Friday, July 25, 2008

Making the World Safe for Business

Two unrelated stories that may nevertheless be linked on a deeper, karmic level (or, since this blog is run from the heartlands of the Occident: on the level of what Boethius might have recognized as a fati series) have recently failed to make the headlines.

First of all, The Washington Post tells us that:
The Air Force's top leadership sought for three years to spend counterterrorism funds on "comfort capsules" to be installed on military planes that ferry senior officers and civilian leaders around the world, with at least four top generals involved in design details such as the color of the capsules' carpet and leather chairs, according to internal e-mails and budget documents.
In order to be able to fight evildoers in style, the US Air Force generals decided to take taxpayers' money that was earmarked for counterterrorism and spend it to ensure that
each of the capsules is to be "aesthetically pleasing and furnished to reflect the rank of the senior leaders using the capsule," with beds, a couch, a table, a 37-inch flat-screen monitor with stereo speakers, and a full-length mirror.
Over the past three years, the Air Force has demanded that over US$16 million be taken from funding from the "war on terrorism" and spent instead on more comfortable "capsules" for air travel in the style that its commanders deserve.
Changing the seat color and pockets alone was estimated in a March 12 internal document to cost at least $68,240.
Never mind that Congress has told the USAF - not once, but twice - that the funds reserved for counterterrorism should be spent on "higher priority" needs, meaning something more useful than cushy seats and in-flight entertainment systems, such as, oh, let's say, counterterrorism. Despite the hysteria we have been subjected to in the past seven years of madness and cretinism, and despite the billions of dollars that have been taken away from essential state services, and despite the fact that bin Laden and al-Zawahri have not yet been found, the main funding priority at this point in time seems to be that some top Air Force brass are provided with
what one (lower-ranking officer) described as "world class" accommodations exceeding the standards of a regular business-class flight.
Oh, sorry, did I say "despite"? Seems I may have gotten the causality inversed here, which happens to me occasionally after a long day. What I meant to say was that in order to justify the splooging-out of unfathomably huge quantities of cash for the benefit of their buddies in the oil and arms industries, while "starving the beast" of the welfare state, the Bush administration has turned the US into a nation of bedwetters, transfixed by the specter of an undefined and ominous threat to All that is Good and Right. Those generals must be having a grand old chuckle as they hook up the X-Box 360 to their 37" flatscreen for another few hours of "Call of Duty 4", killing time in non-stop transit from Andrews AFB to Diego Garcia for another round of waterboarding some poor Afghan goatherd.

The second and prima facie unrelated story makes the above "comfort pod" look like a tame joke by comparison. The New York Times' Eric Schmitt reports that:
The Bush administration plans to shift nearly $230 million in aid to Pakistan from counterterrorism programs to upgrading that country’s aging F-16 attack planes, which Pakistan prizes more for their contribution to its military rivalry with India than for fighting insurgents along its Afghan border.
So again, we see the diversion of funding reserved for counter-terrorism (and let's save the discussion on how effectively that money has been used so far for another time), but this time, the money isn't being spent on hi-tech travel capsules. The US$16 million of de-facto embezzled funds wasted by the Air Force are peanuts compared to the almost quarter of a billion dollars that will not be available for combating al-Qaida. Instead, the money will go to Lockheed Martin, the makers of the F-16 (who, in another of those strange coincidences, are among the top donors to the Republican Party this year).

There has been an ongoing debate over whether air power is useful or even sufficient for subduing insurgencies, but the experiences made by the Israeli Air Force in Lebanon in 2006 and since the withdrawal from Gaza seem to have more or less settled the matter: While tactical air superiority may be useful, an insurgency cannot be defeated without boots on the ground. Why, then, would the US want to use its counterterrorism budget for Pakistan to upgrade fighter jets that have so far not been used against militant in the North-West Frontier Province? After all, as the NY Times notes,

The financing for the F-16s would represent more than two-thirds of the $300 million that Pakistan will receive this year in American military financing for equipment and training. Last year, Congress specified that those funds be used for law enforcement or counterterrorism. Pakistan’s military has rarely used its current fleet of F-16s, which were built in the 1980s, for close-air support of counterterrorism missions, largely because the risks of civilian casualties would inflame anti-government sentiments in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.

Even by the obscene standards of the US military, that's quite a lot of money that will not be spent on securing the Pakistani-Afghan border region. However, the upgrades will go some way towards restoring parity between the Pakistani and Indian air forces.

The US sold Pakistan F-16s in the 1980s, but then cut off Islamabad from further arms deliveries due to its nuclear weapons program. In the meantime, India had acquired Russian MiG-29s and Sukhoi-30s, as well as French Mirage fighters, which had given it an edge over the Pakistani Air Force's F-16s in the 1999 Kargil crisis.

A new deal was struck after the Sept. 11 attacks to allow Pakistan to buy newer models, in part to reward Pakistan’s cooperation in fighting terrorism. In 2006, Pakistan was a major recipient of American arms sales, including the $1.4 billion purchase of up to 36 new F-16C/D fighter aircraft and $640 million in missiles and bombs. The deal included a package for $891 million in upgrades for Pakistan’s older F-16s.
The current delivery and upgrade of F-16s is not a recent decision, but the financing of the deal using funds earmarked for counterterrorism and law enforcement contravenes assurances made by the White House to Congress. The Bush administration, in addition to ensuring that its financial aid to Pakistan flows back to the US arms industry, is also calculating that the deal will help stabilize the political leadership of Pakistan vis-à-vis the army, and will prevent India from acquiring a strategic edge - especially with non-US weapons systems - in a possible future conflict over disputed territory with Pakistan.

All of these considerations are, of course, not part of polite conversation in American public discourse, where expenditures on security and especially "counterterrorism" go largely unquestioned.

Does that make you sad, depressed, or even fill you with despair when you consider the prospects for the survival of democracy, not to mention human existence as we know it?

If so, you may now view the following short video clip, which will make you feel much better. It has been approved by the Security Hippo for all audiences.