Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Idaho ... these are the latest fronts in the battle of budgets, with the larger fight over a potential shutdown of the U.S. government looming. These fights, radiating out from the occupation of the Wisconsin Capitol building, are occurring against the backdrop of the two wars waged by the U.S. in Iraq and Afghanistan. No discussion or debate over budgets, over wages and pensions, over deficits, should happen without a clear presentation of the costs of these wars—and the incalculable benefits that ending them would bring.
First, the cost of war. The U.S. is spending about $2 billion a week in Afghanistan alone. That’s about $104 billion a year — and that is not including Iraq. Compare that with the state budget shortfalls. According to a recent report by the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “some 45 states and the District of Columbia are projecting budget shortfalls totaling $125 billion for fiscal year 2012.” The math is simple: The money should be poured back into the states, rather than into a state of war.
President Barack Obama shows no signs that he is going to end either the occupation of Iraq or the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Quite the opposite; he campaigned with the promise to expand the war in Afghanistan, and that is one campaign promise he has kept. So how is Obama’s war going? Not well.
This has been the deadliest period for civilians in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion began in October 2001. Sixty-five civilians were reportedly killed recently in Kunar, near Pakistan, where mounting civilian casualties lead to increasing popular support for the Taliban. 2010 was the deadliest year for U.S. soldiers as well, with 711 U.S. and allied deaths in Afghanistan. Soldier deaths remain high in 2011, with the fighting expected to intensify as the weather warms.
The Washington Post recently reported that Obama’s controversial CIA-run drone program, in which unmanned aerial drones are sent over rural Pakistan to launch Hellfire missiles at “suspected militants,” has killed at least 581 people, of whom only two were on a U.S. list of people suspected of being “high-level militants.” Ample evidence exists that the drone strikes, which have increased in number dramatically under Obama’s leadership, kill civilians, not to mention Pakistani civilian support for the United States.
Meanwhile, in Iraq, the democracy that the neocons in Washington expected to deliver through the barrel of a gun with their “shock and awe” may be coming finally, not with the help of the U.S., but, rather, inspired by the peaceful, popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. However, Human Rights Watch has just reported that as people protest and dissidents organize, “the rights of Iraq’s most vulnerable citizens, especially women and detainees, are routinely violated with impunity.”
Protests have erupted in another Tahrir Square, in Baghdad (yes, it means “liberation” in Iraq and Egypt), against corruption and demanding jobs and better public services. Iraqi government forces killed 29 people over the weekend, and 300 people, including human-rights workers and journalists, have been rounded up.
Yet, the U.S. continues to pour money and troops into these endless wars. Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings, whose reporting exposed the crass behavior of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has just exposed what he calls an illegal operation run by Lt. Gen. William Caldwell in Afghanistan, in which a U.S. Army “psy-ops” operation was mounted against U.S. senators and other visiting dignitaries in order to win support and more funding. One of Hastings’ military sources quoted Caldwell as saying: “How do we get these guys to give us more people? ... What do I have to plant inside their heads?”
The recently retired special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR), Arnold Fields, just reported that $11.4 billion is at risk due to inadequate planning. Another group, the U.S. Commission on Wartime Contracting, “concludes that the United States has wasted tens of billions of the nearly $200 billion that has been spent on contracts and grants since 2002 to support military, reconstruction and other U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Which brings us back to those teachers, nurses, police officers and firefighters in Wisconsin. Mahlon Mitchell, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, told me in the Capitol rotunda in Madison why the unionized firefighters were there, even though their union was one not targeted by Gov. Scott Walker’s bill. “This is about an attack on the middle class,” Mitchell said. By shutting down the attacks on the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, we can prevent these attacks on the poor and middle class here at home.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.