Afghanistan

America’s Mayors Speak Out on Afghanistan

In his speech last month announcing plans for a disappointingly small withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, President Obama declared,

America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home.

The elected leaders of our local municipalities could not agree more. In a resolution passed at the annual US Mayor’s Conference in Baltimore, the nation’s mayors have called on Obama to redirect funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to struggling American communities.  The resolution, which passed with an overwhelming majority, called to:

end the wars as soon as strategically possible and bring these war dollars home to meet vital human needs, promote job creation, rebuild our infrastructure, aid municipal and state governments, and develop a new economy based upon renewable, sustainable energy and reduce the federal debt.

This is the first time since the Vietnam War that the Mayor’s Conference has passed a resolution addressing U.S. foreign policy, when it then urged President Nixon to end the war within 6 months. While the current resolution is a bit more sedate, it sends a strong message to the administration that the American people are well aware of the connection between $4 trillion spent on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to date and the lack of funding for domestic programs and job creation here at home. In a country where 75 of 366 metropolitan areas expect to have double digit unemployment rates by the end of the year and 53% of its metropolitan areas expect levels over 8%, local communities are anxious to see not only their brothers and sisters but their tax dollars come home.

USCM President and mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa put it this way:

It’s time for Congress to get on with the serious business of legislating short and long-term solutions to our jobs crisis…. We need to stand for a new world order in federal spending. It’s time to bring our investments back home. We can’t be building roads and bridges in Baghdad and Kandahar, and not Baltimore and Kansas City. Not when we when we spend $2.1 million on defense every single minute. Not after nearly $1.2 trillion spent and over 6,000 lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ironically, the lead sponsor of the bill, Eugene, OR mayor Kitty Piercy was not able to attend the conference, explaining in an interview on Democracy Now:

the last three years, we’ve cut $20 million from our city budget. And when we’re asking our employees to take furlough days and make all kinds of sacrifices, I’ve really limited my travel to necessity.

Nonetheless, she has been outspoken in her promotion of local organizing to end the war:

I think the mayors of this country, who see everyday people every day and see how federal policies affect families’ lives and the struggles that people are having, I think they are just the voices that need to be heard and to join together to work hand in hand with our federal government to try to find a way to get this country back on track.

Obama’s planned drawdown is a small move in the right direction, but it is still completely out-of-step with the record number of Americans who want our troops home NOW. Reducing troop levels to 68,000 by the end of 2012 is simply not going to cut it. Last month we heard President Obama say,

Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times. Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource – our people. We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industry, while living within our means. We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy.

In the coming months leading up to the 2012 elections it will be up to us to hold him to such statements and be clear about what it will take to make them meaningful: a far more rapid, substantial and complete withdrawal of our troops from the region, and complete abandonment of a counterinsurgency strategy that has not and will not work.

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