Even as Congress debates whether to go forward with a budget resolution calling for devoting $3.5 trillion over 10 years to begin lifting children out of poverty, making college more affordable, and addressing the real and present danger of catastrophic climate change, the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan has captured the top of the news.
With few exceptions, Republicans line up to blame President Joe Biden for ending our 20-year war in Afghanistan. Even Donald Trump, who negotiated a deal with the Taliban to get the troops out by May, claims he would have gotten Taliban support for a more graceful exit.
Neo-conservatives and hawks line up to argue that the United States should have stayed, using a small number of U.S. forces and expanded air power to keep the Taliban at bay indefinitely. The cost wouldn’t be more than $50 or 60 billion a year, they say. Conservative Democrats also criticize the administration’s handling of the exit.
These same politicians and pundits — virtually without exception — object to Biden’s plan to invest around $350 billion a year for 10 years to make America better. Increases in the military spending — already greater than the combined total of the next 10 militaries in the world — gain bipartisan support, while Republican filibusters and Democratic conservatives imperil passage of any significant social investment.
The U.S. entanglement in Afghanistan has been a costly folly almost from the very start. In America’s longest war, we spent 20 years fighting in the civil strife of an impoverished country on the other side of the world. We wasted over $2 trillion, suffered more than 2,500 deaths and 25,000 wounded in action, killed more than 100,000 Afghans, while lining the pockets of corrupt politicians.
Money targeted for development — more in comparable dollars the Washington Post reports than that spent to rebuild Europe after World War II — was largely squandered on corruption. The billions in military training and equipment produced a ghost army that evaporated overnight when the U.S. began to withdraw its military.
The various strategies of three presidents were sufficient only to prop up the corrupt government and the hollow military, and to protect leaders from having to admit failure.
In contrast, the initiatives in President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion budget resolution are proven responses to pressing needs, as a new study by the authoritative Center for Budget and Policy Priorities shows. With one in eight children growing up in families with incomes below the poverty line, the child tax credit would cut child poverty by about 40 %. The day care assistance and universal pre-K offered to families would relieve the burden on middle- and low-income families to prepare their children for school. Repeated studies show that the result is greater success in school, greater likelihood of graduation, and a greater chance at success.
Biden’s plan would make community colleges tuition free and lift Pell grants for students from low-income families — proven ways to increase college attendance and graduation. The children get a fair chance. The society benefits from less truancy, less crime, more skilled workers and citizens, and less inequality.
The Biden budget contains a plan for paid family leave, allowing workers to receive paid time off from work when a child is born or a family member becomes ill. Studies — mostly in other advanced countries that have these programs — show that allowing workers to take care of family needs without losing their jobs results in a higher high school graduation rate, higher college attendance, and fewer dropouts from work.
These are not the false promises of armchair strategists or the inflated statistics of Pentagon officials trying to peddle progress in a failed war. These are simply the best summaries of what has resulted when similar programs have been tried at the state or local level here or at the national level abroad. And that says nothing about the Biden call for action on climate change, which is long overdue and, as anyone looking across the world can see, desperately needed.
Frothing on Fox News, Mike Pompeo, Trump’s former secretary of state and a presidential candidate in his own mind, argued bizarrely that Biden has “basically abandoned the global stage in favor of climate change.” Say what? Pompeo adds, “They’ve been focused on critical race theory while the embassy is at risk.” These incoherent partisan jibes fog over the simple reality. And that is that for 20 years, American presidents have wasted lives and trillions on an utter folly in Afghanistan while slighting vital needs at home.
For all the discomfort at the Taliban offensive, Biden gets it right. It is long past time to end the folly in Afghanistan. And it is long past time to start investing in the future of America’s children and in meeting the existential threat posed by climate change. Let’s hope that amid all the hand-wringing about the fall of Kabul, no one loses sight of that basic reality.