Pentagon budget and Yemen war grow together

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As veterans, we have had too much experience with illegal, immoral and counterproductive wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, El Salvador, etc.). Therefore, we call upon Iowans to insist that the U.S. stop military actions in Yemen, to end weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, and to take the lead in negotiating a cease-fire and ensuring access to food and medical supplies for Yemen. Furthermore, we call upon Iowans to look closely at how their tax dollars are being increasingly siphoned to the Pentagon, and to specifically look at how those tax dollars encourage our illegal, immoral and counterproductive war in Yemen.

The omnibus appropriations bill was approved by the House on May 3, by the Senate on May 4, and signed by President Donald Trump on May 5. This $1.17 trillion piece of legislation appropriates discretionary spending for the balance of this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. It received substantial bipartisan support and passed by substantial margins in the House and Senate. Though a substantial group of conservative legislators voted against it because it did not, in their view, have enough cuts in domestic programs.

The most significant portion of this massive piece of legislation is the funding of the Pentagon. The total Pentagon funding for fiscal 2017 is $598.5 billion, an increase of $25.7 billion over fiscal 2016. The total includes $76.6 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, which reflects $14.8 billion in new spending sought by the Trump administration.

The sheer size of the Pentagon budget is a huge concern. It constitutes more than half of all discretionary spending. Appropriations for other agencies are tiny in comparison: $8.1 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency, $5.7 billion for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, $3.3 billion for the United Nations. Just the increase in the Pentagon budget is larger than those three budgets combined.

Of more particular concern to us is the $76.6 billion for the Overseas Contingency Operations. This often is appropriately called the Pentagon’s slush fund.

It is separate from the Pentagon’s never-audited base budget and has even less transparency. The OCO is used to fund any of the overseas conflicts that the U.S. happens to be involved in. And, with a $14.8 billion increase, it appears we will be involved in more overseas conflicts. One of the most serious and underreported conflicts is the U.S. participation in the war in Yemen. Some brief facts below may help fill the void of the mainstream media’s underreporting, and may motivate Iowans to become more informed and involved.

Two-thirds of Yemen’s population — 18.8 million people — are in need of assistance, and 7 million are in a food emergency, on the brink of famine. The U.N. calls the situation in Yemen the worst humanitarian disaster in the world. Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council said May 3 that Yemen faces “a famine of Biblical proportions.” The U.S. has been launching military attacks in Yemen since 2002, including the first drone attack ever in 2002. In March and April of this year, the U.S. has launched 80 drone and plane attacks on Yemen, more than in all of 2016. Saudi Arabia is the primary aggressor in Yemen, and the U.S. supplies the Saudis with weapons, refueling and intelligence.

Trump traveled to Saudi Arabia this month, with an $11.5 billion weapons deal on the agenda. Saudi airstrikes have severely damaged the port of Al Hudaydah, the only port through which food and medical supplies can arrive in northern Yemen. The Saudis are threatening to completely destroy that port.

Yemen poses no threat to the United States. It is in the throes of a complex civil war stoked by the arms and bombs of greater powers, including the United States. Trying to figure out in a rational fashion why the U.S. should be killing starving people is a challenge. Saudi Arabia’s goal is to stick its finger in the eye of Iran, which it accuses of helping the Houthi forces.

The new U.S. administration is engaging in more saber-rattling with Iran, even wanting to negate the 2015 nuclear agreement, so bombing starving folks in Yemen is good for business. It would not be prudent to leave any of that $76.6 billion OCO fund unspent.

There never has been a vote in Congress that authorizes our military actions in Yemen. The Iowa congressional delegation has been silent on Yemen, and all have supported the bloated Pentagon budget. Give them better advice. And give Trump a phone call at (202) 456-1414 and ask that he take steps to avoid a legacy of obscene absurdity.

• Ed Flaherty, of Iowa City, is secretary of Veterans For Peace Chapter 161. He wrote this on behalf of the chapter and its 30 members, whose military service experiences range from World War II through the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

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