Expenses We Cannot Afford

Rep. José E. Serrano

In the waning days of the Korean War, Dwight D. Eisenhower, America’s great warrior president, said: Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

How timely Eisenhower’s words seem today, as the United States faces what is quickly becoming its largest budget deficit in history, deep cuts in social programs and local government, and troubling challenges to our civil liberties.

George Bush’s misguided war in Iraq has led to hundreds of American deaths and thousands of horrific injuries for our soldiers, not to mention the tremendous destruction visited upon Iraq and its people. The independent 911 Commission completely discredited the administration’s attempt to link Iraq with the 911 attacks, and we have yet to find the fabled weapons of mass destruction that posed such an imminent threat to our nation’s security. Our international credibility has been seriously damaged, and anti-American sentiment around the world is sky high. And the administration’s tendencies toward secrecy and arrogance helped lead to a horrific prisoner torture scandal that further shocked and angered the world.

The sad reality is that every day we pay the price in America for Bush’s misadventure in Iraq.

First and foremost is the formidable cost of the war. It is difficult to comprehend what all those zeros mean, but the sad reality is that they represent billions of dollars worth of lost opportunities for ordinary Americans. The $400 billion we are in the process of sinking into Iraq could have fundamentally transformed America — brought millions out of poverty, ended the deficit, improved our schools, trains and hospitals. With New York’s share of the cost alone, we could have hired 214,000 school teachers in our state, built 161,000 housing units for New York families or put 175,000 more cops onto our streets. With the money we’ve already sunk into Iraq, we could have provided medical insurance for every uninsured child in America for more than 12 years.

These missed opportunities are not just today’s losses. Studies consistently show that children provided proper education and healthcare go on to be more productive members of society. Every time we get another cop on the street, it’s less likely that a woman will be raped, less likely that a home will be broken into, more likely that we’ll be able to respond quickly when the next terrorist strike occurs.

We need to keep these costs in mind, because every bomb, every rebuilding contract, every warplane that goes up is paid for by all of us. And unlike the last Gulf War, when George Bush’s father was able to persuade the world to pay for nearly 90 percent of the costs of conflict, this time around we’re paying 90 percent, and this is a far more costly conflict. Already, adjusting for inflation, we’ve paid 26 times more for this war than the last.

But the costs are not only economic. The wars in Iraq and against terror” have fanned widespread fears and anxieties 911 ignited — pushing our society to shed our reluctance to compromise many of the core values we hold dear. It would be a terrible irony if, to protect our civil liberties and our democratic way of life, we were to allow for the destruction of those same liberties that make us free.

September 11th changed New York and changed America. I will never forget the heartache, the pain, the soul-searching, the terrified tears of that awful day. There were many directions in which the president could have taken the nation after that day. He chose to use our anger, our disgust, and our sense of sacrifice and purpose to lead us into war against a nation that had nothing to do with those despicable attacks. In the aftermath of 911, we New Yorkers came together and showed the world what solidarity meant. But solidarity and patriotism can be misdirected, and it is time that we rethink our priorities. It is time that we channel our tremendous energy, ingenuity, and sense of solidarity and patriotism into building a new America, one that stands up for our children’s right to live in a country that is prosperous, free, fair and secure. We owe them nothing less.

José E. Serrano has represented the South Bronx, New York, since 1990. He is the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Subcommittee that fund the Commerce, Justice and State departments, as well as the judiciary, serves as a senior member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, and is a member of the Progressive Caucus.
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