Medea Benjamin is cofounder of the women-led peace group CODEPINK and the human rights/fair trade group Global Exchange.
On Tax Day, Tea Party members from around the country will descend on the nation’s capitol to “protest big government and support lower taxes, less government and more freedom.” CODEPINK, a women-led peace group advocating an end to war and militarism, will be sending some representatives to begin a dialogue. While we come from the opposite end of the political spectrum and don’t support the goals and tactics of the Tea Party, there is an area where we are seeking common ground, i.e. endless wars and militarism.
As Tea Partiers express their anger at out-of-control government spending and soaring deficits, we will ask them to take a hard look at what is, by far, the biggest sinkhole of our tax dollars: Pentagon spending. With the Obama administration proposing the largest military budget ever, topping $700 billion not including war supplementals, the U.S. government is now spending almost as much on the military as the rest of the world combined.
Perhaps the Tea Party and peace folks—unlikely allies—can agree that one way to shrink big government is to rein in military spending. Here are some questions to get the conversation going:
· At the Southern Republican Leadership Conference on April 10, Cong. Ron Paul—who has a great following within the Tea Party—chided both conservatives and liberals for their profligate spending on foreign military bases, occupations and maintaining an empire. “We’re running out of money,” he warned. “All empires end for financial reasons, and that is what the markets are telling us today….We can do better with peace than with war.” Do you agree with Congressman Paul on this?
· Every taxpayer has already spent, on average, a staggering $7,367 for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama is now sending another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, with a price tag of one million dollars per soldier per year. Opposition to these wars ranges from liberal Cong. Dennis Kucinich and conservative Tea Party leader Sheriff Richard Mack. During a Congressional vote to end the war in Afghanistan that was defeated but got bipartisan support, Rep. Dennis Kucinich said, "Nearly 1000 U.S. soldiers have died. And for what? Hundreds of billions spent. And for what? To make Afghanistan safe for crooks, drug dealers and crony capitalism?" Do you think Congress should turn off the war spigot and bring out troops home?
· The Cold War has been over for 20 years, yet the U.S. government maintains 800-plus bases around the world with troops stationed in 148 countries and 11 territories. Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan asks, “How we can justify borrowing hundreds of billions yearly from Europe, Japan and the Gulf states -- to defend Europe, Japan and the Arab Gulf states? Is it not absurd to borrow hundreds of billions annually from China -- to defend Asia from China?” Should we begin to dismantle this global web of bases?
· Far and away the largest recipient of US foreign aid is Israel, a wealthy country (the 11th wealthiest in the world) that gets $3 billion a year from Uncle Sam with no strings attached and no accountability. We also give the repressive Egyptian government over a billion dollars a year to buy their support for a Middle East peace plan that is going nowhere. Are you in favor of continuing this taxpayer largesse to Israel and Egypt?
· An area where Pentagon spending has mushroomed is the payment of private security contractors. While many soldiers who risk their lives for their country struggle to support their families, private security company employees can pocket as much as $1,000 a day. High pay for contract workers in war zones burdens taxpayers and saps military morale. Moreover, military officers in the field have said contractors often operate like "cowboys," using unnecessary and excessive force that has undermined our reputation overseas. Cong. Jan Schakowsky introduced the Stop Outsourcing Security Act that would phase out private security contractors in war zones. Do you support that?
· Experts on the left and the right say we could cut our military budget by 25%, including closing foreign bases, winding down the wars, and ending obsolete weapons systems, without jeopardizing our security. Do you agree? If we could make significant cuts to the military budget, how should those funds be reallocated? To pay down the debt? Increase security at home? Rebuild our infrastructure? Stimulate the economy through tax breaks?
We are not naïve to think that it would be easy for the Tea Party and the peace movement to work together. Our core values are different. We have had our battles in the past. We would certainly part ways in terms of how to redirect Pentagon funds, with progressives wanting more government investment in healthcare, jobs, clean energy and education—which is exactly what the Tea Party opposes.
But building peace means reaching out to the other side and trying to find common ground even with those people whose beliefs contradict so many of our own. If the Tea Party is really against runaway government spending, then certainly we can work together to cut a slice out of the military pork that is bankrupting our nation. In extending the olive branch to talk about war, the conversation can hopefully be enlightening on other issues as well, such as banks run amok and undue corporate control of our government.
Who knows what kind of potent brew could emerge when folks on the left and the right—both alienated by a two-party system that doesn’t meet our needs—sit down for tea?
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