Earmarking the War Machine

ONCE AGAIN, the railing of Senate Democrats did not matter on Iraq."This is George Bush's war," Hillary Clinton said. "He is responsible for this war. He started the war. He mismanaged the war. He escalated the war. And he refuses to end the war."

Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts said, "After more than four years of such smoke and mirrors, Congress and the American people have lost faith in the president's competence in managing the war."

Carl Levin of Michigan, the Armed Services Committee chairman who is cosponsoring a combat-troop pullout deadline with Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, said, "What we're not comfortable with is the huge chaos which exists in Iraq right now . . . which we're trying to bring to an end by changing the course."

Not only did the Senate Democrats fail again this week to advance proposals for a pullout, they show in much broader ways that they have not changed course at all. They may want to end the war bungled by Republicans, but they refuse to end the escalation of the American war machine.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said the Democrats would "drain the swamp" of Republican corruption and "break the link between lobbyists and legislation." But the Globe recently reported that Kennedy slid $100 million into the 2008 defense authorization bill for a General Electric fighter engine that the Air Force said it did not need.

It gets worse in a defense budget that is zooming to $648.8 billion. The nonpartisan budget watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense last month analyzed 309 Senate defense earmarks. Four of the top five "earmarkers" were not Republican hawks but centrist and liberal Democrats.

Levin led the way with 44 earmarks. Clinton was second with 26. Reed was fourth with 23, one behind Republican John Warner of Virginia. In fifth place was Charles Schumer of New York with 21. When asked if she saw any change in defense earmark behavior since the Democrats took back the House and the Senate, senior analyst Laura Peterson of the Taxpayers for Common Sense said over the telephone, "No."

More proof the swamp is still full is the fact that only four of the top 10 senators in defense campaign contributions in the 2006 election cycle were Republicans. According to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, Democrats Kennedy, Clinton, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, Dianne Feinstein of California, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Democrat-turned-independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut collected 60 percent of the $1.4 million the industry lavished among the top 10.

Democrats say defense contracting is not about war but about jobs in their states (and of course votes). This no longer washes when bringing home the bacon fries the rest of the world. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute last year reported that the United States is now responsible for just under half of the entire planet's trillion-dollar military spending. No other nation accounts for more than 5 percent of the world's military spending.

The Stockholm report said the United States "is the principal determinant of the current world trend." With that, it is no surprise that the United States accounted for 80 percent of the increase in global military expenditures in 2005. The United States is also roughly tied with Russia in exporting arms to the rest of the world, together accounting for 60 percent of the total.

The World Policy Institute, an independent arms proliferation watchdog group, reported in 2005 that the United States transferred arms to 18 of the 25 countries in active conflicts. It also reported that 20 of the 25 nations that received arms from the United States in 2003 were classified as undemocratic or as having a poor human rights record by our own State Department.

Have you heard the Democrats leap up in unison to end this madness? They know they are not just funding better body armor or prosthetics for our soldiers. They know they fund the gear that makes prosthetics necessary.

This week, Kennedy reacted to Bush's progress report on Iraq by saying in a statement, "It's wrong to keep pouring more and more lives into the endless black hole of a failed policy. It's time to say 'enough.' "

When Kennedy and the Democrats say the same thing about defense earmarks, arms proliferation, and lives lost in black holes outside of Iraq, we will know the swamp is truly being drained.

(c) Copyright 2007 The Boston Globe

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