In the first few days after the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, President Bush had already described them as acts of war, setting the stage for the introduction of a new "war on terrorism." Congress quickly approved a $40 billion emergency funding package, to be divided equally between domestic reconstruction efforts and support for federal agencies that will be engaged in the fight against terrorism.
Picking up on a theme that had been sounded earlier by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, the President asserted before a joint session of Congress on September 20th that the administration's war on terrorism would be a multi-faceted, long-term effort encompassing covert actions, military strikes, diplomatic initiatives, and domestic security measures (underscored by his creation of a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Defense, to be headed by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge). The speech was long on resolve and short on details on the costs and consequences of this seemingly open-ended anti-terror campaign.
On September 21st, the Guardian ran a story entitled "Secret Memo Reveals U.S. Plan to Overthrow Taliban Regime." Based on access to diplomatic cables from the U.S. to a key NATO ally, the Guardian indicated that Washington was seeking allied views on "post-Taliban Afghanistan after the liberation of the country." U.S. tactics for accomplishing this goal would reportedly involve using the 86-year old exiled Afghan monarch, King Zahir Shah, as a rallying point for the opposition Northern alliance and other Afghan tribes to come together to overthrow the Taliban regime. In the mean time, U.S. transport aircraft and intelligence gear were reportedly being landed in the former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan, which borders Afghanistan, for use in support of the anti-Taliban campaign.
Far from representing a "new approach," the military options being put forward by the Bush administration - engaging in massive bombing attacks, unleashing the CIA to permit assassinations of foreign leaders, and arming rebel groups to pressure regimes that allegedly support terror groups - are a collection of failed policies from the past. The last time the United States armed opposition groups in Afghanistan, our government helped sow the seeds of the Bin Laden terror network, among others. Bombing Afghanistan will entail deaths of innocent civilians, hardly the way to show the world that killing civilians is wrong. And unleashing U.S. intelligence agencies to commit murder and mayhem when they aren't even able to fulfill their original mission - collecting useful intelligence in a timely manner - is a questionable approach to rooting out terror networks, to put it mildly. Before we rush off to war, there needs to be a much more vigorous national debate about how best to protect against and prevent violence against civilians, in the United States and around the world.
A BLANK CHECK FOR THE PENTAGON?
Although there has been considerable editorial comment about the need to rethink U.S. defense strategy in the wake of the September 11th attacks, so far it appears to be business as usual. An article in the September 17-23 issue of Defense News indicates that roughly $12 billion of the $40 billion emergency package is slated to go to the Pentagon, but it quotes a Pentagon official as saying that the emergency funds "will have nothing to do with rescue and emergency efforts." The official further states that "This will have nothing to do with retaliation in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. The funding will go to the [military department's] wish lists for things that we'll have several years from now." Budget analyst Christopher Hellman of the Center for Defense Information has suggested that military spending for the fiscal year starting October 1, 2001 could reach $375 billion. Deputy Secretary of Defense Wolfowitz has intimated that the emergency funds are just the down payment on a major increase in Pentagon spending, and conservative analysts such as Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute have suggested that it is possible that Congress will now be willing to push the Pentagon budget to $400 billion per year or more, a figure that was merely a right-wing pipe dream just a few months ago.
This surge in Pentagon spending is good news for major Pentagon contractors, who were among the few companies that showed increases in their stock prices when the market reopened after the September 11th attacks. Among the top gainers for the week of September 17-21 were major military and space contractors like Raytheon (+37%), L-3 Communications (+35.8%), EDO (+24.8%), Alliant Tech Systems (+23.5%), and Northrop Grumman (+21.2%). As James Dao of the New York Times noted, some companies are already up on Capitol Hill pushing their wares in the wake of the September 11th attacks: "Many military contractors have been hesitant to talk publicly about their improved economic prospects. 'This is such a gruesome way to make money,' a lobbyist said." But other companies, like Continental Electronics, have begun openly lobbying for new business, going so far as to call the Pentagon directly. "We believe that our radio transmitters would be desperately needed in places like Pakistan," said John Uvodich, the company's president. "We are just trying to let people in Washington know that we are here to assist."
A logical approach to retooling the Pentagon would be to set some priorities, not just throw money at the problem under the guise of fighting terrorism. Systems like the costly F-22 fighter plane, the bulky Crusader artillery system, and the administration's $8.3 billion missile defense program seem largely irrelevant to dealing with low tech threats like the September 11th attacks. But as Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace notes, "tragically, some are using the terrible tragedy to justify their existing programs, slapping an 'anti-terrorism' label on missile defense and military budget increases." Just as no one in the Bush administration has adequately explained why the expect a military response to terrorism to be effective, no one has indicated why a $375 billion budget -- comparable to what the U.S. was spending during the Cold War against an adversary with 4 million troops and thousands of nuclear weapons -- is not sufficient to fight a series of terrorist networks whose membership is measured in the thousands, not the millions.
BY THE WAY, ABOUT THAT MISSILE DEFENSE SYSTEM*.
Despite the fact that a number of informed observers, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden of Delaware, have noted that the September 11th attacks underscore the irrelevance of the Bush administration's costly missile defense scheme to the most immediate threats to U.S. security, the program may receive a short-term boost in the environment of "consensus" that now reigns on Capitol Hill. A few days after the attacks, The New York Times reported that key Capitol Hill Democrats did not want to appear to be partisan by picking a fight on missile defense at this time. But as Tom Collina of the Union of Concerned Scientists aptly noted, "There's a real danger because of this crisis that the Democrats will give up this fight, which would be a real shame." Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin agreed to hold off on an amendment that would have limited the ability of the administration to undertake tests or other actions that would violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. He promises to introduce the measure later as a stand-alone measure.
In the mean time, Star Wars boosters are using homey analogies to suggest that we need anti-terrorist measures and missile defense, saying things like "just because the burglar came in the front door last time doesn't mean you want to leave the back door unlocked," or "just because you have insurance against theft doesn't mean you shouldn't buy fire insurance." These comparisons are way off the mark. Given the extreme unlikelihood of a nuclear-armed state, much less a terrorist group, launching a nuclear missile attack at the United States, a more accurate analogy would be more like "Now that your house has just burned down, maybe you should stop spending all your money on insurance against being hit by an asteroid."
Hopefully the Capitol Hill moratorium on criticizing missile defense will end soon, before additional billions are poured into this dangerous and unworkable project. And hopefully the current irresponsible attitude on Capitol Hill of uncritically throwing money at the Pentagon in the wake of the September 11th attack will be cast aside in favor of a vigorous public debate about the best way to prevent terrorism.
William D. Hartung is the President's Fellow at the New School University's World Policy Institute and the director of the Arms Trade Resource Center (www.worldpolicy.org/projects/arms). He is also the author of And Weapons For All.