cannabisnews.com: The U.S. Is Setting A Trap for Itself In Colombia





The U.S. Is Setting A Trap for Itself In Colombia
Posted by FoM on March 05, 2000 at 16:59:16 PT
By Ralph Peters
Source: Washington Post
I often speak to military audiences about the future of conflict. Increasingly, the conflict of the future about which my listeners ask is the possibility of American military intervention in Colombia. Nothing so convinces soldiers of the inevitability of escalation as hearing their leaders make frequent promises to Congress that U.S. forces will not be required, if only military aid expands dramatically. 
When generals insist that "advisers" can handle the mission, Sergeant Rock starts packing his rucksack.No one suspects a secret plan to deploy American battalions in support of the Bogota government. The situation is worse than that: The Clinton administration's proposed $1.6 billion in security aid is a substitute for a strategy. Our policy is essentially to send a check and cross our fingers. There is no evidence that the White House and the Pentagon have engaged in conceptual thinking about Colombia and the troubled region around it. As with the former Yugoslavia, U.S. civilian and military leaders are declining to think the problem through, fearing what serious analysis might reveal.Despite the provision of 30 Black Hawk and 33 Huey helicopters, the aid package amounts to treating cancer with a topical ointment. More aircraft and other military materiel may give specific Colombian units a local advantage, but they are unlikely to bring about a strategic decision. We can keep the Bogota regime alive, but we cannot make it victorious.The aid package could prove to be money well spent, if its purpose is to give the Pastrana government a last chance to show resolve and rescue Colombia from narco-guerrillas and terrorists on both the left and right. A save-yourself allowance makes sense. But any expansion of U.S. military involvement in support of a corrupt, feudal regime would be folly. The number of U.S. personnel attached to the aid package must be severely restricted, limited to those whose presence is both essential and advantageous to our interests. This means auditors to ensure the aid is not stolen or misused, intelligence personnel to monitor the situation and training teams kept well away from combat. Of those, the trainers raise the most concern, because advisers tend to bond with their student units and have been known to bend the rules to extend their "training roles" onto the battlefield. In the heat of the moment, it is all too easy to forget that the president and Congress, not colonels, decide when U.S. forces go to war.Before we send the aid, though, we must ask some tough, basic questions. Does the Colombian government--feckless, corrupt and inconstant--deserve our help to survive? Is that government the means to a solution, or an intrinsic part of the problem? Why should a single U.S. dollar, to say nothing of a U.S. soldier, be sent to prop up a military in which no Colombian with a high-school diploma is required to serve? Plenty of Colombians profit from the disorder and do not really want the rule of law. They only want a little more room to maneuver. Expatriate Colombians, lolling on Florida beaches or shopping in Madrid, would be perfectly willing to fight to the last American G.I.When U.S. officials bluster about the thousands of casualties the Colombian military and police have suffered fighting drug-funded guerrillas, they fail to mention that most of the fallen were semiliterate draftees pressed into service, poorly trained and ill-equipped, and led by the ambitious sons of the lower middle class. Those with the least stake in the system do the dying. Those who profit park their funds offshore. We must beware the "Saudi syndrome," in which utterly undeserving foreign regimes manipulate us into doing their fighting for them.We hear much about the lessons of Vietnam, usually from those who never served in uniform. There are, indeed, lessons from our Indochina experience pertinent to Colombia and other conflicts in which no side is honorable, but those lessons are not the self-justifying nonsense dear to our social elite about the unwillingness of Americans to suffer casualties. Rather, the salient lesson of Vietnam is that no amount of U.S. largess or American might can save a government unable to save itself. We can only prolong the gruesome status quo.Another lesson is that U.S. aid, generous and ill-managed, can prove addictive and enervating to the recipient. Military prowess matters less than moral determination. And we fall for those clever enough to spout democratic slogans, rejecting evidence of corruption or inefficacy on the part of those whom we have chosen as our icons. Incremental engagement favors the enemy, and you cannot vanquish an enemy who is allowed to retreat into sanctuaries. The lessons of Vietnam go on and on, but, to borrow the title of a novel from the 1960s, "Everybody Knows and Nobody Cares."The greatest difference between Colombia and Vietnam is, paradoxically, that Colombia matters strategically and immediately to the United States. It is the keystone in an arch of troubled countries in the Western hemisphere, from the turmoil of Venezuela on one end, through the Panama Canal, the fragile Central American states and lawless Mexico on the other. It is at the forefront of northern Latin America's backward plunge into caudillo politics, institutional decay, resurgent corruption and murder as a business tactic. Drugs that originate in or pass through Colombia have done far more harm to Americans and our society than the Vietnam War. Oil from Venezuela and Colombia is crucial to our economic welfare.Still, none of this justifies the loss of a single American life in support of the Pastrana government. Send the money, but if the Colombians need mechanics for those helicopters, let them hire civilians from the blood-money firms run by our retired generals. This is critical, because while the untutored watch for the dispatch of infantry battalions, it is the deployment of logistics units and other support troops that backs us into war. When you start hearing that "the Colombians just need some maintenance backup," or "they can pull it off if we just help out with the long-haul communications," it's time to bring the peace symbols and protest banners down from the attic.If the Colombian military and police succeed, so much the better. But the likeliest outcome is a stalemate--fine with corrupt officials, black marketeers, narco-traffickers and the broad assortment of bullies who profit from disorder. The unwanted result of our aid may be to strengthen the current system just enough to preserve all its worst characteristics, maintaining the balance of evils. And should Colombian forces drive the narco-guerrillas into a corner and find the will to press the right-wing death squads against the wall, the response will be terror attacks in Bogota, resulting in the panicked restraint of the military and another cycle of violence.Contrary to the nightmares of our diplomats, who often cherish even the worst status quo, the best result might be the collapse of the Colombian government. That might bring about a regional consensus for intervention and save the United States from spending or even bleeding alone while disingenuous neighbors cry, "Yankee, go home!" We may well end up fighting in Colombia some day, for genuine interests. But if we do, it must be as a coalition member in support of a worthy new regime and with a clear, decisive purpose. A new government built around Colombians who have both courage and a sense of moral decency, a new constitution that does more than enshrine the rights of an oligarchy, and a new military that does more than drain the blood of the poor might be worthy of our support. The current Bogota government lacks any moral weight beyond a drab incumbency. Its "democracy" is little more than a tool of the rich and empowered. Colombia needs a new beginning, not a prolonged death struggle.The corruption and bloody-mindedness of Colombia's elite drove Simon Bolivar to despair and an early death in 1830. In response to critics of its fitful support of the Bogota government, the Clinton administration trots out one or two heroic Colombians as examples. But the tragedy of the great Latin American liberator was that individual heroes are not enough. If Colombians are unwilling to fight for their country, Yankee money and blood cannot redeem them.Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer whose special projects included a strategic reconnaissance in the Andean ridge and service in the Office of National Drug Control Policy. His most recent book is "Fighting for the Future: Will America Triumph?" (Stackpole) Published: Sunday, March 5, 2000; Page B01  Copyright 2000 The Washington Post CompanyRelated Articles:Colombia Rebels Declare War on United States http://www.cannabisnews.com/news/thread4929.shtmlUS: Colombia Drug War To Take 5 Yrshttp://www.cannabisnews.com/news/thread4914.shtmlFighting the New Drug Lords - Newsweek Internationalhttp://www.cannabisnews.com/news/thread4738.shtml GOP Worry Colombia Could Become Another Vietnamhttp://www.cannabisnews.com/news/thread2380.shtml
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Comment #1 posted by kaptinemo on March 05, 2000 at 19:03:26 PT:
I hope you all are reading this. I really do
Those of us who are vets, combat and otherwise, know all too well how we seem to sidle into wars:'This means auditors to ensure the aid is not stolen or misused, intelligence personnel to monitor the situation and training teams kept well away from combat. Of those, the trainers raise the most concern, *because advisers tend to bond with their student units* and have been known to *bend the rules to extend their "training roles" onto the battlefield.* In the heat of the moment, it is all too easy to forget that the president and Congress, not colonels, decide when U.S. forces go to war.' (Emphasis mine)The parallels with Vietnam are especially striking:'When U.S. officials bluster about the thousands of casualties the Colombian military and police have suffered fighting drug-funded guerrillas, they fail to mention that most of the fallen were semiliterate draftees pressed into service, poorly trained and ill-equipped, and led by the ambitious sons of the lower middle class. Those with the least stake in the system do the dying. (Remember the ARVN?) Those who profit park their funds offshore. We must beware the "Saudi syndrome," in which utterly undeserving foreign regimes manipulate us into doing their fighting for them.' (I can just see some GulfWar Vets nodding over that one.)One of the major reasons for involvement there has absolutely nothing to do with drugs, but the DrugWar is a handy excuse:Oil from Venezuela and Colombia is crucial to our economic welfare. (Only because oil prices supposedly are so low that domestic production is more expensive. With the gas prices rising at the pump, and OPEC getting balky about increasing production, that may change. Hopefully.)As usual, the 'bottom line' is saved for the, er, bottom line:If Colombians are unwilling to fight for their country, Yankee money and blood cannot redeem them.And what is so eerie about it all is the guy who wrote it works for MISTER McCaffrey. Yup. Dissension in the ranks? I hope so. I sincerely do. Look at it this way, if you must: is a single vial of cocaine or a single hypo of heroin worth a US soldier's life. I don't think so. Do you?
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