Wasted on war: trillion with a “T” (Rep. Lynn Woolsey)

At about that moment, according to the National Priorities Project, the combined amount of taxpayer money spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan reached a staggering $1 trillion. That’s a trillion.  With a “T.”

That’s a breathtaking amount of money to spend even on something that works.  But that kind of spending on two bloody wars that have taken thousands of American lives, destabilized volatile parts of the world, and done nothing to achieve national security goals – well, it’s positively shameful.

And that trillion dollars doesn’t even include some bills that haven’t yet come due--like future medical costs for returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, a commitment we absolutely must keep.  Nor does it include interest our grandchildren will pay on the debt we’ve racked up to finance these wars. 

 What I can’t help thinking about is the opportunity cost.  What could we be spending that kind of money on if we weren’t wasting it on these wars?  The National Priorities Project did a few calculations.  With a trillion dollars, we could provide a year’s worth of health care to 161 million low-income Americans.  Or we could pay for 137 million Head Start slots for one year.  Or we could put 16 million more teachers in our elementary school classrooms for one year. 

But a funny thing happens whenever we try to make any significant investments in the American people, especially those who find themselves struggling through no fault of their own.  Suddenly, many of the same people who want to hand a blank check to the Pentagon become the strictest penny-pinchers. 

The priorities are completely distorted.  We have to fight and scrap for every dime of spending designed to help our own people.  But in the name of overseas invasion and conquest, money is no object and no expense is spared. 

We don’t need to spend a trillion dollars to combat terrorism and protect our people.  We can implement a smart security strategy that rejects warfare for the kind of soft power, moral authority and humanitarian decency that is America at its very best. 

It’s time to replace the military surge with a civilian surge – aid workers, diplomatic initiatives, civil society programs, teachers, democracy-promotion specialists, agricultural experts and more.  It will make us safer at a fraction of the cost.

These trillion dollar wars have to end.  It’s time to move to a smart security strategy immediately.  It’s time to bring the troops home.