Now that the inauguration festivities have ended, the real work of the Obama administration's second term begins.
President Barack Obama's inaugural address was hailed by many as signaling a welcome commitment to an activist, progressive policy on inequality, immigration, climate change and more. Of course, the speech was reviled by many others for the same reason.
But among the many issues missing was any serious discussion of a new foreign policy — especially in the crisis zones of the Middle East and Central Asia, where Obama's first-term policies overwhelmingly failed.
What could an Obama 2.0 foreign policy look like?
Let's start with the Afghanistan war, which Obama escalated massively in the first year of his presidency. It's still a failure, if our definition of success has anything to do with making lives better for Afghans, or keeping us safer. It's time to end that war. Even Obama recognizes
that — but we have to end it much sooner than the deadline of the end of 2014.
Waiting another two years only means more war, more killing, more dead Afghans and more dead young U.S. soldiers. And we have to really end that war there — not replace soldiers with drone strikes that may seem "cheaper" and "safer" but will continue to kill Afghans from 40,000 feet in the sky. We need to end the U.S. war in Afghanistan once and for all, and bring all the troops home.
We also need to dramatically cut the military budget. That means really ending the wars and cancelling the anachronistic weapons systems now at the center of our foreign policy, and replacing them with real diplomacy.
Spending on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars since 2001 has reached more than $1.4 trillion. Albany taxpayers alone have paid more than $395 million for those wars. Imagine what that money could have been used for if it had stayed home instead. Just one possibility: it could have paid for 47,106 people to get health care for a year.
It costs a million dollars to keep one young soldier in Afghanistan for a year. Not because the soldiers are overpaid — many of them qualify for food stamps. But because of the costs of maintaining an occupying army in a land-locked country half a world away. If we brought home just one of those soldiers, we could hire her and 19 more former soldiers in good, middle-class $50,000 a year jobs, enough to support a family. That's 20 people with new jobs.
Wouldn't that make us safer?
The Pentagon now consumes more than half of federal discretionary spending of our tax money. We could reclaim almost $200 billion of that money just this year, to help end the deficit crisis. And far more important, we could to begin to reshape a nation and a world more secure and more peaceful by ending the war in Afghanistan, closing just a third of the U.S. military bases spread across Europe and Asia, drastically reducing our nuclear warhead arsenal, and scrapping some other obsolete and wasteful military programs.
Maybe we should consider taking a lesson from Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As World War II loomed, he called for an excess profit tax on military producers — to make sure the few didn't profit from the sacrifices of the many.
Today, over this decade of wars, the top five U.S. military manufacturers have seen their profits rise by 450 percent. Isn't it time for a new anti-profiteering tax on those industries and their CEOs?
We need a whole new kind of foreign policy — one based on diplomacy rather than war.