September 22, 2011

Manchin to Defense Secretary Panetta: Time to Rebuild America

**Audio and Video Available**

Washington, D.C. – In Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s first appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee to discuss Afghanistan, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) made clear that the United States needs to shift its mission to counter-terrorism and focus on rebuilding America, not Afghanistan or Iraq. 

Senator Manchin, who enjoys a strong relationship with Secretary Panetta, explained how he arrived at his position by citing a number of statistics demonstrating the massive U.S. investment in nation-building in Afghanistan while critical needs go unmet at home. 

Secretary Panetta briefed members of the committee on the status of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for the first time since being confirmed in his new position. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also attended the hearing. 

A copy of Senator Manchin’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below. 

Secretary Panetta, 

I want to make a statement and I think you all probably know my feelings about what is going on with Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s my deep belief that we should be rebuilding America, not Afghanistan or Iraq. And today, with our nation facing a stagnant economy and a death spiral of debt, I don’t believe we can have it all – or pretend that we can. We must choose what as nation we can and cannot afford to do. We must make a choice whether we will spend hundreds of billions of dollars to rebuild other nations or our own.

Some may believe that making the choice will weaken our security – I truly don’t believe that. Admiral Mullen, as you have said yourself, “Debt is the greatest threat to our national security. If we as a country do not address our fiscal imbalances in the near-term, our national power will erode, and the costs to our ability to maintain and sustain influence could be great.”

This nation cannot, in good conscience, cut billions in services and programs at home or call on Americans to pay more in taxes in order to fund nation-building in Afghanistan that is estimated to cost $485 billion just over the next decade.

Let there be no mistake. We are at a crossroads in our nation's history, and I think every one of us – in Congress, the President, and as Secretary of Defense – we all have choices to make. I, for one, will not ask Americans to pay to rebuild another nation. I have simply said: I choose to rebuild America.

To be clear, I want to share with you just a few of the facts and insights that have helped me formulate my opinion that we must, for the good our nation and our national security, fundamentally shift from the President's strategy in Afghanistan to a pure mission of counter-terrorism.

I will be specific for the record:

  • At our current rate of deficit spending, the Congressional Research Service projects our national debt will exceed $23.1 trillion by 2021. By the next decade, we will spend more on interest on our debt than defense, education, and energy – combined.  

  • At the same time, the Afghan economy is growing at leaps and bounds while our economy stagnates – and that’s only because American tax dollars are funding the Afghan economy. Preliminary estimates suggest that Afghanistan’s GDP growth rate was 20.4 percent in FY2009/10, while the United States growth rate, GDP, was 2.2 percent. In 2011, Afghanistan’s growth rate was 8.2 percent while our growth rate in the United States of America was only 1.6 percent

  • This might be worthwhile if we were building a stable and self-sufficient Afghanistan; but instead of building capacity, the World Bank reports that Afghan imports and exports have declined for the last four years.  Domestic revenues funded only 9 percent of Afghanistan’s public expenditures from 2006 to 2010.  This isn’t an economy that can function on its own in any way – it’s an economy that is entirely fueled by American tax dollars.  

  • In the coming days and weeks, we will engage in endless partisan fights over whether we could and should be investing $50 billion more to rebuild American transportation infrastructure – funding that I do support. But we could have already paid for that – and more – with the $72.7 billion we have already invested to rebuild Afghanistan’s infrastructure since 2002 – not to mention the billions more that we are projected to spend in the years ahead.

  • We will debate how to pay for the billions needed to modernize American schools – while the Commission on Wartime Contracting estimates that $30 to $60 billion has been wasted on corruption in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is money wasted and stolen from the taxpayer that could pay for all of the school modernization that the President has proposed and, again, that I support.

  • And perhaps the greatest insult of all is that in spite of the blood and treasure that we have invested in Afghanistan, we are still not their preferred partner for future economic growth projects. I will be specific. In 2007, the state-owned China Metallurgical Group Corporation won a contract to develop the Aynak copper deposit in Logar Province. This deposit may yield up to $88 billion of copper ore. To my knowledge, China does not have one boot on the ground and has not contributed one penny to security of Afghanistan. Instead, we are directly and indirectly helping China profit while we lose our brave men and women fighting to keep Afghanistan safe. 

Secretary Panetta, as I said, I have great respect for you, and for your service, Admiral Mullen. I know that this is a new challenge for you, Secretary Panetta, but I hope that you would take these concerns to heart. I am sincere about what I believe and what I’ve said, and I have given it great thought. 

Go and fight terrorism anywhere and everywhere it may take us to keep it from the shores of America. And I think the American people would be behind us. But I do not believe that we can win and change the Afghans or the Iraqis or the Pakistanis from what they believe in.   

If you’d like to respond, you’re more than welcome.

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Audio of Senator Manchin’s statement is available here: manchin 092211.mp3