"War Isn't Free: Pay Your Taxes Teapartiers" reads one of the many ridiculous, witty and silly signs at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Among all of the messages out there this weekend, which were mostly macro-social commentaries, this one hits on the missing link of the midterm election politics: war. Lest we forget, war is definitely not free, but more to the point: we are at war. And I do not mean the culture war that has been clouding up every minute of our days during this election cycle. I am referring to the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. When we consider that modern war certainly doesn't end with the down turn of combat (Iraq) and that combat is the less effective means to the end (Afghanistan and Pakistan), it is clear that "endless war" foreign policy must be figured into our national economic policy debate. But that is not on the agenda this campaign cycle.
None of our local candidates for national office are talking about the war as a foreign or economic policy, let alone campaigning on any particular steadfast position. Aside from a few local candidates trying to get out the vote with our over-burdened veterans, the wars have not been major campaign issue by and large, despite it being fruitful ground for galvanizing political support due to the fact that it is an increasingly unpopular issue for Americans. All the major issues of this campaign cycle (unemployment, deficit spending, taxes, health care reform, national security) are, in fact, about how the government is going to spend our money. And there is no discussion of the $4 trillion and rising spent on our wars.
Now numbers are tricky -- a trillion can be cheap and so can the $800 billion that props up our national economy. But, how about casualties? The Washington Post's project "Faces of the Fallen" counts 5,710 fatalities from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom combined as of October 3, 2010. There is, of course, no reliable count on the number of Afghani, Iraqi and Pakistani troops or civilians killed during these years. And time just rolls on. A mere month ago, October 7 marked the ninth anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. On that day, US bombers and submarines began the longest ongoing war in US history. And from what we can tell from recently leaked reports, the wars are not the mechanically clean and efficient tools of foreign policy that we had hoped.
All politics are local. But so are all wars. We are seeing that Americans are bringing the war home with them quite literally. Four suicides last week alone at Fort Hoodshow the devastating effects endless war is having on our Americans in uniform and our communities. Time magazine reported in August that multiple deployments are causing veterans to be six times more likely to kill themselves. Domestic violence is also a known risk for veteran families. These too are pressing cultural and social issues for American families. But again, the only thing being truly talked about in relation to war is the so-called "arbitrary" deadline of July 2011 to draw down troops in Afghanistan.
How do two wars become tabled issues for national debate? Politics. President Obama campaigned on his anti-war chops but then escalated the war earlier this year, sending an additional 30,000 US troops into Afghanistan. When it comes to perpetual war politics, Democrats and Republicans don't have a game changing leg to stand on. Despite Americans "enduring freedom" for nine years, politicians continue to refuse to fight for the freedom from war that has been overwhelmingly called for. Unfortunately, when Americans go to the polls today, any lever they pull will be for a candidate who sees no end in sight for our wars.