The economic crisis has been dominating the debate lately, from Sen. Bernie Sanders’ epic floor speech to the president’s deficit commission to the raging debate about tax cuts. What is often missing from the debate is the incredible burden that military spending, and especially spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, puts on the federal budget. The Senate can’t even pass health benefits for 9/11 rescue workers without a budget offset, but the House and Senate continue to pass billions for war. It’s important that we help connect the dots between the painful cuts people see in their own communities and the reckless spending on a war that doesn’t make Americans or Afghans safer. California State Assemblymember Tom Ammiano laid out that argument in this week’s San Francisco Bay Guardian:
Who will pay for California’s budget woes? For the last three years, Californians have put up with cuts to programs that are critical to our state’s future and our social safety net. Public education, HIV and AIDS programs, state universities, and CalWORKs have all come under the knife. The elephant in the room, as state and federal governments try to balance budgets on the backs of the working and middle class, is the billions of dollars we are wasting on a misguided war in Afghanistan.
Fresh evidence that the war in Afghanistan is failing rolls in on a daily basis. While the administration justifies the cost in lives and dollars as necessary to fight Al Qaeda, it also acknowledges that there are only 50 to 100 Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. Every soldier in Afghanistan costs U.S. taxpayers $1 million per year. With 100,000 soldiers on the ground, that means we’re spending as much as $2 billion a year on each Al Qaeda fighter.
Would we dream of spending $2 billion on every needy child in California? Or even $1 million? As U.S. and Afghan casualties rise along with the dollar amounts, with little success to show for it, we need to get our priorities in check.