I admit I get somewhat frustrated when I see these innocuous little bumper stickers: “Support our Troops”. It’s not that I am anti-military (actually I am an honorably discharged veteran myself, Capt, USAF) – the point is that the raging war in Afghanistan, and the Iraqi action (which is now mostly in our rear view mirror) are hardly “wars” at all to most Americans. So, putting on a bumper sticker is just about the most involvement most of us have on these tragic, expensive, and possibly specious ventures. And that has a number of downsides worth discussing.
First among these are the horrendous deficits created by these two wars since 2003, now estimated to be well over $1 Trillion, and continuing at a rate of about $140 Billion annually going forward. Of the $1 Trillion, about ¾ has been expended in Iraq, and a quarter in Afghanistan, but war funding for fiscal 2010, included $72.3 billion for Afghanistan and $64.5 billion for Iraq, making this the first year that Afghanistan was more expensive, the National Priorities Project said. This does not include a one time added $33 Billion for Obama’s “surge”, for adding 30,000 more troops to the 68,000 already there. Altogether, the war(s) are costing about $135 Billion annually, making a huge impact on our already weakened revenues…crowding out other essential funding… and the investments made to ameliorate the recession. There is only one sensible solution: a “war tax”. In deference to our bumper sticker friends, I would call it a “Support the Troops Tax”.
Current Federal revenues from the income tax (not other federal taxes or fees) run about $1.4 Trillion for the calendar year of 2010. I would propose a 10% surtax – dedicated solely to funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – and not to be used for any other purpose. As a small added tax, it would remain progressive; and both reduce the deficit, as well as lowering the amount needed on the upcoming debt ceiling extension. The “Support the Troops Tax” would raise about $140 Billion, or an amount almost exactly the same as the expenditures for the war(s). We use “dedicated” taxes now for other purposes, most notably the gas tax to raise revenue for the Highway Trust Fund. If Congress and the Administration believe in the importance of these wars, they should make provisions to pay for them just as we have done in the past. The tax would end the year all the troops have departed both Iraq and Afghanistan.
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I was born in 1933. I remember WWII. The country was involved. The country was united. Most everyone bought War Savings Bonds; and kids brought their pennies to school for Victory Stamps. FDR knew we needed urgent funding to win that war (in fact, it probably was our ability to mobilize and pay for our industrial power which was a deciding factor in winning the war). In 1944 and 1945, the top tax rate for the highest income tier ($200,000) was a whopping 94%, and capital gains taxes were 25%. Amazingly, few complained. As recently as 1975, the top tax rate on that same $200,000 was 60%; and capital gains were taxed at 36%. Today, the top tax rate (on incomes of over $369,000) is 35% and capital gains are 20% — both rates historically low, and with room for a small amount of an added surtax for wars we have been told a critical to our security.
Sharing the pain
If those who tack on their little bumper stickers really want to support our troops, such a sacrifice is miniscule compared to those who are really on the point for fighting these wars. Since we invaded Iraq, and entered Afghanistan, it is estimated that 1.6 million troops have served in these two wars – literally ½ of 1% of our nation’s population have carried this entire burden. Most of us are only casually or even remotely involved, merely clucking sadly when reading about the young soldiers who died, in the Obituary pages. Indeed, among this tiny group who have carried virtually all the pain and suffering, tens of thousand have returned for multiple tours, much to the destruction of their families and civilian careers. According to a recent reminder from Ron Paul (hardly a flaming liberal): “4,400 Americans are dead, 30,000 severely wounded and more than 100,000 are suffering from serious health problems related to post traumatic stress syndrome”, as a result of these wars. And suicide rates among our active military have soared. In WWII we beat two powerful foes in about 4 years; we have been slogging along in Iraq and Afghanistan for 10; with only the vaguest references to an end game. Bumper strips are nice – more is needed from patriotic Americans.
Stimulating a discussion
One final advantage of proposing a tax to pay for the wars is that it brings to the surface the need to revisit the value, return on investment, and efficacy of remaining in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In both places, much of the populace, and many of the leaders do not even want us to stay. In Afghanistan, our goals are spurious; are we fighting for territory? Is a body count of the Taliban (as it was in Viet Nam) the stated goal? Is our military there to persuade the populace that democracy is right for them? Are we trying to defeat an “ideology” by chasing Al Queda into the mountains of Pakistan? Or, on the 50th anniversary of President Eisenhower’s farewell address, are we being led by the objectives of the military/industrial complex, rather than a well thought out national security policy? At any rate, whatever the goals, they are surely worthy of discussion, and when these wars are out of sight and out of mind, such discussions have been deferred, mostly in favor of domestic issues. They need to be revisited.
The imposition of a “Support the Troops Tax” would have many benefits, and should gain the favor of both liberals (who want to revisit the Administration’s strategy of continuing the wars); and conservatives who favor a reduction of the deficits and “pay as you go” policies. Today, most Americans are disconnected from the violence and suffering from the small minority of our nation’s fighting men and women who are carrying the entire brunt of sacrifice. A tiny bumper sticker…patriotic slogans…holiday political speeches…and other miniscule efforts are insufficient to formulate our goals and achieve them in the battle for homeland security. A “Support the Troops Tax” would be a strong move in the right direction.