Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Afghan Escalation Funding

More War, Fewer Jobs, Poor Excuses

By David Swanson

Isn't it time to call what Congress will soon vote on by its right name: war escalation funding?

Early in 2009, President Barack Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan with 21,000 "combat" troops, 13,000 "support" troops, and at least 5,000 mercenaries, without any serious debate in Congress or the corporate media.  The President sent the first 17,000 troops prior to developing any plan for Afghanistan, leaving the impression that escalation was, somehow, an end in itself.  Certainly it didn't accomplish anything else, a conclusion evident in downbeat reports on the Afghan war situation issued this month by both the Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon.

So it seemed like progress for our representative government when, last fall, the media began to engage in a debate over whether further escalation in Afghanistan made sense.  Granted, this was largely a public debate between the commander-in-chief and his generals (who should probably have been punished with removal from office for insubordinate behavior), but members of Congress at least popped up in cameo roles.

In September, for instance, 57 members of Congress sent a letter to the president opposing an escalation of the war. In October, Congresswoman Barbara Lee introduced a bill to prohibit the funding of any further escalation.  In December, various groups of Congress members sent letters to the president and to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opposing an escalation and asking for a chance to vote on it.  Even as Congress voted overwhelmingly for a massive war and military budget in December, some representatives did speak out against further escalation and the funding needed for it.

While all sides in this debate agreed that such escalation funding would need to be voted on sometime in the first half of 2010, everyone knew something else as well: that the President would go ahead and escalate in Afghanistan even without funding in place -- the money all being borrowed anyway -- and that, once many or all of the new troops were there, he would get less resistance from Congress which would be voting on something that had already happened.

The corporate media went along with this bait-and-switch strategy, polling and reporting on the escalation debate in Washington until the president fell in line behind his generals (give or take 10,000 or so extra troops).  The coming vote was then relabeled as a simple matter of "war funding."  This was convenient, since Americans are far more likely to oppose escalating already unpopular wars than just keeping them going -- and would be likely to oppose such funding even more strongly if the financial tradeoffs involved were made clear.  However, a new poll shows a majority of Americans do not believe that this war is worth fighting at all.

Nonetheless, as in a tale foretold, Congress is expected to vote later this month on $33 billion in further "war funding" to pay for sending 30,000 troops (plus "support" troops, etc.) to Afghanistan -- most of whom are already there or soon will be.  In addition, an extra $2 billion is being requested for aid and "civilian" operations in Afghanistan (much of which may actually go to the Afghan military and police), $2.5 billion for the same in our almost forgotten war in Iraq, and another $2 billion for aid to (or is it a further military presence in?) Haiti.

This upcoming vote, of course, provides the opportunity that our representatives were asking for half a year ago.  They can now vote the president's escalation up or down in the only way that could possibly be enforced, by voting its funding up or down.  Blocking the funding in the House of Representatives would mean turning those troops around and bringing them back home -- and unlike the procedure for passing a bill, there would be no need for any action by the Senate or the president.

What Does $33 Billion Look Like?

So, how much money are we talking about exactly?  Well not enough, evidently, for the teabagging enemies of reckless government spending to take notice.  Clearly not enough for the labor movement or any other advocates of spending on jobs or healthcare or education or green energy to disturb their slumbers.  God forbid!  Yet it's still a sizeable number by a certain reckoning.

After all, 33 billion miles could take you to the sun 226 times.  And $33 billion could radically alter any non-military program in existence.  There's a bill in the Senate, for instance, that would prevent schools from laying off teachers in all 50 states for a mere $23 billion.  Another $9.6 billion would quadruple the Department of Energy's budget for renewable energy.  Now, what to do with that extra $0.4 billion?

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175246/tomgram:_david_swanson,_did_you_say_$33_billion__/

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