What could we have done with the $2.26 trillion we wasted on the war in Afghanistan?
The Afghanistan war, the longest war in U.S. history, is finally over. And the outcome is clear: America lost. Our 20-year military campaign of regime change in Afghanistan effectively replaced the Taliban with … the Taliban. Even the ruling-class cannot proclaim, with a straight face, “Mission Accomplished,” this time.
But then, this war — like all U.S. imperialist wars — was never fought to promote “democracy,” or to “liberate” Afghan women. It was fought for the same reason wars are always fought under capitalism: To enrich corporate weapons manufacturers, to shore up U.S. military hegemony, and to protect the “vital interests” of the United States.
War is a Business
Just take a look at the real “winners” of the Afghanistan war. Lockheed Martin’s stocks generated a 1,236 percent return from the two- decade war, according to Public Citizen. Northrop Grumman netted a similarly outrageous 1,196 percent increase. Ditto for General Dynamics, Boeing, and Raytheon. The stocks of all five of these major weapons contractors outperformed the overall stock market by 58 percent during the Afghanistan war.
“These numbers suggest that it is incorrect to conclude that … the Afghanistan War was a failure,” writes Jon Schwartz in The Intercept. “On the contrary, from the perspective of some of the most powerful people in the U.S., it may have been an extraordinary success. Notably, the boards of directors of all five defense contractors include retired top-level military officers.”
In the words of the late academic and former CIA contractor, Chalmers Johnson, “I guarantee you, when war becomes that profitable, you are going to see more of it.”
Meanwhile, the Afghanistan war claimed the lives of 2,461 U.S. troops — all drawn primarily from the poor and working-class. Another 20,744 service members were wounded. And, often unmentioned by the “liberal” media, are the Afghan deaths. Between 170,000 and a quarter million Afghans were killed, the majority of them women and children. (But remember: The war was fought for “women’s rights.”)
The overall price tag for the Afghanistan war is staggering: $2.26 trillion. That is the equivalent of $300 million a day for two decades. Just think of how we could have better spent that money.
For $2.26 trillion we could have effectively ended homelessness in America. This is especially pertinent at a time when the unelected and undemocratic Supreme Court has just thrown thousands of poor and working-class people out of their homes by ending President Joe Biden’s pandemic moratorium on rental payments. We could have provided a home for every unsheltered American.
We could have implemented the Green New Deal. We could have upgraded our dilapidated, crumbling infrastructure and modernized it with light-rail transit, solar, wind, and tidal power. Here in Maine, we could have converted WMD-manufacturer (and corporate tax-dodger), Bath Iron Works (BIW), into a green energy production facility.
We could have invested in public transportation. In doing so, we could lessen our dependence on fossil fuels and attempt to mitigate the ever-worsening climate crisis.
We could have invested in our public schools and teachers. Schools throughout the country are suffering from a major teacher shortage, particularly in rural states. Likewise, for the cost of the Afghanistan war we could have provided free, universal pre-K to all children.
We could have ended world hunger. More than 2 billion people worldwide do not have “regular access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food,” according to the nonprofit, Global Giving. And COVID-19 only further aggravated this dire situation, leaving “83 to 132 million people … at risk of being undernourished,” in 2020.
And America could have finally joined the rest of the world in establishing a Medicare for All health care system. We could have disentangled health care (which should be a basic human right) from the complicated, overpriced private health insurance industry. Additionally, we could have provided all workers with paid sick-leave as the delta variant of COVID-19 continues to ravage the country. Lack of paid time off from work is a major roadblock to working-class people getting vaccinated.
Instead, the ruling-class decided to dump over $2 trillion into a pointless, unwinnable war. And we have nothing to show for our efforts in Afghanistan.
Washington’s Warring Brothers
For all the professed “differences” between the Republican and Democratic Parties, members of both capitalist parties have overseen a gargantuan increase in military spending in the last 30 years.
When it comes to providing money for any sort of social investment or public good (like, for instance, Medicare for All), the coffers have suddenly run dry. The elites inform us we simply “cannot afford it.” Indeed, this was the ruling-class’s entire argument against Bernie Sanders’ two presidential runs. But these same lawmakers do not bat an eye when it comes to finding more money to bomb people halfway across the globe.
Even at the height of the Democrats’ supposed “resistance” to Donald Trump, the majority of congressional Democrats still dutifully voted to approve his absurdly wasteful Pentagon spending bills. In fact, the day after the House of Representatives passed two articles of impeachment against Trump, the very same Democrats voted “Yay,” on the then-president’s $1.4 trillion military budget. But the media ignored these pro-war votes and instead cheered Nancy Pelosi’s performative, juvenile tearing up of Trump’s State of the Union speech in 2020. This was the only form of “resistance” the capitalist media were interested in.
As Paul D’Amato writes in his socialist primer, The Meaning of Marxism, “The disagreements between different administrations and parties in Washington have not been over whether the United States should militarily and economically dominate the world, but how…” (Italics his.)
The United States spends more on the so-called “Defense” budget than the next ten countries combined. According to a Sept. 2020 op-ed in Scientific American, military spending in the U.S. in fiscal year 2019 was “nearly three times bigger than China’s defense spending and more than 10 times larger than Russia’s.”
President Joe Biden has not deviated from this trend. Biden’s military-spending request for fiscal year 2022 is $715 billion — up $10 billion from FY 2021’s budget of $705 billion. Roughly 53 percent of our federal tax dollars go to the Pentagon.
And the cost of the “post-9/11” wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Libya, and elsewhere totals $64 trillion, according to the Cost of War Project. This unfathomable price-tag is worth keeping in mind as the media inundate us with shallow, jingoistic “reflections” on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
The Prophet King Ignored
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his often overlooked “Beyond Vietnam” speech, delivered at Riverside Church in New York, on April 4, 1967, warned that “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
“America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world,” said King, “can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from reordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war…. We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.”
During this speech, King formally declared his opposition to the Vietnam war. In doing so, King was fiercely excoriated by the “liberal” press and many of his closest colleagues. Exactly one year later, he was assassinated by the capitalist state.
Most of King’s anti-war activism and socialist sentiments have been expunged from the whitewashed, sanitized portrayal of him we are taught in school. The left must reclaim King’s radical legacy and rebuild the anti-war movement if we are to ever free ourselves of the “triplets of evil” — racism, militarism, and materialism — which King warned were killing us from within.