U.S. failure in Afghanistan should spur a rethink of military spending

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U.S. soldiers in Sayed Abad District, Wardak province, Afghanistan, April 4, 2011. Image credit: The U.S. Army/Flickr

When U.S. President Joe Biden announced the impending withdrawal of the remaining U.S. troops in Afghanistan, he effectively ended the U.S.-initiated war on terrorism: the military action designed to keep the peace and build new states had failed.

The U.S.-led coalition included Canada, France, and the U.K. It lost the Afghan war -- which is what it became.

What is striking is that during the last 20 years of stupendous military spending in Afghanistan and elsewhere, the quality of life for most U.S. citizens diminished dramatically.

While U.S. military spending exceeds that of the next 10 countries combined, U.S. life expectancy has diminished, unheard of in an industrial power in the industrial age.

Economist Angus Deaton in his book with Anne Case attributes this exceptional outcome to "deaths of despair." Jobs lost, homelessness, alcoholism, hard drugs, conjugal violence, depression, and then overdoses of opioids.

The Afghanistan failure comes 19 years after the second U.S. military attack on Iraq, an expedition that has yet to end, and was costed at over $3 trillion by economists Joe Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes over a decade ago. The Iraq military mission has never been satisfactorily defined by successive U.S. authorities.

You would think the American political class would sense that priorities have become terribly wrong.

Afghanistan and the two Iraq wars recall the humiliation of the U.S. military in Vietnam, where U.S. efforts were successfully resisted by the political leadership of Ho Chi Minh and the armed forces of North Vietnamese general Giap.

While that failed invasion provoked exploration of radical critiques of the U.S. capitalist class and U.S. corporations abroad, useful debates over American imperialism, and late capitalism, Americans reached no useful conclusions that would satisfy people from across the political spectrum.

Today the ecological threat and widespread citizen action to protect the environment make protecting outrageous levels of American military spending more difficult to sustain, despite the fact that military spending drives transactions throughout the continental U.S.

A report by Joyce Nelson reveals the U.S. military are in a class by themselves as an emitter of greenhouse gases. The military is also exempted from adopting any limitations legislated by Congress.

Scientists see climate change as imminent and potentially disastrous unless immediate action is undertaken.

Most recently a group of engaged scientists declared the world has reached a state of emergency.

The pandemic has revealed the loss of government capacity to mount basic public services, address poverty, provide health care, plus produce the technology and equipment needed to address the multiple needs of a sanitary crisis and an economic shutdown.

Justified genuine anger at government inaction helps generate anger and support for political activism. Understandably, a grassroots, worldwide campaign has emerged to protect the Earth from its predators.

Those activists immersed in the policy debates over what to do understand that the dimensions of the ecological revolution are not captured by traditional approaches to the economy and society.

Dissatisfaction is widespread with measuring and summing market transactions, calling it GDP, and assuming that it captures the totality of economic activity.

The economy is about people working together to meet each other's needs. Market transactions do not begin to cover what most people do for a living and in the home.

Leaving climate change to a market society is equivalent to walking away from the issue.  

Spurred by feminist research, the NGO community has adopted the need for developing a care economy as the counterweight to traditional austerity programs that killed off government capacity to act.

Instead of equating economic activity with buying and selling, and any monetary transactions, the care-economy perspective wants us to focus on how fully employing the population in activities designed to meet basic human needs builds a freer society, one where citizens are less fearful of doing without.

Alongside the ecological drama, the digital world has emerged with its seemingly infinite means for connecting people, transmitting ideas, organizing action, and monitoring major players.

The climate-change activists are peaceful revolutionaries. Exploiting the new communications technologies, building new techniques of economic analysis to replace the transactions-focused mainstream variety, the grassroots movement needs to take on the major counter-revolutionaries -- governments and the military who would have us believe Chinese war games in the South China Sea, not climate change, is the major threat to existence.

Duncan Cameron is president emeritus of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Image credit: The U.S. Army/Flickr

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