- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2000

America should help Colombia fight the real war first

Robert B. Charles paints a bleak picture of Colombia's future and a telling story of the Clinton administration's lack of support for Colombia ("Token aid for Colombia's emergency," Commentary, Feb. 1). In reality, however, both Colombia's future and Clinton's support are much worse than Mr. Charles depicts.

There are about 28 different U.S. government entities with interests in Colombia; absent direct guidance from the president, all have some say in U.S. policy. Each presses for the primacy of its agenda, be it stopping illegal drugs, human rights violations, commerce, immigration or whatever. And a prevalent attitude is exemplified by the comment of a senior U.S. official to one of my colleagues only two years ago: "Don't waste your career on Colombia, it's a dead issue."

Sadly, though either of the aid packages mentioned by Mr. Charles would help, both are based on the mistaken assumption that Colombia's primary need is counter-drug assistance. Colombian President Andres Pastrana's plan to pacify his country uses the same assumption also, though if the truth be told, Plan Colombia was written as a justification for receiving massive U.S. aid.

All of these plans assume that Colombia's troubles will disappear if enough effort is put into reducing the illegal drug business: The Marxist guerrilla groups will give up trying to overthrow the government, the paramilitary groups will stop killing guerrillas and their supporters, crime will drop, etc.

The real solution is political reform in Colombia; the drugs are a symptom of political instability. A worse symptom is the insurgency. But when has the United States ever succeeded in reducing the illegal drug business to the point of resolving the problem? Quick answer never.

Colombia needs assistance to beat the wolf closest to the door, namely, counterinsurgency assistance to put an end to the world's longest-running insurgency, to regain control of the territory seized by the Marxists, to stop the paramilitaries and their predatory behavior.

Until the war is over, the truly admirable efforts of Colombia's police and military forces will never have the resources or freedom of movement to combat the drugs. Fighting drugs is a must, but to ask Colombia to ignore the threat to its sovereignty in favor of fighting drugs destined for U.S. noses is pointless.

The United States needs to help Colombia win the war if it wants to see any successes in the war on drugs.

JAMES L. ZACKRISON

Falls Church

James L. Zackrison is a former visiting fellow at the National Defense University and editor of the book "Crisis? What Crisis? Security Issues in Colombia."

Kerrey's Medal of Honor is not just a medal

As a white male well over age 50, I have learned not to be sensitive to some of the garbage that I read in most newspapers. The Washington Times, however, was not being cute by reprinting the New York Post's statement about Sen. Bob Kerrey, "who won a medal and lost a leg" ("Thuggish behavior," Inside Politics, Feb. 2). It shows your lack of sensitivity.

The medal Mr. Kerrey won was the Medal of Honor as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam. He received this honor because in 1969, after receiving a massive wound to his leg, he continued to direct the fire of his SEAL team members. I am quite sure you know this to be the highest medal an individual in combat can receive. Most recipients are not alive to receive it.

I was awarded the Good Conduct Medal. That is what may be referred to as "a medal." The Medal of Honor is not just a medal.

ROBERT SLUSSER

Alexandria

EU needs to respect democratic choice in Austria

Does the European Union (EU) know how hypocritical it sounds when it seeks to diplomatically isolate Austria if the Freedom Party under Joerg Haider comes to power? ("EU warns Austria vote could trigger ostracism," Feb. 1) It was no coup d'etat that propelled the Freedom Party to the forefront of Austrian politics.

Foreign Minister Louis Michel of Belgium said, "At some point, we must take very determined action. Otherwise, tomorrow, how can we carry a European message of democracy, openness and tolerance?" But it was by the very act of democratic election that Mr. Haider's party has gained the ability to become a part of the government of Austria.

The people of Austria have come to realize about the EU what many Americans have come to realize about NATO, the World Trade Organization and the United Nations: that the popularly unelected powers in charge of these international organizations, and their cohorts among the entrenched elites in national governments, are not advocates of democracy at all; but are rather seeking any means to subjugate national sovereignty to their own nationally destructive agendas of "globalism" and "multiculturalism."

The EU has no business attempting to undermine the internal affairs of any member nation. The people of Austria know what is best for Austria and have made a democratic choice in the interests of Austria's future. The EU needs to respect that democratic choice and back off.

CARL ACKERMAN

Sterling, Va.

Time to reform or reject political PTAs

Unfortunately, it will take more than a warning from Virginia Attorney General Mark L. Earley if we want to limit the use of Virginia schools for political purposes ("Schools warned against advocacy," Metropolitan, Jan. 26). This problem is far more pervasive than some members of the Fairfax School Board and PTA are ready to admit.

In Fairfax County, the schools routinely provide resources for the PTA that includes space to print and disseminate information to the public and space for PTA meetings with the community. The schools themselves also distribute their own literature, which includes the superintendent's "Familygram," a monthly periodical covering a wide range of issues that is printed at taxpayer expense.

Usually, the PTA meetings and PTA and school publications are vehicles for uncritical support for the schools' cause du jour. These over the years have gone far beyond the traditional role of the PTA supporting teachers in the classroom. Instead, they include proposals for school construction, new programs, new bonds, budget issues and teacher salaries. Without fail, these initiatives advocate higher school spending, little of which finds its way into the mainstream classroom.

None of this would be sinister except that the unique access of the PTA to the school system, its parents and its students, makes it in effect a quasi-official body. Both the schools and the PTA thus have an inherent advantage in advocating any cause, because it is hard for outsiders to find a forum to challenge their views.

Accordingly, the administration and the PTA also should have a responsibility to avoid being used as lobbying fronts.

The federal government long ago passed the Hatch Act that, among other things, forbids the use of official resources money, time or property for political purposes. This prohibition has worked well.

The Virginia General Assembly and Senate should now do the same at the state level. The suggestion from Delegate Kristen J. Amundsun and Sen. Linda T. "Toddy" Puller that Fairfax County can handle this problem locally is, at best, putting the proverbial fox in charge of the hen house.

Parents also can do their part. They can insist that their PTA support only local, unofficial causes on behalf of the teachers and the area schools. They can contribute funds instead of dues to the PTA. PTA dues are shared with regional and national PTA chapters, which spend them on liberal policy matters; contributions are kept locally.

Better yet, parents can help to form an alternative Parent-Teacher Organization that is politically neutral and allows us to focus our support on where it is deserved on the teachers and the classroom.

RAY J. COGGIN

Vienna

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