September 11, 2000
The Danger of Military Foreign Aid to Colombia
The President recently visited Colombia, touting a 1.3 billion-dollar military aid package for the South American region. The big spenders in Congress authorized the package by passing an "emergency supplemental" spending bill earlier this summer during eleventh-hour voting. The spending package, termed "Plan Colombia," authorizes nearly half a billion dollars for Colombia alone. Not surprisingly, the administration used convenient "war on drugs" rhetoric to convince Congress and the American people that this massive spending on foreign military interdiction was justified. The President promised that America would never be dragged into Colombia's civil war, yet virtually all of the aid dollars were spent on weapons of war and military training.
Specifically, Colombia received 60 high-tech military helicoptors, along with hundreds of millions for training its police and military forces in "counternarcotics" activities. Clearly, this amounts to an escalation of the dangerous situation in Colombia. Time and time again we have witnessed the inevitable results of spending U.S. taxpayer dollars to fund internal conflicts in foreign nations. Apparently the current administration has not learned the lessons of Korea, Vietnam, El Salvador, or Kosovo. When we meddle in the politics (and warfare) of a foreign nation, we risk an open-ended conflict that costs billions and risks the lives of our soldiers. Obviously, U.S. military personnel will be needed to fly (and train others to fly) our modern helicopters. U.S. soldiers will train the Colombian army and national police. Despite the "war on drugs" justification, the truth is that the distinction between fighting drugs and waging war in Colombia is murky at best. We will send more money, more weapons, and more soldiers to Colombia, yet what will we receive in return? Do we really want to place our sons and daughters in harm's way so that we can influence another country's internal politics? What national interest is served by our involvement in this conflict?
In recent months, we have seen increased killing in Colombia relating to its upcoming elections. As the U.S. steps up its drug interdiction, some drug cartels simply have begun to move their capital elsewhere, including Miami, according to newspaper reports. In the U.S., certain special interest groups such as helicopter manufacturers and big oil companies (who want protection for their oil interests in the region) have been supporting the administration through their lobbyists.
Fortunately, however, many Americans agree that military aid for Colombia is a bad idea. "Plan Colombia" has received harsh criticism from members of Congress, while various human rights activists have condemned the President's visit. Normally, the government of a country must meet certain humanitarian standards to qualify for U.S. foreign aid. Although Colombia does not meet such standards, the administration and Congress chose to waive the requirements on "national security" grounds. As Robert White, former ambassador to El Salvador, stated: "There is a very great danger that this kind of thing can increase little by little, and all of a sudden you will be in far more deeply than you ever wished to be. This could aggravate and prolong the three-decade old Colombian civil war."
The American people do not support our actions in Colombia. Polls have shown that approximately 70% of Americans do not support defending foreign countries if U.S. soldiers are put in jeopardy. Our primary concern in military affairs should be maintaining a strong national defense and protecting our national security interests. Our actions in Colombia have nothing to with our national defense, and they undermine our national security by creating resentment from factions we do not support. We must remember that money spent in Colombia necessarily reduces spending on a variety of more important issues. We should build up our military, providing our soldiers with better salaries, housing, and medical care. Similarly, foreign aid dollars could be spent on education, Social Security, or Medicare. My constituents do not support our dangerous and expensive involvement in Colombia, and I intend to continue working to eliminate wasteful foreign aid in our next budget.