By Bill Boyarsky
While Republicans race to cut spending, including outlays for education, health care and social services, they never mention one of the real reasons for the deficit: the cost of the war in Afghanistan and the mess we’ve made in Iraq. President Barack Obama ignores it, too, as he cautiously moves to the right, proposing minor reductions, letting the Republicans control the debate. Aiding and abetting them are cable news, Internet news outlets and most of the print media.
The Republican goal is clear. It has nothing to do with America’s longest war. While young men and women are fighting and dying in Afghanistan—1,500 Americans have been killed there—the Republicans are trying to dismantle protections that will assist veterans returning to civilian life and help their families. In addition, the Republicans aim to starve government, destroy protections that created a middle class and leave us with a country of rich and poor and a powerless middle class. In their single-minded pursuit of this goal, they don’t mention the war.
For a real lesson on the impact of the war, visit an informative website, costofwar.com, part of the National Priorities Project, a Massachusetts-based progressive research organization. Looking at this site is a technologically dazzling and emotionally depressing experience. The running cost of our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan is there, increasing in what looks like milliseconds, broken down to the last dollar, totaling more than $1.165 trillion. The last time I looked, Iraq was $779.4 billion-plus, Afghanistan $386.4 billion-plus, both rising fast.
In the current year, according to a report by the Congressional Research Office, Obama is asking for $51.1 billion more for Iraq and $119.4 billion for Afghanistan.
The Afghanistan request alone, according to the National Priorities Project, is enough to provide health care for 55 million low-income children for a year or hire 1.6 million teachers or furnish Veterans Administration health care for almost 14 million vets.
That story is not being told. War news burnout has struck the great majority of people who run the cable networks, Internet news operations and newspapers. The Afghanistan War is too expensive and complicated for them to explain. How can cost-cutting news executives—terrorized of losing audiences—explain a country that has defied explanation to generations of outsiders?
The deficit is much simpler for journalists to cover. Almost to a woman and a man, they have accepted the dubious premise that the deficit is caused entirely by government domestic spending. They accept the notion that it should be slashed even though the country is barely recovering from a deep recession.
For example, columnist Robert J. Samuelson wrote in The Washington Post in January that the cost of government is rising mainly because of “exploding spending on the elderly—for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—which automatically expands the size of government.” He also recommended “downsizing other programs, including defense, and raising taxes.” Nowhere in his analysis did he recommend stopping the Afghanistan War. This is pretty much how the great majority of news outlets cover the budget.
And they’ve found another villain: public employees. Picking up on a Republican theme, many stories have centered on the wages and benefits given to public employees, benefits that have been won largely through collective bargaining with their government employers. A chief target is those doing a difficult job under trying circumstances, schoolteachers. Critics include Republicans such as Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Democrats like Obama’s education secretary, Arne Duncan, who supports inaccurate testing methods to weed out teachers not up to vague standards. He also backs larger class sizes. Duncan told an educational forum sponsored by the conservative American Enterprise Institute last November that he favors “modest but smartly targeted increases in class size.”
This is playing into Republicans’ hands. So was Obama when he said of the deficit, “Both sides are going to have to sit down and compromise on prudent cuts somewhere between what the Republicans were seeking that’s now been rejected and what the Democrats had agreed to that has also been rejected.” In effect, Obama is validating the Republican rhetoric.
He’s ducking the war, too. As the Medill on the Hill website noted, Obama devoted just 136 words—“falling between the word range of a tweet and a text message”—to the Afghanistan War in this year’s State of the Union message.
I’d like to know why he didn’t say more. I would like him to answer for sending soldiers to destroy and conquer and then abandon villages unheard of except by those in the immediate vicinity. Let him explain this war, village by village. I’m waiting for an honest explanation of why we are propping up the crooked Hamid Karzai.
I’m curious about why the Republicans ignore the war while holding Joe McCarthy-style hearings designed to inflame sentiment against Islamic Americans. I’d like the media to answer for playing along with this.
The answer to the deficit problem is in the mountains of Afghanistan, not in Social Security, medical aid or schoolteachers’ salaries.
AP / Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Put it here: President Barack Obama and Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai shake hands during a joint news conference at the White House last May 12.