Guest Column

Renting the Armed Forces

It is wrong, dangerous, and against all that America stands for

By Jim Elliott

Of all the troubling issues that have surfaced in the past year, the idea of private funding of government military operations is close to the top of my list. Specifically, I am talking about a million-dollar gift from Tennessee billionaire, Willis Johnson, to the state of South Dakota to cover the costs of Gov. Kristi Noem sending National Guard troops to Texas to help “secure” the U. S.-Mexican border. 

Was Noem acting in accordance with the law in committing her troops to Texas? Yes. States are allowed to send their National Guard troops to other states to deal with disaster or emergency situations when requested by the governors of those states. Those troops are then paid for by the requesting state (which raises the question of why any contribution was needed) and are under the command of that state’s governor, according to the Military Times. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey have made such requests. They have taken upon themselves the job of border enforcement because they claim the federal government isn’t doing it to their satisfaction. 

Was Noem acting in a prudent manner when she accepted the million dollars on the behalf of the citizens of South Dakota for the sole purpose of funding military operations in a different state? I don’t think so. 

It’s unclear how the decision to send the National Guard to Texas was made. Did the governor, who is said to be considering running for president, make the decision and then wonder aloud how it would be paid for or did Willis Johnson request the action from the governor and also volunteer to cover costs. If the first, then Noem’s budgetary responsibility is questionable. If the second, she is up for sale to the highest bidder, a position no citizen should tolerate.

Whenever large amounts of money are given to candidates or governments there is an expectation that the money is buying a commitment larger than the purpose for which it is being used. In short, political influence.

Governments are elected by the citizens at large to serve the common interest. Individuals of great wealth are elected by themselves to serve their own interests. Lincoln wrote, “The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but cannot (sic) do… for themselves in their separate, and individual capacities.” But that’s just for the common citizen.

Billionaires do not need governments, and many, indeed, don’t want them. While they have the same basic needs as anyone else, they don’t have to rely on public services to fulfill those needs. Instead of relying on police, they hire private security guards, instead of public transportation, they fly in their own jets, instead of going to the doctor, they hire doctors to work for them. Because they do not have to rely on government services they are not particularly concerned when government services fail the non-wealthy citizen.

If you think I am just using this situation because the principals are Republican, let me assure you that there are plenty of wealthy Democrats who could do the same thing and be just as wrong. It is not the politics of the action; it is the action itself that is frightening. In a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” the common citizenry needs to call the shots, not some wealthy, self-appointed out-of-state individual. The ability of an individual to essentially hire National Guard troops as mercenaries to support whatever political purpose they favor is a step towards allowing citizens with unfathomable amounts of money to become American warlords. It is wrong, dangerous, and against all that America stands for.

Jim Elliott served 16 years in the Montana Legislature as a state representative and state senator. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek.  

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.