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A Trillion Dollar Turning Point?

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As of 10:06 a.m., Sunday, May 30th, the United States will have spent $1 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

As we approach this milestone, Americans of all political stripes should take a moment to consider what war spending on this scale means, not just in dollars spent, but in terms of opportunities lost to strengthen, invest in, and improve our country. While each of us intrinsically knows that wars have consequences, we are rarely presented with such a stark example of how the choice to pursue war at the expense of priorities at home impacts each of us.

What could we have purchased with this $1 trillion? Today, we might be enjoying the fruits of a green economy, spurred by New Deal-like investments in wind and solar. Perhaps we would have created a single-payer health care system and used this $1 trillion to provide health security to every man, woman, and child in the United States for an entire year. Or, we might have made the smart investments in our domestic law enforcement capabilities and homeland security apparatus to provide true protection from Al Qaeda and others who would wish us harm. Sadly, we'll never know, because our political leadership never explored alternative means of achieving peace, such as emphasizing rigorous regional diplomacy, and instead overextended our military forces abroad.

If sacrificing progress at home wasn't bad enough, it is now clear that the injection of our troops into a 35 year civil war is actually fueling the insurgency in Afghanistan and further destabilizing the region. A GAO report released last month spoke to the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan, noting:

"total attacks against coalition forces between September 2009 and March 2010 increased by about 83 percent in comparison to the same period last year, while attacks against civilians rose by about 72 percent."

As we gather to honor our brave men and women in uniform at at parades, picnics, and other events this weekend, Americans have much to consider. We can ignore the facts on the ground, hope for the best, and resign ourselves to the fact that our country is embroiled in two unaffordable wars that aren't making us safer.

Or, we can stand up and speak out. We can let our family members, friends, and neighbors know about the human and fiscal costs of these wars. We can demand that the United States honor its commitment to leave Iraq by December 31, 2011, encourage Members of Congress to join the Out of Afghanistan Caucus, and organize against the $33 billion pending in Congress to fund the escalation, because $1 trillion is more than enough to spend on war.

During my 44 years in Congress, I have personally witnessed the transformational change that is possible when the American people resolve to take back their democracy. As my friend and mentor, the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stated, "Those of us who love peace must organize as effectively as war hawks. As they spread the propaganda of war, we must spread the propaganda of peace." This Sunday, I hope that my fellow citizens will heed Dr. King's advice and ensure that this May 30th isn't remembered only as the day America crossed the $1 trillion threshold, but also as the day Americans took a united stand against more war.