Afghanistan

California Democratic Party leaders speak out on war anniversary

The California Democratic Party became the first state party to go on record in favor of ending the war in Afghanistan in November of 2009. Almost a year later, the war in Afghanistan is now the longest war in U.S. history, and conditions on the ground have only worsened.  We now mark the ninth anniversary of the war with more troops on the ground than at any point, and 2010 is already the deadliest year of the war so far with 3 months left.  To keep the pressure on California Democrats, party delegates from around the state will send a letter (pdf) to the Democratic congressional delegation on the 9th anniversary calling on them to step up and work to end the war and bring resources back to struggling communities:

The pain of losing those squandered billions is felt daily by families here in California.  The United States has already spent more than $270 billion on what is now the longest war in US history–$35 billion of that out of the pockets of California taxpayers. Meanwhile, the state of California now faces a budget gap of more than $19 billion. One hundred California state parks will be closed for lack of funding this year. During the last two years, more than $17 billion has been cut from public education funding and California schools now rank last in the nation in staff-to-student ratio and 49th in per pupil spending. Massive layoffs of teachers and school employees have deprived our students of libraries, school transportation, arts, counselors, physical education, summer school, custodians and other critical services. Governor Schwarzenegger’s elimination of safety net programs like CalWORKS and services for children, the disabled, and the elderly devastate the most vulnerable members of our society.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. eloquently stated, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” Against the backdrop of priorities set by our national Party, how can we as leaders in the California Democratic Party explain to our most vulnerable citizens that we must spend $7 billion per month on a war that has shown little success while they struggle to make ends meet? There are alternative strategies available that are far more likely to contribute to stability in Afghanistan and free up much-needed resources at home.

The signers of the letter make up the heart and soul of the California Democratic Party—the state legislators, county chairs, executive board members and other delegates whose job it is to motivate and mobilize voters in a challenging year for Democrats. According to a recent CNN poll, only 20 percent of Democratic voters support the war in Afghanistan, yet another factor in an enthusiasm gap that these party delegates must confront. Eric C. Bauman, Vice Chair of the California Democratic Party and a signer of the letter, notes:

California taxpayers have spent $35 billion on the war in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, we are closing parks and libraries and our schools are funded at the nation’s lowest levels. The future of California depends on these basic services and we need our leaders in DC to stop the war and re-prioritize how we expend our resources.

In addition to the clear impacts on Californians, Assemblymember Tom Ammiano pointed out the clear failure of the military strategy in Afghanistan:

This war is failing. After 9 years, we have spent hundreds of billions of dollars and lost thousands of lives and yet our country is no safer. The war has been counterproductive in every way and California’s tax money should go to our ailing education system and critical services, not to send our already exhausted soldiers to continue fighting a war that does more harm than good.

While several members of Congress from California have been at the forefront of efforts to end the war in Afghanistan, there are still many who continue to vote for billions of dollars for the war and have failed to step up in support of efforts to set a timeline for military withdrawal. Hopefully these Democrats will heed the call of those who make the party work in California and are spending face time with the voters the party so desperately needs:

With Democrats facing an enthusiasm gap leading into the 2010 elections, the American people need to see our Party’s members in Congress fighting for policies that will meet their needs.

We appreciate the efforts of those of you who have moved this debate forward through congressional initiatives such as the recent amendments mandating an end date for the U.S. military presence. What we need now is bold leadership to articulate an alternative vision for Afghanistan that the American public can support. As party leaders, we pour ourselves into building, mobilizing and energizing the California Democratic Party. In return, we ask our congressional delegation for the visionary leadership we can be proud to support on critical issues of war and peace.