Would Obama Declare 3 Days of Peace to Pay for Food for Starving Afghans?
The most little-understood fact of war, in my opinion, is the sheer, mind-boggling, nearly incomprehensible magnitude of the money which is spent on a daily basis to keep the occupation and boom-and-zoom operations going. Former General Barry McCaffrey put the "burn rate" of US taxpayer dollars in Afghanistan at $9 billion per month, which is fully one-half the average yearly state budget for the 50 states. Two months of this kind of spending is the entire Pell Grant appropriation for 2010.
More than one-third of that "burn rate" (and you have to hand it to McCaffrey for not caring how this sounds to the public, literally burning taxpayer money) is fuel costs, both aviation and ground. Time reports that:
...international accounting firm Deloitte puts the cost of fuel for the additional troops at nearly $1,000 a day per soldier — more than $350,000 per year.
That's $350,000 per year, per soldier, each of the 100,000 or so of them.
The profit margin on fuel contracts is cost-plus, and awarded to private vendors throughout the year, plenty to go around no campaign contributor left behind. You can go to the FBO.gov website (Federal Business Opportunities) and if you have a refinery or distribution business, bid for a contract. Who actually gets them is a bit murkier, as many criteria are subjective and this is where keeping up your end of political campaign contributions doesn't hurt. Quid pro quo between campaign contributions and business benefits has been clearly shown by MapLight.org in other arenas, and there is no reason to believe the same does not hold true with defense contractors and contracting.
MAPLight.org found that congressmen who voted for TARP, the "Troubled Assets Relief Program," received nearly 50 percent more in campaign contributions from the financial services industry than congressmen who voted no. Legislators who voted for the automobile industry bailout in 2009 received an average of 40 percent more in "contributions" from that industry than those who voted against it. And House Energy and Commerce Committee members who voted yes on an amendment in 2009 favored by the forest products industry, to allow heavier cutting of trees, received an average of $25,745 from the forestry and paper products industry. This was ten times as much as was received by each member voting no.
"More than 2.5 million people face hunger in drought-stricken areas of Afghanistan despite billions of dollars of aid that have poured into the country in recent years, aid agencies say. Many villagers have only limited supplies of food left as winter looms...
The problem is not that food cannot be gotten through to the northern areas where starvation threatens as much as sheer neglect and political will. We know this because in the same BBC report the U.S. openly admits that large amounts of assistance are delivered in the south of the country, where most of the fighting is:
Aid agencies have been concerned for some time about the amount of aid directed towards conflict areas of Afghanistan. Much of it is designed to win hearts and minds through "quick impact projects" in insurgency-plagued provinces in the south and east of the country. According to a US Congressional study, 80% of US aid has gone to troubled regions
2.5 million are in imminent danger. A reasonable estimate for a relief operation would be $1 worth of foodstuffs, protein/vitamin-enriched flour, cooking oil, etc., per day, per person, since most people there are already living on less than a dollar a day. That's 2.5 million times 90 days or about $250 million for a solid commitment to warding off hunger during the three harshest months of the winter.
That's a lot of money, right? Depends on what you mean by a lot of money. Referring to the above figures on fuel costs alone, this is what is spent on the fuel part of the occupation every three days. Put another way, declare peace for three days, no flying no driving around the countryside "waiting to get hit" by an IED, as one soldier said, and the whole thing is paid for.
What would the Taliban do? Say "no, you must starve?" The Taliban is nothing if not public relations-savvy and would know when something is a no-winner. Besides, some of those kids starving might be their own kids.
None of this is a substitute for a policy of reparations which bolsters Afghan-led development, which has been almost deliberately neglected for the last ten years. The failure of direct aid in the north is a microcosm of the greater, almost deliberate neglect on the part of the US to support the many avenues available, over the last ten years, for delivering meaningful assistance to Afghans wishing to rebuild the country's war-torn basic infrastructure, and instead directing billions toward foreign contractors and their subsidiaries who soak up 40-60 percent of the funds for profits and overhead. But on the way out, and we must get out, we can do something right for once.
UN World Food Programme country director in Afghanistan, Louis Imbleau, is adamant that the food crisis can and must be avoided. Of the effects of severe malnutrition on children who survive, Imbleau says:
"it's irreversible and should just not be allowed to happen. It should not be allowed to happen."
We are calling on Obama to declare a three day halt on all military travel in Afghanistan that is not absolutely essential, as well calling on Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, to support this. A three day moratorium on fuel expenditures would pay for food and relief for millions of Afghans threatened with starvation. Pass Rep. Barbara Lee-Rep. Ron Paul H.R. 780: “Responsible End to the War in Afghanistan Act” – “To provide that funds for operations of the Armed Forces in Afghanistan shall be obligated and expended only for purposes of providing for the safe and orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan” (emphasis mine.) As part of an orderly withdrawal we demand Congress devote 5% of one year’s cost of military operations as reparations, to jump-start Afghan-run infrastructure programs run by the indigenous, honest, and efficient Afghan National Solidarity Program.
"[Why can't we] get some of the people in these downtrodden countries to like us instead of hating us?" – President Dwight Eisenhower, March 1953 Meeting of the National Security Council
The diarist is co-founder of Jobs for Afghans.