Despite my own personal vote, Congress recently approved additional funding to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that seem to have no end. It is a sad reality because even as our combat troops are leaving Iraq, we continue to wage war in Afghanistan, making it now the nation’s longest military conflict, even longer than Vietnam.
I strongly support President Obama’s policies, particularly his historic initiative to extend health care coverage to millions of Americans, an effort which I helped design and move to passage in Congress. The President’s economic stimulus not only saved the country from a total collapse into a depression, it created and saved millions of jobs and started the beginnings of a recovery. Nearly $300 million has been funneled by the program into my Congressional district alone.
The devastating oil spill in the Gulf, which the President has handled as well as anyone could, has highlighted our need for a new energy policy, as pointed out earlier by President Obama. It also points up the nation’s vulnerability with respect to alternative petroleum sources, including those in the Middle East and Central Asia.
I cannot challenge the President’s handling of the war in Iraq, where he was left with few options after inheriting the conflict from the previous administration. I support his intentions to withdraw, but I’d like to see it happen sooner. In my view, no additional tax dollars should be appropriated for hunkering down in Iraq and Afghanistan, where taxpayers have already spent over $1 trillion. That is why, despite my unequivocal support for our troops, I voted against the additional funding. From here on, all expenditures should be for one purpose: to safely bring our brave and exhausted troops home.
And we must never undertake something as serious as war without a sense of shared sacrifice among the American people. That is why I have introduced a bill in Congress to reinstate a draft, both for military and other national service, during wartime. The previous president made no such demand for sacrifice in the run-up to the war in Iraq, instead pushing through a destructive tax cut that primarily benefited the richest among us at a cost to our economic security and stability that we all continue to pay every day.
As a Korean War combat veteran who understands what our service members put on the line every day, I must ask: Would those whose votes authorize the President to send our brave young men and women into war be so quick to accede if they knew that it could be our sons and our daughters called upon to enter harm’s way?
The 5,400 families who have lost loved ones in these wars – 4,400 in Iraq, and 1,000 in Afghanistan, where monthly casualties are climbing fast – and the 2 million others who have served – nearly half for more than one tour of duty – do not have be told about sacrifice for the country we love. Medical advances have allowed many more troops to survive serious head injuries, but post traumatic stress disorder and suicides have increased dramatically.
Again in this war, troops recruited from large urban communities and economically depressed small towns, carry the heaviest burden of service. Financial incentives to enlist have reached as much as $40,000 which, combined with the economic recession, have made for record recruiting results.
While the longest in our history, the Iraq and Afghan wars are far from the bloodiest. The media coverage has receded from our newspapers and television screens in large part because so few Americans have a stake in the war or any reason for concern about the fate of the men and women who have served.
I believe our nation’s leaders would be forced to think long and hard before embarking on questionable wars if every family felt that their sons or daughters were at risk–or subject to be placed in harm’s way.
Whether in Afghanistan, or any future conflict, the test is whether Congress– in supporting a war policy–is willing to require all eligible residents of this great country to make a contribution–to put their own children at risk.
In other words, in order to fulfill one’s moral responsibility to this democracy, anyone who supports this, or any war, should also support a compulsory military draft.
Congressman Charles Rangel represents the 15th Congressional District in Harlem, New York, an office that he has held since 1971.