Posts Tagged ‘Taliban

02
Jun
09

Fiscal Discipline and the State and Defense Departments

CapitolBuilding

icon_digg  At the beginning of  May President Obama announced an across the board budget reduction for each federal department and a complete revamping of overdue change in the way Washington typically does business.  Throughout all forms of media we learned of the fifteen different departments, including the the overly expensive “Defense Department” revising and slashing their respective budgets as directed by the president.

Personally of course I do not possess the ability to carefully analyze, digest and render judgment on each department’s cost reductions and understand there value to the overall needs of there justifications.  However, the two budgets of most interest were the State and Defense Departments. The State Department in regards to Central Asia and the DoD’s as it  pertains to Iraq only.

It also requires mentioning that “I recognize the 2010 budget presented to congress was not of President Obama’s Administration, instead authored by the Bush Administration, which included numerous “earmarks”; regardless of this fact, my posting is basically unconcerned with the monetary size or the needless earmarks themselves, but only to suggest for consideration aspects of unfinished business within congress regarding the Department of Defense and the reckless “fat” that should be trimmed within the proposed State Department budget.”

Defense Department:

kbr_logo-smRegarding the DoD budget, I sincerely want to secure the recovery of all monies wasted and pilfered by KBR, the Army’s leading Iraqi and Afghan contractor who is linked to “the vast majority” of suspected combat-zone fraud cases that have already been referred to congressional and DoD investigators.  The total amount paid to KBR, for their services (or lack of services) by our government amounts to 13 billion dollars for Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Defense Contract Auditing Agency as found KBR’s contracts for awarded work, accounts for forty-three percent of the Pentagon’s total audited Iraq contracting dollars.  Furthermore, according to the agency’s data, thirty-two cases are now under current investigation.

The Army has paid an additional $83.4 million in added “bonuses” to KBR, despite documented accusations of its inferior electrical wiring work that was incorporated into military facilities and the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, which has been linked to the electrocution of at least four soldiers and one contractor (please review the reference sources below for details).

A Senate Democratic Policy Committee has determined that more than half of the aforementioned bonuses, $48.9 million, to be exact, were awarded to KBR after the DoD sounded an alarm in early 2007 regarding what was described as pervasive problems with KBR.

Let us not forget the Halliburton Company was the parent company to KBR where former Vice President Dick Cheney served as Halliburton’s Chief Executive Officer from 1995 to 2000 before becoming George W. Bush’s running mate.

While serving in the Bush Administration, some critics have charged Cheney’s received “deferred” compensation from Halliburton which represented a conflict of interest and questioned Halliburton’s winning of lucrative government contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The contractual money awarded to KBR for work, unsatisfactorily completed, must be fully accounted for and returned before any additional contract is awarded to KBR.

State Department:

federal-reserve-smThe State Department is embarking on a $1 billion crash program to expand its diplomatic presence in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan, which is another costly, long-term commitment in South Central Asia when this money could be used more effectively for other uses back here in America.

The White House has asked Congress for and seems likely to receive $736 million to build a new U.S. embassy in Islamabad,  with permanent housing for U.S. government civilians and new office space in the Pakistani capital.  The request also includes funding for two additional Consulate Offices in other regions of Pakistan.

I seriously question this request and needless spending for the following reasons:

  • Financial burdens on our economy still remain an issue here within the U.S., especially at the state and local levels.  Most Americans know and subscribe to the notion that there’s only so much money to go around.
  • Pouring additional money into any country without knowing what the political outcome may be or the final implementation of how a free democracy will best be served, is money unwisely spent.  Currently it appears as if a civil war within Pakistan (pro-government forces versus a Taliban backed regime) could develop over the next three to six months.
  • It behooves me to comprehend why we need three “Super Embassies” within the Eastern Hemisphere; Cairo, Baghdad, and now the proposed expansion of the Islamabad embassy.  Three large embassies located approximately within less than four hours of flight time from one another.

Cairo, Egypt to Baghdad, Iraq is 800 miles,
Baghdad, Iraq  to Islamabad, Pakistan is 1,600 miles
Cairo, Egypt to Islamabad, Pakistan is 2,400 miles

  • How are we the American public going to benefit from this expense?

This last point is of the utmost importance, since one of the primary reasons for the State Department’s justification of existence is to arrange and promote American business interests within countries.  How can this objective successfully be accomplished with an unstable and perhaps corrupt government in Pakistan.

Other major State Department projects are planned for an expanded embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan; and for consulate offices to be setup in the Pakistani cities of Lahore and Peshawar. In Peshawar, our government is negotiating the purchase of a five-star hotel that would house a new U.S. consulate.  Again, I wonder how this is going to go down with our thousands of already homeless, here in the states and aid our laid off auto workers desperately trying not to become homeless?

What’s my Point:

Tom-Serious-80x54After several of our embassies were destroyed or listed as targets for terrorist activity; our State Department requested much needed funding to enhance the security aspects of our embassies and consulates, which I agree, funding needed to be authorized and construction for security re-enforcement undertaken.

However, I feel there are defined limits to be adhered to and there should not be a blanket, coverall “card blanc” policy towards proposed State Department expenditures.

Our president who I believe comprehends the American people, more so, than any other president in the past thirty-five years has acted in a diligent prudent manner, requesting each of his fifteen departments, he oversees, to cut unnecessary items from their budgets.

This can be witnessed here, where the President as taken the following action (links added by myself for reference):

The programs in Terminations, Reductions, and Savings are ones that do not accomplish the
goals set for them, do not do so efficiently, or do a job already done by another initiative. They
include these ten:

  • LORAN-C, $35 million. This long-range, radio-navigation system has been made
    obsolete by GPS.
  • Abandoned Mine Lands Payments, $142 million. This program is now used to clean
    up mines that are already cleaned up.
  • Educational attaché, Paris, France, $632,000. The Department of Education can use
    e-mail, video conferencing, and modest travel to replace a full-time representative to
    UNESCO in Paris, France.
  • Los Alamos Neutron Science Center refurbishment, $19 million. The linear
    accelerator housed here was built 30 years ago and no longer plays a critical role in
    weapons research.
  • Even Start, $66 million. The most recent evaluation found no difference on 38 out of
    41 outcomes between families in the program and those not in it. Strengthening early
    childhood education is accomplished through significant investments in proven, more
    effective programs such as Head Start, Early Head Start, and the Early Learning
    Challenge Fund.
  • Christopher Columbus Fellowship Foundation, $1 million. The Foundation would
    spend only 20 percent of its 2010 appropriation on the fellowships it awards.
  • Advanced Earned Income Tax Credit, $125 million. This program benefits very few
    taxpayers, and has an extremely high error rate: GAO found that 80 percent of
    recipients did not meet at least one requirement.
  • Javits Gifted and Talented Education Program, $7 million. Grants from this
    program go to only 15 school districts nationwide, and there are no empirical measures
    to judge efficacy.
  • Public Broadcasting Grants, $5 million. USDA made these grants to support rural
    public broadcasting stations’ conversion to digital broadcasting. That transition is now
    almost complete.
  • Rail Line Relocation Grants, $25 million. This program, duplicative of a merit-based
    program, is loaded with earmarks.

The efforts detailed in Terminations, Reductions, and Savings are part of a larger and longer
effort needed to change how Washington does business and put our fiscal house in order.

Rarely, do I agree with the media who have criticized the President for this small cost savings reduction or members of our legislative branch of government, who infer this is a small amount of the overall 2010 budget.  However, I feel the federal government should look again for additional cost savings measures and rescind programs and projects that may not be needed at this time.

I do hope in the coming four years both the Defense and State Departments act responsibly to fiscal spending along with both Congress and President vetoing  any and all requests for haphazard expenditures, at least until our country is relieved from some of its financial burdens.

Finally, consider authoring an e-Mail to both your House Representative and Senator, requesting an update on the status of where the KBR investigations presently are and your opinion regarding another expensive new embassy in Pakistan along with two new and additional Consulates offices in Lahore and Peshawar.

Reference Sources and Documents:

Newswire Articles and Updates

Defense Department:

The Use and Misuse of Reconstruction Funding Affects the War Effort in Iraq and Afghanistan

Senate Committee Hearing Contractor KBR Misconduct in Iraq (pdf)

Senate Document Questionable Contracting Practices by KBR and the Pentagon (pdf)

House of Representatives Committee Hearing – Statement Thomas Bruni KBR Engineer (pdf)

Senate Document Request to KBR – Blackwater Payments (pdf)

Department of Defense base budget for 2010 (pdf)

Department of Defense Organizational Chart (pdf)

State Department:

State Department FY 2010 Budget in Brief (pdf)

State Department Organization Chart – May 2009 (pdf)

White House:

Remarks by the President on Reducing Spending in the Budget (pdf)

Budget Fact Sheet (pdf)

Fiscal Year 2010 budget overview (pdf)

Accompanying Video:

The President Announces Key Spending Cuts in His Budget

The President discusses his budget reductions a change in the way Washington does business. May 7, 2009.

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27
May
09

Afghanistan our New Challenge

600afghanistan_woman

icon_digg The war in Afghanistan has been in progress for almost eight years, two years shy of the former Soviet Union’s losing duration when they invaded the country in 1979.  Today, we are finding ourselves in the same predicament as they were some twenty years later, with the only difference being the stakes are much higher with the spreading battlegrounds reaching into Pakistan with its nuclear weapons potentially falling under the Taliban’s control.

Should we be there, yes – but unfortunately we have made the same mistakes the Soviet Union committed in assuring their failure:

  • The difficult terrain features Afghanistan offers to foreign armies
  • The ability of small numbered Afghan troops to quickly mobilize, strike swiftly and rapidly disperse into the general populous
  • Modern military technology is mostly limited to air support supremacy only
  • The appearance of armed foreigners in Afghanistan has always been met with arms in the hands of the Afghans.

This last point is perhaps the most important reason of why the war is dragging on and why the U.S. has not been overwhelmingly successful in conflicts such as this before, such as: Vietnam, Lebanon, Somalia and Iraq.

The aforementioned conflicts, like Afghanistan presents itself, are fundamentally based upon religious differences among the populous and invading foreign powers, where political dissimilarities were secondary and ideological dissimilarities were a distant third.

We have all heard the saying “winning the hearts and minds”, which in my opinion is preached but never practiced; we as Americans are told this usually after our military leaders realize the conflict is going to be long and drawn out.

Our picture of the real social and economic situation in the country was insufficiently clear.

History should have been our textbook to use in the Afghan War!

As mentioned when the Soviet Union invaded the country in 1979 they in essence installed there own president, Babrak Karmal, as we did with Hamid Karzai with both presidents’ first steps rendering hopes for the problems facing their country being resolved with foreign aid and support. However, nothing new emerged and their policies that could have changed for a better attitude of a significantly increased portion of the Afghan population towards their new regime never did reach or as in today’s situation reach maturity.

Moreover, the intensity of the internal Afghan conflict continued to grow, and the military presence was associated with forceful imposition of customs alien to the national characteristics and feelings of the Afghan people.

Both the Soviet’s and our current approach did not take into account the country’s multiple forms of economic life and other characteristics, such as tribal and religious customs.  One has to admit that we as the Soviets essentially put our bets on the military solution while developing a counterrevolution with force.

As always we were acting out of our best intentions, trying to transplant the approach to which we are accustomed onto Afghan soil, and encouraging the Afghans to copy our ways. All of this did not help our cause; it bred feelings of dependency on the part of the Afghan leaders in regard to both the sphere of military operations and economic solutions.

The war in Afghanistan is continuing and our troops are engaged in extensive combat actions. Finding any way out is becoming more and more difficult as time passes.

President Obama is fully committed, as we should be, in winning this war; the reasons are straightforward and simple to understand:

  • To stop the spread of terrorism in the Eastern hemisphere and establish a permanent military base within Central Asia from which we can protect both our Middle East and Asian allies and our own vast interests in the region.
  • Insure nuclear arms in Pakistan are secure from radicals and groups obsessed in conveying their politically motivated messages of ideological concepts
  • Halting the flow of narcotics for worldwide consumption
  • Eliminating wide scale corruption in aspects of Afghan society

We must face reality in Pakistan; we have poured billions of dollars into the country with, in my opinion very little to show for, other than a much un-needed amount of political bickering and the simple fact the Taliban is gaining more control of the country than ever before.

Here again is our overall lack of understanding the people within Pakistan and as in Afghanistan talking about “winning the hearts and minds” but doing so in such a way to render us as invaders rather than saviors.

Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos all turned around their agricultural communities from harvesting drug producing crops to alternative methods of land usage.  This was not an easy task, but accomplished through government sponsored programs and education of the farmers.

Additionally stringent law enforcement was required, not necessarily on the farmers themselves, but more so on the distribution or middlemen and drug lords.

Today, production and the exporting of drugs within these aforementioned countries has been drastically reduced.

Corruption has driven the country since its inception and something that cannot be eliminated by a proclamation or two by the country’s top officials.  The elimination of corruption cannot be only approached from a typical top-down or grassroots approach of bottom-up; instead it must facilitate both of the following equally and in conjunction with one another:

  • The populous requires an education as to the harmful effects caused by a corrupt government and the benefits received from quick law enforcement.
  • Strong and courageous leadership who understands the needs of the populous and willing to enforce or institute corruption laws to protect not only the people but his own position in the government.

An excellent article, authored by Chak Sopheap for UPI Asia, entitled “Cambodia needs anti-corruption culture” details the current corruption problems taking place in Cambodia and the harm it is causing on the Cambodian people.  Well worth a read!

What’s my Point:

Lets stop by throwing needlessly money, bullets and bombs at the Afghans and Pakistanis by starting first of all; educating ourselves with the understanding of their culture, traditions and language or give up the tired old line of “winning the hearts and minds” of the people and simply conquer them, which is less time consuming and possibly less costly.

However we as Americans would be bound to rebuild their country in our own image, such as we did after World War II with the countries of Japan and Germany, along with Korea, after the Korean conflict.

I wonder what the international community’s attitude would be towards us, if we conquered Afghanistan and Pakistan?  Also, I wonder about the overall cost of rebuilding these two countries?

Reference Documents and Newswire Updates:

Related Newswire Stories:

Remarks by the President on National Security (pdf)

Press Briefing by Sect. of State Hillary Clinton on Humanitarian Aid to Pakistan (pdf)

Press Briefing by National Security Advisor General James Jones on the President’s meetings with President Karzai of Afghanistan and President Zardari of Pakistan (pdf)

Accompanying Video:

From Afghanistan

Photos by Scott Carrier from Afghanistan. Taken for his Harper’s Magazine article:
http://hearingvoices.com/webwork/carr…

Music by Eva Cassidy from her Live at Blues Alley
http://www.evacassidy.org/




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