Strakon Lights Up, No. 54

Hell, Colombia!


The Drug Warriors opened a new front Friday when the Senate approved an $11.2 billion pork-barrel extravaganza from the House containing $1.3 billion in "emergency aid" for Colombia.

Colombia has been torn for years by a three-way civil war fought among the official regime in Bogota, the drug cartels, and leftist guerrillas. Don't take that "three-way" too literally, though — the guerrillas themselves do considerable narco-business, and of course various high officials of the regime do, too. But clearly the regime's collusion has proved insufficient, for the country is now coming apart.

The $1.3 billion in U.S. taxpayers' money is intended to "help train and equip Colombian army and police forces," the Times has been authorized to report. "A crucial component is a fleet of sophisticated transport and attack helicopters to ferry Colombian troops." ("Congress Sends Clinton Bill for Colombia," by Eric Schmitt, NYT, June 30)

Helicopters! — in my imagination, my ceiling fans are already turning into whup-whup-whupping chopper blades, and I can hear Jim Morrison moaning, "This is the end ..."

The ghosts from that little hell in Southeast Asia have lost most of their power to haunt, though, with the passage of time and the recovery of imperial self-confidence. Martin Sheen, the soul-stricken special operative of "Apocalypse Now," plays a bomb-happy socialist emperor these days in the propaganda vehicle "The West Wing" — in other words, a saintly statesman for the ages — and, to make sure we're not missing the point, has said in an interview that "Bill Clinton, of course, is a hero to all of us" in Hollywood.

Timeswriter Schmitt says the Senate "passed the measure by voice vote with virtually no debate," although "critics in both parties have warned that the aid to Colombia would be a dangerous escalation in an unwinnable Vietnam-style conflict that has already claimed thousands of lives in the past four decades." Those critics must have been junior back-bencher types; judging from the lack of debate, I reckon they must be so junior that their benches are out in the parking lot somewhere. In any case, both President Clinton and Speaker Hastert supported the bill, which seems to be yet another bipartisan triumph and glorious monument to the System of duopoly rule.

It was certainly a triumph for business as usual. The choppers and Green Beret advisors for Colombia were tucked into a barrel of pork that included "home-state projects ranging from New York City's proposed Second Avenue subway to the crabbing industry in Alaska, Washington state, and Oregon," according to the Associated Press. ("Sen. Passes Colombia, Disaster Bill," June 30) That helped quench any unlikely sparks of skepticism among the boodle boys, and any sheep in maverick's clothing were set a-baaing by a letter from Gen. John M. Keane, Army vice chief of staff, circulated in the Senate by Ted Stevens (R-Alaska Crabs). The letter "warned that unless the Army received $1.5 billion the bill contained, it would 'break the Army's ability to remain solvent and maintain a ready force' for the rest of the year." (AP) My God! We couldn't have that, could we? Schmitt of the Times said the Pentagon warned Congress that "without prompt financing, the armed services would have to begin canceling training exercises." Heavens to Murgatroyd! On cue, the hideous Trent Lott, Senate majority leader and the shame of Mississippi, chimed in with, "This is for military construction and emergencies. We need to get this done."

One of the things the Senate simply had to get done by passing the bill was to pony up another $2 billion to finance the U.S. invasion force in Kosovo.


I can't help speculating on what is in the minds of our rulers and their employees in the political class — beyond maximizing the obvious boodle — when they perpetrate something like this. No doubt some of the actual legislators think military aid to Colombia has a chance of "working," that is, a chance of stabilizing the regime down there and reducing the flow of unapproved pharmaceuticals into the United State. I feel safe in saying that because the boodle-criminal contingent in Congress is always matched, if not outnumbered, by the moron contingent. However, the senior politicos and their employers can't believe any such thing.

I'm pretty sure the senior crocodiles see as clearly as libertarians do that what we have here is another fine example of one government program — the Drug War — disastrously giving rise to another government program, in this case a major escalation of that war overseas. As our constitutionalist brethren would tell us, the Drug War at home has effectively shredded the Second, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments and poked great yawning holes in the First. Abroad, meanwhile, it has helped shred the entire country of Colombia. If cocaine and heroin were legal, respectable businessmen would be peacefully competing for customers the way Lilly and Seagram's and KlineSmith Beecham do — when they're not lobbying for privilege, that is — and there would be no such thing as "drug lords" or narcotics-enriched insurgents. Without the Drug War, Colombia wouldn't need to be "saved" from anything but power lunches, Lou Rukeyser, and those maddening commercials for Cisco Systems.

When I describe the Drug War as disastrous, I mean it's been disastrous for us, the ordinary yokels. It's been anything but disastrous for our rulers. The ruling class and the senior pols who work for them love "failed" government programs. They live on them. Imperial programs both foreign and domestic are intended to have unintended consequences — to create terrifying crises, brain-cracking dilemmas, insoluble problems, protracted conflicts, and anguished cries for help from degraded domestic constituencies and bankrupted foreign allies. It all means more jobs, higher salaries, expanded airtime, and increased power for the national-security elite in the Presidential Palace, Pentagon, and Capitol. For the regime's owners, whom I call the Dark Suits, it means more cushy government contracts, more guaranteed loans, and more subsidized exports. How many times do we have to pedal the tricycle around the block to see that?


It can be a tricky game, though, and in the past intended unintended consequences have sometimes mutated into unintended  unintended consequences, which have turned around and bitten our betters in their well-padded hams. It happened in Vietnam, to which our rulers brought a World War II mentality relying on massed, conscripted infantry forces, married awkwardly to a system of one-year tours, which just passed the conscription around more widely and provoked mass opposition.

They won't do that again. We'll never see hundreds of thousands of American kids drafted and sent to Colombia to fight the Drug War on the ground. Instead, the new military will rely on a handful of commandos and advisors, some pilots bombing from 20,000 feet, and a lot of soldierettes designing social-service programs "for the millions of under-served, at-risk women and children of Colombia." And it will rely as well on billions upon billions of our tax money, wantonly poured into South American jungles and slums — and into the Swiss bank accounts of corrupt officials.

It wasn't just conscription that sparked so much opposition during Vietnam; the bombing horrified many, too. That won't be a problem this time either. Some opposed the bombing of Indochina on sincere humanitarian and anti-imperialist grounds, but the folks who were really in charge of the antiwar movement, and their leftist allies in the established media, opposed it because the B-52s hit the occasional Comrade Agrarian Reformer lurking among all of his hapless victims. However, the Dark Suits have long since folded their old opposition, the New Left, into the ruling apparatus as Red Guards. Many Guards have become happy imperial warriors, now that there aren't any real Commies left for the empire to bomb. That has left only sincere humanitarians and anti-imperialists on the sidewalk. Result? The public opposition to the bombing of Iraq was one-hundredth the size of the opposition to the bombing of Indochina. And the opposition to the bombing of the Balkans was one-thousandth the size. At that rate, we can expect only a corporal's guard to picket the Palace if Colombia is laid waste.

Our rulers are experts now. They'll make sure the U.S. war in Colombia is relatively bloodless for Americans — at least in Colombia, if not here at home — but in other ways the war will resemble Vietnam. It will be a protracted, insoluble conflict, a hopeless and hideously expensively quagmire. And that will be an intended  unintended consequence, which will suit our state-builders in Washington and New York just fine.

July 1, 2000

© 2000 by WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.

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