Assuming that Americans have some role in deciding how their taxpayer money is spent, last week they were faced with a striking choice: Should America re-involve itself in Iraq’s military matters, or should it instead do more to meet two major needs of its children — food and lodging?
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was in Washington last week to ask for U.S. military aid to help his Shiite Muslim government hold onto power in the face of violent efforts by both Sunni Muslims and Kurds to get what they consider to be their share of power in Iraq.
Recall that U.S.-Iraqi negotiations on the question of U.S. military forces remaining in Iraq after the end of the eight-year war foundered in 2011 on the question of who — Iraqi or American officials — would have jurisdiction if criminal charges were brought against those forces. The Iraqis refused to yield and all U.S. combat troops were rightly withdrawn from Iraq at the end of 2011.
The theory on the U.S. side was that Mr. Maliki would put together a power-sharing government, including his majority Shiites; the Sunni, who ruled the country from independence in 1932 until the U.S. invasion in 2003; and the Kurds.
Mr. Maliki instead put together a ruling Shiite power nexus that has hogged political and commercial authority, pounded on the Sunnis, including locking up their leaders, and fallen out with the Kurds. Both groups, but especially the Sunnis, have fought back. Sectarian fighting in October alone produced 1,095 deaths.
Mr. Maliki came to Washington asking for arms, including F16 jet aircraft at $47 million a copy and Apache attack helicopters at $20 million each, to fight his Iraqi enemies. He should get nothing — given that America was entirely correct to clear out of the useless, catastrophic Iraq War in 2011 and that Mr. Maliki has not done what was needed to put together a government that reflected the diversity of the 32 million people of Iraq.
Now, when the question of how America spends its money is more at the forefront than normally in the eyes of the taxpaying public, it is worth looking at the coterminous issue of the state of America’s children.
We learned last week that an emergency measure to meet the growing need for food stamps due to the continuing recession had expired. The result was a 5.5 percent cut in food stamps, meaning that 9.4 million children will have less to eat unless their parents or caregivers are willing and able to give up the difference.
So much for the bright shining city on the hill. So much for America-the-exceptional, unless one has a morbid sense of the ironic.
On top of that we also learned that the number of homeless public school children has hit a new high. The national number, according to the U.S. Department of Education, is 1.2 million, up 10 percent between 2011 and 2012. In Pennsylvania it was up a still-shameful 7 percent.
Many of these children, average age 7.6, are living in cars, rundown motels or in a crowded room with relatives. How can they possibly do their homework in these circumstances? If they don’t get a decent education, they are a sure ticket for the welfare or criminal justice systems.
But wouldn’t we rather buy jet aircraft or helicopters for Iraq? Or stay on in Afghanistan after 2014 as apparently Mr. Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry are trying to convince the Afghans to agree to? Or start a war with Syria or Iran as Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham and the Israeli lobby would like us to do?
In unrelated matters, I would like to put out two warnings.
The first, to the Obama administration: Some of its members are drawing considerable satisfaction from having killed Pakistan Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud with a drone strike Friday. Mr. Mehsud was a bad guy and it may be nice that he isn’t around any longer, although there is no reason to believe that the Pakistani Taliban will go out of business as a result. The troublesome part comes, first, for the Pakistan government, considered by many Pakistanis to have been complicit in knocking him off. The Taliban have threatened violent revenge against Pakistanis for his death. What is more worrisome from an American point of view is that the Taliban have also threatened revenge on America.
Our vulnerability to such revenge was illustrated by the April Boston Marathon attack that took place in spite of near-universal National Security Agency coverage of every non-walk-in-the-woods piece of communications in the United States. It is perhaps good that Mr. Mehsud is dead. We just have to hope that the Taliban will not be able to strike back on Americans at home — the possible price for his death.
The second warning is to Edward J. Snowden: Under no circumstances should he accept any invitations from Germany to leave Russia to go there, even if he prefers German beer to Russian vodka. There is no reason to have any confidence that the Germans would not turn him over to the United States for what passes as justice in this country.
Dan Simpson, a former U.S. ambassador, is a columnist for the Post-Gazette (firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1976).