We're spending $100 billion a year on a country that had a gross domestic product of a little more than $2 billion when we invaded in 2001.
By 2014, this administration will have spent more than $700 billion on Afghanistan directly.
Those are direct costs, the 2nd figure being what we are not getting because of the extension of the Bush tax cuts to the rich.
But it is worse. It is opportunity costs, what we are not addressing:
Poverty is an unfashionable word in Washington, but it afflicts a record 43 million Americans. Childhood poverty is rising. Nationally, only one in seven black male teens held any type of job in the first quarter of this year. We should not fool ourselves: A generation of children raised on dangerous streets is being condemned to a life of misery - hunger, broken families, unemployment, drugs and crime. The nation we are failing to build in Afghanistan is our own.
The words are from a Washington Post column by Katrina vanden Heuvel of the Nation, which I urge you to read, which I will explore some more and to which I will add some thoughts of my own.
In the paragraph after that I just quoted, vanden Heuvel further explores the opportunity costs of the war, especially those of infrastructure. It is a powerful paragraph - failing levees and bridges, collapsing sewage systems, school buildings that are unhappy, frozen train switches, an electrical grid that is shameful in comparison to those of our economic competitors (and as a teacher I note that last comparison is far more meaningful than test scores of school students on test like PISA). And then vanden Heuvel reminds us
Combine the $700 billion spent in Afghanistan and the $700 billion to be squandered on tax breaks for the richest 1 percent of Americans over the next decade, and you have real money, even for Washington. Money that this increasingly challenged country can no longer afford to waste.
There is also the human cost. Troops want to believe the battles they are fighting serve a purpose, but increasingly it becomes obvious to all except those blinded by their own rhetoric that this is not a war that can be won. Thus the appropriateness of these words:
How do you ask young men and women to give their life or limbs for a cause that you know is lost? Or worse, has no justifiable purpose?
I want to stop and focus on those words. Vanden Heuvel will point to Fulbright with respect to Vietnam as she argues that perhaps it will be the Congress that demands an honest accountinmg and assessment, reminding us of the words of a young veteran of that conflict about asking someone to be the last man to die for a mistake as she wonders if that young man, John Kerry, now the successor to Fulbright as Chair of Foreign Relations can be as well his successor in courage and honesty for the American people.
But consider just these words: has no justifiable purpose
We are no longer seeking to punish Al Qaeda specifically for the attacks of September 2001. We have taken on a "cause" that does little to protect the security of the American people. One might well argue that our continued efforts in Afghanistan make us less safe, as we create more enemies in the Muslim world by factor many times larger than the number of suspected terrorists we kill. In my diary yesterday, The Perils of Obsessive Management, I touched on how we measure success and the distortions that can thereby result. As I noted, I am of an age to remember the body counts of Vietnam as a supposed indicator of our success.
Why is it we cannot have an honest review of our military and diplomatic efforts and recognize that our current course in Afghanistan is counter-productive to our real goals, and even to our goals of lessening terrorism based in Islamic nations?
In some ways Obama is the most progressive President since Lyndon Baines Johnson. LBJ tried to do guns and butter, and as a result expanded the national debt. Because of the economic hole left by the administration immediately before his, Obama does not have the same luxury, to do both. The cost of continuing an unpaid for war - WHILE CONTINUING TO CUT TAXES FOR THE RICH - is already making impossible much of the needed change in this nation. We are told already that we cannot afford some things. With the Republicans holding the House they will use that control over appropriations to try to cripple implementation of what reform the Congress accomplished in health care, for example.
I want to consider the words of the Preamble to our Constitution.
Those words explain why We the People of the United States . . . do ordain and establish the Constitution.
in order to form a more perfect union - yet now we have Republican state legislators arguing to reestablish the discredited doctrine of nullification, and South Carolina celebrating the 150th anniversary of secession
establish justice - we still have not solved the problem of denial of justice to those taken into custody during the so-called war on terror, and denial of justice to any person is potentially a denial of justice to all, it merely becomes a question of how someone in power can designate someone as sufficiently "other" so as to exclude them from the social contract
provide for the common defense - it is hard to see how the billions we are spending in Afghanistan actually defends us. We are being punitive. we are risking destabilizing a nuclear-armed Pakistan. We are weakening this nation economically. We are, especially by things like our use of drones, and our expansion of our military-related efforts into Pakistan, Yemen, and the Horn of Africa (to say nothing of possible activities in Iran) decreasing the security of the United States as we waste men and material, create more enemies, and fail to address the real economic needs of this nation
promote the general welfare - the average person has seen her economic position deteriorate over the past decade. We bail out the wealthy and the banks without requiring either that they give back or be subject to proper oversight. We have created a monster that destroys the wealth of the average person by depressing the value of his most important asset, his home, while continuing to shift wealth and income to those already with more than they could ever need. It was supposed to be the general welfare, not the welfare of the generals of industry, finance or the military.
secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity - Somehow I now am reminded of the words sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford, more than half a century ago - "I owe my soul to the company store." Too many of us owe too much - to the Banks that have been allowed to rip off the American people on mortgages and credit cards. Without some basic economic security there is no real liberty. If corporations are allowed to use their insufficiently taxed profits, often obtained by transferring the jobs of Americans overseas, to dominate the political discourse, where are the blessings of liberty for the ordinary persons? If the voices of ordinary people and the few institutions that still speak for their interests, for example unions, are excluded from the making of policy and the legislating of society, but corporations and the wealthy continue to have access beyond belief and influence that is largely unfettered, where is the liberty?
And if we shift wealth to those who do not need it by giving them tax breaks they do not need, and our response to the increases in deficit and debt is to take away the services government offers the ordinary person - in education, health care, income security and so much more - while placing the accumulated financial reckoning on those whose real incomes have already deteriorated, where is our commitment to our posterity, to the the children and their children and their children? Rather than a blessing, are we not leaving them a curse, one that will be enforced by the power of a state controlled by the wealthy for their benefit as they continue to accumulate even more wealth and power?
Let me return to vanden Heuvel. I want to repeat the most important sentence in her piece, as I read it. It appears at the end of the 2nd quotation I offered above the fold:
The nation we are failing to build in Afghanistan is our own.
But it is worse than that. We had a nation. We need to sustain it, economically, and in social justice. We are failing miserably on both counts. It is not merely that we are not (re)building our nation. By the choices we make, we are actively complicit in its destruction.
That is truly The Cost of War.
And I say with all the fervor I can muster