Sec Defs and their golden parachutes

By David Hackworth
web posted December 27, 1999

Defense Secretary William Cohen has been in Europe doing his thing, hustling U.S. arms.

The Sec Def is America's top salesman for all that deadly stuff produced by his buddies in the U.S. arms business and then promoted and authorized by his pals in Congress in their never-ending quest for more pork and jobs for the folks back home.

These days he's got an uphill job. Made-in-the-USA fighters, bombers, missiles and tanks sold briskly in Western Europe until the Iron Curtain collapsed. But with no major military threats on the horizon, some European nations have reduced their defense spending by as much as half. Others, weary of the U.S. monopoly in arms, have made it a point to take their shopping elsewhere.

For the U.S. military-industrial-congressional complex, this is very bad news. The American defense industry gang, the world's biggest arms supplier, misses the golden days of the Cold War, not unlike the mob missed Prohibition when it was repealed back in the 1930s.

So Cohen's been pushing the line that while the Soviets are no longer an issue, Europe must be prepared for new threats from rogue states like North Korea and Iran. With a straight face, Cohen's putting out the word that Pyongyang, Tehran and a dozen other meanies are assembling intercontinental ballistic missile systems to blow everyone away. Long-range missiles capable of putting a nuke weapon right splat on top of that wonderful little cafe across from the Eiffel Tower and other fun spots in Western Europe.

His pitch is right out of the Cold War: Create a threat, fan the fear that the bad guys are coming and then sell weapons to save the "Free World." Hey, it's worked for 50 years. Why not 50 more?

Take the recent case of the United States and Red China. First the White House, Hughes and Loral give the Reds the high-tech capability to whack an ICBM down in any front yard in the USA. Then Cohen tells us we're once again nuclear targets and only the creation of a multibillion-dollar protective umbrella will save us from those nasty incoming Chinese missiles. There's no mention that what triggered this new anti-missile arms race was our providing Red China with the secrets of how missiles hit targets, or that since Reagan kicked off Star Wars more than $100 billion has been blown on this unworkable scheme.

But at the end of a bloody century where more money's been spent on arms than in the complete history of humankind, most European leaders aren't falling for Cohen's line.

Nor are they gung-ho about remaining dependent on the U.S. security apparatus, especially since our bungles in Serbia. American leadership both in Washington and among the top brass at NATO -- starting with Gen. Wesley Clark, the biggest doofus since William Westmoreland of Vietnam shame -- has made European leaders leery about being led down the tubes by another American General Humpty Dumpty. Going it alone with an all-European defense force commanded by their own generals is looking better and better.

And it should. They're big boys and girls who can well defend their own back yard. We've been propping them up for 55 years, and it's time they did the Bosnias and Kosovos on their own while we attend to our home fronts, beginning with securing our southern border.

Hopefully, then, NATO won't be around much longer to waste your tax dollars. When this obsolete defense treaty disappears, we can bring 100,000 troops back to the USA and save about $50 billion per year.

One of life's ironies is that our government arms most of the so-called Free World with horrific weapons. Meanwhile, the same politicians are scheming to take away our peashooters in order to make our country a more peaceful land -- just as we enter a decade of the worst terrorism in history.

Perhaps we should all make a New Year's resolution to disarm the world instead. We could start by putting an end to the mass exportation of weapons. And we could also stop sticking our noses in everyone else's business.

Of course, this wouldn't be good for our Sec Defs. How could they afford their post-Pentagon lifestyle? Since 1961, there hasn't been one U.S. secretary of defense who didn't end up a multimillionaire. Ever wonder where the money comes from?

One of most decorated soldiers in American history, Col. David Hackworth (Ret.) is the author of the syndicated column Defending America.

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