After almost one trillion dollars spent and over 4,000 lives lost, it is time to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and bring our troops home.
The arguments are pretty clear by now and the people responsible are standing, not in front of the forest, where they cannot see the trees, but in the middle of the forest. They have been lost and wandering so long that they cannot see the path out. In the meantime, the people in the village-the American Public-are waiting for visionary leadership-not on how to help Afghanistan but how to help our own citizens, here, at home. And it has not come.
General McCrystal has done what he has been tasked to do...offer a military solution. The diplomats have been working on what they have been tasked to do...find a diplomatic solution to the intractable lifestyle of the orthodox Muslims who live in that far off land, two centuries behind us and the rest of the modern world.
The answer is staring them in the face. Stop. Assemble our troops and equipment. Do an about-face and come home. Then begin planning to help the Afghanis. Don't forget them. Help them. Help them not merely with military, if they should need that, but with other resources, which they most definitely need. Then and only then will they and other nations like them begin to help us.
The evidence is overwhelming. It is the politics that is intractable. It is sad to realize that we cannot trust the words of any member of the Neoconservative Obstructionist Party any longer. (The Neoconservative Obstructionist Party is the name of the Party that used to be called The Republican Party but which was taken over by Neoconservatives and Obstructionists, largely former Dixiecrat Southern segregationists like Strom Thurmond, who when he was still alive and in the Senate was the hero of recent Senate Republican leader Trent Lott.)
For centuries, and particularly since World War II, we had a valuable counter-opinion to any administration international policy. We had strong opposition leaders in the former Republican Party. Now we merely have a buffoon, Rush Limbaugh, and a group of lobbyist-paid, Neocon-Obstructionist lackeys who are afraid of their own shadows, and who pander to the aggressive group of the military and to the military-industrial complex.
The Neocon-Obstructionists shout and yell slogans and beat their chests like Tarzan. They keep their sons home, while sending poor blacks and Hispanics and other dedicated, patriotic young volunteers off to fight a war. Most of these Senators and members of Congress have never worn the uniform of their country. We cannot trust our security to them. It is sad, but true. They know little about war or the military and, in addition, they lie about everything. Congressional Democrats put up with them. Therefore, we must make our own analysis.
To begin...why are we still there? We are still in Afghanistan, after 8 years, ostensibly to find and kill members of Al Qaeda, including Osama Bin Laden, those who not only attacked us but still plan and carry out actions against us. Many knowledgeable military and diplomatic and media sources say that Al Qaeda is now, by and large, outside of Afghanistan, or marginally on the border with Pakistan. It is clear that they have taken up actions against Pakistan, hoping to discourage that country...not yet totally disenchanted with Al Qaeda's violent, insane actions...from working with us.
We need to initiate a different policy. While Afghanistan may have many problems, they are their problems. We can help them, but we need not be there to help them, and the solution has nothing to do with the military.
Let us look at this rationally. Let's say that we had a Taliban school here in the United States and it were theoretically in a community where we could not simply change the attitudes by law or police action. Let's say that they advocated such things as no education for women, mistreatment of women, stoning women and murder of women for perceived adultery...whether true or not...then what would we do? We would spend an extraordinary amount of money and effort to start a huge public relations campaign to change their minds. We would do what we always do here in the U.S. We would bring knowledge and advocacy and reason to bear on an irrational situation as we did with civil rights or women's rights. We would not go in and blow up the neighborhood, kill all those of opposite opinion and in the process damage the school...even if that option were open to us.
Are we to assume that because it is Afghanistan we can do that? I don't think so. If we should decide that we have that authority, then that is a different situation from the reasons we are currently in Afghanistan and we need an entirely new plan. So, unless we intend to change the country, the religion, the legal system, the tribal customs...by force or intimidation...we should not be in Afghanistan...at least not for that reason.
Let's consider the practical aspects of our situation right now. We have had 8 years of war in two different parts of the world. We have...whether we like it or not...advanced and tested our war-making apparatus, including soldiers, weaponry and general staff. We have young soldiers who have seen combat and who may be in the service for twenty more years, providing a skilled cadre on which to build any force that might become necessary.
We have depleted our military resources. We need to replenish them, but this is a time of great domestic need and anxiety, not a time for more military expenditure. This is not World War II. Iraq and Afghanistan will not pull us out of recession. These conflicts will, in fact, drive us deeper into recession. In addition, we need to alter and modify our military equipment to support a new strategy of engagement with terrorists wherever we find them, especially when there are threats in several areas of the world simultaneously.
What would the result from a total pull-out of our troops? In Iraq, it is pretty clear and we are already coming home on a timetable. We can hope that Iraqis will overlook our disastrous attack on their country, forgive us for electing two fanatical war mongers as President and Vice President (although it will be difficult to explain why they have not been prosecuted) and welcome us as world partners in advancing civilization and culture.
In Afghanistan, it will mean a temporary set back in what seems to be our attempt to change the country from one that we would consider very uncivilized to one marginally civilized. We can still continue to support attempts by Afghanis to do so. Perhaps we have passed the time and the opportunity to solve the world wide antagonism against the United States. But we can assist in restoring the American identity in a positive way throughout the Muslim world if we remove our troops from Afghanistan.
What to do about the terrorists? Leaving Afghanistan will neither help nor hurt. We must do what we currently do when a band of criminals is loose in the world and they have robbed or murdered someone in the United States. We ask other countries to help us locate them and, once located, help us imprison them if they have committed crimes. We ask other countries to allow us to bring in our police and investigative teams to help find them.
On the other hand, perhaps the President has made significant enough strides in the world to improve our image and our message to the world that we are not the greedy, diabolical, imperialists that Osama Bin Laden had claimed we are.
We must strengthen this image in order for us to be welcomed into the many different countries around the world where Al Qaeda cells are hiding. We need to launch efforts to find them and kill them in those countries or at least work with other countries to insure that these individuals are brought to justice. Our continued military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq makes justifying our stated objectives in this effort more difficult to believe in other Muslim countries..
We should always measure war in the number of lives that it sacrifices in return for the security of the United States. We should never send our soldiers out to die or be wounded for anything less than the protection of our citizens. Furthermore, we should never accidentally kill or maim civilian citizens of other nations without an extraordinary reason having to do with imminent danger of death or injury to our soldiers. Those should be inflexible rules that should guide our military operations at all times and in all theaters of operation. Which we can be pretty certain already do to some extent.
On the other hand, we must also continue to examine the actual monetary costs of a war to insure that we are, in fact, spending our security dollars with maximum efficiency. The United States now spends more money on security-in other words, protection for our citizens-than any other nation and more than, for example, all our European allies combined.
We have spent nearly a trillion dollars on Iraq. And what did we get for that? What did we get for the more than 4,000 dead, the 30,000 wounded, and the wild civil unrest we created in that country? We allowed terrorism, open religious war, devastation and a breakdown of society plus the deaths of 100,000 to 150,000 Iraqi civilians.
The cost of the Iraq war is already over $900,000,000,000.00. On top of that, this year's military budget will be $515,000,000,000.00, plus the Black Operations budget which is estimated this year to be about $50,000,000,000.00. In addition, we will spend over the next 25 year a minimum of $25,000,000,000.00 to care properly for the more than 30,000 wounded veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, if those wars were to end today.
We have a national debt of $11,500,000,000,000.00. The interest alone on the Iraq war and the war in Afghanistan is $27,000,000,000.00.
There was no huge group of Iraqi expatriates living here in the United States or elsewhere in the world, marching on Washington to ask us to come and attack Saddam Hussein. Certainly there was no one asking Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld to come and kill literally hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens, destroy the water supply, the electrical grid, damage the oil fields and loot the most ancient and historically significant national museum in the world.
There was no need for the Iraq war. None. It was an elective war, started for personal reasons by Dick Cheney and George W. Bush and their friends.
It is time to simply lay down our arms in Iraq and Afghanistan and pick them up again in this country to prepare for a long struggle against a world-wide menace. In order to do that, we must return our troops to this country and reorganize. It is time to take the money we are spending on killing people we do not know and bring those troops home to prevent, among other things, the invasion of illegal immigrants coming in waves across our southern border. We need their help to expel illegal immigrants and begin to put our economy back together again.
This is not a message that we must cease all military operations and become Sweden or Switzerland. It is simply time to examine a military policy that is wasting lives and money for no good reason. It does not have benefits to the American people for the number of lives and the amount of money being spent. We need to shut it down and bring the troops home. If we reorganize our anti-terrorist program from here and begin again with a new, more rational approach, we will be far more secure than we are with present policies.
Joseph O'Shaughnessy, the editor of Populist Daily, (http://www.populistdaily.com) writes regularly on social, political and economic issues.