — that’s the black box that AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein reported the NSA placed at a major node for voice and Internet communications (inside this secret room).
The president’s budget wants to go much further. It moves beyond telcos and allocates $6 billion for a secretive system that is designed to protect government and private computer systems from attack. According to the Wall Street Journal, the White House proposal “would likely require the government to install sensors on private, company networks.”
This proposal repeats the mistakes of the Federal Intrusion Detection Network, which proposed similar monitoring of private computer systems when it was proposed in 1999. That aspect of FIDNet was quickly withdrawn, for at least three good reasons:
1. Private companies are understandably reluctant to permit the government to attach unknown hardware or software to their corporate systems. The risks of security breach and operational problems are too high, especially given the long history of computer security failures by the federal agencies themselves.
2. Direct federal intervention in private computer systems raises innumerable legal and policy issues about privacy, the Fourth Amendment, and the scope of government surveillance.
3. The new proposal ignores the sensible principles for cybersecurity that were adopted in the wake of the FIDNet fiasco and built into the Federal Computer Incident Response Center. Quite simply, the federal government should adopt best security practices that apply to private systems.
Under the better approach, the federal government should adopt state-of-the-art intrusion detection software and other measures for its own systems to combat intrusions into federal systems. The federal government should not, however, try to install its equipment into private systems.
Spencer Ackerman has a great piece laying out Hillary Clinton’s evolving views of Iraq over the years:
Clinton’s statements during October 2002 have received much attention. But what she’s said in the intervening years demonstrates a vertigo-inducing lack of clarity. Her position tracked the political zeitgeist elegantly: cautiously in favor of the war before it started; enthusiastically in favor of it during its first year; overtaken with doubt during 2004; nervously against withdrawal in 2005; cautiously in favor of withdrawal ever since—and all without so much as an acknowledgment of her myriad repositioning. At no point did she challenge the prevailing assumptions behind the war.
Spencer also, and correctly in my mind, draws an analogy between Clinton’s ambiguous positioning on the war issue and that of John Kerry during the 2004 campaign:
And there’s a final significance to Clinton’s turn against the war. In November, the Democratic nominee will probably face a Republican who believed deeply in the war, but who also repeatedly criticized the war’s execution—Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz). McCain, a war hero, has national-security bona fides that few candidates possess. He will be able to inhabit the space Clinton has carved out for herself over the past two years: sober critic and skeptic of Bush. However, he’ll also be able to pounce on her inconsistency and vacillation, if Thursday’s debate is any indication, in a replay of the “flip-flopper” charge that doomed Kerry four years ago. Unlike Obama, Clinton will have no way of pivoting to a broader indictment of the militarism that McCain cheerfully espouses. It may be that, nearly six years after Clinton thought she had positioned herself to avoid all the pitfalls of the war, her calculation itself was what ultimately sealed the fate of her candidacy.
Now an important caveat that I would add to Spencer’s critique is that Barack Obama followed up his extremely smart October 2002 speech on Iraq with what amounted to several years worth of Clinton-style vacillation and CW-mongering. The Clinton campaign has emphasized at various points that her record on Iraq and Obama’s record on Iraq are actually very similar. And they’re quite right. Still, the different positions they took in 2002 do put these records in a different context and, I think, the advantage overall clearly goes to Obama.
UPDATE: It should be said that my forthcoming book, Heads in the Sand, deals extensively with issues in this neighborhood. At a time when the country is being governed by fundamentally misguided ideas, the finger-in-the-wind approach fails to generate arguments that operate on the correct level and make it difficult for opposition politicians to reap the benefits that ought to follow from the fact that Bush’s ideas have had disastrous consequences.
DOD photo of Hillary Clinton at Kirkuk Airbase taken by A1C Alicia M. Sarkkinen, USAF, 29 November 2003
To be clear about something, the big problem with America’s sky-high Pentagon budget isn’t merely that it’s big — we’re obviously capable of spending this much without wrecking the national economy and we have, in the past, spent a higher share of our economy on this stuff — it’s that so much of it is so clearly unnecessary. Fred Kaplan notes, for example, that the iron laws of inter-service rivalry dictate that the money be split up almost exactly evenly between the Army, Air Force, and Navy irrespective of need:
As I have noted before (and, I’m sure, will again), the budget has been divvied up this way, plus or minus 2 percent, each and every year since the 1960s. Is it remotely conceivable that our national-security needs coincide so precisely — and so consistently over the span of nearly a half-century — with the bureaucratic imperatives of giving the Army, Air Force, and Navy an even share of the money? Again, the question answers itself. As the Army’s budget goes up to meet the demands of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Air Force’s and Navy’s budgets have to go up by roughly the same share, as well. It would be a miracle if this didn’t sire a lot of waste and extravagance.
What’s more, as Kevin Drum argues it’s not as if this has been accomplished by each service coming up with brilliant-but-expensive ways to fight terrorism. Rather, the rigid budget formula has been matched by rigid adherence to an R&D and procurement process developed in order to fight a large-scale war with a peer competitor like the Soviet Union. When the Cold War ended, you saw some rationale shifting and arguments about the need to to use this stuff to fight China (which has a relatively tiny military establishment, no real capacity to project power, and unlike the Soviet Union isn’t really in a contest for global hegemony with the US anyway) and then after 9/11 you still sometimes hear that and you sometimes just get told we need this stuff to fight terrorism.
And of course in a super-simplistic way, it’s probably true that all else being equal having an extra F-22 Raptor is better for counter-terrorism purposes than not having it. But in the real world when you add up your F-22s and your missile defense systems and your DDG1000 and your Virgina Class submarines and all the rest little else is equal. This stuff is extremely expensive. So expensive, in fact, that to keep the purchasing order for it we wind up not actually procuring enough of the new equipment to fully replace our old stuff. We could lower our horizons a bit and make due with buying new and only-slightly-improved versions of existing military hardware (which, after all, seems to work pretty well when it’s not old and broken) and save tons of money for other priorities.
And don’t just blame Bush, of course. Ike Skelton, the top House Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, released a statement yesterday calling Bush’s budget request “a good and necessary increase.” Meanwhile, proposals embraced by both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to increase the number of ground troops in the military could be a good idea if this was done by shifting some spending from these not-so-necessary weapons programs over to manpower needs, but as a pure increase that rather than being offset will drive further increases in Air Force and Navy budgets to preserve the formula it just further entrenches the problem.
At any rate, Fred Kaplan’s book, Daydream Believers which is out now, goes into a bunch of this. He also notes that things get even worse when, in essence, policymakers start believing the propaganda associated with this kind of graft-driven endless buildup of equipment. The Bush administration, in particular, as Kaplan argues seems to have pointed out that this seemingly-useless policy of ensuring an ever-widening gap between US technological capabilities and those of any possible adversary must in fact have been super-useful — maybe it would allow us to totally remake the ground-rules of the international order! Regime change quick and cheap! Why not! Well, we know how that turned out.