June 25, 2011

Joe Manchin: Rebuild America, Not Afghanistan | Charleston Daily Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In the past 10 years, our nation has spent nearly $443 billion and lost more than 1,500 brave men and women in Afghanistan. Over the next decade, we're projected to spend nearly $500 billion more, all as we borrow historic amounts from China and ask Americans to face higher taxes or cuts to critical programs I believe in, such as Head Start, Social Security and Medicare.

At the same time, we have now hit our debt ceiling of $14.3 trillion, and the president is asking Congress to raise the debt ceiling to borrow trillions more.

To some, Afghanistan and raising our debt ceiling might seem unrelated, but they are in fact directly related.

So last week I urged President Obama to change our mission in Afghanistan -- to stop building their country at the expense of ours and shift our resources to targeted, strategic strikes against terrorists wherever they may hide.

We can make this transition because our incredible service members successfully defanged al-Qaida in Afghanistan. We overthrew the Taliban government that provided safe haven to al-Qaida. We hunted down and killed Osama bin Laden, as well as most of the group's senior members. In a nation of 30 million people, intelligence estimates suggest that there are only between 50 and 100 al-Qaida terrorists remaining. In fact, senior White House officials confirmed this week that we haven't seen a terrorist threat come from Afghanistan for the past seven or eight years.

Unfortunately, the president's announcement of a limited troop drawdown doesn't account for the reality on the ground in Afghanistan, or our fiscal reality here at home. By the end of next year, only 33,000 of our troops will return home, leaving nearly 70,000 in Afghanistan.

Of course, I am pleased any time any of our courageous troops return to their loved ones, and they should be honored as the heroes they are. But based on President Obama's strategy, the mission in Afghanistan still will cost American taxpayers hundreds of billions we cant afford. We must ask ourselves: How many more sacrifices will Americans have to make, and how much more money will Americans have to spend?

Enough is enough.

Today, with a stagnant economy and a death spiral of debt, we can no longer have it all. We must decide if we are going to rebuild Afghanistan, or rebuild America.

Make no mistake, our nation faces dire financial conditions. For the first time in our history, our yearly budget deficits may exceed a trillion dollars for four years in a row. In a decade, our interest payments on a projected $23.1 trillion national debt will exceed the total amount we currently spend on education, energy and national defense. Combined.

It is unconscionable that we would consider slashing vital services and programs at home, or raising taxes or lifting the debt ceiling all so that we can pay for nation-building in Afghanistan.

So, how can America spend hundreds of billions to rebuild Afghanistan when our children, our seniors, our veterans, the poor and middle class, are being asked to bear the brunt of massive spending cuts?

The time has come for America to stop pouring taxpayer dollars into Afghan roads, Afghan schools and Afghan communities and start investing those precious resources here at home, in American roads, American schools and American communities.

In the end, make no mistake about it: I strongly support our nation redirecting our resources to track down and eliminate terrorists wherever they hide.

But I believe it is time for the Afghans to take responsibility for their destiny so that we can ensure ours. We can no longer afford to rebuild Afghanistan and America. We must choose.

And I choose to rebuild America. 

By:  Op-Ed