Sunday, November 27, 2005

No Constituency for Big Brothers/Big Sisters with Guns


Patricia Kushlis of WhirledView wanted to comment on my recent BB/BSWG posts but was stopped, she said, by Blogspot's requirement that she create a blog herself before being allowed to comment on mine. Here is part of her note to me before Thanksgiving:

...The troops need to speak the language and learn the culture before being set loose on the locals. They are not being given either—at least as far as I can discern from anecdotal evidence. Either the Pentagon doesn't value language/cultural proficiency, or it is so strapped for bodies that it can't afford to spend time training them in Arabic or Iraqi culture. Or both. My sense is lots of money is going to technology and weapons firms—and nothing to the human capital of the sort both you and I think should be a priority.

I agree with Kushlis, but not because the DoD doesn't value human capital or training. In conversations with Defense Dept. officials three weeks ago I saw lots of human capital on display, expressed in the training of many former and active-duty officers: products of Annapolis and West Point, teachers at the National Defense University and Naval Postgraduate School, ex-paratroopers and serving intelligence officers.

The Pentagon invests heavily to find and cultivate human capital, but Congress forces it to do so in the way that most benefits Congressmen. Here's why: More than one participant at the Carmel conference said that there is no constituency in Congress for human programs as opposed to weapon systems. They meant that members of Congress tend to fund the Defense Dept. in ways that bring jobs to their district. This means the DoD's budget skews toward building tangible objects like weapon systems and large educational institutions, which in turn create jobs in congressional districts. Weapons factories and war colleges alike employ large numbers of people who manufacture, teach or learn, which in turn creates many more secondary jobs in the local economy. (This is one reason you see naval air stations at great distances from oceans.)

So what's good for General Dynamics and West Point is good for America. Unfortunately, from a budgetary standpoint, what's good for Iraqi villagers is Iraq's concern, except among the most forward-looking congressmen—or those who occupy safe seats.

Programs like BB/BSWG would create better soldiers who would then leave the U.S. and spend their time and money overseas. Ideally, those soldiers wouldn't even require MREs, ammunition or helicopters for air support, so BB/BSWG just wouldn't be as likely to get congressional funding as a weapons factory or other Stateside installation.

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