NARDI: A continued comedy of errors

Tom Nardi

President Bush was in Latvia this week attended a two-day summit of NATO members. Before the meeting administration officials hoped that Bush would address the other NATO members on a familiar topic: military spending.

“I think that the president will address the issue of the need for more resources for NATO and for NATO countries to spend more for defense,” said Judy Ansley, the National Security Council’s senior director for European affairs. “This has been a pretty consistent theme for us.”

The United States has consistently spent about 4 percent of its gross domestic product on defense. For fiscal year 2007 that amounts to $439.3 billion, and add to that those special appropriations for Iraq and Afghanistan that come around every once and a while.

On the other hand, most European nations spend less than 2 percent of their respective GDPs on defense. Even in the whole of NATO the figures are less than reassuring for Mr. Bush. “It is still true that only seven of the NATO allies spend more than 3 percent of their gross domestic product on defense,” said Nicholas Burns, US undersecretary for political affairs – and a former NATO ambassador.

Likely to dominate the NATO summit is the alliance’s mission in Afghanistan, where there are 32,000 NATO troops stationed. Bush views the operations there as NATO’s first major combat operation, and plans to use Afghanistan as a prompt to urge the bigger defense budgets.

Now we get to the meat of my column. I had to get those pesky ‘facts’ out of the way first. I hear sometimes I’m not too good with them. But now that you know where I’m coming from…

I don’t know which is more amusing: President Bush thinks he has enough sway left in Europe (or anywhere else, for that matter) that he can urge the European nations to do anything; or he thinks that Europe will actually increase their military budgets.

Europe is very comfortable with their lavish social welfare systems (as is Canada, whose military budget is only 1.1 percent of GDP) and unwilling to trade in their way of conducting foreign affairs for ours.

In international relations parlance, the US relies on ‘hard power’, whereas Europe swears by ‘soft power’. Think of it this way: the United States cooks dinner, and Europe does the dishes. Or, if you’re a Europhile: the US makes war, and Europe keeps peace.

Aside from their budgetary concerns, there is another big reason that Europe won’t spend like the United States does. It views foreign relations in a categorically different manner. Whereas the United States subscribes to the Bush doctrine, where we can bomb freedom into people, Europe strives for a world where international laws govern things and politics – not bombs – overcome strife. Put simply, after WWII Europe is willing to avoid war at most any cost.

Bush has said before that bigger budgets are necessary to develop the technologies “that are absolutely necessary for success on the modern battlefield and in modern peacekeeping.” But what exactly have these technologies bought us? There is no question that the US has the most developed military in the world; we have better tanks, better ships, better planes, better missiles, better everything.

But if the modern battlefield looks anything like Iraq or Afghanistan, then we have been wasting hundred of billions of dollars. And like it or not, 9/11 was caused primarily by US military operations abroad in the 1970s and ’80s. bin Laden didn’t come to hate us for nothing.

Our technology, which Bush is now pimping around the rest of the free world, has put us almost inextricably in the middle of a civil war in Iraq. And our advancements have helped us to free Afghanistan from the Taliban, so they can start growing opium. I don’t know about you but Europe’s soft power seems pretty good to me, because we sure aren’t winning anything, except maybe the booby prize for international diplomacy.

And the problem isn’t just that Europe spends too little on weapons. We spend too much in the wrong places. According to the President’s own budget proposal (which, conveniently doesn’t list totals for the Education Department) we are spending $173.3 million to develop new nuclear weapons. Why is God’s name does Bush think he has the political and moral clout to tell Iran and North Korea anything about nukulaar weapons when we are building new ones ourselves?

And that 48 percent increase in budget in the last 5 years? Lest you think that is being seen by the troops, it has amounted to just a 2.2 percent increase in troop pay this year. Fiscal year 2006’s inflation was 3.71 percent. But Congress gave itself a nice cost-of-living wage, because they were doing a dandy job.