Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tea Party?

Tuesdsay evening, President Obama gave a speech at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He outlined a plan to deploy an additional 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan. He outlined his strategy for the way ahead.

Afghanistan is a hard place, an impossible place. Central government is a foreign idea. Ethnic divides are deeper and more numerous than in Iraq. The vast majority of the population cannot read or write. Other than opium production, the most constant part of the economy is corruption and graft by the few who have any means at all. It is and has been the only clear and viable path out of poverty for a select few who could grab or extort a piece of the action. It has been that way for generations. It is mountainous. It is, for the most part, logistically more remote than Antarctica. The recently "re-elected" president, Hamid Karzai, has been almost completely ineffective at governing outside of the capital, Kabul. He won another term in a clearly fraudulent election. And he is our best hope for leadership. Actually our only choice.

That's not a very good best hope.

Tuesday evening, I sat in a room with a dozen young Americans. Half aren't even married yet. Only one couple has small children. I'm not sure if any have a sense of the first Gulf War, how we got there, related issues, etc. There doesn't seem to be much concern over this one. I'm not sure any of my community members heard the President's remarks or contemplated the implications. We didn't pray about it. We pray about a variety of things, but war almost never comes up. Most people under 40 don't receive a newspaper these days. (Many people I know over 40 have also stopped taking the paper. They're tired of the news. Not sure what that says about their ability to be full and informed participants in this so-called democracy.)

I admit, I'm older and lived through 16 years of Vietnam. I know what it cost and what it did to people. With compulsory military service, I was already engaged in concerns about that war as a young high schooler. My church wasn't, though. They didn't give my generation much much to go on. We were on our own. OK, that was then.

Now, 30K more troops will cost at least $1 million apiece to deploy for a year. The President called for this "surge" to last 18 months, or more.

So that's somewhere between 30 and 45 billion dollars of additional spending. If there are 300 million Americans, that's $100-$150 of additional short-term spending for every breathing one of us. But since only about 1/3 of Americans actually pay taxes, the surge may actually amount to about $300-$450 apiece for those of us who do. And since we already have 68K troops in Afghanistan and already spend about $90 billion or more a year there, the effort is actually asking these young taxpayers, some of whom are still accumulating student loan debt, to pony up about $1200-$1500 a year. Extra. Just for the Afghan war. Except that they aren't really paying, just going deeper into debt. Without a wimper. Or, seemingly, any knowledge.

The President said that when he took office, the U.S. had already spent about one trillion dollars on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Almost all of that has been borrowed. Care to tally the interest payments on that? Interest payments don't build schools, sustainable energy or provide any health care. They don't make our country safer or create jobs. They go to China, Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia.

Tuesday evening, we didn't pass the offering plate. Nobody wrote any checks or offered to put their share on their credit or debit cards. But the money is not waiting for their assent in order to be spent. It has been, is being, and will be spent.

Nearly all of it will be borrowed--which means that it comes with more added costs of interest payments.

I positively cannot figure out America today. On the one hand, we keep telling ourselves that the wars on terror are absolutely essential to the safety and security of our country. On the other hand, we tell ourselves that the cost can be paid for by borrowing (so that it won't cost us any money or "hurt the economy") and paid for by shedding the blood of volunteers who apparently want to spill their blood because they have nothing better to do with their lives. Apparently. That way, it won't actually cost us any personal or moral anguish. Or any commitment for success. Or any accountability for the outcome.

Only one percent of the population serves in the military or has family in the military.

For the rest of the population in whose name and with whose acquiescence all of this has been a-gathering, these wars and their costs and what they divert us from doing here at home might as well be like the opening line of the original Star Wars movie back in the 1970's: a long time ago in a galaxy far away.

Almost as soon as President Obama and the current Congress took office, groups of people gathered around the country to protest what they pereceived to be out-of-control government spending. Taking a theme from the Amercian colonial "Boston Tea Party", they called their gatherings Tea Parties.

Where were they in the years leading up to 2009? Having our nation's most expensive wars with no military draft was just fine then. Bailing out Wall Street was just fine then. Doubling the national debt was just fine then. Depending on China for everything was just fine then.

Or maybe they simply awakened slowly. Very slowly. Rip van Winkle slowly. Maybe.

Better late than never, I guess. I want the Tea Party folks to come back in force. I may actually join them. And I want them to be as honest as they want their political opponents to be. I want their sons and daughters to enlist or be drafted. I don't want 30,000 new troops in Afghanistan by next summer. I want 300,000 or 600,000. I want every last square meter of the country under control and reconstruction; and I want every Afghan under the age of 60 in school by September 1. And I want the border with Pakistan either permanently sealed or permanently eliminated; i.e., make the entire mountainous region either part of Pakistan or part of Afghanistan.

I want this paid for up front and as we go with taxes and war bonds. No more borrowing. I don't want it done in 18 months. I want it done in eight. I want it done either this way, whole hog, or I want it done today: finished, outta there! Why do it any other way?

And I want the Americans under 40 who will inherit this whole mess to get involved up to their hip waders every step of the way. I'm nearly 63. If I live to be my Dad's age, I have only 16 years to go. I'll be gone before you know it.

I have the tea. Ready to party?

Blessed Advent!



jon said...

Here is a problem:

I don't really understand what 1 Trillion in additional spending means. One Trillion is just a big nonsense word to me.

I have no idea what 30K more troops deployed to Afghanistan actually means. It is as foreign to me as an earthquake in China.

I don't know what fighting for our freedom means. No one I know was hurt by terrorists.

On top of that, I don't really know what democracy means. I know I got to vote between two men in two different parties. But I didn't get to vote about war.

Pastor Roger: said...

You know what a trillion is. Agreed, it's hard to find a tangible handle. Think of it like the roller bag the man I talked to Saturday night hauls behind him everywhere he goes. It weighs 115 lbs. and has all his worldy stuff in it or on it. It greatly limits what he can do, where he can go, what he can focus on. For every major challenge facing our country, from climate change to sustainable energy, to food production, to education, to employment to health care, we are like that man with one arm married to that 115-lb bag. Our response and ability to maneuver are severely limited, if not ruled out entirely.

30K additional troops? That means more people going back into a war zone, many for their third, fourth or fifth deployments. That means more separation from families, more kids who will lose a parent, more marriages that will suffer and fail, more domestic violence, more human aftermath, more PTSD, more suicide. That's just in addition to the burden already carried by the ones already deployed.

But we haven't even established that the problems of Afghanistan are even properly addressed by military means. If that is in fact the case, then the only moral thing to do would be to give the military a mission it can actually accomplish in the shortest possible time--which requires maximum numbers of troops on the ground, probably at least 500,000 for a country the size of Afghanistan.

Fighting for freedom. With World War II being the possible exception, there hasn't been an American military fight for freedom since the War for Independence. For the most part, the military is a tool we use to keep oursleves safe from threat or attack, but safety (security???) is very different from freedom. Freedom is won every day by any citizen who works to inform themselves, contacts a representative, writes a letter to the editor, talks with a friend, calls a gathering to discuss an issue, and casts a vote, asks questions and demands answers. By the same token, freedom is surrendered every time a citizen passes these things by.

The vote is a very slow process. Unfortunately, it has been overtaken by huge amounts of money that completely skew decision making and accountability in government today. Our founders could never have envisioned the amounts of money that would be spent on lobbying and election campaigns today. They don't produce real choices.

And yet, we have one of the most marvelous Constitutions and systems ever built--if we salvage it and use it as it could be used. Government is a tool like a hammer. It can build a sturdy house, crack a skull, or rust away from lack of care and use. And it is one of those tools we can and must use in doing the work of Christ in this world among our neighbors. It's not a separate parallel universe. It's the only one we live in.

I think we did get to vote on war. In the lead-up to Iraq, I filled the mailboxes of President Bush, Vice President Cheney and my representatives in Congress repeatedly. I marched in Downtown Portland. I challenged a conservative newspaper columnist dozens of times. I never advocated a "cut and run, hide in a cave" retreat but an aggressive non-military approach to problems that went at the root causes of terrorism and war in what I thought was more consistent with following Christ. I may have been wrong, but the path our country chose hasn't worked out so well; and our country is considerably weakened and approaching bankruptcy as a result. It could be different, very different. All it takes is a few more of us to say so.

I just happened to think about something. After 9/11, my church had several special prayer services. Lots of churches did. It was exactly the right thing to do. But after we actually went to war (October '01 in Afghanistan, March '03 in Iraq), how many prayer services on war have there been? Were we saying we no longer had anything to pray about?

Know what? We've just exercised freedom.

Thanks for reading! R.

Pastor Roger: said...


Additional thought.

At the premier screening of the documentary film "This Is War", based on the 2/162 Oregon National Guard 2004-2005 deployment in Iraq, one of the guardsmen, a soldier named Rebekah in her mid-20's, had this comment:

"When I returned from Iraq what struck me most was that the military was at war, but America wasn't."

I think she nailed the situation dead-on. And if she's correct, then it seems to me we owe her and her peers an explanation.