Sunday, May 16, 2010

We are creating enemies faster than we can kill them

The 2010 U.S. Military Budget is $680 billion, larger than the GDP of Turkey, the 17th largest economy in the world. For fiscal year 2010, total defense spending will account for between 38 and 44% of our estimated tax revenue. The 2009 U.S. military budget was almost as much as the military spending of the rest of the world, and was approximately 9 times greater than the defense budget of the People’s Republic of China.

In addition, defense-related expenditures outside of the Department of Defense constitute between $216 billion and $361 billion in additional spending, bringing the total for defense spending to between $880 billion and $1.03 trillion in fiscal year 2010.

The recent invasions of Irag and Afghanistan have actually been funded by supplementary funding appropriations that are OUTSIDE the Department of Defense Budget. By the end of 2008, the United States had spent $900 billion on the direct costs of both wars, and the indirect costs (VA administration expenses involved in caring for the wounded) will eventually exceed the direct costs of the wars.

In recent years, the military has relied increasingly on unmanned drones to take out insurgents in both countries, a campaign that has been generally successful. Eventually, of course, the guys who are having bombs dropped on their heads are going to take offense. Regardless of how much we beef up our security both overseas and at home, they are going to try to find ways to retaliate.

On the evening of May 1, 2010, a young man named Faisal Shahzad drove a bomb-laden Nissan Pathfinder into Times Square in New York, and parked it at the curb. Fortunately, the bomb mechanism did not work as intended, and Mr. Shahzad was arrested before he could catch a flight to Dubai on Monday, May 8. Two days of intense questioning has brought out the fact that Mr. Shahzad had been trained by the Pakistani Taliban, precisely the groups that our drones have targeted.

Believe it or not, there is a MUCH better way of defeating the enemy than the course we have been following, and it’s primarily the actions of ONE man that have made it all possible.

In July 1992, Greg Mortenson's young sister, Christa Mortenson, died from a life-long struggle with severe epilepsy on the morning she had planned to visit the cornfield in Dyersville, Iowa, where the iconic baseball movie Field of Dreams was filmed.

In 1993, to honor his deceased sister's memory, Mortenson went to climb K2, the world's second highest mountain, in the Karakoram range of northern Pakistan. After more than 70 days on the mountain, Mortenson and three other climbers completed a life-saving rescue of a fifth climber that took more than 75 hours. The time and energy devoted to this rescue prevented him from attempting to reach the summit. After the rescue, he began his descent of the mountain and became weak and exhausted. Mortenson set out with one local Balti porter by the name of Mouzafer Ali to the nearest city, but he took a wrong turn along the way and ended up in Korphe, a small village, where Mortenson was cared for by the villagers while he recovered.

To pay the community back for their compassion, Mortenson said that we would build a school for the village. After a frustrating time trying to raise money, he eventually convinced Jean Hoerni, a Silicon Valley pioneer, to fund the Central Asia Institute, a non profit organization that has now funded a total of 131 schools in rural Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The school in Korphe was NOT the first school that Mortenson helped to establish. In fact, it took him more than 10 years before he was finally able to fulfill his promise to the people of the village.

Mortenson believes that education and literacy for girls globally is the most important investment all countries can make to create stability, bring socio-economic reform, decrease infant mortality, decrease the population explosion, and improve health, hygiene, and sanitation standards globally. Mortenson believes that "fighting terrorism" only perpetuates a cycle of violence and that there should be a global priority to "promote peace" through education and literacy, with an emphasis on girls' education. "You can drop bombs, hand out condoms, build roads or put in electricity, but unless the girls are educated, a society won't change," is an often-quoted statement made by Mortenson. Because of community "buy-in," which involves getting villages to donate land, subsidized or free labor ("sweat equity"), wood and resources, the schools have local support and have been able to avoid retribution by the Taliban or other groups opposed to girls' education.

Mortenson’s first book, Three Cups of Tea, was published in 2006, and was on the New York Times bestseller list for three years. It is now required reading at 100 college campuses in American, and it’s also required reading for members of the U.S. Military who are involved in counter-insurgency work in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

I finished reading his second book, Stones into Schools, about two days before the attempted bombing in Times Square, which really drove home the message that HIS way of doing things works a lot better than the brute force approach that failed our country so miserably in Vietnam (we dropped 864,000 tons of bombs during
Operation Rolling Thunder), and continues to be the less desirable way to resolving conflicts.

In Afghanistan, $20 will pay for a year of education for a first grader, and $340 will pay for 4 years of high school. It costs approximately $50,000 to build a school in rural Afghanistan or Pakistan, and pay for a teacher’s salary for 4 years after the schools opening. Since its founding, the Central Asia Institute has probably spent less than $10,000,000, which is approximately the cost of TWO unmanned drones.

In my opinion, education is ALWAYS a better solution than armed conflict. If we could somehow create 100 people just like Greg Mortenson, the world would never see another war, and THAT’S a thought that should bring a smile to your face!

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