Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Buy and save

On the Talk of the Nation, National Public Radio program of 24 August, 2010, those millions of us who were listening to Army Col. Doug MacGregor (ret.) and Lieutenant Colonel Jay Stout (U.S. Marine Corps, Retired) might be forgiven for wondering if MacGregor is in danger of losing his pension and Stout is receiving a bonus for his participation.

MacGregor, as is his wont, critiqued the US military in many ways, though he clearly also loves it. One senses from any conversation with him that MacGregor relishes battle, and if he can't find one with the enemy he picks one with those who kept him from the enemy. I suspect host Neal Conan, a fawning admirer of anything military, chooses to bring on MacGregor for two reasons. One, he is colorful and blunt. Two, he has a great voice. Perfect guest for talk radio. MacGregor does not much veil his anger at his former commanding officers, and his enduring disgust with Norman Schwartzkopf was clear as he bemoaned what he recalled as the stalling and hesitating that allowed the Iraqi Republican Guard to escape the US military in 1991. His position in the military seemed to be second tier authority--he led significant numbers but major decisions were made above his level. As a warrior, he felt betrayed and still feels it sharply. He was also clear in the interview that those decisions cost the US dearly and will into the future.

Jay Stout, on the other hand, seems like the permanent manchild without discernible conscience and a love for risk-free killing. Listen or read the transcript to hear him talk of feeling fear until he realized that no one was going to shoot at him and then his attitude changes from fearful to fearsome, like any 14-year-old who fails to understand the consequences of his actions on the lives of human beings, but instead regards the entire enterprise of military action as an adolescent adventure and a game. He is giddy and remembers to tell us that, "So again, I think it's important to understand that then and now, the United States taxpayer is getting quite a bit of value for their defense dollar."

He was speaking about the training aviators receive. MacGregor was referring to overal costs of decisions made at both top military and top political levels. Stout is convinced that the billions lavished on training flights is a great value and MacGregor is sure that the trillions spent since Gulf War I were unnecessary.

The tradeoffs, of course, are never adequately discussed on national media. What if we cut military spending by two-thirds and took a small portion of the enormous savings for nonviolent conflict management and the rest to shore up our economy and social safety net?

The National Priorities Project does the best work on this entire array of analytical challenges. Subscribe to their low volume, high quality email digest for bombproof data and particularized tools that allow you to look at what your state or even your city spends on war and gets in return. The information boils down to factual documentation that can be used at the national, state and local level to help bring all elected officials into this conversation, since all have a visible and quantifiable stake--or at least their constituents to, and the idea is to help enliven and empower our democracy with usable and crucial information.

I like MacGregor. I am not a violent warrior and I would disagree with him about the use of violence, but his frank and honest appraisal of situations looking at his version of the big picture is genuine and informed, if completely "politically incorrect." His disdain for all Arab military is over the top, but when I brought him to Portland to help us think about Iraq he summed it all up by saying that, at some point, we will leave Iraq, there will be a period of violence, and a strongman or authoritarian coalition will take power and there will be a new stability, the way it has happened for a long time. Every time outsiders try to change that, they simply destabilize it, more lives are lost, and the final result is predictable. His beef was not that the US drove Saddam out of Kuwait but that we occupied Iraq, something he rightly saw as totally futile.

Nonviolence based on measures of human security instead of national security in the interests of gain for profiteers is our only hope for the future. Mother Nature and the bulk of humanity are no longer willing or able to wait for America to get that, and the natural consequences of our failure to transform our approach to international relations will be more and more severe the longer it takes us. Time to get involved.

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