Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Share the Sacrifice: Cut the Costs

Freedom is not free. As a veteran of the naval service, I learned this first hand. When asked, I tell my kids, grandkids, nephews, and nieces to consider military service as they reach draft age. If I was eighteen again, I might try to fly fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters for the coast guard, instead of the carrier navy.

Who needs super carriers with nuclear power in today's "defense" establishment? But what is it that the USA does need, in the age of explosive devices and suicidal jihadists? Who is our enemy? Who are the allies? For how long? Will we always be on a war time footing around the world? Who will become the peacemakers, according to our dominant religious beliefs, in America?

President Obama now faces a cruel choice in the Middle East. As the Afghanistan assessment arrives from General McChrystal, the President stresses the gravity of sending more servicemen and women into war zones. He reminds us of the hundreds of families that he must answer to, for every Killed-In-Action total every month, month after month. I search the faces of the dead on the Lehrer News Hour, as photographs become available. Enlisted personnel, officers, ages from 18 into the 50s, mostly Marine and Army troops.

One number that is missing when we hear and read about the 68,000 American combat
forces at the end of 2009 in Afghanistan, and the 130,000 still remaining in Iraq, is the number of defense contractors in each country.

Time was when soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines did the guarding, the cleaning, the mess cooking, the painting, and the driving. Not any more. For two decades the administrations in Washington have touted their reduced numbers of government workers, their smaller payrolls, and "smaller" workforces. The truth is that getting rid of these employees only shifted the work they did over to profit-taking contractors, thoughout the federal government. Often the work to put these jobs into the "private sector" - and introduce and orient them into the kind of services required - resulted in greater not lesser costs, and poorer not improved results, with transition delays.

At one time it was reported that somewhere around 70 to 80,000 contractors were "supporting" the war effort in Iraq. It got so public that "Blackwater" had to undergo a name change, and "Haliburton" got into the Vice President's war resume.

But what about a census of contractors today? How many are still in Iraq? For how long? And what about Afghanistan? Can we afford these contracts, whether on bids or no-bid?

If we draft our fighting personnel again, we will not have life as usual in Congress, on college campuses, and around kitchen tables. Before we sign on to renew or escalate one war, and then threaten another - Iran? Korea? Somalia? - let us spread any necessary sacrifices around.

Let us invest in our children, not bankrupt them.

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