On Feb. 1 President Barack Obama asked Congress to approve a record $708 billion in defense spending for fiscal 2011. The budget calls for a 3.4 percent increase in the Pentagon's base budget to $549 billion, plus $159 billion to fund the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But citizens aren't sitting by while the Pentagon's budget balloons. On March 20, just after the seventh anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, protestors will march on Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and San Francisco.

On Friday evening, March 19, at least 55 Hoosiers and Kentucky residents will board a bus bound for Washington, D.C., for the second peace march since President Obama was elected. Participants will demand the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. and NATO forces from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sponsored by the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (A.N.S.W.E.R.) coalition and more than 1,000 other organizations and individuals, the march has as its rallying cries, "No Colonial-type Wars and Occupations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Haiti," "No War or Sanctions Against Iran" and "No War for Empire Anywhere."

Instead of war, the protestors will demand funding for jobs, free and universal health care, decent schools and affordable housing.

Plenty to protest

The cost of the occupation of Iraq alone is over $12 billion each month. So far, the bill for every U.S. household is more than $4,100.
"Since Obama became president, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has nearly doubled, not counting the new deployment of 30,000 more soldiers."
The cost of the wars and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq is already running at more than $225 billion per year, or $1.2 billion every two days. Escalating the war in Afghanistan will escalate that cost.

According to Foreign Policy in Focus, as of two years ago the Hoosier state had paid $8 billion for the wars. Indianapolis had paid $986 million.

Since Obama became president, the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan has nearly doubled, not counting the new deployment of 30,000 more soldiers. Today, less than a year since Bush left office, there are actually more combined U.S. military forces occupying Iraq and Afghanistan than at any time during his tenure. Between official military forces, private mercenaries and other contractors, nearly a half-million U.S. personnel will be in the two countries by the middle of this year.

The human cost to the United States is enormous: thousands of troops dead and hundreds of thousands injured physically and mentally. Many who served in the military in Iraq and Afghanistan are unemployed, homeless or both. In fact, MSNBC reported on its Web site that veterans make up 25 percent of America's homeless, even though they're only 11 percent of the adult population in the United States.

The rates of posttraumatic stress disorder, suicide, divorce and woman battering are accelerating among returning troops. For example, according to the Washington Times, the divorce rate among Marines rose from 3.3 percent in fiscal year 2007 to 3.7 percent in fiscal year 2008, and the New York Times reported that the rate of domestic violence among combat troops has spiked in the last three years.

For all the administration's talk of change, President Obama's military policies are transitioning seamlessly from the Bush administration's.

Obama continues to send drones -- remote-controlled bombers -- over Pakistan, killing civilians. He also continues to deploy nuclear carriers with enough weaponry to exterminate any country in the Mideast.

The solution

Iraq Vets Against the War recommends a three-part solution to the war in Iraq: complete withdrawal of all occupying forces from Iraq; reparations for the human and structural damage to Iraq; and full benefits, top-notch health care (including mental health) and other types of essential support for returning troops.
"The cost of the wars and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq is already running at more than $225 billion per year, or $1.2 billion every two days."
According to the ANSWER Coalition, "Real change comes from below. It comes from the millions who are suffering from unemployment, foreclosure, evictions and poverty. It comes from the young people who are being driven from college because of soaring tuition. The children of working-class families are the ones who do the bleeding and the killing, and they are told they do it for 'national security.'"

What you can do

If you object to the war-making and want to let the Obama administration know how you feel about it, take part in the March 20 march on Washington. The Bloomington Peace Action Coalition is chartering a bus, and you can reserve a seat for $85 until Feb. 15, at which time the fee rises to $100. The bus will start out in Louisville and make stops in Indianapolis, Columbus and Bloomington.

E-mail timothybaer2003@hotmail.com or call 812-988-1917 to reserve a seat on the bus. If you can't attend the march, you can make a donation so that someone who can't afford to go can do so.

Linda Greene can be reached at lgreene@bloomington.in.us.