Current debate over the president’s most recent troop surge in Iraq has brought into focus the importance of the Defense Department’s Fiscal Year 2008 budget. While debate over Bush’s current supplemental request for funding operations in Iraq and Afghanistan continues on the House floor this week, the House Budget committee meets today to discuss the defense budget for next year.
Center for American Progress Senior Fellow P.J. Crowley released a report last month entitled Lost Opportunities: Bush Defense Spending is Misplaced that outlines key dimensions of U.S. national security spending that Congress must consider as it decides on the 2008 defense budget.
Iraq now consumes almost twice as much funding as is allocated for homeland security, diplomacy, and international assistance combined. The current stubborn and single-minded focus on Iraq has meant that these other vital sectors of our security have been neglected. There is little doubt that spending in Iraq, which now exceeds $8.4 billion each month, could be invested in other areas, including: better intelligence gathering; improved border security; protection of critical infrastructure; and a system of national preparedness and response that failed miserably after Hurricane Katrina. A recent Center report, Time to Act, provides a number of recommendations and investments to strengthen homeland security.
The diversion of resources to Iraq also saps our ability to handle international challenges such as enhancing peacekeeping efforts elsewhere in the world, bolstering weak and failed states, eradicating pandemic flu, extending and improving counterterrorism efforts, and ending genocide in Darfur.
Perhaps most surprisingly, we are spending more than five dollars in Iraq for every one dollar in Afghanistan, despite the fact that Afghanistan is where the 9/11 plot originated and Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are still functioning in a veritable safe haven along the Afghan-Pakistan border. The crisis in Afghanistan is deepening, but with a shift of funds and forces the U.S. could bring peace to the country and the region.
As it considers the 2008 Defense Department budget, Congress should focus on the opportunity costs of our open-ended and expanding military commitment to Iraq. The Bush administration’s request for $145 billion in bridge funding in Iraq for next year is just a down payment. Congress must focus on the trade-offs involved in the president’s existing and failing strategy—his stubborn refusal to change course in Iraq means that fewer resources are available to support a more balanced approach.
We need stronger homeland security, better intelligence, real diplomacy, and the ability to intervene before challenges become crises. But this can only happen with a troop reduction rather than escalation in Iraq, which will enable a greater investment in other critical national security areas, particularly Afghanistan.
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