June 19, 2000


Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) and House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) want to help Bill Clinton pass his legislative agenda, just in time for the elections – pretty strange, eh? Not really, in this case – a multi-billion dollar package of military aid to Colombia. As they say in Washington, "politics ends at the water's edge." Our foreign policy of global intervention is the received wisdom in the leadership councils of both parties, and they seem bound and determined to drag the US into the Colombian quagmire – with the Republicans competing with this administration to see who can bog us down there more quickly. Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-New York), chairman of the House International Relations Committee, has been the loudest mouth on the GOP side of the aisle, braying in speech after tiresome speech that we must give Clinton more than he wants. Gilman takes the Heritage Foundation line that the leftist guerrillas are not part of a political rebellion at all, but just ordinary gangstas hangin' in da Colombian 'hood.


The Republican-Clintonian united front on Colombia is in part a boon to the armaments lobby – on the PBS Newshour, earlier this year, Rep. Gilman was touting Blackhawk helicopters harder than any salesman – as well as being a clever way of blaming our drug problem on those nasty brown-skinned "narco-guerrillas." It kind of makes you pine for the good old days of the cold war, when the word guerrilla was nearly always preceded by the word "Marxist" or Communist." Since the fall of the Kremlin, however, the market for Marxist insurgencies has hit rock bottom. Revolutionary communism is finished – there's no money in it. Those few guerrilla movements of the far left that used to get sporadic subsidies from Moscow or Havana have fallen on hard times, and in desperation have turned to "taxing" the drug trade. The old line Stalinist FARC and the Guevarist ELN in Colombia followed the lead of Peruvian Maoists in extorting coca farmers and the drug traffickers who buy their product, in return for protection. The Maoist Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) was crushed by Alberto Fujimori, the Japanese-Peruvian reformer whose independence and unorthodox methods have aroused US ire, but the FARC and a host of other guerrilla groups persist and even flourish in Colombia – where the nation's bloody turmoil is giving anarchy a bad name.


Colombia has been a mess for the past hundred years or so, with the longest civil war on record and the third largest refugee problem in the world, right behind the Sudan. Uprooted by violence from both the left and the right, millions of people are on the move, without jobs, without money, and without hope. The central government has ceded huge amounts of territory to both major guerrilla groups, and is engaged in ongoing negotiations with the rebels; President Andres Pastrana wants to bring them into the electoral process. The guerrillas, for their part, are skeptical: they remember all too well the last time they were invited to disarm and join the glorious march to Colombian "democracy." In 1980, the guerrillas abandoned armed struggle and formed the Patriotic Union party: this made it much easier for the Army to hunt them down and institute a bloody crackdown on dissent.


In spite of a visit from the president of the New York Stock Exchange, as well as secret negotiations with the US government [see the Heritage Foundation policy paper, linked above], the guerrillas have stepped up their attacks. The Colombian military, trained and certified by their American overseers to be properly respectful of "human rights," has struck back with renewed attacks on civilians, while in Washington the Clinton administration and its Republican allies are battling to break the legislative deadlock and get the foreign aid spigot open and flowing. But they will have a battle on their hands, not only with this aid package but with many in Congress and throughout the country disturbed by deepening US military involvement: last year, three Americans were killed when their "drug interdiction" plane loaded with hi-tech instruments crashed in the Colombian jungle – the first casualties in America's latest foreign war. Will they be the last – or the first of many?


We are sliding into the deepest darkest quagmire, one that is going to make our Balkan bungle look like a Sunday school picnic, without any debate – either in Congress or among the presidential candidates – and without the knowledge (let alone consent) of the American people. Here is one area where the campaign of Patrick J. Buchanan, the only antiwar candidate who will get any significant exposure this presidential election year, has been sadly lacking: not only that, but Pat doesn't even mention Colombia (or South America, for that matter) in A Republic, Not an Empire, his otherwise comprehensive book on American foreign policy. Gore naturally supports the policy of the Clinton administration in this matter" – in addition to having a financial interest in defeating the rebels, as the Vice President is a major stockholder in BP Amoco, whose oil fields have lately been under attack. Bush's foreign policy advisors have yet to clue us in as to Dubya's thoughts on this matter, but perhaps their silence is due to a certain squeamishness about having the words "cocaine" and "George Bush" appear in the same news story.


Why is Colombia's century-old civil war our fight? Propagandists for the arms lobby, like copter salesman Ben Gilman, have painted the FARC and other leftist rebel groups as little more than glorified street gangs, more criminal enterprises than political movements, bent on exporting drugs in order to corrupt the natural purity of American youth. This made-for-TV mythology overlooks the roots of the insurgency in the long history of Colombia, which has been riven by fratricide since its first day of independence: the country has been the scene of a bloody conflict over land and the distribution of the nation's wealth that has raged, with only a few interruptions, since the late 1800s. The addition of the drug trade as a factor in this ongoing civil war cannot be ascribed to the rebels: the trade would exist without the FARC, or the ELN. They are merely getting their cut – as is virtually everyone in Colombia, including the last President, Ernesto Samper, who was supported by the US right up until his exposure as the creation of the drug lords. The right-wing paramilitary outfits, closely aligned with the Colombian military, are also deep into the drug trade, perhaps on a larger scale than the rebels: will we take on the "narco-terrorists" of the right as well as the left?


To blame Colombia's FARC (or the right-wing paramilitaries) for America's drug problem is like the rest of the world blaming the US government for permitting American tobacco companies to function and market their products internationally – while extorting them for all the taxes they're worth. In Colombia, where everyone is either armed, or dead, the authorities should be grateful that FARC is policing rural areas where the central government is only a rumor: at least they are enforcing a kind of order, which is more than Bogota can claim. But it is pointless to look for any logic in our Colombian policy, for this is a war to sustain the careers of demagogic politicians, and fill the pockets of the makers of helicopter gunships, far more than it is a war against mysterious "drug traffickers" and "narco-terrorists" who have all the reality of a grade-B Hollywood epic. Now that Communism is dead, they think they can create this new villain: the Narco-whatever. We have to fight this war – after all, it's for the children, our children. Like hell it is.


The Colombia aid package has already passed the House, but got held up in the Senate because Majority Leader Lott objected to the way it was becoming one of those wish-list bills, in which so-called "pork" items are attached to legislation deemed essential. Not that Lott objected to Colombian aid in principle: it was the President's methods, not his goals, that evoked the Senator's ire, and the bill stalled. But now Lott and Hastert, under pressure from the Pentagon – and its attendant military contractors, whose campaign contributions fill the GOP war chest – want to bring the Colombia measure to a vote and send $13 billion to Clinton and his Colombian clients by June 30, when Congress goes into its fourth of July recess. That also happens to be the day before the Pentagon says it will have to start making cutbacks that could affect force readiness – this from an agency that plans on spending over $291 billion in fiscal year 2001! "Military prudence dictates we must plan now for the worst case," read the leaked message to field commanders – oh boo hoo hoo, you're breakin' my heart. Are these people kidding? That the most lavishly expensive military in the history of the world is now crying poverty has got to be a joke – right?


All too wrong. Here is how they get away with dirty little wars like the one in Colombia – they wrap it up in a legislative "package," a potpourri of "essential" or even "emergency" items, including "natural disasters" such as aid to the victims of September's Hurricane Floyd, which hit North Carolina and parts of the East coast, or those burned out by the recent fires in New Mexico – as well as $9 billion for maintaining US troops in the conquered Yugoslavian province of Kosovo. Are there a few members of Congress reluctant to go along with the bipartisan decision to deepen our intervention in Colombia? No problem. We can take care of that right now by giving them a choice between voting with the War Party – or else voting against disaster assistance to their own constituents.


Gee, I wonder why they included money for Kosovo under the general rubric of natural disasters? It's probably a typo: what they meant to say was "national disaster."


The opposition is beginning to coalesce, and it isn't too late to call your congressional representatives and let them know how you feel about this vital issue. Use the form below to get your Congressional contact information. Congressional Democrats who want the money spent on fruitless and counterproductive domestic anti-drug programs, and anti-interventionist Republicans who distrust virtually all foreign meddling could still stop the War Party from getting its hooks into Colombia – and committing the US to a war down the road that only American soldiers can fight and win. (Or, more likely, lose). We are being led down the slippery slope, into a morass from which there will be no easy extrication – unless you act. The upcoming vote on aid to Colombia will probably be attached to an "emergency" military appropriation, perhaps bundled with money earmarked for Kosovo, perhaps not. Whatever form the legislation takes, this is a moment when Congress can assert its constitutional prerogatives – indeed, its duty under the law – and take back our foreign policy from the arms salesmen, underemployed cold warriors, and outright megalomaniacs who are leading us to disaster.

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