Of all of the flagrant examples of unjustifiable imbalance and injustice in the US today, spending on high-tech arms development at the expense of social infrastructure has to be the most indefensible. They play on our fears to justify their greed.
Our country once drank from a watering hole filled with an elixir of anticipation over the prospect of bagging the bad guy, Osama bin Laden.
Closing in on a decade’s worth of our boots trampling upon foreign terrain, many Americans stay puzzled over our government’s persistence in stabilizing the nation of Afghanistan before making an exit, especially as our own nation falls off the back burner. Although we are nine years into the war and bin Laden’s face no longer is etched on the front of every political t-shirt, we continue to crack an already broken piggy bank. A dry hope exists that our presence in Afghanistan will entice some kind of significant success to raise its hand. All the while our troops march on, the only traces of American soil wedged deep in the grooves of their combat boots.
It seems this venture will be far from a military success that gets placed on our country’s trophy shelf. Better we count our losses and learn from them before we lose even more.
One month after September 11, 2001, a day that demanded the editors of every American history textbook to return to their desks, the War on Terror began. Vibrant yellow ribbons hugged the trunks of oaks and maples all over the country in support of the valiant men and women who signed on willingly to serve.
Troops went armed with the intent of tracking down bin Laden, believed to be concealed within the country by the Taliban. Not long after the prowl began in a bounty hunting fashion, a separate war swelled and ruptured over a belief that Iraq harbored nuclear weapons. As we shifted our focus from one Middle Eastern country to the next, the agenda in Afghanistan shifted toward “nation-building.”
And as for our “Where’s Waldo” pursuit of bin Laden? Well, he quickly inched his way off the agenda as well.
The price tag hanging on the war in Afghanistan reads close to $1 trillion, the second costliest war next to World War II. In 2009, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reported that the world’s total spending on military expenses that year was $1.531 trillion, nearly half of which was spent by the United States.
As a seemingly endless surplus of green flows into a nation that lacks basic infrastructure, our debt piles to numbers that make mathematicians question if that many zeros can even exist in a single strand of digits.
Military expenditures might seem worthy if progress sat at the table between Afghanistan and the United States. However, there seems to be only a lonely placemat and a vacant chair, reserved for the progress that has yet to take a seat.
In a recent article for National Public Radio, Matthew Hoh, a former Marine Corps Captain who served in Afghanistan, regards what the United States is currently doing in Afghanistan as unchanging since 2004. He stated that as the years move forward, and as our spending on war and weaponry efforts increase, the Taliban has only grown in size while support for the Karzai government has shrunk.
Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai told Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard at the palace in Kabul that the United States is not improving the security situation in his country. He stated that the United States forces have not been targeting the main hideouts within Afghanistan, but have been caught up in their own national security agenda within the country.
No amount of technological warfare can make our military more efficient in winning a game of hide and seek. As sophisticated as our military weaponry may be, it still has no ability to distinguish a friend from an enemy, to pick out a member of a violent terrorist group from a streetscape made up of innocent civilians.
Of all the technology and weapons we have toted into the land-locked country, we forgot a few necessities: the bricks and a blueprint. How long will it take us to learn? We cannot rebuild a country out of straws, sticks, and heavy weaponry. Or out of our own agenda.
For nine years, the military has fumbled to build an infrastructure for Afghanistan using our country’s industrial-age bureaucracy. As a result, the United States stumbled into a consequential round of Shoots and Ladders: unemployment levels climbed upward, economic growth slid to the bottom level.
Costs for the war in Afghanistan now exceed the war in Iraq for the first time since 2003, with over $6 billion spent monthly to keep our troops on foreign ground. With America nearing a three year anniversary in her relationship with the recession, her arms full with a hodgepodge of other issues, it’s arguable that she could better allocate the funds.
The $1.1 million it takes to keep one soldier in Afghanistan today would find itself well-spent in aiding our failing education systems and feeding a nation full of hungry and homeless people, the faces of whom are often overlooked within our own borders.
A study published last year by the Political Economy Research Institution at the University of Massachusetts: Amherst, proved that $1 billion spent on “domestic spending priorities” (clean energy, healthcare, and education) will create substantially more jobs in the United States economy than $1 billion spent on military funding. The study also showed that placing our money into our own country’s programs would create a significant increase in employment levels; helping the nearly 15 million Americans knocked from the ring of employment.
With the amount of money it takes to keep us within the land-locked countries of the Middle East, psychological care, healthcare, and opportunity could be given to the thousands of veterans who have already devoted their time to the war. As it is, we continue to place our soldiers in high-tech tanks, only to give them a very different battleground to face upon returning home: unemployment.
According to the Labor Department, the unemployment rate for veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 took a steep rise this year, going from 14 percent in 2008 to 21.4 percent in 2010. This percentage of jobless vets is significantly higher than the 16.6 percent of unemployed civilians in the same age range. Even though President Barack Obama has marked July 2011 as the start to a gradual pull out of Afghanistan, it will be a long time before we see all of the nearly 100,000 deployed troops return home.
We have sunk ourselves knee-deep in a muddy conflict, ready to depart from a foreign country now vexed by frailness. And although our country’s bank account may be cracked, Afghanistan became the real Humpty Dumpty of this war on terrorism, breaking into more pieces than ever before over the myth of a man hiding within its mountain ranges.
We are learning things a bit too late: It was never our nation to reassemble, especially at the cost of so many of our own “king’s horses and men.” And it takes much more than high-tech weapons to put any set of pieces back together again.
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