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Sarwar Kashmeri Headshot

Of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Michigan

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The front page of the Wednesday, September 7, 2011 New York Times makes for macabre reading. After thousands of American military deaths, hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths, and trillions of dollars spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, American military commitments in those countries are not about to end any time soon. But what is sure to end next month, as the NYT reports, is the cash assistance that 11,000 poor families in Michigan receive.

Over the decade that the U.S. has been sinking its blood and treasure fighting the unending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 2.4 million more American children's families sank under the poverty line, an 18% increase in this tragic number. While Michigan taxpayers help pay for plans to permanently station thousands of security contractors to protect American diplomats and civil servants headed to Iraq in what will become the largest U.S. Embassy on earth, Jeananne Bishop, a poor Michigander washes her hair with laundry detergent because she cannot afford shampoo.

Almost a quarter of Michigan's children live in poverty today. This is up by 14% over the duration of the Iraq/Afghanistan wars. While not setting any time limits for funding the presence of American troops in Iraq or Afghanistan, Congress has set a Federal lifetime limit of five years on cash assistance to America's needy.

The hollowing out of social safety nets in Michigan is mirrored throughout America. And its impact is hugely magnified by a global economic recession that itself shows no signs of ending. This situation is at the same time callous, unethical, toxic, and un-American. It cannot be allowed to continue.

Yes there are people who take advantage of social safety nets, and have perfected the art of living on the government dole. There will always be people who try to game the system, just look at the recent shenanigans on Wall Street. But most Americans, on Wall Street or Main Street, do not behave in this manner, not in my experience any way. Yet, the future health and ability to survive in this catastrophic recession, of an increasingly broad cross-section of Americans has been compromised by limiting the amount of aid they can receive. It is simply not right to do this while continuing to spend over $200 billion annually in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A few months ago, while doing research in Brussels for my book on NATO, I talked to one of the Alliance's key military commanders, a European. At the end of our conversation he told me that he considers himself to be as great an admirer of America as it is possible to find. "But," he said, "You are now balanced on the edge of a precipice; with your economy, your society, and your civil structure close to a breaking point. You have been at war nonstop for almost two generations. It is time to stop these military involvements and rebuild your economy and your society before it is too late."

I was reminded of this conversation as I read the New York Times yesterday. It is time to heed this wise military man's advice. It is time to stop the unending wars and withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan lock, stock, and barrel. Before we slide down the precipice, and it is too late.