In his bid to appeal to a conservative base on the road to 2008, John McCain repeatedly urged last week that the United States send more troops to Iraq to get the job done. This was a common refrain during the Vietnam War, when McCain was a navy pilot. Top military officials complained that their hands were tied behind their backs. If only the politicians authorized more troops and firepower, the brass argued that they could accomplish the mission.
But this time around, McCain is not getting much support from the top military brass. Gen. John Abizaid, who leads the U.S. Central Command, vetoed the idea of more troops, arguing that it was time for Iraqis to take charge. Other military officials argued that ramping up troop levels would, according to The Washington Post, “severely strain the military, would be unsustainable for more than a few months, and would offer no discernable long-term benefit.”
Among stand-up comedians who specialize in foreign policy jokes—a very minor subgenre in the comedy world—it is common to hear “military intelligence” referred to as an oxymoron. But the military response to McCain’s political appeal demonstrates that military intelligence is no oxymoron.
I recently gave a presentation on Korea to military personnel and was impressed with the scope and acuity of the seminar participants. But it wasn’t simply their intelligence that I respected. They consistently challenged the indiscriminate use of force, argued for an expanded State Department role in resolving conflicts, and were interested in non-military ways that the Pentagon could address problems such as poverty. This is not, as they say, your grandfather’s army.
As a peace activist, I often find myself on the other side of the issue from the military. But I couldn’t help but take heart from both my experience on the “inside” and how military officials have responded to McCain’s political gambit.
In the bad old days, security was a military thing, full stop. The government and the defense sector talked about weapons as both the problem and the solution. Bad guys on the horizon? Send in the Marines.
But now even the Bush administration has jumped on the human security bandwagon. Developed by Japanese thinker Kinhide Mushakoji for the UN, the concept of human security broadens the traditional notion of military security to include food, environmental, and gender security, among others. In the Bush administration’s version of this idea, security must include the 3 Ds: defense, diplomacy, and development.
As Lisa Schirch and Aaron Kishbaugh point out in their new FPIF brief, the new Bush approach to a more integrated security policy has considerable merit in tackling such problems as infectious disease, global warming, and poverty.
But, as they further argue, the 3D initiative is far from perfect. It remains under-funded. It runs the risk of militarizing aid and strengthening the Pentagon at the expense of nongovernmental organizations working on humanitarian issues. And by identifying fragile and failed states as security threats, a 3D security framework could reinforce the idea that militaries and development organizations in the northern hemisphere have the right to interfere and dictate the development paths of countries in the south.
At the same time that I was appreciating military intelligence in the classroom, the base where I was giving my presentation was welcoming its first Osprey. Valued for its ability to rise vertically like a helicopter but fly like an airplane, the Osprey costs $89 million a piece. The V-22 aircraft was a major piece of military pork, kept alive despite a terrible failure rate and an “operationally not suitable” designation by the Pentagon’s own director of operational testing and evaluation.
However sharp military personnel may be and however expansive the definition of security has become, weapons are still the driving force behind the U.S. military.
As FPIF columnist Frida Berrigan points out in her latest piece, weapons don’t simply fulfill a military role. They’re a big business. The global arms trade is experiencing its biggest year for more than decade. And the United States, as the world’s leading producer and exporter, is making the big bucks. What was that you said about non-proliferation, President Bush?
“U.S. arms sales offers for 2006 appear to be roughly twice the levels of any other year during the Bush administration,” Berrigan reports. “Noteworthy among these are the $5 billion deal for F-16s to Pakistan and a $5.8 billion agreement to completely re-equip Saudi Arabia’s internal security force.”
Iraq and Israel
McCain recommends more U.S. troops for Iraq. FPIF columnist Walden Bello, meanwhile, doesn’t agree. In his essay Iraq After November 7, Bello argues that shoring up the Shiite-dominated government, sending in more troops to stabilize the situation prior to withdrawal, withdrawing to the nearby desert, or partitioning of the country are all poor options. The least worst choice is immediate withdrawal.
“Electoral choice has created the momentum that can be translated into street action that can, in turn, translate into strong pressure on the Democrats not to agree to a protracted exit strategy,” Bello writes. “The movement cannot afford to squander this momentum, for the price of stepping back and letting the Democrats come up with the strategy will be more Iraqis and Americans dead, sacrificed for a meaningless war with no real end in sight.”
FPIF’s Middle East editor Stephen Zunes has even less faith that the Democrats will effect change in its policy on the Israel-Palestine issue. “The principal Democratic Party spokesmen on foreign policy will likely be Tom Lantos in the House of Representatives and Joe Biden in the Senate, both of whom have been longstanding and outspoken supporters of a series of right-wing Israeli governments and opponents of the Israeli peace movement,” Zunes writes in a TomPaine.com commentary. “And, despite claims—even within the progressive press—that future House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a ‘consistent supporter of human rights,’ such humanitarian concerns have never applied to Arabs, since she is a staunch defender of right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his predecessor Ariel Sharon.”