MARTY RUSSELL: Defense: How much too much?

By Marty Russell

Harold “Supermac” Macmillan, the Tory, that is conservative, prime minister of Great Britain in the 1950s, is credited with making the following sage observation: “Rule number one in politics,” he said, “is never invade Afghanistan.”
Oops. Somebody forgot to check the rulebook.
So here we are, post-9/11, still engaged after a decade in a war in Afghanistan brought about, at least by the premise we were sold, for the purpose of taking out those responsible for the events of that day. Almost 3,000 American lives were lost in the 9/11 attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. In the wars that followed in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 6,000 U.S. soldiers have died and, by most estimates, about 150,000 civilians in those countries as well as Pakistan.
So who’s winning here?
Britain and later Russia learned the hard way that you simply can’t win in Afghanistan. Britain tried it three times in the late 1800s and early 20th century and lost each time. Russia tried it in the 1970s and, after a decade, gave up. Now President Obama has promised to withdraw American troops from the region and hand over control to the Afghan government by 2014 after maintaining U.S. troop presence to “train” the Afghans until that time.
Excuse me, but shouldn’t they be training us? They’re the ones who have kicked the behinds of every major world power for the past 2,000 years. Do they really need “training?” Seems to me they’ve got it pretty much figured out.
The question that keeps getting asked on each post-9/11 anniversary is are we safer, more secure, than we were before the 9/11 attacks. The real answer, if we’re honest, is no, and we never will be. We’re safer from shoes, underwear and small bottles of shampoo but can anything really guarantee complete freedom from someone or some group hellbent on terrorism? Of course not.
But that’s not what politicians would have us believe. Already there’s a hue and cry in Washington that, if the cuts in defense ordered in the sequestration deal brokered by both parties are allowed to take effect, we’re doomed, despite the fact that this country already spends more than the next 13 biggest defense-spending nations combined, including China, Russia and the UK.
If we’re really serious about drawing down the deficit and putting the economy back on track, defense spending has got to be on the table. Unfortunately, defense spending is not only a sacred cow in Washington but the cash cow for so many politicians who depend on defense contractors to line their pockets around election time.
Yes, national defense is a major if not the top priority for any government. But it’s time for somebody with the guts – or some other body parts – to step up and say enough is enough. You can’t buy guaranteed security.

Marty Russell writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at

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