How $87 Billion Could Buy Some Real Security

by WILLIAM S. LIND

President Bush’s request for $87 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will do nothing for America’s security. Both of those wars have already been lost, and no amount of money will change their outcomes. A Second Generation military cannot win Fourth Generation wars, regardless of the resources deployed.

But there is a way a portion of that vast sum could make a real, even a vital contribution to America’s security. How? By providing emergency back-up electrical power for every water plant in America.

In the past several months, I have experienced two major electrical power blackouts, the Great Northeast Blackout, which hit me in Cleveland, and a 3-day loss of power here in Washington as a consequence of hurricane Isabel. In neither case did I find the absence of electricity any great hardship. As someone who might be called "High Church Amish," I don’t depend much on the grid. Over the last three powerless days, I read by kerosene light, turned my fridge into an old-fashioned icebox by putting ice into it, wrote on a typewriter (as I always do), listened to music on my Victrola and enjoyed sleeping with open windows and no roar from neighbors’ air-conditioners.

But something else, a consequence of no electric power, did scare me: the prospect of no water. Both in Cleveland and in northern Virginia, where I live, the loss of electricity shut down the water purification and pumping systems. In both places, as my water pressure dropped, a thought came to mind: I have to get out. I cannot exist without a water supply.

What happens when Fourth Generation fighters get into the computer systems that control America’s electric power and cut it out for a week or more? If people lose water when they lose electric power, they all have to get out – all of them at once, streaming from the cities into the countryside in search of water. Tanker trucks and bottled water can’t keep whole cities supplied.

Perhaps the single most effective action we could take to reduce America’s vulnerability to Fourth Generation attacks would be to ensure every water plant in the country has emergency back-up power. It won’t be cheap. In both Cleveland and northern Virginia, the local authorities said they knew they were vulnerable, but just didn’t have the money to put in emergency power systems for their water plants.

But $87 billion would do it, probably with money left over. As it is, the Bush Administration plans to spend $255 per Iraqi on electrical improvements by 2005, compared to 71 cents per American per year, according to The Guardian (U.K.). In effect, the Administration is working to give Iraqis American-style electrical service while leaving Americans at risk of becoming Iraqis, with no power and no water. Perhaps Karl Rove expects Mr. Bush to run for re-election in Iraq.

The piece in The Guardian quotes Senator George Voinovich, from my home state of Ohio and a former mayor of Cleveland, as saying, "Its hard to say to everybody, well, we don’t have money for sewers and water (at home), but we’re going to put in all that money over there." Well, Senator, how about it? If one Senator from either party had the guts to offer an amendment to the authorization of those $87 billion giving first priority to providing emergency back-up power to America’s water plants, who would vote against it? Not anybody who cared what the folks back home thought of him, that ‘s for sure.

Here is a case where good politics and good national security policy coincide. Is there anyone left in Congress who does not have his head in the sand? It’s a no-brainer. Who knows, if the amendment guaranteed that the work would go to Halliburton, the White House might even support it.

WILLIAM S. LIND’s On War column appears weekly in CounterPunch.

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