Eye on the Empire
by Alan Bock
Antiwar.com

April 6 , 2000

Doubts about Colombian Intervention

The 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.

The 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. Lottís 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.

SLOPPY SUPPLEMENTALS

A 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 didnít 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.

This 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 doesnít often involve becoming intimately involved in specific legislation, teamed with the administration on this one to insist that it be passed quickly.

CHASTENING AMENDMENTS

The 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.

The 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 told me.

"This is the camelís 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."


See how your Congressmember voted on these amendments.


A SHIFTING BIPARTISAN COALITION?

Of course, if as many Republicans had supported Rep. Obeyís 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 working majority.

I havenít taken leave of my senses. I only say a coalition is possible, not that itís 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.

Foreign 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.

DRUG POLICY ALTERNATIVES RAISED

Debate 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.

The 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.

Peter 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 "Weíre spending money on a bunch of helicopters to help a brutal army crush a bunch of peasants. Itís like waving a red flag and Nancy Pelosi responded."

A FALSE ALTERNATIVE?

I hate to throw cold water, but I have serious doubts as to whether increased government spending on drug treatment programs would really be helpful. Peter Reuter acknowledged that most addicts return to drug use even after long stints in treatment centers – that the fact that treatment is 23 times more effective, dollar-for-dollar, than interdiction doesnít mean treatment is all that helpful, just that interdiction is almost completely ineffective and inordinately expensive.

I suspect that opening up the spending funnels for drug treatment programs would mainly result in welfare for treatment hustlers and peddlers of nostrums, with few addicts actually receiving much benefit at all. As far as I can tell, the most effective program is the least expensive the Narcotics Anonymous program based on the Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve-Step program, funded almost entirely by the participants themselves for a few bucks a week thrown into a jar to pay to rent church basements. It works – although it often takes repeated tries and the percentages still arenít all that high – because most participants have a sincere desire to chuck their addictions and theyíre working with others who have faced the same problems within the context of a consistent program. You canít force an addict who really isnít ready to admit he has a problem, let alone a desire to do something about it, to quit drugs even with repeated forced programs.

Still, spending taxpayersí money on treatment programs, even if it is wasteful, would be less wasteful and less outright harmful than spending money arming the Colombian army and getting more deeply involved in Colombiaís 40-year (or longer depending on what you take as the start date) bloody civil war.

SENATE FOOT-DRAGGING

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott has said the Senate would not take up the year 2000 supplemental appropriation in the form passed by the House, but would instead consider administration requests as part of 2001 annual spending bills.

Sen. Lott did say that he would include language to make money available for these requests immediately rather than making the administration wait until the new fiscal year begins in October. And he supports spending for Colombia and Kosovo at approximately the levels approved by the House. But he thinks the overall supplemental got out of hand as it grew from $5.2 billion to $9 billion and then to $13.2 billion, and he wants to consider the items more deliberately.

It would probably be a mistake to view Sen. Lott, one of whose major concerns seems to be making sure plenty of whatever money is spent goes to his favorite shipyard in Biloxi, as an ally in the quest to formulate a new, less aggressive, less dangerous foreign policy. But any delay in getting Kosovo and Colombia spending into the pipeline should be viewed as an opportunity for concerned Americans to let their Senators know they oppose (or even have grave doubts about) new overseas military adventures.

Please Support Antiwar.com

A contribution of $20 or more gets you a copy of Justin Raimondo's Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans, a 60-page booklet packed with the kind of intellectual ammunition you need to fight the lies being put out by this administration and its allies in Congress. Send contributions to

Antiwar.com
520 S. Murphy Avenue, #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086

or Contribute Via our Secure Server
Credit Card Donation Form

Back to Antiwar.com Home Page | Contact Us