In My Opinion Caroline Porter

Setting Priorities For Our Vast Resources

It has been noted that former Admirals, Generals and Pentagon officials agree that the United States can safely reduce the Pentagon budget by 15 percent, ($60 billion). Why? Because the budget still includes nuclear and other weapons designed to fight the Cold War.

United States spends $399 billion a year on the military, plus our Allies spend $225 billion, totaling $624 billion. Compare this ridiculous figure to Russia spending $65 billion; China, $47 billion and the "Axis of Evil", with only North Korea and Iran left, spend $7 billion. You remember that President Bush tried to get us all in a lather about those scary countries, North Korea, Iran and Iraq.

While this country is spending $399 billion on an excessive military program, the federal budget devotes $41 billion a year for children’s health, $34 billion for elementary and high school education, $10 billion on humanitarian and foreign aid, $7 billion for Headstart, and $2 billion on the problem of reducing our reliance on foreign oil.

What is wrong with this picture? How have we lost sight of where we need to place our vast resources?

At the same time, we are stretching our soldiers to such an extreme limit that they are practically dragged off the boat to come home to serve an extended time in that quagmire of Iraq. I tell you, when I read that the Galva, Illinois National Guard was going to be deployed, I knew our resources were not being well utilized. Not that the National Guard in this small community doesn’t have excellent soldiers and good training, but they are aged 30-50, with families, even grandchildren.

Atlantic Monthly magazine says it is rarely mentioned that we have 75,000 soldiers in Germany, 41,000 in Japan, 41,000 in Korea, 13,000 in Italy, 12,000 in the United Kingdom and on down a list of over 100 countries — plus some 26,000 sailors and Marines deployed afloat.

It’s gotten to the point where the Army’s recruiting slogan, "An Army of One," is mentioned with sarcasm. The usual punch line is, "That’s how many soldiers are left for new assignments now." The magazine says that nearly 40 percent of the United States presence in Iraq is from the Guard and the Reserves. They continue, "The family and business disruptions caused by these unexpected mobilizations are incalculable."

President George W. Bush is having his first live press conference in thirteen months as I am writing this column. I listened to his speech with great interest. As the questions began by carefully chosen White House reporters, his non-answers ensued. I am outta there. But his dream of our leaving that country in the hands of the Iraqis on June 30, I’m afraid, is just that. If the area is dangerous for us now, just think how it will be for our troops with the Iraqis in charge. It’s not that many Iraqis don’t want peace and freedom. It’s that they are incapable of coming together as a country to achieve it. The forces of Saddam Hussein, the fanatical Shiite cleric and terrorists gathering from around the world will see to that.

It is indeed sad that so many people in this world live in poverty. oppression, disease, and starvation. But we can’t solve the world’s problems, at least not with bombs. A group called "Freedom House," identified the world’s most repressive regimes. Readers may be surprised to learn that second on the list is our neighbor 90 miles away, Cuba. Yet, we don’t seem to be too upset about that. Others on the top ten list are Burma, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, our "buddy" Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Turkmenistan. Our friend China is 11th on the list, followed by Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Laos, Somalia, and another country near Iraq, with whom we are dealing, Uzbekistan. Number 20 on the list of most repressive regimes in the world — Viet Nam, which has a Communist Dictatorship.

There are more free countries in the world than there were, according to Atlantic Monthly, but the world in general is a chaotic and violent place. Even Prime Minister Putin of Russia, who enjoys intimate visits at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas, is making Russia a less and less a Democratic place. A former KGB agent, says the magazine, he has "reigned in the country’s regional governors, cowed its vocal business elite and squelched political opposition in the press."

The 911 Commission hearings underscore that we have much to do in this country with regard to safeguarding ourselves and fighting terrorism. And somehow we have to find the will and resources to change our country’s priorities and direction. Let’s get to it.

Caroline Porter is a freelance writer from Galesburg who can be reached at Other columns are online at