It’s the Wars, Stupid

Naive leftist hippie dreamers like me have been saying for years that no one asks the question, “Where is the money going to come from” (for national health care, for a New Deal-type government public works program, for extending unemployment benefits, for providing federal emergency funds to Joplin, Missouri, after it’s destroyed by a tornado, and yadda yadda yadda) when the “for” is subsidies for the oil industry, or tax cuts for the wealthy, or for wars in Afghanistan and Iraq or Libya.

But when mayors from cities all over the country say this, in a draft resolution at their annual national conference, then expressions like “paradigm shift” seem apt:

While states are seeing their tax collections begin to rise again, much to the relief of budget-battered officials, the nation’s cities are having a far rougher time, with many losing state and federal aid just as the burst housing bubble is belatedly driving down property taxes.
Local governments shed 28,000 jobs last month, the Department of Labor reported, and have lost 446,000 jobs since employment peaked in September 2008.

So when downturn-weary mayors from around the country gathered here on Friday for the annual meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors, they decided to make a statement: they introduced a resolution calling for the speedy end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and calling on Congress to use the $126 billion a year the wars cost for urgent domestic needs.

The resolution, which will be decided Monday, seems likely to pass. “There are so many better uses for the money,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore. Mayor R. T. Rybak of Minneapolis lamented that cities across the nation were being forced to make “deeply painful cuts to the most core services while the defense budget continued to escape scrutiny.” And Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles said that the idea “that we would build bridges in Baghdad and Kandahar and not Baltimore and Kansas City absolutely boggles the mind.”

The rare foray of mayors into foreign policy — 40 years after the conference approved a resolution calling for an end to the Vietnam War — reflects not just the nation’s increasing war weariness but a growing concern about the expense as Washington seems intent on cutting domestic spending even as many localities are struggling.

The line about fighting them there so we don’t have to fight them here is simply not impressing anyone anymore:

When asked to respond to those who argue military efforts overseas have made American cities safer from foreign terrorists, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa pointed to the cost of the wars.

“How did we get to a deficit and a debt larger than at any time not only in U.S. history but in human history? We got involved in two wars that, no matter what you think about those wars, we haven’t paid for,” Villaraigosa said.

“That we would build bridges in Baghdad and Kandahar and not Baltimore and Kansas City, absolutely boggles the mind.”

At Firedoglake, Robert Greenwald and Derrick Crowe point out that Americans are spending over $2 billion a week on the Afghanistan war alone:

You can put the New York Times’ summary of the crises these cities are facing next to the National Priorities Project‘s numbers and see how much these wars cost our hometowns.

  • Citizens of Lansing, Michigan, paid $114.2 million on the Afghanistan War so far, and New York City paid $15.4 billion; these cities are about to have to close fire stations.
  • Montgomery, Alabama paid $199.3 million and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania paid $1.7 billion; these cities are laying off teachers.
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota paid $692.3 million; now they can’t fill potholes.

And here’s the big picture: “Local governments shed 28,000 jobs last month, the Department of Labor reported, and have lost 446,000 jobs since employment peaked in September 2008.”

These wars are killing our people, they’re killing our economy and they’re killing our communities. They’re not worth the costs. They’ve got to end.

3 Responses to “It’s the Wars, Stupid”

  1. Chief says:

    When the mayors are complaining, that’s getting close to Main Street.

  2. Adam / tas says:

    If these wars looked like there was an objective towards an eventual victory — rather than perpetual conflict without an end goal insight, deja vu with Vietnam — American public might be less weary. Of course, if these wars had achievable goals then they would have been over already and we wouldn’t be discussing what US mayors think about funding wars opposed to funding Main St.

    And concerning the war in Afghanistan, I find it ironic that we’re in peace talks with the Taliban. If we went to war with Afghanistan to find bin Laden and topple the Taliban government, then find bin Laden in Pakistan and leave Afghanistan with the Taliban in power, then what exactly did we do there? I mean, besides absolutely nothing (strategically speaking)?

  3. daniel noe says:

    Generally, I agree, but there is a very subtle distinction between the wars and some of the other programs. At least with some of the wars (Iraq and Afghanistan), I was led to believe that severe consequences would ensue if we failed to act. They seemed necessary. On the other hand, the recent expansion of the federal government into health care (and spending across the board) seems to me, like Libya, to be a war of choice that we need not have entered (at least not right now).


  1. No More “Wars of Choice,” Says Departing SecDef | Left-Handed Nib - [...] U.S. mayors’ call for redirecting money being spent on wars to address the needs of cities, which I wrote…

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