April 6, 2000
about Colombian Intervention
House of Representatives
did pass a $13 billion supplemental appropriation bill last
week that included $2.1 billion for the ill-advised mission in Kosovo
and $1.7 billion for military and anti-drug aid to Colombia, by
a fairly convincing 289-146 margin. But the
votes garnered by several key amendments suggested increasing
resistance to the idea that the United States should be the world
policeman of first resort.
appropriation faces tough sledding in the Senate, not so much because
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott opposes interventionism as because
he wants control over the supplemental appropriation. But Sen. Lott’s
determination to slow the funding process down has already drawn
criticism from President Clinton. I think the longer the delay the
more resistance to world policing and especially to the new adventure
in Colombia will make itself manifest. Antiwar forces might not
win this battle but it can be viewed as an important skirmish in
the overall struggle to prompt informed debate on what the foreign
policy of the United States should be in the post-Cold War era.
supplemental appropriation is probably the worst conceivable way
to spend government money. By its very nature a supplemental appropriation
is an acknowledgment that the budget just passed (last October)
was poorly designed that it didn’t take into account certain
spending desires or that the political support for certain desired
programs was not sufficiently in place. So midway through the year
lawmakers well, it was the administration this time
propose a supplemental appropriation to get some key programs (usually
deemed emergencies) into the spending channel, often enough without
full vetting by committees and the oversight process.
bill fit the usual pattern. The administration introduced it as
a $5.2 billion supplemental including about $1.3 billion for Colombia,
$2 billion for Kosovo and a bit more for hurricane and other natural-disaster
recovery. The Republicans added $600 million for Colombia and tacked
on a bunch of other spending, from $40 million for Florida citrus
growers hit by citrus diseases to more hurricane relief for North
Carolina, along with the Kosovo and Colombia spending. House Speaker
Dennis Hastert, whose leadership style doesn’t often involve becoming
intimately involved in specific legislation, teamed with the administration
on this one to insist that it be passed quickly.
best showing for skeptics about global mission-creep came on an
amendment offered by House Budget Chairman John Kasich (R-Ohio).
It would have withheld half of the $2.1 billion earmarked for Kosovo
until certification was received that European Union countries would
step up their own commitments to fund the Kosovo operations to levels
Rep. Kasich believes they had promised before the NATO war began.
It got 200 votes 152 Republicans, 46 Democrats and 2 Independents.
But the pro-spending side mustered 219 votes.
next-best showing, and probably the most significant indication
of bipartisan reservations about the Colombian incursion, came on
an amendment from Democratic Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin. It would
have cut half the funding for anti-drug efforts in Colombia. It
attracted 186 votes (58 Republicans, 127 Democrats, and 1 Independent)
to 239 against. The fact that more Democrats supported this significant
reduction in a program pushed by a Democratic administration 127
to 81 than supported the administration suggests the possibility
of a heartening restiveness among Democrats.
An amendment from Minnesota Republican Jim Ramstad to cut all funding
for Colombia got only 158 votes. But even that was more than many
critics had expected. "We had expected maybe 80 or 90 votes
against various aspects of the Colombian intervention," Kevin
Zeese of Common Sense for Drug Policy
is the camel’s nose under the tent for a massive long-term commitment
to a military operation," Rep. Obey said during floor debate.
"I detest Vietnam analogies under most circumstances, but in
this case there is a very real parallel."
how your Congressmember voted on these amendments.
SHIFTING BIPARTISAN COALITION?
course, if as many Republicans had supported Rep. Obey’s amendments
as had supported the Kasich amendments (from a member of their own
party) the Obey amendment would have passed overwhelmingly. But
this shifting pattern of support for positions critical of some
aspect or another of U.S. foreign policy suggests the emerging possibility
that a bipartisan coalition in favor of a less aggressive, less
arrogant foreign policy just might be feasible. If the 152 Republicans
who supported the Kasich amendment and the 127 Democrats who supported
the Obey amendment could ever get together, they would have a solid
haven’t taken leave of my senses. I only say a coalition is possible,
not that it’s likely. It would take a tremendous coalition-building
effort and overwhelming support from their constituents for Republicans
and Democrats to get together to formulate a new foreign policy,
or even new approaches to foreign policy. If anything, Democrats
and Republicans on Capitol Hill distrust one another even more than
both parties distrust the people. But recent polls do show majorities
of Americans opposed to overseas military intervention, even to
support Israel or Taiwan.
policy is probably not the first priority for most of those Americans,
so the issue is not likely to be pushed as aggressively as, for
example, organized gun owners or abortion activists on both sides
push their positions. But a majority of Americans now seem to be
at least skeptical about future foreign military interventions,
and that sentiment may someday trickle up to Congress.
POLICY ALTERNATIVES RAISED
over the supplemental appropriation also featured one of the more
extensive debates at least in Congress in recent years
on drug policy in general. This came, as the Boston Globe
reported mostly in response to an attempt by California Democrat
Nancy Pelosi to replace half the Colombian military funding with
funding for domestic drug treatment programs. The House leadership
blocked that amendment, but under House rules she was able to insert
a symbolic amendment that called for cutting $51 million from the
Colombian package and shifting it to treatment programs.
Pelosi amendment failed, but it engendered a two-and-a-half hour
debate over the merits of interdiction overseas vs. domestic treatment
programs. Advocates of the Pelosi amendment had a major weapon in
their arsenal a 1994 study for the US government by the usually
military-oriented Rand Corporation that suggests strongly that money
spent on treatment is 23 times more effective at reducing drug use
than money spent on interdiction.
Reuter, who was in charge of drug policy research at Rand at the
time of the report and now teaches at the University of Maryland,
noted that "We’re spending money on a bunch of helicopters
to help a brutal army crush a bunch of peasants. It’s like waving
a red flag and Nancy Pelosi responded."