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March 20, 2012

Can the U.S. Afford Another War?

By Madelyn Hoffman

Has the United States not learned anything from the war against Iraq? This article describes the human and financial costs of the war against Iraq, the need to prevent war against Iran, and the move in the U.S. Congress to try to shield the Pentagon from all-important budget cuts.


Can the United States afford another war?

Despite the answer being a resounding NO! it seems our elected officials are determined to start another war, this time against Iran.

Almost exactly 9 years ago, on February 19, 2003, approximately 20 million people took to the streets in cities all around the world to oppose the United States invasion of Iraq. Many Bloomfield residents, as well as residents of Essex County, braved the below freezing temperatures and headed into New York City, to join at least 250,000 people protesting against the war.

At that time, slightly less than half those polled in the United States opposed the war, but the United States invaded nonetheless on March 19, 2003. As of today, the United States has spent $1.3 trillion, suffered 4484 casualties in Iraq, and 1,889 American casualties in Afghanistan, yet our elected officials are threatening to start another war. The majority of those polled now recognize that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were a mistake and many connect our economic woes to military spending. The U.S. economy is straining to keep up with the costs of these two ongoing wars and dwindling U.S. and state treasuries.

When will our elected officials learn the consequences of war and use diplomacy instead?

The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed legislation overwhelmingly which limits the ability of U.S. government officials to speak with Iranian officials, effectively limiting our efforts at diplomacy. Diplomacy is never easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is.

There is still time to persuade the U.S. Senate to reject legislation that restricts the ability of the United States to engage in diplomacy with Iran. And New Jersey Peace Action (NJPA) continues to work to prevent a war, something that could have already happened without public opposition. A good-sized contingent of Bloomfield residents joined about 50 residents from all over Northern New Jersey at a February 4 th vigil in Montclair because of the high costs, both human and financial, of another war. This was part of a national day of action to prevent war against Iran. 

In early February 2012, Senator John McCain and five other United States senators introduced legislation, "The Down Payment to Protect National Security Act of 2012" that would protect the Pentagon's budget from the automatic cuts required by the debt deal reached last fall. In exchange, Senator McCain's bill proposes cuts through federal employee attrition and a pay freeze for federal employees.

The debt deal requires cutting back nearly $1 trillion from planned Pentagon spending over the next 10 years. Even with those cuts, the Pentagon budget will still be larger than it is today . The United States will still spend more on defense than the next ten nations in the world combined and account for about 40 percent of the world's military expenditures.

The Pentagon cuts would account for nearly half of the total of automatic cuts mandated by the debt deal. If the Pentagon is immune from cuts, it will force greater cuts in domestic programs, like education, environmental protection, health care, veterans' benefits, college scholarships and more.

The Pentagon already spends almost as much on the military as the rest of the world combined. The total budget for the military in 2011 was almost $800 billion. A modest 25% cut in those funds would free up $200 billion, enough to eliminate every state's budget deficit with funds left over! This is the time for these mandatory cuts to take the pressure off federal and state budgets.

A recent announcement by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta suggested that American combat troops could be withdrawn from Afghanistan as early as mid-2013. That move could save hundreds of billions of dollars while keeping our troops in Afghanistan for one more year will have minimal impact on the Afghan Security Forces.

According to a January 27, 2012 article in The Hill, through drawdowns in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and reductions of troops in Europe, the United States should be able "to reduce our 1.5 million member active-duty military by much more than the roughly 100,000 troops stated as a goal." It costs almost $1 million per year per soldier, so these reductions would also save significant money.

NJPA urges you to contact Representatives and Senators (in New Jersey you can call Senator Frank Lautenberg at   (888) 398-1642 ; and Senator Robert Menendez at ( 973)645-3030)  to tell them NOT to shield the Pentagon from spending cuts. Genuine security depends on all our towns having enough money for education, affordable housing and health care, and clean air and water. It's time to prevent the military-industrial complex warned of by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower from draining dry the rest of the economy.

Let's advocate for our communities, move the money and make our communities the nation's top priority!

Authors Bio:
Madelyn Hoffman is the Executive Director of NJ Peace Action, based in Bloomfield, New Jersey. She has held that position since August 2000. Madelyn Hoffman traveled to Afghanistan with Global Exchange in June 2005 and has given dozens of presentations about her experiences since her return.

Madelyn Hoffman holds a Masters of Public Administration from Rutgers-Newark. She is an adjunct professor of Political Science at two colleges in New Jersey.