Sunday, August 15, 2010

Robert Gates (and Ted Koppel) to the rescue

For those of you who aren't swamped by the media's constant shouting, Robert Gates (Secretary of Defense) announced on Monday that the Department of Defense is going to rein in some of its fiscal irresponsibility (see more commentary here, here, here, and here).

This is great news. Gates wants to reduce the prevalence of contractors and cut a command (the U.S. Joint Forces Command) over half of which is made up of contractors. Now, the usual suspects are whining that this will cut jobs (duh, as will most cost-cutting measures), but I think we've got coherent public policy on our side here.

Meanwhile, while listening to NPR last week, I heard the best discussion on the military and war that has ever taken place. It's a 16 and a half minute long conversation and I was going to edit it down to it's most important parts, but in re-listening to it, I realized I couldn't do that. The entire thing is worth every second, so I'm going to post the whole interview. It's not long and you won't regret taking the time to listen. However, for those of you who are busy saving the world or something equally as important so that you're exempt from doing your civic duty, I'll provide some quotes at the bottom.

This is Ted Koppel speaking (he has a tendency to not finish sentences, but these halves of sentences are fantastic):
This is the first time in the history of the United States that neither war, neither the Iraq war nor the Afghanistan war, has been underwritten by a special tax for the war. All wars previously have had special taxes.[...]
I do not think that any nation should go to war simply on the backs of a few hundred thousand men and women and their families. When a nation goes to war, it needs to be as an entity. And by and large, 90 to 95 percent of the American public, probably more than that if you look at the real numbers, are paying absolutely nothing for this war. We are not paying anything additionally in money. We are not paying anything in terms of personal sacrifice. The young men and women who are over there fighting the war, they are. They're paying. Their families are paying. Their loved ones are paying. They are paying in terms of having to fight a war over and over and over again. They thought when they volunteered - many of them - that they might have to go under a war zone once or twice. So many of these young men and women have had to go back three times, four times, five times.
And, you know, frankly, we're not paying for the war financially. We're not paying for the war in terms of a draft so that there is an equitable number of young men and women who are going over from all branches of society. We're not paying for it in terms of personal sacrifice. We're not paying for it in terms of rationing. We are giving up essentially nothing to fight the war.[...]
My point here is not to get into a debate with anyone as to whether we should be in these wars in the first place. I am simply saying that if and when the United States goes to war, it has to do so with the backing of and the support of - and support is not just a verbal thing. It's not a rhetorical device. Support means giving something up, giving, you know, getting a little skin on the game.[...] 
...with response to the Blackwater types, what the [caller] refers to as the mercenaries, he's absolutely right. It is another way that our politicians have found of pretending that there is no pain involved in fighting a war. One of the great difficulties that we confront today is that we have a military that is really too small and inadequate to do all the tasks that we require of them. And so we are hiring I don't know what the precise number is.
I know about a year ago that when you looked at all the civilians who were being hired to fulfill tasks that ranged from the protection of the ambassador and senior embassy officials, to doing laundry and driving trucks, you had more of those people who were hired in Iraq than you actually had troops over there. At a time when we still had 100,000 troops over there, we had about [120,000] to 150,000 civilian contractors who were working at prices far higher than would have been paid, let's say, to the military doing the same jobs.[...] 
What is unacceptable is a nation that goes to war without the engagement of its population, either the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan, are in the U.S. national interest, in which case, A, we have to fight those wars, and, B, we, the population of the United States - the voters, the citizens - have to support that, not just support it with our votes, but support it with our monies, support it with sacrifice that we are prepared to make.
That's maybe the best of the best, but it's pretty hard to trim down. I'd like to end on one of Koppel's lines (that I just quoted):
What is unacceptable is a nation that goes to war without the engagement of its population...

1 comment:

  1. I read about this in Newsweek from my favorite writer, Farheed Zakaria. Sounds like a plan.