To mark Tax Day, a bipartisan group of legislators and activists launched a campaign to show average Americans how much of their money was used this year to continue funding the Afghanistan war.
Progressive advocacy group Rethink Afghanistan created a Cost of War Calculator, which allows Americans to determine the amount of money they personally paid through taxes to continue funding the presence of US troops in Afghanistan. Along with several members of Congress, religious leaders and veterans, the campaign included a press conference and a chance for taxpayers to send their representatives IOU requests for the amount of their wages spent on the war, now entering its tenth year.
Bolstering the significance of Tax Day are the recent debates in Congress over federal budget proposals, as well as burgeoning presidential election campaigns on both sides. "I think the budget fights have drawn everyone's attention to how we're spending money here," said Derrick Crowe, political director at Brave New Foundation, which operates Rethink Afghanistan. "A lot of the time, when people are talking about the costs of war, there are these huge numbers - when you talk in terms of billions and trillions, people don't have a tangible understanding of what that means. With this [IOU] tool ... you'll be able to see what you paid. You'll be able to understand immediately what you could have spent."
The group of Congress members joining in the campaign include Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Arizona), Walter Jones (R-North Carolina), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-California) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-California).
"There are very few national needs that rise to the level of ending our costly, destructive and increasingly pointless wars and April 18 reminds us just where our money is going despite our own preference to bring our troops home," Grijalva said Thursday during a press conference. "This remains a moral, fiscal and national security disaster that is draining our treasury and for what? The American people have been asking that question for years without a satisfactory answer and I think it's time we answered them by bringing our troops home."
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California), who authored the Responsible End to the War in Afghanistan Act, called its costs "undeniable."
"[The] hidden costs to our returning veterans, our nation's standing abroad and lost opportunities to invest in job creation, education and quality healthcare here at home will affect us for generations to come," Lee said.
Also participating in the campaign is Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, former CIA officer and senior fellow at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies, the first think tank to oppose the war. "The basic problem that we face [in Afghanistan] is that we still don't understand the culture with which we're dealing," Shaffer said. "We've set ourselves up to be the bad guy ... what we're doing has no positive effect. We're making no headway."
Shaffer, who has alleged that the US Defense Intelligence Agency in 2000 mishandled intelligence that would later be linked with the 9/11 attacks, said that the Pentagon should not have allowed the US military to occupy Afghanistan. "The moment in time ... where we changed from counter-terrorism to counter-insurgency was a flawed decision," Shaffer said. "We have not been responsible in the use of force. We have to adopt a smarter strategy that costs about one-quarter of what it costs now."
Shaffer's opposition to the war also marks a growing trend among conservative politicians and activists, many of whom have begun to express their disapproval as well. One of the most notable examples is Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a prospective presidential candidate for the Republican Party, who recently said it was time for the US to re-evaluate its purpose in Afghanistan.
"Anybody who says you can't save money at the Pentagon has never been to the Pentagon," Barbour said in March during a speech at a meeting with the Scott County GOP in Iowa. "We can save money on defense and if we Republicans don't propose saving money on defense, we'll have no credibility on anything else."
Crowe also pointed to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll that showed 64 percent of respondents opposed the war. Between the survey and the upcoming presidential primaries, Crowe said, "there's no way that political support for the war holds up. When we're slashing popular programs, there is no reason that the Pentagon shouldn't be up for serious cuts."
According to the National Priorities Project, approximately 27 cents of every federal tax dollar help fund the Afghanistan war.