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Archive for May, 2010

Posted by Josh Mull on May 25th, 2010

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

Congratulations media, you’ve had a very successful couple of weeks. Your control over the public discourse is strong. Rand Paul’s cretaceous values are balanced and justified by saying there’s not a lot of black folks in Kentucky. A former Navy admiral and current US congressman is a Washington outsider. And to complete the hat trick, you scored the complete partisan insurgency narrative. That means you get to trash both parties as going through some kind of ideological purge. Too progressive! Not conservative enough! What does that mean, and what does it have to do with actual issues and real policy? Who cares, right? Bor-ing! You completely blocked the issue of the war in Afghanistan.

Now this is a big accomplishment, for sure. But you’ve made a lot of good people fighting for real change look like jerks for carrying water for your narrative, so you’re going to want to protect it very carefully. Accordingly, here are a couple things you should avoid in your narrative. Moving forward with the idea that the war supporting candidates you choose to cover are somehow against the status quo is going to be very tricky, so make sure to follow these instructions explicitly. We can’t blow the whole operation and have everybody actually engaged in civics, Western Civilization would collapse. With that, here are your marching orders: (more…)

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Posted by Peace Action West on May 25th, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) says we need a timeline for withdrawal from Afghanistan

The word from DC is that the Senate will vote on the war funding bill in the next couple of days. Senator Russ Feingold plans to introduce an amendment requiring the president to develop a timetable for withdrawal from Afghanistan, based on the legislation he and Rep. Jim McGovern have introduced in the Senate and House. Sen. Feingold put out a press release today about his intention to offer the amendment:

“A large, open-ended, expensive military presence in Afghanistan is not the way to defeat al Qaeda,” Feingold said.  “Rather than pouring so much of our money and resources into one country that isn’t even al Qaeda’s base, we should develop a timetable to redeploy our troops from Afghanistan so we can focus on going after al Qaeda’s global network.”

The amendment mirrors the Feingold-McGovern-Jones legislation and would require the president to provide a plan and timetable for drawing down our forces in Afghanistan and identify any variables that could require changes to that timetable.  The amendment would not require the president to redeploy troops.  Congress has appropriated $299.6 billion for the war in Afghanistan and related operations to date (FY01-FY10).  This supplemental bill includes another $30 billion for Afghanistan.  The total cost to date of both Afghanistan and Iraq is over $1 trillion.

The House Appropriations Committee will mark up their version of the bill Thursday afternoon, and the House might manage to squeeze in a vote before the Memorial Day recess. Rep. McGovern also plans to offer an amendment based on the timeline legislation. Because the supplemental has been loaded up with important programs unrelated to the war in Afghanistan, Peace Action West has been pushing for a separate vote on the war funding, so representatives can express their opposition to the war with a clean vote and then support the other programs like Haiti relief without compromising on their views on the Afghanistan strategy. Our supporters in San Francisco have been contacting Speaker Pelosi to support the split, and we sent this letter to her staff last week. The signs are still good that such a split vote might happen in the House.

This could be our last big push in both the House and the Senate. We must demonstrate that momentum against the war in Afghanistan is growing in Congress. If you haven’t yet, click here to take action and tell your senators and representative to vote no on the funding and support the McGovern/Feingold bill.

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Posted by on May 25th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

When McChrystal was bulldozing his surge through the White House, some people – notably Karl Eikenberry – forecast it would be a disaster. Eikenberry is looking increasingly prescient:

a tour last week of Marjah and the nearby Nad Ali district, during which McClatchy had rare access to meetings between McChrystal and top Western strategists, drove home the hard fact that President Barack Obama's plan to begin pulling American troops out of Afghanistan in July 2011 is colliding with the realities of the war.

There aren't enough U.S. and Afghan forces to provide the security that's needed to win the loyalty of wary locals. The Taliban have beheaded Afghans who cooperate with foreigners in a creeping intimidation campaign. The Afghan government hasn't dispatched enough local administrators or trained police to establish credible governance, and now the Taliban have begun their anticipated spring offensive.

"This is a bleeding ulcer right now," McChrystal told a group of Afghan officials, international commanders in southern Afghanistan and civilian strategists who are leading the effort to oust the Taliban fighters from Helmand.

"You don't feel it here," he said during a 10-hour front-line strategy review, "but I'll tell you, it's a bleeding ulcer outside."

Throughout the day, McChrystal expressed impatience with the pace of operations, echoing the mounting pressure he's under from his civilian bosses in Washington and Europe to start showing progress.

Progress in Marjah has been slow, however, in part because no one who planned the operation realized how hard it would be to convince residents that they could trust representatives of an Afghan government that had sent them corrupt police and inept leaders before they turned to the Taliban .

McChrystal knows the clock is ticking, telling one officer "We don't have as many days as we'd like."

He wrote the timetable himself, saying he had a 12 month window to turn the 9 year occupation of Afghanistan, which has gotten more deadly every year, into some kind of Kumbaya Moment. He said he could do it if he were given the resources – more troops – and he was given them. If that window closes with matters as bad as before, then he is the one who has to take the blame.

But seriously, is he going to excuse failure by claiming that "no one could have anticipated" that his vaunted "government in a box" was only a container of foam peanuts? Really?

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Posted by on May 24th, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

I'm a bit conflicted about this one. One one hand, it shows that Karzai is as venal and casually corrupt a politician as any who walk The Hill, on the other I'm leary of making Karzai the Judas Goat for a misconceived occupation that the US got itself into and should find its own reasons for getting out of. Blaming the Afghans for the American and allied occupation's failure is parochial at best, douchebaggery at worst.

However, this is too interesting to pass up.

AFGHAN President Hamid Karzai's attempt to kickstart a peace process with the Taliban has been delayed again by angry MPs who have threatened to boycott a national gathering intended to establish the ground rules for talks.

The ''peace jirga'' of representatives from around the country had been due to convene in Kabul on May 2, but was postponed while Mr Karzai made a high-profile trip to Washington.

It had been rescheduled for this Saturday, but government and diplomatic sources say it has been delayed again after parliament flexed its muscles over Mr Karzai's failure to send cabinet nominees for the approval of MPs.

… The peace jirga is being touted as one of the critical political events of the coming year. But privately many diplomats say it is likely to be a non-event, during which the delegates will struggle to agree on the hugely controversial issues involved, such as whether the Taliban should be invited to share power or whether the constitution should be amended.

Afghan politicians have also criticised the event for not being truly representative. ''They are hand-picked by governors who were picked by the President. These representatives will simply say yes to whatever [Mr Karzai] wants,'' said Fauzia Kufi, an MP from northern Afghanistan.

Western diplomats who have seen the list of 360 tribal leaders invited to represent the districts say there is a strong pro-Karzai bias. One source said much of the delegation from the critical province of Kandahar would be led by Mr Karzai's notoriously corrupt half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, and most members were on the President's re-election campaign team.

Given that Karzai is stacking the deck, we can expect the Jirga to come out in favor of his plan to reconcile with the Taliban, even its leadership, somehow. That will likely mean eventual peace between the Karzai government and the Taliban and a relieved rushing for the exits by the West. But it's also likely to mean a possible new Karzai/Taliban coalition will be faced with strong opposition from those who feel left out of their deal – with a potential for further violence inherent in that divide.

However, new factional violence between those who perceive themselves to be winners and losers from the Allied occupation was always on the cards, no matter how long before that occupation ended. I strongly believe that, like Iraq, the people of Afghanistan should be allowed to determine their own fates and if they decide to do that at gunpoint then that too is their business.

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Posted by on May 22nd, 2010

From our partners at

By Steve Hynd

Last time President Obama spoke to a West Point graduating class, it was to announce his decision to back General McChrystal's hard-pushed surge, despite the – now seen as all too accurate – misgivings of the likes of Karl Eikenberry. The consensus of opinion then was that Obama's speech stank on ice, in a very Bush-like way.

One year on, Obama has returned to West Point to give a speech to the ninth class to graduate from there during the Great War on Terror - and his speech hasn't improved any as he tried to defend his backing of McChrystal's escalation.

Speaking before about 1,000 cadets — many of whom will be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan — Obama cited continuing threats to the U.S. by violent extremists while proclaiming that American intervention has “brought hope” to the Afghan people.
“The war began only because our own cities and civilians were attacked by violent extremists who plotted from that distant place, and it continues only because that plotting persists to this day,” Obama said in prepared remarks at the military academy in upstate New York.

I'm sure certain that Obama gets briefings every day, and that those briefings inform him that there's no Al Qaeda in Afghanistan any more, that Al Qaeda and the various varieties of Taliban are not joined at the hip, that Al Qaeda's closest Taliban allies, like AQ itself, is now headquartered in and mostly concerned with Pakistan. Yet in front of 1,000 young Americans who will be asked to lay down their lives, if needed, for their nation – he lied.

I'm also sure that his briefings tell him that a vast majority of the residents of Kandahar would prefer that their "hope" not be brought at gunpoint, but by reconcilliation – yet McChrystal's summer offensive operation, campaign process gesture will proceed there anyway. And that most Afghans beyond Kandahar would prefer that too. And that in any case the Kandahar gesture will now only begin after the 12 months that McChrystal said was the crucial period in Afghanistan, raising questions about the general's competence and honesty. Yet in front of 1,000 young Americans who will be asked to lay down their lives, if needed, for their nation, he mentioned none of this – he lied by ommission.

Obama recommitted himself to Bush and Cheney's "long war" and repeated Bush's tale that "they" hate us for our freedoms as he told those 1,000 young officers that the war on Terror would be the primary challenge for the forseeable future, then admitted: "al Qaeda and its affiliates are small men on the wrong side of history. They lead no nation. They lead no religion."

If Obama thought there was a disconnect between a nation having to spend 44% of the world's arms money to fight "small men" and his statement that "at no time in human history has a nation of diminished economic vitality maintained its military and political primacy,” then he didn't mention it.

Global%20spending%20graph Perhaps he thought those 1,000 young officers couldn't handle the truth.

And, in another egregious lie, Obama repeatedly said that America's dedication to freedom and justice would be what eventually won the war on terror even as his Justice Dept. successfully fought to deny detainees at Bagram, in Afghanistan, access to the universal right of habeas corpus. Even as the U.S. was forced to admit it runs secret prisons in Afghanistan where innocents have been tortured. Even as Afghan authorities issue an arrest warrant for a US special forces officer who has been running a secret militia death gang. 

And then, finally, the most heinous lie of all: "We know that America does not fight for the sake of fighting. We abhor war."

This is, if anyone should care to look at the history of the world since 1945 and the nations which have most been involved in wars, horse-puckey. As Josh Mull writes today:

The fundamental idea behind counterinsurgency is that war is the right tool for the job. It may look different and sound different, but it’s still war, still violently brutalizing a population, us and them, for isolated and selfish political ends.

Maybe if successive Presidents would stop lying to Americans for selfish political ends, the American love for reaching out to bomb someone would change. Obama's not going to be "the one" to do so, which is perhaps why the media and pundits have mostly ignored his latest West Point speech.

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Posted by Peace Action West on May 22nd, 2010

From our partners at Peace Action West

As I wrote yesterday, the Afghanistan war funding bill continues to get loaded up with popular and much-needed funding for programs like Haiti relief and oil spill cleanup. This creates a difficult dilemma for members of Congress who oppose the war but support these programs, especially as Republicans are threatening to vote against the package because of their opposition to the additional non-war funding. We saw this play out last year, when the White House and congressional leadership twisted arms to get antiwar Democrats to switch their no votes after Republicans defected en masse.

There are now reports that the congressional leadership is considering splitting the package into two votes—one for the war funding and one for the other provisions. This would allow members to vote their consciences on the war and demonstrate growing opposition to the current strategy in Afghanistan, while allowing the important funding for other programs to pass on its own merits.

To ensure that the split happens, we have been mobilizing our supporters in Speaker Pelosi’s district to call and email her office encouraging her leadership on splitting the funding. We also sent the below letter to her staff in San Francisco and Washington, DC.

On behalf of Peace Action West’s 50,000 supporters, I am writing to urge Speaker Pelosi to hold a separate vote on the $33 billion portion of the upcoming supplemental bill that directly funds the escalation in Afghanistan.

As Speaker Pelosi has correctly noted, voting on whether to continue a war is a vote of conscience. By combining funding for the escalation in Afghanistan with needed programs like Haiti relief and staving off teacher layoffs, members of Congress who oppose intensifying the military strategy in Afghanistan are put in a difficult position of voting in favor of funding for a war that they believe is strategically and morally wrong. Splitting the funding bill into two votes would allow a clean vote for those representatives who want to register their opposition to the strategy as well as passage of the needed funding in the other parts of the bill.

After more than eight years of war in Afghanistan, our supporters (and many other Americans) have serious questions about what our billions of tax dollars are funding in Afghanistan. Casualty rates are increasing for both American troops and Afghan civilians. Civilians are fleeing Marja because they do not feel protected, even after an intensive American effort to secure the area. Meanwhile, we have seen terrorist threats to the US thwarted through smart intelligence work and policing. Rather than throwing more money at a failing strategy, our supporters want to see investment in a smarter and more cost effective approach based on diplomacy, effective development, and targeted civilian counterterrorism efforts. These people deserve to have their voices represented in Congress with a clean vote on the $33 billion war funding portion of the bill.

We appreciate Speaker Pelosi’s skeptical statements about the escalation in Afghanistan and her commitment to refrain from pressuring Democrats to vote in favor of war funding. We strongly encourage her to use her position as Speaker of the House to ensure that the voices of the American people who want to see a better approach in Afghanistan are heard through a clean vote on the war funding.

If you live in San Francisco, click here to tell Speaker Pelosi you want her to make sure there is a clean up or down vote on funding for the war. (Note: if you do not live in her district, your message will go to your own representative).

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Posted by on May 22nd, 2010

From our partners at

By Dave Anderson:

Many have made the very commonsensical observation that the more money that the US has pumped into its COIN efforts, the more money the insurgents seem to have.  This makes sense, the US way of war is very capital and cash intensive.  Wastage and 'acceptable' pilferage and corruption potentially overwhelms the cash flow that is realized by drug smuggling by the Taliban and other insurgent/anti-government groups in Afghanistan.  

Travels with Shiloh attended a COIN symposium earlier this month, and passed along both the slides for a great presentation on Soviet COIN in Afghanistan by Lester Grau and some observations from Mr. Grau's presentation.  One stuck out to me:

The loss rate of supplies coming through Pakistan is approximately 30%.  I knew it was high and had read reports of occasional raids but I had no idea it was routinely this high.  One third of supplies are being lost through destruction/theft?  Maybe the insurgents don’t need to sell heroin if they can convert even a portion of that 30% into cash.

The Pakistan supply route is only for non-lethal supplies (fuel, food, spare parts, construction supplies etc) as ammo, weapons and fighting vehicles are flown in (which does wonders for the US logistics bill). In 2009, the US estimated the insurgent groups that it was fighting in Afghanistan had annual operations budgets of $300 million dollars per year.  Marjah wasl a major financial profit center for the Taliban with annual cash flows of $2.5 million per year.  The Pakistan supply route loss rate is most likely being absorbed into the Pakistani local economy, but there is probably some excess cash that is getting skimmed and sent to Afghanistan, either directly, or in the form of ammunition and weapons.  And the larger the volume of supplies being sent, the more that can get skimmed off so that insurgencies which can get out spent 100:1 or better are able to live off the scraps of the counter-insurgency effort.

This is not limited to Afghanistan.  The US military and government funded and armed a significant part of the Iraqi insurgencies.  There was and still is plenty of cash sloshing around in Iraq due to US operations. That cash often fell into the hands of groups that were shooting at US forces as they controlled the relevant local actors.  Fabius Maximus passes along an interesting article from the Nation:

 The Community Stabilization Program (CSP), which cost $675 million over its three years of operation, has been lauded as one of the war’s most effective counterinsurgency operations. Launched in May 2006, it was USAID’s chief contribution to the Bush plan of rescuing a tailspinning military adventure with a civilian surge and increased focus on economic development.

… According to several senior military and government personnel, however, this vaunted program was responsible for sending millions of taxpayer dollars to Iraqi insurgents via a complex web of contractors and subcontractors….

 Intelligence reports made available to Colonel Fazekas indicated that the council in Kadhimiya was directing some contracts to militia members and that additional militia members were extorting “protection” bribes from legitimate contract winners. “We saw reports that a particular contractor was being blackmailed for a thousand dollars a day,” Fazekas says. “It was feeding [the insurgents'] ability to continue to resupply and fight against us…

The letter—obtained by The Nation through the Freedom of Information Act—presented new “sensitive and disturbing information from a well-placed source” advising that as much as 40 to 50 percent of CSP funds in Kadhimiya had gone to insurgents and corrupt officials. 

This problem is endemic to the US version of COIN as it is a doctrine that is used to prop up very weak governments that become " a dysfunctional state, prone to military coups, and constantly being threatened by competition among elites for a bigger piece of the pie.  It remains a country that for a variety of reasons will continue to tempt external actors to play out geopolitical games…" where the dysfunction is endemic corruption that continues to generate plenty of crumbs for insurgent groups to feed off of.  

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Posted by DownWithTyranny on May 22nd, 2010

From our partners at DownWithTyranny!

Congress has all kinds of funky caucuses, scores of them– and not just the big famous ones like the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Blue Dog Caucus, but even groups like the Addiction Caucus, the Azerbaijan Caucus, the Bourbon Caucus, the Physics Caucus, the Minor League Baseball Caucus, the Landscape Caucus, the Zoo and Aquarium Caucus, the Flat Tax Caucus and the Friends of Switzerland Caucus. According to Wikipedia, “A congressional caucus is a group of members of the United States Congress that meets to pursue common legislative objectives… The most common caucuses consist of members united as an interest group. These are often bipartisan (comprising both Democrats and Republicans) and bicameral (comprising both Representatives and Senators).” And as of this week, there’s a new one: The Out Of Afghanistan Caucus. This is how Tom Hayden explained it:

Representative John Conyers, frustrated by Congress’s inaction towards the Afghanistan War, is forming a new Out of Afghanistan Caucus to focus Congressional opposition to the continuing conflict. The action came as the death toll for American soldiers crept over the one
thousand mark and conservative estimates place the cost of Afghanistan-Iraq at more than $1 trillion.

According to a House source, the new caucus “creates a channel for members who are united against the war,” after months in which the Congressional Progressive Caucus has not taken an oppositional stance. “There is a lot more conflict among Democratic members who don’t want to oppose the Obama administration or who still believe this can be a humane war,” the source added.

There are seven members so far: John Conyers (D-MI), Maxine Waters (D-CA), Jim Moran (D-VA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Bob Filner (D-CA), Pete Stark (D-CA) and Alan Grayson (D-FL). And there’s plenty of room for support– first from among the nearly three dozen Democrats who stood up to Obama on June 16 last year when he continued Bush’s shameful and financially devastating policy of dishonestly funding wars with supplemental budgets (i.e.- borrowing against our grandchildren’s futures). Then there are the 88 co-sponsors of HR 5015, Representative Jim McGovern’s bill that would “require a plan for the safe, orderly, and expeditious redeployment of United States Armed Forces from Afghanistan.” That group even includes a small handful of conservative Republicans: John Duncan (TN), Timothy Johnson (IL), Walter Jones (NC), and Ron Paul (TX). Three new members signed on this week, Ann Eshoo (D-CA), John Tierney (D-MA) and Mary Jo Kilroy (D-OH).

I found this speech from last year about what’s wrong with the occupation of Afghanistan by Alan Grayson very compelling and I just watched it again. I thought you might like to as well– particularly because our country just had it’s deadliest day of the year this week as rebels attacked the main U.S. airbase, Bagram. Keep in mind while you’re watching it that a few days ago Oklahoma conservative, Senator Tom Coburn, said he intends to oppose– right up through filibustering– the Afghan war funding bill if it’s another supplemental like the ones he always voted for when Bush pushed them through. Now he says if the wars aren’t paid they shouldn’t be prosecuted. Most senators don’t agree and in all likelihood a cloture to shut him down would succeed. The best hope for ending this way is in the House, and the chances there are extremely slim until the general public gets activated. Are you activated? Watch Grayson:

LATE BREAKING NEWS: And last night Congressman Grayson introduced the “War Is Making You Poor Act” to limit the amount of funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to eliminate the federal income tax on the first $35,000 of every American’s income ($70,000 for married couples), and to cut the deficit by $15.9 billion. Right off the bat there’s bipartisan support with both progressive Democrats like Dennis Kucinich (OH), Barbara Lee (CA), John Conyers (MI), and Bob Filner (CA) signing on as co-sponsors, as well as conservative Republicans Ron Paul (TX) and Walter Jones (NC). And John Boehner, head of the House Republicans? He opposes it. When he talks about lowering taxes, he means lowering taxes of millionaires, not on the middle class and working families.

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Posted by Josh Mull on May 21st, 2010

I am the Afghanistan Blogging Fellow for The Seminal and Brave New Foundation. You can read my work on The Seminal or at Rethink Afghanistan. The views expressed below are my own.

There’s a lot of hate speech floating around out there. You’re used to it by now. The President is a black Muslim Nazi, LGBT destroy families, immigrants are disease-ridden criminals. It’s not just that these lies are offensive, though, is it? It’s that they hint at something darker, more wicked underneath. The argument isn’t that immigrants have diseases (they don’t), so let’s try to help them. It’s that they have diseases, so they’re filthy and must be hunted down and annihilated. The folks who spread this hate speech are not lying out of altruism or compassion, they’re lying as an expression of the dangerous, sociopathic capacities they possess. We know this from our foreign policy as well. It’s not just that the overt anti-semitism of terrorist videos will double you over with vomit, it’s the psycho undercurrent of suicide bombings that really keeps us awake at night.

I thought about this when I read Steve Hynd’s “COIN is like Soviet Communism?,” wherein he exposes counterinsurgency not as a strategy, but an ideology. He’s right, but it’s not just that counterinsurgency is a demented ideology, that it propagates vicious lies like obliterating a houseful of Afghan civilians is “protecting the population.” It’s that COIN is a symptom of an idea more primeval and dangerous: violence is the solution. The fundamental idea behind counterinsurgency is that war is the right tool for the job. It may look different and sound different, but it’s still war, still violently brutalizing a population, us and them, for isolated and selfish political ends. (more…)

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Posted by Just Foreign Policy on May 21st, 2010

From our partners at Just Foreign Policy

When President Obama visited Afghanistan in March, he assured U.S. troops that "the United States of America does not quit once it starts on something."

But according to Sunday’s New York Times, it ain’t necessarily so. When it comes to combating AIDS in the world’s poorest countries, the greatest nation on earth has apparently decided to cry "Uncle."

Clinics in Uganda are turning people away, on orders from the U.S. government. A U.S.-run program in Mozambique has been told to stop opening clinics.

Why? According to lying U.S. officials, we don’t have the money to maintain our commitment. Budgets are tight. We had to bail out Wall Street.

But the numbers on offer don’t make any sense. Michel Sidibe, executive director of Unaids, says there is a global shortfall of about $17 billion for controlling the epidemic. The expected U.S. share of such a shortfall would be about a third, or $5.6 billion. Meanwhile, Congress is about to be asked to fork over $33 billion in our tax dollars for more war in Afghanistan. This $33 billion would only pay for four months of the war, until the end of the fiscal year, when next year’s appropriation will become available.

So on an annual basis, we’re being asked to spend almost 20 times more on killing in Afghanistan than it is claimed that we don’t have to help stop Africa and Haiti from being decimated by AIDS.

Or, to put it another way: if we could end the war in Afghanistan, then every year we’d save $99 billion compared to the world in which the war continues. We could use $5.6 billion to pay what we owe on controlling the AIDS epidemic, and have $93.4 billion left for domestic job creation, tax cuts, going to the beach, whatever ya want.

read more

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