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Rep. Kucinich on Afghanistan War: “We’re Acting Like a Latter Day Version of the Roman Empire”

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As President Obama unveils his plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan, we speak with Ohio Congress member Dennis Kucinich. “The United States is going deeper and deeper into debt,” says Kucinich. “We have money for Wall Street and money for war, but we don’t have money for work…for healthcare. We have to start asking ourselves, why is it that war is a priority, but the basic needs of the people of this country are not?” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Back in the United States, as protests are planned in cities across the country today, I’m joined now from Washington, DC, by Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich. He opposes the troop buildup in Afghanistan.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Congressmember Kucinich represents the Cleveland area. Your response to President Obama’s West Point address?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: First I’d like to respond to the voices of the Afghan people. It’s very clear they don’t want to be saved by us. They want to be saved from us. And President Obama’s escalation of the war, sending an additional 30,000 troops, will bring, as you pointed out, the total strength to about 100,000. That’s $100 billion a year. That doesn’t even include the private contractors we’ll be paying for, which adds it to about $160 billion a year.

It really begs the question about whether the nation building that we seek to do in Afghanistan would be better directed to rebuilding America, to creating jobs here, to rebuilding bridges here, instead of blowing them up in Afghanistan. I think our priorities are misplaced. And I think that all those who really support this president, really like him — and I like him — need to challenge him on this, because we can’t just let this go by the boards because we may happen to have some sympathetic feelings for the difficult task that he’s undertaken as president of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Kucinich, can you talk about the level of opposition in Congress right now? And explain what Congressman Obey has been talking about, the war tax.

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: Well, first of all, we have to — it will remain to be seen what the level of opposition is in the Congress. And I want to point out why. On October 8, 2009, the Congress of the United States passed a bill that authorizes the expenditure of $130 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The House actually preceded the President in making a statement about support for the war. Unfortunately, that bill was supported by all but fifteen members of my own party. So we’ll have to see whether or not Congress will take a stand against spending more money for this war, whether it’s an appropriation bill or a supplemental bill.

Now with respect to Congressman Obey and the proposal for a war tax, we’re already paying a war tax. A substantial amount of the tax dollars that Americans pay today go for paying for wars. And we don’t need to pay more. The point is well taken, and that is that we’re already paying more for war, we’re already spending more for a military buildup than any nation, as a matter of fact, than all the nations of the world put together. We’re in 130 countries.

I mean, you don’t think — you would think that we don’t have enough to do here at home. You would think that we don’t have 47 million Americans who go to bed hungry, 47 million Americans who don’t have any healthcare, 15 million Americans who are out of work, another ten million Americans whose homes are threatened with foreclosure, people going bankrupt, business failures. All these things are happening in our country, and we’re acting like a latter day version of the Roman Empire, reaching for empire while inside we rot. We have to challenge this, because our future as a nation is at stake. If we continue to militarize, we lose our civil liberties, we lose our capacity to meet our needs here at home.

AMY GOODMAN: Here’s what the President said about the cost of war, Congressman Kucinich, quote, “All told, by the time I took office, the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan approached a trillion dollars. Going forward, I’m committed to addressing these costs openly and honestly. Our new approach in Afghanistan is likely to cost us roughly $30 billion for the military this year, and I’ll work closely with Congress to address these costs as we work to bring down our deficit.” Your response?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: We’re borrowing money right now to be able to prosecute wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States is going deeper and deeper into debt. We borrowed money, or printed money, as the Fed may have it, to help finance $13 trillion in bailouts for Wall Street. You know, we have money for Wall Street and money for war, but we don’t have money for work. We have money for Wall Street and money for war, but we don’t have money for healthcare. We have to start asking ourselves, why is it that war is a priority, but the basic needs of the people of this country are not? And how are we getting the money to pay for the war? We’re borrowing it. We’re going deeper into debt. We’re mortgaging our future. We’re creating conditions where we’ll become less democratic, because we can’t meet the most essential needs of our people.

This needs to be challenged. And it needs to be challenged in a forthright way. And it can be challenged without making President Obama the issue. The issue is the war. The issue is America’s reach for empire. The issue is our inability to meet the needs of people here at home.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Kucinich, last night President Obama said, “I make this decision because I’m convinced our security is at stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” He said, “This is the epicenter of violent extremism practiced by al-Qaeda. It is from here that we were attacked on 9/11, and it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak.”

President Obama went on to say, “This is no idle danger, no hypothetical threat. In the last few months alone, we’ve apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror.” Do you know who he’s talking about?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: No, but I think that we should point out, America is appropriately involved in trying to push back against terrorism. Anti-terrorism takes many different poses. One of them is certainly intelligence gathering, cooperation with other nations, police work. Those are all legitimate things to do.

However, what’s happening is that al-Qaeda and its global jihadist agenda is being conflated with the Taliban, which are essentially a homegrown resistance that has been strengthened by the US occupation. We need to be very careful that we don’t use counterterrorism to justify counterinsurgency. They’re two different things, as the Taliban is not the same thing as al-Qaeda. Sooner or later, we’re going to have to deal with the Taliban, but the Taliban isn’t sponsoring global terrorism. And the suggestion of that is just not true.

And furthermore, I think it’s somewhat disturbing that the President used some language that was very similar to the language President Bush used that took us into Iraq. We’ve got to be careful about getting on this slippery slope to justifying our position in other countries based on fears of terrorism. We can meet the challenge of terrorism, but not if we spend all of the resources of our country in an adventure or continued adventure 10,000 miles away.

AMY GOODMAN: The war appropriations bill almost didn’t get passed. There was a lot of opposition in Congress. But what is your sense of what will happen now? I think that in the corporate media, in the mainstream media, there is little dissent. We just had FAIR on, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, who looked at the last ten months of op-ed pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post. With 59 percent questioning the war, it was something like 12 to 13 percent on those pages. Do you find, actually, on the media — I’ve seen you yesterday. I bumped into you. You were headed into Fox in Washington, DC — that you are making more common cause with those on the right who are actually saying that the struggle is here at home and that we shouldn’t be in Afghanistan spending this money?

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH: The answer to that is yes. And I think that we need to look for common cause with people with whom we may have a different way of looking at the world. I mean, I cite as an example Congressman Rohrabacher from California. Another example, Congressman Duncan. Congressman Chaffetz from [Utah]. They’re all challenging the war. The Cato Institute has issued what I think is a very reasoned approach towards getting out of Afghanistan. We need to look for allies across the boards here, and we have to get away from the old thinking that pigeonholes any of us into left/right, liberal/conservative. We’re all Americans. We ought to be talking about what’s best for America, without regard to which particular place we stand on a political spectrum. Sooner or later, we all meet in a place of concern about whether we can afford these continued military adventures and whether or not it’s time for us to start focusing on taking care of things here at home. This deficit is a real issue, Amy. We keep building it for war and Wall Street, while the interior of the United States is falling apart. And I think that it’s good that we can broaden a coalition.

I also want to say, the war — every war has kind of a headlong forward momentum. It’s very difficult to stop a war once it starts. And the forces of war don’t burn themselves out that quickly. War desires to be served and to be fed more bodies and more money, and we have to realize that it’s Congress that can put an end to the war, not the President. He’s not going to do that. The President made his statement. He’s accelerating the war. You can’t be in and out at the same time. But Congress has the constitutional responsibility under Article I, Section 8, to either start or end a war with its funding power. We have to put the pressure on Congress here to say, “Vote against any more funding.” Congress failed the test in October. They voted to authorize $130 billion more. But there’ll be more requests for appropriations. There will be requests for supplemental spending. And we need to rally the American people to say, “Let’s look at our priorities. Let’s get our priorities straight. Let’s create jobs.” You can’t have guns and butter at the same time in this country. We can’t afford both anymore. We have to start focusing on what’s the real security in America. Should be economic security, should be the security of a job, because joblessness is a weapon of mass destruction, in case anyone has forgot about it. So is poverty. And we have more Americans moving into poverty as a result of the misplaced priorities of our country.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Kucinich, we want to thank you for being with us. Congressman Kucinich ran for president against, well, then-Senator Obama. Congressman Kucinich represents the Cleveland area of Ohio.

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