Dear Mr. President:
My wife, our daughter, and I supported you in 2008, not only with votes but with contributions. Mind you, my wife is a fiscal conservative, and we almost never make political donations, but in your case, we made an exception. Our daughter even attended your victory celebration at Grant Park in Chicago, on November 5, 2008 (see squiggly photo above). Additionally, I have kept my “Yes we can!” and other stickers from your 2008 campaign on the back of my car all this time… but I will confess, with a little less pride now than before.
Now my wife and I, and many others who held out great hope for our country at the time of your election, feel disappointed. (Our daughter less so–she still “hearts” you, and so do I, but my wife and I still feel terribly disappointed on certain issues of importance to us.)
Mr. President, do you remember what you said at Grant Park, and on the campaign trail? Do you remember about global warming, about the poor and the middle class, about the foolishness of waging endless wars overseas when our nation is facing bankruptcy?
My wife and I–and, I think, most people around the world–would love to see more of the statesman we elected, with more of the audacity of hope, starting with the audacity to defy the military-industrial complex, as Bill Clinton did, and lived to tell.
In all the kerfuffles regarding the debt ceiling and balancing the budget, I have rarely heard military budgets being placed on the table. The Republicans want to cut government spending; the Democrats want to raise taxes. Surely we must do some of both. But I almost never hear anything about the many billions that we spend on military bases and operations overseas.
Mr. President, you are the Commander in Chief of our armed forces. This is one area where you have the authority to save us billions every month.
We are now throwing around ten billion dollars a month into Afghanistan, where a corrupt government is hated by its own people, while Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations are regrouping elsewhere. We spend billions every year on Pakistan, a country that sheltered Bin Laden and supports our enemies in Afghanistan. And what is the current total on the tab we’re running in Iraq?
Clearly we are bankrupting our nation to maintain at least three military operations overseas, along with (by some counts) a thousand military bases in foreign lands. I have heard estimates that each soldier we station overseas costs taxpayers around a million dollars a year. How many of our best and brightest do we now have stationed overseas, at backbreaking cost to our taxpayers, while at home schools are closing, bridges are crumbling, basic needs are being unmet for millions of people? The suffering in our nation right now really is terrible. Many have lost hope, and many more are angry and getting angrier. If you do not change course, you will almost certainly lose the next election.
I believe there is still hope for your legacy, President Obama, but that hope lies in your mustering the courage to pursue domestic priorities over military ones.
Right now the economies of China, India, and Brazil are expanding rapidly, while we teeter on insolvency. Maybe we can learn from those countries. How many foreign bases do the Chinese have in different hemispheres? How many navies and airbases have the Indians flung into distant countries? Yet both countries have taken hundreds of thousands of American jobs.
U.S. history is replete with examples of failed or misguided overseas adventures and involvements. There were wars of choice such as Vietnam and Iraq, as well as wars by proxy such as our support of mujaheedin fighting the USSR in Afghanistan or of the Contras fighting Sandinistas in Nicaragua. In every case, the U.S.A. has been seen by many in the world as manipulating, meddling, and sabotaging their efforts to live the way they choose. We have outraged and offended friend and foe alike. We’re like a drunken elephant rampaging around the world, and what do we have to show for all our explosions and assassinations?
In many cases, our meddling has damaged more than our reputation. Let us not forget that Osama Bin Laden was trained by our own C.I.A. to right the Russians, or that Saddam Hussein was once our ally against Iran, or that the invasion of Iraq actually made Iran stronger. In each case, one could argue that we shot ourselves in the foot.
I think it’s safe to say, Mr. President, with the wisdom of hindsight, that in many cases we would be better off today if we had left other countries well enough alone, except for engaging with them in trade to our mutual benefit.
We have had troops stationed in Japan and Western Europe since the end of World War II. We have had troops stationed in South Korea since in the 1950s. On many occasions, people in those countries have asked us to leave. Maybe now is the time to listen to them.
It is time to face reality: the world has changed. The Cold War is over. The Europeans have formed the EU. They can deal with the Russians. India can deal with Pakistan. The South Koreans can deal with the North Koreans. The Japanese and the Vietnamese (once former enemies, of course) can deal with China. The Arab Gulf states can deal with Iran.
Let’s deal with our own problems, here at home.
July 11, 2011