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Shift Against War Spending a Sign of People Power

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Here's some good news for your Monday morning: your agitation against profligate war spending is bearing fruit in Washington, DC. Public pressure, generated in part by the Rethink Afghanistan community, our allies and supporters, has put defense spending front-and-center in the budget debate, with representatives from both sides of the aisle now pushing for cuts. This once unthinkable shift is a good sign that people power in the U.S. can still challenge the dominance of the military-industrial-congressional complex.

A June 24th National Journal article focusing on the dying cult of counterinsurgency shows how political pressure from the people is forcing a rethink of hyper-expensive military undertakings, emphasis ours:

"As the 2012 presidential campaign gets under way and the political debate centers on the debt ceiling and the deficit, the mounting cost of the war has eclipsed the casualty rate as Topic A. A new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press shows that nearly 60 percent of Americans believe that the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has contributed 'a great deal' to the nation's debt--more than, say, increased domestic spending or the tax cuts enacted over the past decade. The public is clearly growing disenchanted with [counterinsurgency's] expense and incremental progress. Even traditionally hawkish Republicans, particularly in the House, have begun to balk."

A recent Washington Post story goes into more detail about the war spending revolt going on behind the scenes in the debt ceiling negotiations:

"In listening sessions with their rank and file, House Republican leaders said they have found a surprising willingness to consider defense cuts that would have been unthinkable five years ago, when they last controlled the House. While the sessions have sparked heated debate on many issues, Rep. Peter Roskam (Ill.), the deputy GOP whip, said there are few lawmakers left who view the Pentagon budget as sacrosanct.

"'When we say everything is on the table, that's what we mean,' said House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the No. 3 leader who has been hosting the listening sessions in his Capitol offices."

As an example, WAPO highlights freshman Rep. Adam Kinzinger's (R-Ill.) successful slapdown of a $100 million request for unneeded new flight suits for Air Force pilots. A senior administration official told the Post that "It's clear that any package is going to have to have significant spending reductions, including in Pentagon spending."

This shift didn't just happen. It's the result of persistent agitation from outside Washington, D.C. begun years in advance by people who refused to let partisanship or jingoism silence their concerns about the damage caused by blank-check Pentagon budgets. For example, our organization's Rethink Afghanistan project launched one of the first major public critiques of the counterinsurgency strategy's cost in Afghanistan in our 2009 documentary film. At the time, our critique was met with a wall of partisan resistance, but that wall has now crumbled under pressure from a public reeling from military sticker shock.

Since the initial launch of Rethink Afghanistan, we've continued to raise the issue of the cost of war in partnership with other groups, including conservative organizations. For example, just prior to Tax Day 2011, we created a War Tax Calculator that let users see how much they pay for military spending on their taxes and allowed them to send an I.O.U. to Congress. We delivered the I.O.U.s at a bipartisan press event attended by progressive and conservative Members of Congress, along with experts outside experts from across the ideological spectrum, all arguing for slashing spending on the Afghanistan War. That gathering foreshadowed the current bipartisan push-back against continued monster Pentagon budgets while other popular programs go under the budget knife.

We can't afford to spend a trillion dollars a year on the war budget. Thanks to constant pressure from fed-up Americans, Washington, D.C. is starting to get the message.

If you're fed up with wars that aren't making us safer and that aren't worth the costs, join Rethink Afghanistan on Facebook and Twitter.