Tuesday, October 13, 2009

US Out of Afghanistan

Still no good war

So now we are treated to the spectacle of a decent human being, caught up in a set of ideological and culture blinders, agonizing over whether to escalate the war in Afghanistan. Personally, I've never been a completely convinced pacifist, but the evidence continues to accumulate, as I age, that no war is a good war.

There are probably a million mildly persuasive to absolutely convincing reasons why Barack Obama should decide to pull the US military out of Afghanistan ASAP--not that I think that is the decision Obama is going to make--but one of my favorites is that we can't afford this war. In fact, it ought to be pretty clear by now that we plainly can't afford war, period.

After all, maintaining readiness for war already costs the country more than $1 trillion each year; that's the rough cost of a peacetime military budget + all sorts of military-related expenditures buried in other departmental budgets, like the department of energy+the interest on that part of the national debt that has been incurred in preparing for and fighting wars+spending that never makes the budget, at all, including "black" book operations, like spying and aggressive subversions of interests deemed hostile to the US. That $1 trillion also does not include the last 8 years of spending on Iraq and Afghanistan, a total nearing another $1 trillion. It also does not include probably another $2 trillion in veterans' benefits, which will be expended in the future, much of that for health problems, including PTSD, afflicting vets because of their service in Iraq and Afghanistan. (To see a source for these figures go here.)

Such dollar totals are universal healthcare dollars, California bail-out dollars, urban mass transit dollars, and rebuild and revitalize public education dollars. Healthcare, healthy state budgets, mass transit, good public education, these are the things that secure a nation's future, that increase the security of a people, but we don't have them and can't pay for them because we are always at war or preparing for war, or both.

There are other, perhaps more serious considerations, like the murder of innocents and the killing of soldiers--Iraqi, Aghani and American--that should overwhelm any interest in continuing, or escalating, the war in Afghanistan. Marc Weisbrot (co-director, with Dean Baker,of the Center for Economic and Policy Research) has recently distributed a column arguing that the US war effort in Afghanistan has already failed (find Occupying Afghanistan Is Making Things Worse here). The column suggests that as many as one million Iraqis have died since the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003. The corresponding number for Afghani casualties is much lower, but the Afghani population is also smaller and Afghani casualties will rise as the war escalates.

Citing a variety of sources, Marc also observes that the turnout in the Afghan election five years ago was almost twice the turnout in this year's election. In any case, he says, al-Qaeda isn't even significantly present in Afghanistan anymore, the group's core has moved to Pakistan.

The one possible argument against ending the war in Afghanistan is what happens to the lives of Afghani women, if the Taliban, with their misogyny and fundamentalism, return to power. Still, there are other ways to helpfully address women's issues globally and the United States is not exploring many of those alternatives. And the devastation of the current war is falling equally on women, in any case.

Moral arguments never seem very effective, but we should make them anyway, as Weisbrot does in his piece:

"There is also a moral dimension here that is overlooked by the pundits. It is wrong to kill people, including civilians, and bring mayhem and destruction to other countries simply to "save face" or fend off political attacks from right-wing politicians. Thank God there are millions of Americans who understand this much better than their elected, appointed, and self-appointed leaders. If they keep up the heat, this war will end."

I don't know if I believe that last part about the war ending. But I'm happy to go along, if it will help.

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