Friday, July 30, 2010

1 School or 20 Soldiers  from The New York Times

Occasionally, when I'm feeling lazy or lethargic or uninspired, I simply make a post of someone else's article or maybe a Youtube clip.  I haven't been inspired to write for a while, but I have been reading. The following article is by Nicholas Kristoff and lifted directly from The New York Times. It's about how bloated and misguided America's military expenditures are as a means of combatting religious extremism and dealing with populations in a country like Afghanistan. When Kristof writes for people like me, a person who was adamantly opposed to America's intervention in Vietnam and who found Bush's invasion of Iraq to be illegal and unjustifiable, he's preaching to the converted. I don't see how more Stealth bombers will ever be a solution for the problems our world faces. Please read this article and leave your opinion.

July 28, 2010


The war in Afghanistan will consume more money this year alone than we spent on the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War — combined. 

recent report from the Congressional Research Service finds that the war on terror, including Afghanistan and Iraq, has been, by far, the costliest war in American history aside from World War II. It adjusted costs of all previous wars for inflation.

Those historical comparisons should be a wake-up call to President Obama, underscoring how our military strategy is not only a mess — as the recent leaked documents from Afghanistan suggested — but also more broadly reflects a gross misallocation of resources. One legacy of the 9/11 attacks was a distortion of American policy: By the standards of history and cost-effectiveness, we are hugely overinvested in military tools and underinvested in education and diplomacy.
It was reflexive for liberals to rail at President George W. Bush for jingoism. But it is President Obama who is now requesting 6.1 percent more in military spending than the peak of military spending under Mr. Bush. And it is Mr. Obama who has tripled the number of American troops in Afghanistan since he took office. (A bill providing $37 billion to continue financing America’s two wars was approved by the House on Tuesday and is awaiting his signature.)
Under Mr. Obama, we are now spending more money on the military, after adjusting for inflation, than in the peak of the cold war, Vietnam War or Korean War. Our battle fleet is larger than the next 13 navies combined, according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The intelligence apparatus is so bloated that, according to The Washington Post, the number of people with “top secret” clearance is 1.5 times the population of the District of Columbia.
Meanwhile, a sobering report from the College Board says that the United States, which used to lead the world in the proportion of young people with college degrees, has dropped to 12th.
What’s more, an unbalanced focus on weapons alone is often counterproductive, creating a nationalist backlash against foreign “invaders.” Over all, education has a rather better record than military power in neutralizing foreign extremism. And the trade-offs are staggering: For the cost of just one soldier in Afghanistan for one year, we could start about 20 schools there. Hawks retort that it’s impossible to run schools in Afghanistan unless there are American troops to protect them. But that’s incorrect.
CARE, a humanitarian organization, operates 300 schools in Afghanistan, and not one has been burned by the Taliban. Greg Mortenson, of “Three Cups of Tea” fame, has overseen the building of 145 schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan and operates dozens more in tents or rented buildings — and he says that not one has been destroyed by the Taliban either.
Aid groups show that it is quite possible to run schools so long as there is respectful consultation with tribal elders and buy-in from them. And my hunch is that CARE and Mr. Mortenson are doing more to bring peace to Afghanistan than Mr. Obama’s surge of troops.
The American military has been eagerly reading “Three Cups of Tea” but hasn’t absorbed the central lesson: building schools is a better bet for peace than firing missiles (especially when one cruise missile costs about as much as building 11 schools).
Mr. Mortenson lamented to me that for the cost of just 246 soldiers posted for one year, America could pay for a higher education plan for all Afghanistan. That would help build an Afghan economy, civil society and future — all for one-quarter of 1 percent of our military spending in Afghanistan this year.
The latest uproar over Pakistani hand-holding with the Afghan Taliban underscores that billions of dollars in U.S. military aid just doesn’t buy the loyalty it used to. In contrast, education can actually transform a nation. That’s one reason Bangladesh is calmer than Pakistan, Oman is less threatening than Yemen.
Paradoxically, the most eloquent advocate in government for balance in financing priorities has been Mr. Gates, the defense secretary. He has noted that the military has more people in its marching bands than the State Department has diplomats.
Faced with constant demands for more, Mr. Gates in May asked: “Is it a dire threat that by 2020 the United States will have only 20 times more advanced stealth fighters than China?”
In the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama promised to invest in a global education fund. Since then, he seems to have forgotten the idea — even though he is spending enough every five weeks in Afghanistan to ensure that practically every child on our planet gets a primary education.
We won our nation’s independence for $2.4 billion in today’s money, the Congressional Research Service report said. That was good value, considering that we now fritter the same amount every nine days in Afghanistan. Mr. Obama, isn’t it time to rebalance our priorities?

The New York Times  


Rohan Rajiv said...

It is sad indeed. However, I think it's unfair to point fingers solely on Obama.

George W Bush singlehandedly turned a cruise ship (that was the US and it's economy) in the opposite direction and it'll be a while before Obama can make that right. An 8 year operation of such catastrophical proportions can't be 'righted' overnight!

Change will come gradually - atleast that's what I feel.

Brad Blackstone said...

Thanks for the comment, Rohan. I don't think Kristof is simply blaming Obama. He's probably taking more aim at America's foreign policy in general. But there is implicit criticism of the Obama Admin and, on a deeper level I think, a statement being made about the US's military-industrial complex.

Edmund Chen said...

Sun Tzu, a famous military strategist in ancient China, once wrote, "In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good." The crux in winning any battles therefore lies in winning the hearts of the people, rather than winning their allegiance by force. Winning the hearts of your adversaries is not always an easy task and would always require a certain amount of effort and self humbling, thus overpowering the enemy with superior military forces would always seem to be an easier way out. However, there is no straight forward victory in the Afghanistan war – while the Americans had managed to take control of the lands of Afghanistan, they had failed to win the hearts of the insurgents living there. Winning the hearts of the people of a conquered land requires the victor to treat the people with respect and leading them to prosperity and helping them achieving their basic needs. Once the basic needs of food, water, education and job security are met, people will realize that the conquerors are actually wise rulers and would gladly submit to them. In this sense, education would be a better investment than spending on military hardware in the long run. However, educating the people takes time and effort and insurgency problems will still bug the administration in the short run. Therefore, a certain amount of cash still have to be set aside to procure the military hardware that would protect the people that is helping to rebuild and educate the Afghanistan people. It’s all a matter of balance in everything, too little or too much of anything isn’t always good like Hippocrates once said, “Everything in excess is opposed to nature.”

Xi Xi said...

Talking about the foreign policies of the United States, I would like to offer my opinions on this.

U.S. seems to project an image of "international police". It will point finger at almost everything on this planet. I do not want to go into the details of the situation in Afghanistan. For many, Afghanistan is just one of the muddy spots U.S. has trapped themselves in.

On the other hand, it seems to me that all U.S. Admins, including Obama Admin, have to go for some wars in order to support its huge military and industrial complex, as mentioned by Brad. Many engineers, technicans might lose their jobs if there are no wars going on somewhere.

With U.S. and China's increasing amount of military spendings, I am very afraid of a new "Cold War" between these two giants. History has shown that an arms race is no good for both parties. More resources diverted to military means that less are left for other areas, such as education.

However, on the other side, politicians might rank national security higher than education because a strong military system is the foundation for education. We could all forget about good schools if the school compounds could be possibly invaded by others.

Brad Blackstone said...

Edmund & XiXi:

Thanks for your comments.

You're right that in the US there is an attitude of us being the world's police force. I think Obama's admin has made a better effort though of enlisting the support of other nations in negotiating and implementing strategies. I hope that embracing approach continues.

Eunice Chew said...

The decisions that are made have consequences and everyone suffers from it. In political terms, starting a war to make your stand of your country’s defence speaks volume. The US is one of the world’s superpowers and to see it being attacked so easily, Bush felt that something needed to be done. Building up one’s military is needed as a form of deterrence to others. However, when you think of it in economic terms, starting schools would have been a better option to bringing about peace in the long run. This will improve the quality of life and develop the industries in Afghanistan as its people become more educated. I am not in a position to judge but ultimately I believe the main motive of both actions is to bring peace to one’s land. Was Bush so irrational in his decision that now people are suffering the consequences?