No one, it seems, wants to talk about the war in Afghanistan. This week the House debated a budget bill that is touted as reflecting new fiscal restraint, yet borrows tens of billions more for the war. In an hour-long State of the Union address last month, President Obama devoted less than one minute to the conflict. Given the investment and sacrifices our country has made for nearly 10 years, the phones in our offices should be ringing off the hook with calls from those who are tired of being told that the United States doesn’t have enough money to extend unemployment benefits or invest in new jobs.
But by and large, Americans are silent. The war wasn’t even an issue in the November elections, which dominated the political discussion for much of last year. Perhaps it is because there is no draft and only a small percentage of our population is at risk. Or maybe it’s because no one feels that they are paying for the war, which is being charged to the American taxpayers’ credit card.
Whatever the reasons, there is no excuse for our collective indifference. At 112 months, this is the longest war in our history. More than 1,400 American service members have lost their lives in Afghanistan; over 8,800 have been wounded in action. Tens of thousands have suffered other disabilities or psychological harm. The Pentagon reported in November that suicide rates are soaring among veterans; the backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs had reached more than 700,000 disability cases, according to NPR, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
Meanwhile in Afghanistan, our so-called ally, President Hamid Karzai, is corrupt. Transparency International recently ranked Afghanistan as the world’s third-most corrupt country, behind only Somalia and Burma The Afghan military and police are not reliable partners, and al-Qaeda is someplace else.
Vice President Biden said in Afghanistan last month that “we are not leaving if you don’t want us to leave.” At the NATO summit in Lisbon, the president said that we’re in Afghanistan for at least four more years.
But for what? Why do we need to sacrifice more American lives? Why must we continue to align ourselves with a government that commits fraud in elections? Instead, why aren’t we using all our resources to go after the terrorists that murdered so many of our civilians on Sept. 11, 2001?
The new Republican majority in the House came to power in large part by promising to control spending and reduce the deficit. This war has already cost us more than $450 billion; combined with the war in Iraq, it is estimated to account for 23 percent of our deficits since 2003. Where is the outcry from the Tea Partyers and the deficit hawks? Fiscal conservatives should be howling that this war is being financed with borrowed money. Those who support the war should be willing to pay for it.
And where is the liberal outrage? Those of us who are tired of being told that we can’t afford green jobs, unemployment or health care should be screaming over our Treasury being used as an ATM when it comes to supporting the Karzai government.
To be fair, there are a handful of prominent critics on the left, center and right. But most Americans are silent about the enormous sacrifice our country has made in blood and treasure. They should be calling, writing or otherwise speaking out.
What are we giving up to maintain the status quo? Columbia University professor Joseph Stiglitz told the House Veterans Affairs Committee in September that the costs of Iraq and Afghanistan, including interest payments on the money borrowed for these wars and care for our wounded soldiers and veterans, is likely to total $4 trillion to $6 trillion.
Simply put, we believe the human and financial costs of the war are unacceptable and unsustainable. It is bankrupting us. The United States should devise an exit plan to extricate ourselves from Afghanistan, not a plan to stay there four more years and “then we’ll see.” This doesn’t mean that we abandon the Afghan people – rather, we should abandon this war strategy. It is a failure that has not brought stability to Afghanistan and has not enhanced our own security. As the retired career Army officer Andrew J. Bacevich has written, to die for a mystique is the wrong policy.
It is easier for politicians to “go along” rather than make waves. But we were elected to do the right thing, not what is politically expedient. The discussion of Afghanistan shouldn’t be about politics, which we acknowledge are difficult, but what is right for our country. And the right thing is to end this war.
By James P. McGovern, a Democrat, represents Massachusetts’s 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House and Walter B. Jones, a Republican, represents North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District.