Just days before we celebrate the 224th anniversary of America’s declaration of independence from a colonial overlord on the other side of the world, Congress approved the allocation of yet another $33 billion in funds to support America’s attempt to occupy and run, on the other side of the world, the incredibly poor nation of Afghanistan.
That’s $33 billion for a ninth year of war in a country that is being described apocalyptically by our leaders as America’s greatest existential threat, though in truth it is a landlocked nation of mostly illiterate and impoverished tribal peoples who for centuries have been occupied with battling each other, and most of whom have no idea where America is, or perhaps even if the world is round or flat. Afghanistan, in short, makes Saddam Hussein’s WMD-less Iraq look like a superpower.
The $33 billion, coincidentally, is almost exactly the amount that is needed to extend for another six months the unemployment benefits for 5 million or so unfortunate Americans who have been surviving until recently on extended unemployment benefits. Thanks to the Republican House and Senate members’ refusal to pass the extension funding, those people will be on their own, like the millions of other jobless Americans who don’t even qualify for unemployment compensation under the stingy program offered in the US, or who have been screwed out of benefits by employers who are poorly policed by state and federal labor department enforcement bureaus.
Afghanistan is a nation of 24 million, with a per capita income of $800. This means that the Afghan War funding of $33 billion, only the latest installment in hundreds of billions of dollars that have already been spent and wasted on this nation’s longest-running and perhaps most pointless war, also is enough, all by itself, to provide every man, woman and child in that country with $1400 for the year.
You would think that, instead of spending $33 billion to kill Afghans and blow up their towns and cities, the US might consider just giving them all enough money to double their income. Then, with them all in a much better mood, we could just let them work things out amongst themselves . But no. Here’s what we do with the money instead: We give some of it to the soldiers that we order to go over there. We give some to corrupt warlords and government officials who are squirreling it away in Swiss banks. We give some to drug lords and the poppy farmers who work for them, who grow the crop that comes back here as refined heroin to poison and kill our own citizens. We even give some, under the table, to the very people we’re fighting, the Taliban, who get paid to please not attack our convoys and our and military bases. And of course we give massive amounts of it to the war profiteers–the munitions companies who make the killing machines we use to kill the Afghans and bomb their homes and villages.
Another way to look at this absurd picture is to consider that British Petroleum, the company that is single-handedly turning the Gulf of Mexico into a petrochemical waste dump full of dead sea turtles and dolphins, is spending roughly $1 billion a month on supposed cleanup efforts. That is not nearly enough. The oil on the sea’s surface, its subsurface and in the coastal wetlands is not getting less, it’s getting more. So think what could happen if instead of relying on BP, the government stepped in and spent $33 billion on cleaning the mess–billing it all, of course, to BP and its shareholders and bondholders.
Here’s another question: Why are we even talking about paying out $33 billion in unemployment compensation to have people sit at home drinking beer and watching TV, when we could be using that same money to hire them to work at productive activities like cleaning up Gulf Coast beaches, cleaning off oil-soaked pelicans and sea turtles, towing BP executives on the end of ropes through floating oil slicks, or providing baseball-bat-wielding escorts to journalists to protect them from the BP goons who keep threatening them away from observing or, god forbid, filming the scenes of destruction along the Mississippi and Louisiana coastline?
Money is fungible. If it weren’t being wasted in Afghanistan, it could be put to use elsewhere, and there clearly are a lot of places that $33 billion could be profitably used.
Just take education. The federal government this year is spending $84 billion on elementary and high school education. Meanwhile, across the country, from New York to Los Angeles, public school systems, strapped for cash because of plunging state and local tax revenues, courtesy of the deepening recession, are laying off teachers and closing schools, even as the number of children going to school keeps rising. Clearly an infusion of even a third ($11 billion) or a half ($17 billion) of that war budget destined for Afghanistan would go a long way towards restoring those cut local school budgets.
Instead, it looks like we’ll be using that $33 billion to blow up more Afghans and to pay for more overpriced military hardware like Predator drones and anti-personnel explosives for another year.
It’s not an act of god that is causing the US economy to start slumping back into recession, like a fagged-out marathoner who collapses of exhaustion, gets back up, runs spasmodically a bit more and then falls face-first onto the road to die of heat stroke. It’s the failure of the government to continue to “prime the pump” by providing jobs for the jobless, funds for struggling state and local governments, and income supports for those who simply cannot find work.
And so we march headlong into a double-dip recession, or a new Great Depression, while blasting away in Afghanistan with whatever money we can sweep up from the floor of the depleted US treasury vault.
To borrow an incredibly apt phrase from Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibi, who used the line in reference to our pathetic journalistic cheering section, “God this country sucks.”
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006 and now available in paperback). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org