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Opinion: Fewer guns don’t mean more butter, Mr. Mayor

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To borrow some phraseology from the Vietnam War, the U.S. Conference of Mayors is asking Washington for more butter, fewer guns. That’s the import of a resolution approved by the conference on Monday calling for President Obama and Congress to ‘speed up the ending’ of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One reaction to the resolution is: ‘Who asked them?’ Mayors have no role in foreign or defense policy, and while they are free as citizens to take positions on war spending or anything else, a collective resolution encourages the fallacy that they possess some special authority. It isn’t as blatant a violation of federalism as the attempt by some cities in the 1980s to declare themselves ‘nuclear-free zones,’ but it still smacks of interloping.

A more trenchant objection to the resolution is that the mayors seem to assume that the funds spent in Afghanistan and Iraq would be available for other purposes if the wars disappeared. Granted, the resolution was amended to mention reducing the federal debt. But the emphasis is on spending the liberated funds on ‘vital human needs.’ Even without a deficit crisis, such a reallocation would take place over the prostrate bodies of more than a few members of Congress.

Given the fact that cities depend on federal spending, it’s perfectly defensible for mayors to lobby the White House for ‘jobs, jobs, jobs,’ as a group of them -- including Los Angeles’ Antonio Villaraigosa -- did on Monday. But the mayors lose some credibility when they stray into world affairs. All politics are not local.

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-- Michael McGough


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