I had breakfast with Joe Rice last winter; it had been quite a while since we had seen one another. We served together in the Legislature for two years. While we didn’t always see eye to eye-he’s a Democrat-Joe was a good legislator.
But he was also, perhaps, foolhardy at times. He sponsored the bill to raise car registration fees for highway improvements. It was an end run around TABOR, the provision in the Colorado constitution that requires voter approval for tax increases. Drivers-voters, in other words-hated it. So they threw Joe out after only one term. I never quite figured out why Democratic leaders allowed Joe, who represented a very competitive district, to carry the bill.
But, then again, Joe’s a Colonel in the Army who’s done several tours in Iraq. I don’t imagine that angry voters put much of a scare in him.
Over breakfast, Joe suggested that I apply for the 2017 Capital Conference in Washington. I did, was accepted (I suspect that Joe had his thumb on the scale on my behalf), and so, I recently found myself in the D.C. swamp. When they describe the place as a swamp, it’s both literally and figuratively true: while the temperature was in the 90’s during the conference, with the humidity, the heat index said it was in the 100’s. By the time we finished the three block death march from our downtown hotel to the Capital, men were sweating through their suit coats.
The figurative swamp is harder to describe. Let alone understand. And that’s just what Washington politicians and bureaucrats, no doubt, intend: like mushrooms, they do their best to keep the rest of us in the dark and under a pile of manure. Nonetheless, here are a few thoughts.
The event was co-hosted by Colorado’s two U.S. Senators, Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner. At the opening reception, we got a load of happy talk by members of our Congressional delegation about how bipartisanship guides “the important work” of what gets done in Washington. While I’m sure that many of those at the conference like to think that’s how things operate, I suspect that a good deal fewer really believed it. Especially given the toxic nature of politics in our country these days.
Questions about “why can’t Washington get anything done?” were common.
For my money, Senator Bennet gave the best answer: “It’s supposed to be hard to get things done,” he replied. “That’s the whole point of the separation of powers and the checks and balances set out in the Constitution.” I expect what attendees really meant when they asked the question is, “Why aren’t they passing the legislation I want.”
Conspicuous by their absence were questions about how much longer we are going to be fighting bloody, costly wars all over the world. Wars that, if nearly 20 years of futility is long enough to judge, we aren’t going to win and which are doing little more than kicking over more hornets’ nests.
Madeline Albright, the former Secretary State, was one of the speakers. It’s not infrequently that I suffer from delayed intelligence. And during the brief Q&A following her talk that the syndrome hit me again: I didn’t think of asking the war question of someone who was pretty well qualified to address the issue until the opportunity was gone.
But during a break I did have the chance to pull Senator Gardner aside and ask him, “How much longer are we going to be fighting all these crazy wars?” I have a bit of an in with Cory; he and I served two years together in the Colorado House. “I’ve talked,” I told him, “with several other people here at the conference and we just don’t get the point of these endless wars.” Although I didn’t mention it to Cory, a couple of the people at the conference who agreed with me was a prominent Denver businessman who has made a fortune selling furniture and a Fountain rancher whose missing finger tip was mute testimony to his work around farm equipment.
“Spencer,” Cory responded, his face clouded over with its characteristic intensity, “if you knew what we know, what we hear about in our secret briefings here at the Capital” (he gestured vaguely to his left), “you would understand.”
No, I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Our government has had us continuously fighting wars for over 16 years and they can’t tell us “Why?” Preposterous is not a strong enough. Given the staggering costs in terms of broken bodies, minds, and families, inexcusable is probably more like it.
Unfortunately, however, the hits just kept on coming.
On the next day, we were addressed by the South Korean Ambassador to the U.S., Awn Ho-young. He touted, of course, the warm relationship between his country and the U.S. He highlighted the bloody price American G.I.s played in saving his country from communist aggression when the North swarmed across the 38th parallel in 1950. “When we were invaded,” said the Ambassador, “we were the poorest country in the world. We badly needed your help.”
It got creepy, therefore, when Mr. Ho-young to told us how important it is that the close military ties between his country and the U.S. be continued.
“Now,” he boasted, apparently not recognizing how weird his argument was, “South Korea’s GDP is just behind Japan’s-and we’re gaining on them quickly.” But if that’s true, why do we still have nearly 30,000 troops in South Korea?
Is the ambassador anticipating a military confrontation with Japan? Hardly. It’s North Korea’s nut job dictator, Kim Jong-un, as we hear in the news almost daily, that’s rattling the saber. But by comparison with North Korea’s 90 pound weakling economy, South Korea’s is now a muscle bound Charles Atlas. And the same is true when you compare the two nations’ populations, military expenditures, and per capita GDPs.
The signature campaign issue that propelled President Trump to a stunning upset victory was his promise to build the Mexican wall to defend the U.S. border. Not defend a Korean border half a world away from our shores.
Would it make sense for this county to have a robust missile defense system to protect the continental U.S. from the North Korean dictator’s insane threats? Absolutely. But the 30,000 U.S. troops on the Korean peninsula probably look like no more than a tempting target to the mad man. Especially given that the newly elected South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, has suspended the deployment of a U.S. antimissile system in South Korea that could defend our troops.
How weird is this? Putting thousands of American lives at risk for a country that refuses to give them the tools to defend themselves?
For my money? Come home America. And quit letting establishment political hacks in the Washington swamp, both Republican and Democrat, keep dragging us into costly, bloody, futile wars.