Honor Our Vets By Focusing on Jobs

Today is America’s national holiday honoring our veterans and, as such, the conversation inevitably turns to the legacy of the Iraq War: Does President Barack Obama’s withdrawal decision do injustice to our service members who spent a decade fighting there?

My opponent Chris Miles believes the U.S. should hold on to our biggest military bases and keep some of our troops in Iraq, so as not to put to waste the money and lives America has expended this decade. This echoes the sentiments of neo-conservative hawks and leading GOP candidates who oppose Obama’s decision as a strategic “failure” that will give the country away to Iran.

I disagree, and polls show the overwhelming majority of the American people agree with me. Obama’s choice to pullout U.S. troops and abandon our bases is the right decision, winding down an unnecessary war that has cost us lives and drained our resources. Contrary to war hawks’ claims, the policy will make us strategically stronger in the Middle East and, most importantly, allow Washington to focus on the immediate priorities of cutting government spending and creating jobs.

Let’s review the facts. First and foremost, the Iraqi people don’t want us in their country. Back in 2008, President George W. Bush signed the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Iraqi parliament, which required U.S. troops to leave by December 31, 2011. Obama lobbied to renegotiate the treaty and keep a small contingent of about 3,000 troops past the deadline, but the Iraqi parliament made it clear they wanted our soldiers out. Even Iraqis who benefitted enormously from the security provided by U.S. troops could not ultimately support the continuation of a foreign military presence on their soil. Maintaining our troops and bases would only further entrench the majority of Iraqis’ view of the U.S. as a neo-colonial occupier.

Second, there is little strategic justification for keeping our troops or bases. Even without bases in Iraq, the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf will be formidable well into the future. Moreover, neocons contend that Iraq will fall under Iran’s paw, but most leading regional specialists believe that withdrawal, as well as the planned departure of U.S. forces from Afghanistan by 2014, will actually serve to weaken Iran. Without the presence of American troops on Iraqi soil, the U.S. can no longer be the target of popular discontent. As noted international politics professor Vali Nasr wrote in a column for Bloomberg News, “Once absent, America can no longer be the focus of opposition in both places. Instead, Iran may replace the U.S. as the target of popular anger, blamed for the failure of government to meet the people’s needs.”

Finally, there is the ever-important issue of cost. The Bush administration spent an estimated $2.4 billion on the construction of 505 military bases and outposts across Iraq. The Department of Defense has turned over all but 39 bases, but the U.S. has kept the most colossal of them, which continue to drain hundreds of millions of dollars in equipment and upkeep costs. The total cost of these bases is difficult to determine, but Undersecretary of Defense Dorothy Robyn estimated that maintaining and constructing all U.S. bases in the world cost American taxpayers $41.6 billion in 2010. The bipartisan Bowles-Simpson budget reduction commission estimated that cutting one third of U.S. bases in Asia and Europe alone would save $8.5 billion by 2015. Admiral Mike Mullen has said the biggest threat to our national security is our debt. Spending millions of dollars on outposts which don’t further our strategic interests while we have a debt and job crisis at home is indefensible and (excuse the pun) baseless.

Back in 2003, the Bush neocons envisioned that the invasion of Iraq would bring cheap oil, a shining democracy in the Arab world, an Arab friend to Israel, and a strategic bulwark against Iran. Those dreams turned out to be misguided, costly, and tragic. It’s time to finally draw a close to this failed chapter in American history by fully leaving the country.

Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are coming home to unacceptable levels of joblessness and, as new veteran unemployment increases for the second month in a row, here’s an idea for how Washington can best honor the people who have made unthinkable sacrifices this decade: create American jobs.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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