Editor’s Note: In Joe Scarborough’s March 29 Politico op-ed, "The hypocrisy of the American left," Scarborough is kind to write that I’m "one of the few liberals to take a principled stand against what America is doing in Libya." Scarborough goes on, "…[vanden Heuvel] has written in The Nation that the anti-war left has been silent since Obama took office because they don’t want to hurt the president’s reelection chances." A point of clarification: as I’ve written here, the antiwar left needs to speak up and out about Afghanistan.
Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the war in Afghanistan isn’t worth fighting, almost 75 percent want “a substantial number” of US troops withdrawn from Afghanistan this summer, and yet Congressional staffers widely report that Members do not hear from their constituents about this war.
This radical disconnect between the poll numbers and action isn’t seen only at the grassroots but also within much of the political class (with some notable exceptions), and in the very few opportunities for action up for offer by the antiwar movement.
Maybe that’s why General David Petraeus faced mostly softball questions from legislators at hearings on Capitol Hill last week, and why Congress is able to get away with focusing its so-called budget “debate” almost entirely on cruel cuts in domestic spending, with virtually no discussion about the exorbitant costs of this war: over $385 billion to date and an additional $120 billion expected this year. Over 2,300 US and coalition casualties, tens of thousands of Afghan civilian deaths and over 10,000 US wounded. Also, more than 460 suicides by US soldiers last year, a figure that significantly undercounts both reservists and veterans, and a tragedy that will continue long after this war is over.
You wouldn’t know about all the real long-term costs from the sparse media coverage. For example, when taking into account caring for the physical and psychological wounds of returning soldiers, Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes estimate the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will reach $4 trillion to $6 trillion. (This looting of our Treasury at a moment when people also say they would opt for cuts in defense spending over cuts in Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security.)
But until people wake up, speak out, organize and mobilize to pressure their representatives and President Obama, the opposition numbers reflected in the polls won’t mean much, and the staggering numbers describing the costs of this war will continue to climb.