Fighting for a U.S. federal budget that prioritizes peace, economic security and shared prosperity
I was eight years old when the United States invaded Afghanistan in October of 2001. By that time, politicians and the media had used every trick in the book to justify invading an entire country that had nothing to do with the September 11 terrorist attacks.
While I don't remember much from the months leading up to the war, one argument-- that bombing Afghanistan would bring democracy to the region and, by extension, free oppressed Afghan women-- stuck with me.
Twenty years later, I watched in horror at the swift Taliban takeover of Kabul as U.S. troops withdrew from the country in defeat, leaving behind the Afghan women the United States supposedly wanted to help. As someone who grew up in the shadow of the United States' "War on Terror", watching as Kabul descended into chaos was the perfect distillation of the utter depravity of spending $2 trillion to invade and occupy another country for two decades.
After spending over $300 million a day and killing over 70,000 innocent Afghan civilians, all while creating fertile ground for the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the cynical claim that the United States bombs countries for women's equality is being exposed as the hideous lie that it is. Despite this fact, there remains a persistent narrative that U.S. militarism can still be deployed in the name of women's rights around the world.
In the wake of the death and destruction left by the United States' "War on Terror," it's time for a reckoning. Gone are the days when anyone should take seriously the same politicians and political commentators who are funded by companies that profit from war.
It's time instead to listen to the peace activists and feminists who were right all along, including Representative Barbara Lee, who cast the sole vote in opposition to the Authorization of the Use of Military Force in 2001. In that now-famous speech, Representative Barbara Lee cautioned against the use of military action, saying doing so would "run too great a risk that women, children, and other non-combatants will be caught in the crossfire."
Earlier this year, Representative Barbara Lee proposed legislation that would redirect $350 billion in Pentagon funding (about 50% of the entire budget) to socially necessary programs that would disproportionately benefit women, people of color, and the working class.
If we're serious about advancing women's rights and actually addressing some of the most pressing challenges facing our planet, slashing the enormous $741 billion Pentagon budget and prioritizing spending on education, healthcare, and climate change must be at the heart of our work.
Cutting taxpayer subsidies to private military contractors would prevent future wars that kill innocent civilians, including women and children.
Since the beginning of the so-called "War on Terror," the United States Pentagon budget has become increasingly commercialized, meaning that a greater percentage of our tax dollars are spent on private military contractors. In 2020, well over half of the Pentagon budget, $437 billion, went directly into the pockets of private military contractors including $158 billion which went to the top five weapons contractors in the country. These same companies use their enormous profits which they derive from U.S. tax dollars to fund the campaigns of politicians and lobby Congress to approve increased Pentagon funding. This creates a perverse incentive to continue deadly, unpopular, and dangerous wars that leave innocent civilians dead in their wake to continue the flow of taxpayer money into the coffers of private military contractors. This vicious circle continues year after year, despite the fact that private military contractors are notorious for waste, fraud, and price gouging.
This is one of the many reasons why, despite popular support for cutting Pentagon spending, Congress continues to increase the Pentagon budget year after year. By cutting taxpayer subsidies to weapons companies, we could begin to address the corporate capture of our politicians and end this clear conflict of interest.
Cutting the Pentagon budget would mean more money to invest in a peace economy that prioritizes people and planet.
Slashing taxpayer subsidies for private military contractors isn't enough. The end of the U.S. War on Afghanistan should be a wake up call about our national budget priorities because we can't continue down the path of deadly and destructive U.S. militarism. Instead, we must invest in what feminists and peace activists have been advocating on behalf of for decades: healthcare, infrastructure, and the climate solutions we so desperately need.
A new study out from the National Priorities Project estimates that we have spent $21 trillion on militarization since the beginning of the so-called "War on Terror"--a fraction of which could have funded programs like Medicare for All that have been dismissed as "too expensive". An exciting new piece of legislation from Representative Mark Pocan is one great example of how much we could gain if we began to prioritize global solidarity and peace over U.S. militarism. The bill would reallocate just over one percent of Pentagon spending to pay for vaccinating 30 percent of the world's population.
It's clear that we could achieve ambitious progressive policies by redirecting even a fraction of Pentagon funding. However, there's a persistent myth that, despite the many documented cases of waste and fraud, Pentagon spending is justified because it creates so many jobs. However, dollar for dollar spending on the Pentagon budget is an opportunity cost compared to funding education, healthcare, or green infrastructure. Consider that for every $1 billion we could generate 26,700 jobs in education and 16,800 in clean energy compared to only 11,200 jobs in the military.
That means that redirecting Pentagon funding to socially necessary programs would create more job opportunities in industries which are often dominated by women that also happen to be better for the environment than more extractive industries.
For too long our national budget has prioritized Pentagon funding and private military contractors over people and planet. Now that the United States has finally begun the long task of ending the forever wars, we've reached a critical turning point. We can either continue down the failed path of funnelling money into the enormous, destructive, and wasteful U.S. war machine or we can radically alter course and invest in a peace economy.
This time, we should choose to be on the right side of history.
Carley Towne is a National Co-Director at CODEPINK, a women-led anti-war organization working to redirect tax dollars into healthcare, education, green jobs and other life-affirming programs.