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Vaccines in Afghanistan

Afghans get vaccinated with the J&J vaccine at the Wazir Akbar Khan hospital on July 14, 2021 in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

Trillions Spent on Disastrous Afghan War vs. Just $25 Billion to Vaccinate World's Poor

Ending this pandemic would be a good way for the United States to save countless more lives. It would also be a kind of living amends for the innocent lives we've taken in the Middle East.

Richard Eskow

The collapse of Afghanistan’s U.S.-installed government has been swifter and more precipitous than the "experts" predicted. Our multi-trillion-dollar "Global War on Terror" has also led to the collapse of Libya, the agony ISIS inflicted on countless civilians, the murder of innocents by U.S. drones, and other misdeeds that have made this country less safe, rather than more.

An initiative like this would do far more for this country’s national security than any other $25 billion in the military's arsenal. It would reduce future Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. and would partially restore the good will we’ve lost through military action. 

For a tiny fraction of that war's cost, the United States could inoculate every human being in the world's low- and middle-income countries in one year. That would be a humanitarian triumph. It would also make the American people safer by reducing the spread of new variants, some of which could potentially be worse than the Delta variant. And it would make the United States militarily safer, by producing good will among many of the populations that fear and despise this country today.

Public Citizen has produced a well-researched memo showing that it would cost approximately $25 billion to provide vaccines to these countries by "scaling-up production in the United States and in regional manufacturing centers around the world." This could vaccinate billions of people, many of whom live in countries with current vaccination rates as low as 2 or 3 percent. 

An investment of $25 billion is 1/280th—or roughly one-third of one percent—of the estimated $7 trillion we've spent on lethal and counterproductive wars that have killed more than a million innocent civilians and thousands of U.S. soldiers. A Harvard study estimates we're on track to spend $2 trillion on the Afghanistan war alone. $25 billion could be used to save lives instead of taking them, around the world as well as at home.

As I write these words, current and past leaders of the military are urging the president to re-escalate in Afghanistan. They can't be trusted. As the Washington Post's groundbreaking report found, the same leaders spent 18 years "making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable."

It is stunning that our military and civilian leaders have failed to prepare for this day. As retired general Douglas E. Lute told the New York Times, "If everyone knew we were headed for the exits, why did we not have a plan over the past two years for making this work?"

Lute answers his own question. "Under Biden, it was clear ... that he was determined to end U.S. military involvement," Lute said, "but the Pentagon believed its own narrative that we would stay forever." They've called the shots for so long they've apparently forgotten that, at least on paper, the U.S. system calls for civilian control over the military.

Their war is still unwinnable. But the same military leaders who have failed to secure that country after 20 years, and who have systematically misled the American people for nearly as long, are now demanding to be trusted to lead more intervention. If the president bends to their pressure, he will be continuing this country's tragic history of using military means to address humanitarian tragedies.

The Pentagon's failure is Afghanistan's tragedy. No one has a ready-made solution to that crisis now, but one thing is clear: we should be flooding that region with humanitarian aid instead of propping up failed states and armies. We should be providing more aid to the rest of the developing world, too.

A global vaccine program is a great place to start. A $25 billion investment would be trivial compared to President Biden’s requested $752.9 billion for national defense (a euphemism for military activities) in 2022, of which $715 billion was earmarked for the Pentagon. The $25 billion figure happens to be precisely the amount that the House Armed Services Committee added to that proposed budget without being asked for it. (The generals should consider it a tip, a "get yourself somethin’ nice," from the legislative wing of the military/industrial complex.)

By substantially funding measures of this kind, the U.S. government can show the world that it is capable of compassion, and that it can learn from its mistakes.

More than 1.5 million people have already died from Covid-19. Ending this pandemic would be a good way for the United States to save countless more lives. It would also be a kind of living amends for the innocent lives we've taken in the Middle East, Central Asia, and elsewhere.

Ideally, the money should come from the Pentagon budget. An initiative like this would do far more for this country’s national security than any other $25 billion in the military's arsenal. It would reduce future Covid-19 deaths in the U.S. and would partially restore the good will we’ve lost through military action. 

There is, however, one hitch: In order to execute Public Citizen's plan, President Biden would need to back up his stated position on a vaccine patent waiver by making the appropriate vaccine formula (as determined by a commission) available to the world at no cost. That means defying Big Pharma, which rivals the "defense" industry as this country's most powerful engine of death.

As a follow-on to Public Citizen’s report, an open letter from more than 60 groups urges President Biden to "help the world produce billions more vaccine doses within approximately one year."

There is also growing support for such an initiative in Congress. Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have introduced the NOVID Act, which provides $34 billion to reduce the spread of Covid-19 overseas. More than 116 House members, including more than half of the House Democratic Caucus, have signed a letter calling for $34 billion for the same purpose in the budget reconciliation bill and asking President Biden to declare his support for it.

He should listen. By substantially funding measures of this kind, the U.S. government can show the world that it is capable of compassion, and that it can learn from its mistakes. It can also show its own people that it is beginning to realize that real national security lies, not in drones and bullets, but in valuing human life at home and around the world.


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Richard Eskow

Richard Eskow

Richard (RJ) Eskow is a freelance writer. Much of his work can be found on eskow.substack.com. His weekly program, The Zero Hour, can be found on cable television, radio, Spotify, and podcast media. He is a senior advisor with Social Security Works. 

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