U.S. can't afford the moral highground

Let me preface the following with two confessions. The first is that I am not absolutely clear on what the war in Bosnia is all about, i.e., land, ideologies, religion, post Soviet Union power struggles, natural resources, etc. Secondly, I totally agree with the Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich and the Republican party not to send ground troops to keep the peace, although I would expect for different reasons. All this notwithstanding the fact is that I am not as well-versed in foreign policy as I should be probably the case with most of us. Hence, if you are one to buy into the idea that the United States is the world's police, always ready to "do the right thing," then I am sure you do not mind spending your tax dollars to pay for this excursion to the moral high-ground. On the other hand, you might be one who supports this as strategic necessity. Western intervention into the affairs of the Balkan states is necessary to curb further balkanization; fearing the aggression will widen, each neighboring country trying to stop the spread of war with their own military might, until the entire process dominoes Europe into the next world war. A bit dramatic, if not plain apocalyptic, but you see the point.

I would suspect the Republicans do not support either view, although those diehard Cold War enthusiasts could search for some validity in the strategic perspective. Most Republicans simply believe we have no business there, the President's plan is not realistic, and the United States should not have to carry the bulk of the responsibility in keeping peace halfway across the world. On all these points I would agree. However, my reasons are not grounded in what should be appropriate foreign policy, but are based on needed, and long overdue domestic obligations. No one denies there is a moral imperative attached to the crisis in Bosnia, for genocide is totally and unequivocally unacceptable, whether it be in Bosnia, Sri Lanka or Rwanda.

Yet, the President's decision to send troops to Bosnia smacks of something more. Why now? That conflict has been going on for over two years. What is there to gain by ensuring the peace treaty by military force? Is it guilt? As "the last remaining superpower," should the United States take the moral high ground and put a stop to aggressions that take the lives of innocent bystanders? That was the premise surrounding the campaign in Somalia. Yet, we lacked moral leadership when the Hutus and Tutsis slaughtered one another to the tune of 500,000 and left 2 million refugees wandering Rwanda, frightened to return home. What about when the Kurds were being bombed by their own, or the internal strife in Sri Lanka, or Ethiopia in the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s? Granted, we can't be the conscious of the world, breaking up every fight in playground, but how do we choose, why did we choose this one? More importantly, can we afford to make this choice?

That brings me to the my next point. Cost. Not only the cost of human lives, which of course will be our ultimate sacrifice, but economic cost, real dollars. The estimate for this little venture is $2 billion and climbing. Yes, those are our tax dollars. That's funny, I thought we had tens of thousands of homeless in this country - most of them children. I seem to remember that most of the beneficiaries of welfare programs were children, and some say the system is going bankrupt. Assuming people are pushed off of the welfare rolls into the job market, how will we pay for the needed job training and child care services? In recent years, the population living below the poverty line has exploded. Corporate downsizing and restructuring has cost millions their jobs. How will we pay for retraining programs? The federal budget needs to be balanced for fear of even more serious fiscal troubles. Where will we get the money? How will the cities pay for the 100,000 new police in the crime bill without some federal assistance? What about the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Institute of Health, AIDS research and the student loan programs? Obviously, I could go on. Clearly, we need the money at home, in our own backyard, right now. American domestic policy is in crisis. We need the rapid deployment of resources to combat poverty, crime, illiteracy, disease, unemployment, and homelessness. We need ground troops to teach in our schools, to revitalize impoverished neighborhoods, to empower the disenfranchised. Nearly one Million Men were mobilized behind a common inspiration, with little or no cost to the tax payers of this nation. Imagine the rapid reaction force that could be garnered if America took the moral high ground with domestic policy with the same vigor as it is in Bosnia.

David Benton is the president of the Black Law Students Association.

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