Spending for ag programs being lost to war effort

I'm not a pacifist, or anti military — far from it considering my family history. However, the current war in Iraq has reached a point of affecting us ordinary folks, our children and our children's children in a way that just cannot be ignored.

The war currently costs American taxpayers $3 billion a week, though an exact figure depends on which congressman or economist you choose to ask. Since the war started the U.S. debt owed to foreign creditors has jumped from $5.8 trillion to $8.9 trillion and counting as of July 18, 2007.

To put the war cost into perspective for farmers in the Southeast, roughly two hours of the war cost enough money to fund the storage and handling cost for peanuts — $74 million channeled to the war effort. One week of the war cost enough to subsidize biodiesel production for a year, making it available to farmers for less than $2 per gallon. One month of war cost enough to fund the agriculture commodities portion of the farm bill.

Though there is much debate over what will and won't happen with the 2007 farm bill, the one unified message is that there is a lack of money. Energy, conservation and specialty crops will likely get a bigger portion of the pie, and the pie is not growing in size, and more likely, will be getting smaller. Any potential increased spending for agriculture programs is likely to be lost to the war effort.

Every baby born in America in 2007 will owe nearly $35,000 as his or her share of the national debt. The $9 trillion or so owed to foreign countries will never be paid — at least not in U.S. dollars. The war in Iraq is directly responsible for $1 trillion in foreign debt and indirectly for at least that much.

The toll on the infrastructure of America's leading commodity — agriculture — is unknown. Suffice to say small to medium peanut processing plants that are casualties of reductions in funding from the Federal government will never reopen. Ditto the closing, reopening scenario for many small cotton gins in the Southeast.

From a human perspective the Iraq war needs to stop. Since the war began, the U.S. has lost 3,000 soldiers killed, plus another 600 U.S. non-combatants. Conservatively, over 75,000 Iraqis have died in the war. Over 100,000 U.S. soldiers have been wounded in the war. Many survived only due to technological advancement and near super-human heroics by Army, Marine and Navy medical corpsmen and doctors.

At the main U.S. military hospital in Europe, one of every 10 soldiers treated is treated for mental problems. The long-term affect, nor cost of releasing these soldiers back to American society, will likely never be known.

From a military perspective refereeing a civil war and rebuilding a country that can well afford to fix itself leaves many in the military doubting their role. Brandon Friedman, a veteran of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan probably states the case best from the military and political perspectives in the Aug. 18 Democratic Party radio address:

“I served as an infantry officer in the U.S. Army's 101st Airborn Division. In 2002, I led a platoon into Afghanistan to engage Taliban and al Qaeda forces. Barely a year later, I commanded troops during the invasion of Iraq and in the insurgency that followed.

“Like many in the military, I stayed away from politics while I was in the service — and I deliberately maintained my independence from either political party. But now I can no longer remain silent as our Commander-in-Chief continually mismanages and degrades the military I have come to love.

“I had the privilege of serving with many courageous men and women in uniform. And from the beginning, they have done their jobs admirably. But no matter what they do, they cannot solve the political problems in Iraq.

“I traveled to Washington, D.C. this week on behalf of my fellow veterans and delivered a clear-cut message to our representatives in Congress: The escalation of the Iraq war is failing and now the mission must change.

“President Bush is keeping our already over-extended troops in the middle of a civil war instead of deferring to military leaders who agree that we need to transition the mission to focus on a political solution, not a military one,” Friedman concludes.

The Bush administration is quick to classify anyone who opposes the war in Iraq as anti-American, supporting terrorism, aiding and abetting our enemies, endangering our service men and women in Iraq and a plethora of other undeserving epithets.

I don't understand the external or internal politics involved in leaving Iraq to settle its own problems. I do understand we cannot afford to continue fighting what seems to have no direct bearing on our welfare. It's easy to buy into the pro-war slogan of “Freedom isn't Free. Upon closer evaluation, it is difficult to understand how fighting and dying in Iraq is safeguarding our freedom.

I understand we haven't had a terrorist attack in the U.S. since the Iraq war started in 2003. Other than the homegrown terrorist attack by Timothy McVey on the Murrow Building in Oklahoma City, we haven't had any terrorist attacks of great magnitude before 911 either.

The bottom line is we can't afford this war. We can't afford to lose our ability to feed ourselves and much of the world. If the 2007 farm bill continues in the direction it's heading, in large part due to a lack of money created by the Iraq war, a large part of the agricultural economy in the Southeast is at great risk.

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