Pie Chart of Federal Budget, showing military Portions
Like a lot of constituents, I wrote my Senator about the war in Afghanistan. Unlike some Senators, Chuck Schumer actually wrote me back a reasonably detailed response (see below). Unfortunately, his views, which I believe reflect the mainstream views of both Congress and the Administration, fail to acknowledge the actual harm that is done by our continued engagement in what is now America's second longest war...and counting. Only Vietnam has had a longer military commitment from the U.S. (1961-1973), and it's worth remembering that Vietnam didn't fall to the NVA until April, 1975, over two years from when all parties had signed a cease-fire (are you listening, Mission-Accomplished Iraq war-hawks?).
Meanwhile, the National Priorities Project keeps a running total of the costs of both wars since inception. It is now over $983,163,000,000, and will probably be a good deal higher by the time you read this and check. Dan Froomkin of Huffington Post reminds us that "On Tax Day, A Reminder That War Is Not Free (VIDEO)" and provides a video from Brave New Foundation and local Congresspersons, including Alan Grayson, showing what their districts alone could have bought with the money spent on Afghanistan alone, not counting the ongoing Iraq war. Meanwhile, "Matt Ryan, the mayor of Binghamton, New York, is sick and tired of watching people in local communities "squabble over crumbs," as he puts it, while so much local money pours into the Pentagon's coffers and into America's wars. He's so sick and tired of it, in fact, that, urged on by local residents, he's decided to do something about it. He's planning to be the first mayor in the United States to decorate the facade of City Hall with a large, digital 'cost of war' counter, funded entirely by private contributions." (Source: Huffington Post).
The War Resistors League supplies a chart showing that more than half of our tax revenues go to support past, but mostly present, military expenditures. Note, these figures are from 2009, and do not count the 2010 budget, which includes a record >$700 Billion in military spending, before factoring in the total costs for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars (some of which will come along in future requests, amount to be determined later, as if that was just a rounding error). Even if you believe that, regardless of the justification for war, we owe our wounded and sacrificing veterans whatever it takes to make them whole again (part of that 18% for past wars), you have to acknowledge the best returns from those broken men and women, would have been not to have had them injured in the first place. Nowhere in the budget is there a line item for "Lost Human Potential."
It has now been about 9 1/2 years since we first invaded Afghanistan to pursue al Qaeda. During that time, that organization has only grown larger and more diffused, with less reliance on the "home office" of Osama Bin Laden. While it may be true that we are less vulnerable to attack than before (or, it may simply be that al Qaeda is biding its time, or that some other organization will attack us next time, or that we do not really have the whole truth on the events of that period...), if we are going to consider that, then we also have to factor in additional money spent on Homeland security, both Federal and local - a number that is hard to pin down, though it is over $44 billion just at the Federal Level, but is certainly well over $100 Billion when everything is added together.
When you are paying taxes today, and debating whether you feel safer than you did 9 years ago as a result of all the sacrifice in money, resources, and blood, please keep all that in mind as you read Senator Schumer's reply below:
Dear Mr. Baker:
Thank you for your letter regarding the War in . I share your concern about the situation and am working with the Administration and other members of Congress to formulate a comprehensive strategy for completing our mission in Afghanistan. Like you, I want to bring our troops home safely and as quickly as possible.
The War in Afghanistan is certainly a complex issue, and there will be no easy answers. I do believe, however, that President Obama is on the right track. He has sent additional resources to Afghanistan, but one of the major goals of that increase is to give Afghans more confidence in their local institutions. With this in mind, many of the additional troops already deployed to Afghanistan are training the Afghan Army and National Police. Moreover, the Obama Administration has committed to increased civilian development in Afghanistan by doubling the number of American civilians in Afghanistan who are working to rebuild the country's infrastructure. The President is also reaching out to the international community to identify allies in our struggle with terrorism. Importantly, the Administration's efforts to increase international donor coordination should go a long way in bringing about economic and educational development.
Like the President, I hope that we are able to scale back our presence in Afghanistan as soon as possible. Unfortunately, in no small part due to the previous administration's focus on the War in Iraq at the expense of the War in Afghanistan, the situation on the ground has become more challenging. The President is doing the right thing by being careful and studying every option to advance our goals in Afghanistan. Before dedicating more troops to Afghanistan, we must determine that the mission we ask our troops to execute is absolutely necessary to protecting our country from terrorism and other threats, and we back up our military with clear strategy and the resources to get the job done. We learned that when you act too hastily, you can get mired in an unsuccessful war where we lose American lives. It shows leadership on the part of President Obama that he isn't stubbornly sticking to any strategy, but is willing to reassess to see what working and what isn't. We know that it is a wide-ranging debate taking place right now and all his advisers are getting their say.
We will, however, be flexible with our approach; if our current plan does not work, in the words of President Obama, "we will not blindly stay the course." It is my strong belief that our government should develop a framework whereby we can measure the effectiveness of our policy in Afghanistan by the success the Afghan government makes in terms of fighting terrorist and extremist, enhancing governmental transparency, and investing in the development of critical infrastructure for the benefit of all Afghans. Additionally, I support expanding our network of Predator drones and other surveillance aircraft in Afghanistan in order to defeat the Taliban and al Qaeda. It is important to note that Predator drone strikes against Taliban and al Qaeda forces in the region have been more successful between the months of January and August of this year than in the previous two years combined and U.S. officials have eliminated twelve of the twenty al Qaeda leaders in the past year through predator strikes.
We can achieve victory in Afghanistan when we have an environment that is conducive to economic development and most importantly when the Afghans have a security infrastructure that permits them to independently fight off and neutralize the Taliban insurgency in that country. I am committed to working with the President and my colleagues in Congress to ensure that we pursue a strategy in Afghanistan that brings stability to Afghanistan and defends our nation against terrorism.
Again, thank you for contacting me about this important issue. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can ever be of assistance to you on this or any other matter.