Yesterday, I wrote about President Obama's announcement last week that he had signed an agreement to extend the U.S. military occupation of Afghanistan for twelve more years. I said that at this point, the war in Afghanistan very much resembles what, in October 2002, State Senator Barack Obama called a "dumb war."
Which begs this question: what is not a "dumb war"? Well, we just saw a good example of a not-dumb war, at least if you happen to be French.
Last year, Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of France, decided that he was going to take out Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. I'm not going to argue whether that was right or wrong; that's not the point. The point is that France won that war, at very minimal cost.
So the French Air Force bombed Libyan targets. But France also enlisted NATO support. In fact, France's NATO allies bore 80% of the cost of the war in Libya.
The actual cost to France was 320 million euros, which equals around $415 million. And not one French soldier died. (I'm aware of the fact that around 25,000 Libyans died, but again, that's not the point.)
In the airport in Atlanta yesterday, I happened to be standing next to some American soldiers, wearing camouflage, on their way to Afghanistan. They knew the name of the province that they were going to, but they were arguing over what part of the country that province is in. One said the east. One said the south. One said the west. One of them thought that their destination was near Kandahar, but then they started arguing over where Kandahar is located.
I hope that they get it all sorted out before the shooting starts.
If they don't know what part of the country that they're going to, then what are the chances that they speak the local language? (There are 48 different native languages in Afghanistan.) What are the chances that they know anything about Islam? (Which is practiced by more than 99% of all Afghans, language differences notwithstanding.)
Today is Presidents Day (or, as we used to call it, Lincoln’s Birthday). That makes it a good time to talk about one of the great anomalies in Presidential history: the fact that President Abraham Lincoln, our Commander in Chief during our bloodiest war, took the time to review over 1,600 cases of military convictions during his 1,503 days in office, and that Lincoln pardoned a myriad of soldiers condemned to death.
The test that Lincoln applied, as Lincoln himself put it, was “whether this soldier can better serve the country dead than living.” (This is a good example of “gallows humor,” with real gallows.)
In one case of desertion, President Lincoln said: “If a man had more than one life, I think a little hanging would not hurt this one; but after he is once dead we cannot bring him back, no matter how sorry we may be; so the boy shall be pardoned.”
A few days ago, Governor Perry said: “I would send troops back into Iraq.” (He pronounced it “Eye-rack.”) And he gave a thought-provoking rationale: that the end of that occupation means that “every young man that [sic] lost his life in that country will have been for nothing.”
Well, I would like to do what Albert Einstein called a “thought experiment,” which is thinking through a hypothetical situation in order to examine its consequences.
As the war in Iraq finally draws to a close, here is a quick quiz. Who said the following, and when, and and where?
“There is no world support for invading Iraq.”
“There is no proof that Iraq represents an immediate or imminent threat to the United States. . . . The Administration has refused to provide the Congress with credible intelligence that proves that Iraq is a serious threat to the United States, and is continuing to develop chemical and biological and nuclear weapons.”
“The Iraq regime has never attacked nor does it have the capability to attack the United States.”
“There is no credible intelligence that connects Iraq to the events of 9/11 or to participation in those events by assisting Al Qaida. . . . There is no connection between Iraq and the events of 9/11. . . . There is no credible evidence that Iraq harbored those who were responsible for planning, authorizing or committing the attacks of 9/11.”
“There is no credible evidence that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction.”
“Congress has not been provided with any credible information, which proves that Iraq has provided international terrorists with weapons of mass destruction.”
“Unilateral action against Iraq will cost the United States the support of the world community.”
So, who said this? Me? No -- I wish it were me. It was Congressman Dennis Kucinich.
And when? On October 2, 2002, six months before the War in Iraq began.
We need to declare war: a War on Error.
Maybe you think that’s a typo, an error. You think that I meant to say a War on Terror. And wouldn’t that be something – like invading Guinea, when you actually meant to invade New Guinea. Or Equatorial Guinea. Or Guinea-Bissau. Wow, even George W. Bush might find that embarrassing, and isn’t that exactly the kind of mistake he would make?
But no, I really meant a War on Error. Because we already have a War on Terror, so if we declared a War on Terror, we would have two of them. Which makes no sense.
The War on Terror has had both good and bad results. On one hand, we have:
- killed Osama Bin Laden (thank you, President Obama),
- overthrown the Taliban Government in Afghanistan (with fewer than 1000 Special Forces troops, by the way),
- forced Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan (and into Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia), and
- for ten years, prevented Al Qaeda from destroying any more large buildings and killing civilians in the United States.
On the other hand, we have:
- spent four trillion dollars on the War in Iraq alone, which is roughly eight percent of our entire national net worth, thereby wrecking our economy,
- killed 8000 American soldiers and contractors, and left around 15% of all US troops serving in Iraq with permanent brain abnormalities, and
- killed somewhere between 100,000 and 1,000,000 Iraqis, and made millions of Iraqis and Afghans homeless refugees.
I have always felt that if our goal is to foil Al Qaeda attacks in the United States, there probably are more efficient ways to accomplish that goal than military occupation of two foreign countries – two foreign countries that Al Qaeda isn’t even in (as General Petraeus pointed out a couple of years ago).
But we seem to be having a lot of difficulty ending wars, lately. So my modest proposal is that instead of ending the war, we replace it. We replace the War on Terror with the War on Error.
And – I must say – the War on Error is a very target-rich environment. Let’s start with the error that Saddam Hussein was targeting the United States with weapons of mass destruction. Smoking gun, mushroom cloud, etc., etc. Certainly, that was an error. Some say an honest mistake, others a lie. No matter. We declare a War on Error, and achieve a quick victory by bringing the troops home.
Then we have this bizarre notion that if we keep stuffing our money into the pockets of Big Business, we might get some of it back. That is a big, big error. It’s not going to happen. Believe me, if corporate welfare could reduce joblessness in America, our unemployment rate already would be minus-56 percent. Corporate income taxes in America have been cut from $354 billion in 2006 to $191 billion in 2010. Then there was the $700 billion in bailouts by the Treasury. Then there was the $15 trillion or so in other bailouts. And how many private sector jobs has all that private sector candy created?
Apparently, none. There are one million fewer private sector jobs in America today than there were ten years ago. Despite the fact that there are 27 million more people in America today.
Corporate welfare doesn’t work. For sure, it doesn’t put people to work. It’s an error to think that it does. Ending corporate welfare will be a huge conquest in the War on Error.
Then we have the error of letting the Chinese determine the value of the U.S. dollar. How “free” is the “free market” when the Chinese print $1 trillion of their rectangular red pieces of paper, and use them to buy $1 trillion of our rectangular green pieces of paper? The law of supply and demand guarantees that this will have a very substantial impact on the value of small portraits of dead presidents. And with the value of our own money dictated by a foreign government this way, we have lost (according to one estimate) five million manufacturing jobs. Plus all the other jobs that consumer demand from the holders of those five million jobs would have created. It would seem obvious that letting the Chinese (note to right wing: the Communist Chinese) control the value of our money is, well, an error. Since it’s still our money, we need to undo what the Chinese have been doing, and get those jobs back. Another quick victory for the War on Error.
As Walt Kelly in Pogo used to say, “we have met the enemy, and he is us.” If we win the War on Error, then America will be a paradise. Or, alternatively, we can let our myths destroy us.
My Country, Right or Right! V for Verity! America: Lift It or Leave It!
I like to help my children with their homework, whenever I have time. (And since January, I’ve had more time.) It’s great to help them – I know all the answers, and I never have to take the exams.
Last night, we tried something different. They helped me with my homework. A math problem:
“We are spending $159,000,000,000.00 on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year. If we ended the wars, brought the troops home, took that money, and created decent jobs paying $30,000 apiece in the United States, then how many jobs would we create?”
Skye, the 16-year-old, took out her phone, clicked on the calculator app, and gave the answer:
I asked the 12-year-old, Star, and the 10-year-old, Sage. Both gave me the right answer:
Then I asked the 6-year-old twins, Storm and Stone. Storm said “thirty hundred and five.” Stone agreed.
OK, so we have a jobs program that a 10-year-old can understand. But, admittedly, not a six-year-old.
And what would that jobs program do to the unemployment rate? The math is a little more complicated, but the answer is that it would drop the unemployment rate from 9 percent to 5.5 percent. Immediately.
It’s actually better than that, because money that is spent hiring Americans, in America, then circulates in America. Economists tell us that every new job like that creates as many as five other jobs – the employee then pays his rent, the landlord then goes to the restaurant, the waiter then gets his hair cut, and so on. Unemployment, goodbye.
As opposed to spending our money in Iraq, on Iraq. Have you ever been in the desert when it rains? The water runs through the sand so fast that 15 minutes after the rain is over, it’s as though it never rained at all.
That’s what happens to our tax dollars spent in Iraq. The term “bottomless pit” is an understatement.
And what would all those employees do? Well, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky has figured that out. She has introduced a bill to hire 2.2 million people, and her bill breaks down this way:
- The School Improvement Corps would create 400,000 construction and 250,000 maintenance jobs by funding positions created by public school districts to do needed school rehabilitation improvements.
- The Park Improvement Corps would create 100,000 jobs for youth between the ages of 16 and 25 through new funding to the Department of the Interior and the USDA Forest Service’s Public Lands Corps Act. Young people would work on conservation projects on public lands include restoration and rehabilitation of natural, cultural, and historic resources.
- The Student Jobs Corps would create 250,000 more part-time, work study jobs for eligible college students through new funding for the Federal Work Study Program.
- The Neighborhood Heroes Corps would hire 300,000 teachers, 40,000 new police officers, and 12,000 firefighters.
- The Health Corps would hire at least 40,000 health care providers, including physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, and health care workers to expand access in underserved rural and urban areas.
- The Child Care Corps would create 100,000 jobs in early childhood care and education through additional funding for Early Head Start.
- The Community Corps would hire 750,000 individuals to do necessary work in our communities, including housing rehab, weatherization, recycling, and rural conservation.
Or, alternatively, we can have all those millions of people, our fellow Americans, do nothing all day, as they lose their jobs, lose their homes, and slide slowly into poverty and bankruptcy.
And I’ll tell you one thing for sure: more corporate welfare will not create jobs. In the past ten years, we have crammed trillions of dollars into the pockets of Big Business, through bailouts, tax breaks, subsidies, no-bid government contracts, grants, cheap mining and drilling licenses, etc., etc. Do you know how many jobs in America the private sector has created during that time?
Actually, less than zero. There are around one million fewer private sector jobs today than there were ten years ago.
We keep handing our money over to the rich, in the vain hope that they will give some of it back. That hasn’t worked, and it won’t work.
So which do you prefer: war or jobs -- jobs for all Americans? I want jobs.
We want jobs. Jobs, health and peace.
Yesterday, the Commission on Wartime Contracting released its final report.
The Commission reported that between $31 billion and $62 billion of the tax money spent on contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan has been wasted. It also said that between $10 billion and $19 billion of what contractors billed and received was fraudulent. In fact, $360 million of our tax dollars went straight to . . . the Taliban.
Wow. Who could have imagined that?
Well . . . me.
When I saw that the Bush Administration was doing nothing about fraud in Iraq, I revived a law going back to the Civil War that allowed whistleblowers to bring lawsuits in the name of the U.S. Government. I filed case after case, which were promptly greeted by the Bush Administration with gag orders – gag orders that they kept in place for years. They didn’t want any more bad news coming out of Iraq.
So I went on CNN, spoke to the New York Times and the Washington Post, and told America whatever I could say without violating those gag orders. And when the Bush Administration finally let one case out from under those gag orders – and declined to prosecute it – I took that case to trial, and won a $14 million judgment. It was the third-largest judgment for whistleblowers in the 143-year history of that law.
Those contractors built bases without hooking up the plumbing. A general testified that when he went there, he felt like throwing up.
The Wall Street Journal reported in a front-page article that I was “waging a one-man war against contractor fraud in Iraq.” The national organization Taxpayers Against Fraud named me “Lawyer of the Year.” And people started to think, “what is going on over there?”
- Require the Pentagon to fund the wars from its own budget of over $500 billion, not supplemental appropriations;
- Take all the money that would save and eliminate taxes on everyone’s first $35,000 of income, $70,000 for married couples; and
- Still have over $10 billion a year left over, to cut the federal deficit.
OpenCongress’s unscientific poll showed 91% in favor of HR 5353.
After I left Congress in January, I took up the work against contractor fraud in Iraq again. And I won an $8.7 million settlement from DynCorp and the Sandi Group. The defendants paid our attorney’s fees last Friday.
Here’s some simple arithmetic. We’ve budgeted $159.3 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan this year, through next month. (The true cost is much more, but let’s leave that aside.) That’s:
You could take all that money and create 5,310,000 jobs here in America paying $30,000 a year, rebuilding our bridges, our roads, our schools, instead of the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. That would immediately lower the unemployment rate from 9 percent to 5.5 percent, and get money flowing in our communities again.
Now, that’s a job program. I’ll put that up against whatever President Obama proposes next week.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have killed more than 8,000 Americans, and who-knows-how-many Iraqis and Afghans. War has destroyed our economy, just as the war in Afghanistan destroyed the Soviet economy. According to the calculations of Nobel Prize-winner Professor Joseph Stiglitz, the war in Iraq alone has cost us around 8% of our $50 trillion national net worth, all of the wealth that America built up over two centuries. Over $13,000 for every single American, young and old.
We’ve taken our inheritance, and dumped it into a wood chipper.
My father served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He told me once that one of the most common questions that men of his generation heard was, “what did you do in the war?” Maybe our children will ask us, “what did you do against the war?”
That’s a question I can answer.