CHICAGO - As the 28-country North Atlantic Treaty Organization gathers this week here for its summit, Americans aren't buying much of what the alliance is trying to sell.
Right off the bat, the war in Afghanistan and U.S. military spending are two of the biggest items people are rejecting.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D., N.H., is a member of the U.S. delegation to the NATO summit, and she spoke with the press yesterday on a teleconference called by the National Security Network, a group which aims to "revitalize" America's security policy and bring "cohesion" and "strategic focus" to the "progressive" national security "community."
She said that the biggest priority at the summit this week would be finalization of plans for a "responsible" drawdown of NATO in Afghanistan by 2014.
The cost of funding the "drawdown" is expected to be announced at the summit.
However, Shaheen admitted, under questioning, that the U.S. taxpayers will be responsible for shelling out to Afghanistan most of the $4.1 billion annual cost of that country's permanent 228,000-member force. (It's the Afghan force that takes over after NATO pulls out.)
That amount will continue to be paid until 2018, Shaheen said, and will probably go up, rather than down, in the years after 2018. Currently, there is no end date for bankrolling Afghanistan's army. Shaheen heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's subcommittee on Europe.
"The United States will be paying for this," Afghanistan's foreign minister Jawed Ludin assured journalists in Kabul last week. The U.S. embassy there declined comment on Ludin's assurances.
Pointing to the economic disaster brewing in Europe, Shaheen didn't hold out much hope that any of the alliance's member countries would be stepping forward to shoulder more NATO expenses themselves, particularly in Afghanistan..
The American people have already made it clear that they want nothing to do with any long-term military involvement in Afghanistan, and presumably less to do with funding such involvement. Seven out of 10 Americans (69 percent) believe the U.S. should not be at war in Afghanistan, according to a recent New York Times poll. Opposition to the war cuts across ideological divides, with 68 percent of Democrats saying the war was going somewhat or very badly and 60 percent of Republicans agreeing.
Surprisingly, a plurality (40 percent) of Republicans insisted that the U.S. should exit Afghanistan earlier than 2014.
It's not just the street protesters and peace organizations that are lining up in opposition to NATO, however. The very need for an alliance like NATO is being questioned in capitals around the globe. The alliance, critics note, was formed in 1949 to combat the so-called "Communist threat."
After the collapse of the socialist countries in 1990s, the alliance, rather than closing up shop, however, found new ways to keep itself in existence, first by mounting the biggest cluster bomb attacks in history in Kosovo, and later by fashioning itself as the world leader of the "war on terrorism" launched by former U.S. President George W. Bush.
The recent intervention in Libya, critics note, was an intensification of NATO's role too as champion of big oil interests.
NATO touted its Libya intervention as "different," calling it a "humanitarian" intervention with no boots on the ground like in Iraq and no cluster bombs like in Yugoslavia. Only "precision" weapons were going to be used in Libya!
The UN and human rights groups say today that in Libya 8,000 prisoners are being held without trial, that there is routine torture and death in Libyan prisons and that 12,000 people (black Libyans) from town of Tawerga has been forcibly removed.
The country is plagued by rival warlords and militias while the NATO-installed National Transitional Council passes laws against freedom of the press and speech, gives legal immunity to former rebels, and disqualifies election candidates who criticize the way things are.
According to Human Rights Watch, the "precision" bombs alone killed at least 72 Libyan civilians, at least a third of them children. The NATO-installed National Transitional Council estimated 30,000 dead from the "humanitarian" intervention, civilians and soldiers.
As the main funder of NATO, the United States however, is faced with a dilemma that comes down to guns vs. butter, jobs not bombs. Endless military interventions are a lose-lose for all involved.
The protests here this week aim to get across that message.
Photo: Soldiers with Bravo Company, 1-36th IN "Spartans" wait to load helicopters for an air assault mission, May 2, CC BY 2.0