It’s a tale of our two U.S. Senators here in Oklahoma. One wants perpetual war apparently no matter what the cost to taxpayers. The other wants to cut a federal social program to save money.
Let’s start with U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, who announced last week he was disappointed American troops were coming home from Iraq after eight years of fighting. He blamed the administration of President Barack Obama for failing to extend a Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government. According to Inhofe:
I am disappointed in the Obama Administration’s failure to negotiate a well-planned transition in Iraq that would have extended U.S. force presence beyond the end of the year in a role that would protect our hard fought security gains while helping the Iraqi people secure their own country. Of course we all want our men and women out of harm’s way, but at what cost? Internal and external threats including corruption, governance, militant and splinter groups, an ongoing insurgency, disputed internal boundaries and a strong Iranian influence will continue to challenge the newly trained and equipped Iraqi Security Forces.
Note ” . . . we all want our men and women out of harm’s way, but at what cost?” Inhofe is trying to justify more deaths of American soldiers with fear mongering and speculation about the future. U.S. troops invaded the country March 20, 2003 and have occupied the country since then. Close to 4,500 American soldiers have died in Iraq and at least 33,000 have been wounded. Some estimate the Iraqi civilian death count at over 150,000.
Inhofe’s remarks also fail to mention that some American troops will remain in Iraq after the first of the year and that the U.S. will still have striking capabilities from nearby bases.
Glenn Greenwald, a writer for Salon.com, aptly points out (1) it was former President George Bush who set the date for troop withdrawal, (2) the Obama administration tried to negotiate an extension and (3) the U.S. will still have a “substantial presence” in Iraq. What are Inhofe views on these issues? Does he think Bush made a mistake?
Inhofe’s comments show he lacks a larger world view. Why did we invade Iraq in the first place? What have we accomplished? How should the so-called “Arab Spring” affect our foreign and military policy for the Middle East? How have our cozy relationships with Middle East dictators affected how we are viewed in the Arab world? How can we reduce our dependence on foreign oil, which is at the heart of our military presence in the Middle East? These are just a few of the questions.
Meanwhile, the local media has made a big deal out of the fact that U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn wants to cut federal programs that promote healthy marriages and parenting. It was actually former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating who helped develop the idea that government should get into the marriage mediation business because Oklahomans have a high divorce rate, but it’s arguable whether anything has been accomplished or that, as Coburn argues, such programs are even measurable.
I do think parenting programs are worthwhile even if precise measurements in terms of success are vague, but I’m skeptical, too, about healthy marriage programs, which seem even more nebulous.
But the main issue here is that Coburn, just like Inhofe, ignores an obvious way to cut federal spending: Cut defense spending substantially. Noted economist Joseph Stiglitz, for example, has estimated the Iraq War could cost around $5 trillion. This is the war that Inhofe, of course, wants extended.
To his credit, Coburn has indicated he favors some defense spending cuts, primarily based on better accountability, but the real issue are the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which continue to drain the federal budget. We need to work outside the frame of “military occupation” when it comes to American defense security and foreign policy. It’s counter-productive and expensive.