On September 12, 2001, could we have predicted spending $1 trillion for wars allegedly fought in response to the tragedy gripping our nation? Could we have imagined the wars’ human and economic costs?
Today, U.S. forces are profoundly engaged in both Iraq and Afghanistan, with approximately 200,000 troops in the region and more than 21,000 additional troops requested for Afghanistan by the Obama Administration. U.S. soldier and Afghan and Iraqi civilian casualties increase daily as the economic cost-of-war counters roll on.
The financial implications are staggering. The House passed a supplemental bill May 14 totaling $96.7 billion in emergency war appropriations for the back half of FY2009. President Obama’s initial request was $83.4 billion. The National Priorities Project (NPP), a nonprofit organization that analyzes the federal budget, estimates that $77.1 billion of President Obama’s initial request was for war and ancillary operations. Of that, $52.7 billion was dedicated to the Iraq War and $24.4 billion for the expanding war in Afghanistan and related operations.
No matter how we slice the numbers, we must consider that each dollar spent to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is a dollar not spent to further some other endeavor. Massachusetts taxpayers could pay more than $2.2 billion for Thursday’s House supplemental vote alone. For the same amount of money, we could provide four years of healthcare for 95,000 people, or send 56,000 students to four years of college.
Congressional leaders are cooperating with the Obama administration in quashing any serious criticism of growing military escalation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Indications are that there will be no benchmarks or conditions set on the more than $85 billion supplemental appropriation before Congress beginning this week. The administration, which once promised no more rushed supplemental appropriation, is rolling funds for war and swine flu into one package, while not yet disclosing how much is earmarked specifically for Afghanistan.
Rep. David Obey says he wants to give the Obama administration a one-year deadline for results, which likely means making it more difficult to withdraw from a deepening quagmire.
The only current congressional vehicle for dissent is a proposed amendment by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass) that requires the Secretary of Defense to report on an exit strategy from Afghanistan by this December, six months after Congress has appropriated funds for escalating the war. Even that modest measure, with fifty co-sponsors at present, has met with administration resistance to an exit strategy with benchmarks.
A few weeks ago, the United States adopted a new policy for public response to U.S.-caused civilian deaths: apologize quickly. The administration took this step after repeatedly being shamed into admitting culpability for high-civilian-casualty events following initial denials of responsibilities. One could see this new policy at work at the State Department over the past two days after reports surfaced of massive casualties at Bala Baluk. But, over the last 24 hours, we’ve seen a new tactic over at the Defense Department: claiming we’d been framed.
[U.S. Army General David] McKiernan, however, hinted that the American airstrikes might not have been responsible for the deaths in Farah. “We have some other information that leads us to distinctly different conclusions about the cause of these civilian casualties,” McKiernan said. He declined to provide more detailed information until the U.S.-Afghan team was able to investigate further.
A U.S. defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that “the Taliban went to a concerted effort to make it look like the U.S. airstrikes caused this.” The official did not offer evidence to support the claim, and could not say what had caused the deaths.
This early period of Obama’s presidency is an opportunity to rebuild Afghanistan. It is a chance to become clearer than “out now,” while still using the same force in opposing the war. In addition to education on the specifics of the administration’s plan and the after-effects in Afghanistan, take these concrete steps to build infrastructure from the bottom up.
1. The immediate demands should be opposition to more troops, predator attacks, human rights abuses and escalating budget costs.
3. Demand of Congress and President the same accountability that was demanded of Bush and never won: verifiable casualty figures, transparent budgeting, oversight of contractors, compliance with human rights standards, including women’s rights–clear metrics to measure progress towards a defined exit strategy.
• assist in doubling their membership
• build a local e-mail list of at least 300 names
• build a coalition (at least a letterhead or leadership alliance) of clergy, academic, human rights, environmentalists, African-Americans and Latinos, labor and other progressive organizations.
5. Criticize Obama’s war from within the Obama structure and MoveOn.org. (Since neither of these structures have a focus on the war, contact them or start on a discussion on Afghanistan under another heading).
What happened today in Washington was, as Senator Russ Feingold called it, “historic.” Thirty-eight years nearly to the day when a young John Kerry shocked the nation with his fiery anti-Vietnam war testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Rick Reyes, a former US Marine Corporal, delivered an equally puissant testimony in which he expressed his disenchantment with the war in Afghanistan. How appropriate Kerry should be sitting directly across from Reyes as Committee Chairman, listening as Congress heard one of the first major voices of dissent on this war.
The son of Mexican immigrants who joined the Marines to escape a violent gang life in Los Angeles, Reyes served as an infantry rifleman in Afghanistan and Iraq. He upheld his duty to serve our country honorably, and immediately after 9/11, he was deployed to Afghanistan “with the conviction of fighting for justice and the American way.” All of that changed when Reyes realized US military forces faced the impossible task of fighting militant Taliban members who blended in with the local Afghan population, routinely resulting in the injuries or deaths of innocent civilians.
For too long, U.S. and NATO efforts in Afghanistan have been under-resourced and poorly coordinated. As a result, the United States’ early gains in the country have been reversed, and the Taliban and al-Qaeda have grown stronger and more lethal. Violence in the country has reached levels not seen since the initial invasion in 2001. In 2003, U.S. troops experienced fewer than 50 casualties; last year, that number had risen to 150. Attacks on U.S. and coalition forces have also grown more sophisticated, even in areas of the country where the Taliban is not thought to be strong. And while the military has had some success in eliminating high-level members of the insurgency, al-Qaeda continues to operate in Afghanistan and Pakistan, posing a serious threat to U.S. national security.
President Obama’s decision to send 17,000 additional combat troops and 4,000 additional trainers for the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police, is a necessary first step to reversing the deteriorating security situation in the country. But while necessary, the troop increase proposed by President Obama is not sufficient to achieve sustainable security in Afghanistan.
The administration’s decision to increase the amount of civilian experts and diplomatic resources, and the adoption of a regional approach is also necessary to correct American policy in Afghanistan. In addition to increasing security in Afghanistan, new troop deployments will enable these other elements of US national power to be put to more effective use.
As we mark Obama’s first 100 Days, there is much to celebrate–from repeal of the global gag rule to the passage of the stimulus and the Administration’s pledge to close Guantanamo. The budget, a smart blueprint to build a new economy, will demand that progressives mobilize to take on well-funded lobbies intent on obstructing real reform.
Yet, as I think about the most troubling aspects of these first 100 days, there are two areas which I fear could endanger the Obama Presidency: the bank bailouts and military escalation in Afghanistan.
Americans deserve a real national debate about the Administration’s plans in Afghanistan–its ends and means and exits–before undertaking such a major military commitment. That’s why Brave New Foundation’s work is so essential: with its new documentary Rethink Afghanistan and online debates such as the one CAP’s Lawrence Korb and I had last week, BNF is fostering the kind of discussion, debate and dissent that Obama has said he welcomes. BNF’s work–along with a network of bloggers, progressive leaders, magazines like The Nation, peace and justice groups–is launching much-needed Congressional hearings on vital areas such as the role and goals of the US military in Afghanistan, oversight of contractors, transparent budgeting and clear metrics to measure progress toward a defined exit strategy.
What’s key at this pivotal moment is increasing the pressure for constructive, smart, effective non-military solutions to stabilize Afghanistan–and strengthen Pakistan’s fragile democratic government. As I argued in the debate with Korb, I believe the more responsible and effective strategy moving forward is to take US-led military escalation off the table, begin to withdraw US troops and support a regional diplomatic solution, including common-sense counterterrorist and national security measures (extensive intelligence cooperation, expert police work, effective border control) and targeted development and reconstruction assistance.
Congress is ramping up for hearings on the war in Afghanistan, and with that in mind, Rethink Afghanistan is leading the call for citizen comments. The question is simple: What would you ask Congress about Afghanistan? Here’s my question for Congress, and for the witnesses Congress calls to these oversight hearings.
Of course, you know my answer. It’s that escalation in Afghanistan isn’t making America safe, and that we don’t need more troops in Afghanistan to keep America safe:
It has never been explained to me why we need thousands of troops on the ground to root out Al Qaeda. America, working with its allies, has been disrupting terrorist networks for decades without large ground forces. Why can’t we do it in Afghanistan?
Rethink Afghanistan is urging people to post their own questions to Congress, both video and text, as well as running some voting on the questions, to get the best ones to rise to the top. So, head over there and ask one. This war has been ignored for so long, I’m sure there are tons of things you can think of to ask.
Maybe, with enough citizen input, we’ll get some real oversight from Congress.
For those of you who had to cut checks and wait in long lines at the Post Office this afternoon, here’s a stat to darken your already gloomy tax day. According to the National Priorities Project (NPP), 37.3 cents of every tax dollar went toward military spending last year. NPP has a site set up where you can actually see the breakdown of where your tax dollars went in 2008, based on your city and county info. For instance, in Philly where I live, the median income family paid $1,958 in federal income taxes last year. Of that, $576 went to military spending and another $155 went to military interest on debt, while education received a paltry $59 and environment, energy and science combined got just $55. Why are these numbers so skewed?
Thankfully, the Obama administration has called for substantial investment in woefully underfunded areas like education, health care reform, and renewable energy. And investing in renewable energy will translate into more jobs, even though the NPP notes that 30 percent of military spending currently goes toward securing fossil fuels. Here’s the thing though, if our country is simultaneously escalating the war in Afghanistan, calling for a long-term military commitment, how can they possibly deliver on their economic agenda?
So far, the war in Afghanistan has cost taxpayers $172 billion, but that doesn’t even begin to factor in all the long-term social and hidden costs. Factoring in the cost of future occupation, veterans benefits, and interest, we could be looking at $1-2 trillion. Can someone in Washington please start doing the math here? Take the poll below and then ask Congress to rein in military spending.
On October 2, 2002, Barack Obama, then an Illinois State Senator, gave a speech opposing going to war in Iraq. That speech, at that time, would prove crucial to his election, first as a US Senator two years later, and then as President, four years after that. Democrats who equivocated were a dime a dozen. Obama stood out, because he stood up when others did not, and said, “This is wrong.”
He did not oppose all wars. He cited the Civil War and World War II as specific examples of necessary ones. But, he said, “I’m opposed to dumb wars.” Yet, on January 23, his third full day as President, Obama ordered two separate air strikes in Pakistan, killing 14 civilians, along with four suspected terrorists. One strike killed six civilians along with four suspected terrorists staying in their home, the other simply hit the wrong target, the home of a pro-government tribal elder, Malik Deen Faraz in the Gangikhel area of South Waziristan, killing him, his three sons and a grandson, along with three others.
Now President Obama has made it official. In addition to another 17,000 troops promised early, he made an additional pledge of 4,000 more on Friday, March 27. It was reportedly a ‘carefully calibrated’ decision, these would be trainers not combat troops, we were told. But Ray McGovern, a 27-year CIA veteran, whose career included long stretches preparing security briefs for Presidents Reagan and Bush Sr., was not impressed with such fine distinctions.