Normally I prefer it when Congress is not in session in Washington, reasoning our legislators can do us no harm, or less harm anyway, when they are back home in their districts meeting with constituents and/or pandering to and raising money from corporate special interests.
However this week, two congressional hearings shed light on some very interesting, previously unknown (or at least not widely known) facts related to our "national security."
The first, earlier this week, came at a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing on emerging threats. As reported by Walter Pincus for the Washington Post, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM in military shorthand), Admiral William McRaven, stated, "On any day of the year you will find special operations forces [in] somewhere between 70 and 90 countries around the world."
Now this number surprised me very much. Had I been asked to guess, I might have said we have special ops forces in maybe half that number of countries. On the other hand, given that the U.S. has somewhere between 800 and over 1,000 foreign military bases around the world (there is no consensus on how to even count them), as well as an overall unprecedented global military footprint, maybe I shouldn't have been surprised at the 70 to 90 number. It may in fact be low.
Pincus's article hinted at not only the increased role of Special Ops (which, along with drone strikes, are preferred means of projecting U.S. military might as the military seeks to reduce boots on the ground in some regions of the world), but also its growing budget ("Special Operations wins in 2014 budget"). Of course the budget, along with the number of countries, not to mention what the special ops forces are doing, all fall into the "we could tell you, but then we'd have to kill you" category.
Which is ludicrous, since we taxpayers foot the bill for all of this special opping. Shouldn't we know what the tab is, and be able to judge if it's worth it? Is this making us safer, or earning us more enemies around the world? Is this a good priority for our tax dollars, or would we feel more secure investing instead in our improving our schools, re-building our aging infrastructure, creating jobs and affordable housing and investing in green energy sources?
The Obama White House, which is failing miserably in its pledge to be the most transparent administration ever, should heed the adage that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and release the budget, list of countries we're on the ground in, and various missions of the Special Operations Command.
The second illuminating hearing, of the House Armed Services Committee, was held Thursday. As was widely reported, U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) revealed a Defense Intelligence (oxymoron alert!) Agency report that, counter to widely held belief, North Korea has the capability to hit the United States with a nuclear-armed missile, though the weapon's reliability would be low. The Obama Administration and other government spokespeople were quick to either disavow the DIA finding or point out this is not a consensus position of the U.S. intelligence community.
On this one, I'm inclined to the skeptical view. Miniaturizing a nuclear warhead, fitting it atop a missile that has to fly across the North Pole or the world's largest ocean, come close to its target and explode at the right time, well this is called "rocket science." North Korea's ain't anywhere close to ours.
Do you know what's not rocket science? Understanding North Korea's government isn't crazy, paranoid or irrational. Their recent nuclear and missile tests, as well as other provocative actions and threats, while regrettable, are the moves of an isolated, impoverished country targeted as part of the "Axis of Evil" by our previous president. It keenly observed what happened to the other two, sanctioned-to- death, invaded, regime-changed and occupied Iraq, and sanctioned-to-death and threatened with "all options on the table" Iran. Both lacked nuclear weapons of their own to deter U.S. (and Israeli, in the case of Iran) aggression, so North Korea learned the obvious lesson about nuclear weapons – "we better get us some." Moreover, North Korea has long faced the overwhelming economic, political and especially military power of the U.S. and South Korea.
While recently the U.S. has correctly backed off plans to escalate military pressure on the North, in the last few weeks it conducted massive war games with South Korea, with the stated objective of preparing for regime change or collapse in the North. U.S. B-2s and B-52s ran simulated nuclear attacks on North Korea, and F-22 fighter jets were moved to the South. If you were in the North Korean government, wouldn't you be pretty jumpy right about now?
Putting out the fire with gasoline is not what we need. Let's hope Secretary of State John Kerry's trip to the region succeeds in calming the situation on the Korean Peninsula. Calm, reasoned diplomacy is what we need, not military escalation and threats. Let's also look longer term, to put in place steps leading to a peace treaty with North Korea (we have only a supposedly temporary armistice signed 60 years ago at the end of the Korean War) and denuclearization of the region, and the world.
Nuclear deterrence clearly isn't working; if it were, wouldn't the U.S.'s massive nuclear arsenal of over 5,000 warheads, most of which are tens or hundreds of times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb which killed over 130,000 people, be dissuading North Korea from threatening to attack us, whether the threat is credible or not? Nuclear disarmament would make the region and the world much safer, and cost a lot less to boot.