Gazette opinion: U.S. can't afford to wage wars and cut spending

2011-08-07T00:00:00Z 2011-08-19T16:45:12Z Gazette opinion: U.S. can't afford to wage wars and cut spending The Billings Gazette
August 07, 2011 12:00 am

Bringing America’s warriors home from Iraq and Afghanistan is the right thing to do. They have accomplished what they were assigned to do. Osama bin Laden is dead and al Qaida no longer uses Afghanistan as its home base. Both Iraq and Afghanistan have new regimes. The future of those countries must be decided by their own people.

Last week’s deal to cut federal spending adds urgency to the need for bringing our 126,000 deployed troops home faster. The deficit-reduction compromise that became law this week to prevent a U.S. default includes cuts to military spending. The law calls for saving $350 billion from the defense budget over 10 years.

But more cuts are probably in store. A 12-member deficit-reduction committee is supposed to recommend more cuts by year’s end. If it fails to do so or if Congress rejects its proposal, the new law will trigger more spending cuts, including $500 billion in additional national security reductions.

What will be cut?

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week that nothing is off the table. Not military health care, retirement or other benefits.

“If we’re going to cut spending, we have to go where the money is,” Mullen told several hundred troops gathered at Camp Victory outside Baghdad on Tuesday.

Camp Victory is scheduled to be closed soon, because the U.S. has committed to withdrawing all troops by year’s end. However, just last week the Obama administration commenced talks with Iraqi leadership about having 10,000 or so U.S. military personnel stay.

Mullen has said that the national debt is one of the biggest threats to national security. He promised the troops at Camp Victory that the Pentagon will ensure that people on the front lines get what they need to fight. He promised that cuts will be made carefully.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the United States budgeted spending of $51 billion this year alone on the Iraq War. The Afghan war budget for this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, is $119.4 billion. The amount spent on these two wars over the past decade far exceeds the defense cuts contemplated over the coming decade in the deficit-reduction law. War-related costs already total $1.29 trillion for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The wars have created and continue to expand U.S. obligations to American troops. Benefits are owed to the survivors of the thousands who died in war. Health care and disability compensation are owed to the tens of thousands wounded. Benefits are due hundreds of thousands who served honorably while putting their civilian careers and families on hold to fight for America.

To meet these obligations, the government must stop creating more obligations when it’s not absolutely necessary. It isn’t necessary for America’s national security to continue the occupation of Iraq or Afghanistan.

The sooner America brings troops home, the better our great nation will be able to meet its continuing obligation to those who have already served courageously through America’s longest wars.

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