In Kabul, where the Afghan Peace Volunteers have hosted me in their community, the U.S. military maintains a huge blimp equipped with cameras and computers to supply 24-hour surveillance of the city. Remotely piloted drones, operated by Air Force and Air National Guard personnel in U.S. bases, also fly over Afghanistan, feeding U.S. military analysts miles of camera footage every day. Billions of dollars have been invested in a variety of blimps, which various vendors, such as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, and Aeros have shipped to Afghanistan. All of this surveillance purportedly helps establish “patterns of life” in Afghanistan and bring security to people living here. But this sort of “intelligence” discloses very little about experiences of poverty, chaos, hunger, child labor, homelessness, and unemployment that afflict families across Afghanistan.
Two weeks ago in a room in Kabul, Afghanistan, I joined several dozen people — working seamstresses, some college students, socially engaged teenagers, and a few visiting internationals like myself — to discuss world hunger. Our emphasis was not exclusively their own country’s worsening hunger problems. Rather, tmhe Afghan Peace Volunteers, in whose home we were meeting, draw strength from looking beyond their own very real struggles.
With us was Hakim, a medical doctor who spent six years working as a public health specialist in the central highlands of Afghanistan and, prior to that, among refugees in Quetta, Pakistan. He helped us understand conditions that lead to food shortages and taught us about diseases, such as kwashiorkor and marasmus, which are caused by insufficient protein or general malnutrition.
We looked at U.N. figures about hunger in Afghanistan, which show malnutrition rates rising by 50 percent or more compared with 2012. The malnutrition ward at Helmand Province’s Bost Hospital has been admitting 200 children a month for severe, acute malnutrition — four times more than in January 2012.
A recent New York Times article about the worsening hunger crisis described an encounter with a mother and child in an Afghan hospital: “In another bed is Fatima, less than a year old, who is so severely malnourished that her heart is failing, and the doctors expect that she will soon die unless her father is able to find money to take her to Kabul for surgery. The girl’s face bears a perpetual look of utter terror, and she rarely stops crying.”
Photos of Fatima and other children in the ward accompanied the article. In our room in Kabul, Hakim projected the photos on the wall. They were painful to see and so were the nods of comprehension from Afghans all too familiar with the agonies of poverty in a time of war.
According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the United States currently spends more than $711 billion per year on military expenditures, which is – by far – the most of any country in the world.
In fact, if one were to combine the totals of the next fourteen nations on the list (China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Brazil, India, South Korea, Australia, Canada, and Turkey), their combined amount is similar to the USA. All together, the USA provides about 43 percent of worldwide military costs, and in addition, the USA per capita ($2,240) and percent of Gross Domestic Product (4.8 percent) in relation to military funding is far greater than any other nation in the world.
With these statistics in mind, one is provoked to ponder some important questions. For example, what is revealed to us about the USA – and our world in general – when military expenses constitute such a significant percentage of a government budget?
In specifics, why does the USA spend far more on its military than any other country? In addition, what is revealed to us about the condition of our global village when $1.73 trillion is allocated each year to military funding? As stated by Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis, “A budget is a moral document. It clearly demonstrates the priorities of a family, a church, an organization, or a government. A budget shows what we most care about.”
Each year, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) publishes a study on the amount world governments spend on their militaries. The 2011 report was released this week, showing that all countries together spent $1.7 trillion. The Guardian has a helpful country-by-country data page and interactive map. The top 5 in the world last year, totaling $1.05 trillion, were:
U. S. - $711 billion
China - $143 billion
Russia - $72 billion
Britain - $63 billion
France - $62 billion
In contrast, the budget for UN Peacekeeping operations for fiscal year July 2011-30 June 2012 is about $7.84 billion. That’s 0.5 percent of what the world spends on its militaries.
It’s a stark example of the world’s misguided priorities.
A recent Gallup poll shows that 81 percent of Americans want the President to be focused on domestic issues, while 9 percent say they want him to focus on foreign policy issues. Not too surprising ... until you consider that the fastest growing domestic priority is the deficit (69 percent).
The lopsided number between the importance of the deficit and the importance of foreign policy is the first clue that, for most Americans, there’s a disconnect between domestic policy and foreign policy.
Clue number two is a bit more alarming.
The same poll indicates that 54 percent favor a “strong” stance — read: military attack — against Iran versus 39 percent who say that it’s more important to avoid a military conflict with Iran. Put these facts together and a disturbing picture emerges: the less Americans care about foreign policy, the more willing they are to go to war, and the less they’re able to see that war = skyrocketing deficits.
The disconnect couldn’t come at a worse time.
If the GOP primaries were like Old Country Buffet, I’d be happy.
Think about it. There wouldn’t be so much money involved and we could pick only the stuff we liked and ignore the rest.
And of course, everyone knows the basic rules of smorgasbord grazing, such as you can’t get decent sushi in the Midwest or proper social conservatives from Massachusetts.
President Barack Obama made an unusual appearance in the Pentagon briefing room Thursday with Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to release a new Defense Strategic Guidance, essentially the strategic plan for the U.S. military. Recognizing the end of the war in Iraq and the pressure of deficit-driven budget cuts, the plan outlines a smaller and more focused military.
Meanwhile, December unemployment numbers out this morning, and show a drop to 8.5 percent. That’s obviously good news, but don’t get overly excited. The unemployment rate for minorities was virtually unchanged – 15.8 percent of African-Americans and 11 percent of Hispanics remain unemployed. And the broader measure, including what are called “discouraged workers” – people who want to work but have stopped looking and those working part time because they can’t find a full time job – is 15.2 percent.http://www.twitter.com/dshankdc
On Saturday, November 12, at 8 p.m. ET, CBS News and National Journal will present a nationally broadcast debate focused on national security issues.
There are several ways for you to participate both before and during the debate.
Our friends at WAND (Women's Action for New Directions) have created a primer about how you can submit questions to the candidates before the debate.
Let your voice be heard!
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