This week, our new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made his first appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee in this position, and I took the opportunity to make clear that I believe that the United States must shift its mission in the Middle East to counter-terrorism and focus on rebuilding America, not Afghanistan or Iraq.
In the past 10 years, our nation has spent nearly $443 billion and lost more than 1,500 brave men and women in Afghanistan. Over the next decade, we're projected to spend nearly $500 billion more all as we borrow historic amounts from China and ask Americans to face higher taxes or cuts to critical programs we all believe in, such as Head Start, Social Security and Medicare.
West Virginians have heard me make this point time and again on my travels throughout the state it's time to rebuild America.
I told Secretary Panetta that with our nation facing a stagnant economy and a death spiral of debt, I don't believe we can have it all or pretend that we can. We must choose what we can and cannot afford to do. We must decide whether we will spend hundreds of billions of dollars to rebuild other nations or our own. I, for one, will not ask Americans to pay to rebuild another nation. I have simply said: I choose to rebuild America.
I've arrived at this position through extensive consultation with experts and leaders as well as a visit to the region in February. We cannot ignore the facts that demonstrate why we must fundamentally shift from the President's strategy in Afghanistan to a pure mission of counter-terrorism.
A few of the most troubling facts:
- At our current rate of deficit spending, the Congressional Research Service projects our national debt will exceed $23.1 trillion by 2021. By the next decade, we will spend more on interest on our debt than defense, education, and energy combined.
- The Afghan economy is growing at leaps and bounds while our economy stagnates. Preliminary estimates suggest that Afghanistan's GDP growth rate was 20.4 percent in FY2009/10, while the United States' growth rate was 2.2 percent. In 2011, Afghanistan's growth rate was 8.2 percent while our growth rate was only 1.6 percent. And yet, Afghanistan's economy is not one that can function on its own in any way it's an economy that is entirely fueled by American tax dollars.
- In the coming days and weeks, we will engage in endless partisan fights over whether we could and should be investing $50 billion more to rebuild American transportation infrastructure funding that I support. But we could have already paid for that and more with the $72.7 billion we have already invested to rebuild Afghanistan's infrastructure since 2002 not to mention the billions more that we are projected to spend in the years ahead.
- We will debate how to pay for the billions needed to modernize American schools while the Commission on Wartime Contracting estimates that $30 to $60 billion has been wasted and stolen because of corruption in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- And perhaps the greatest insult of all is that in spite of the blood and treasure that we have invested in Afghanistan, we are still not their preferred partner for future economic growth projects. In 2007, the state-owned China Metallurgical Group Corporation won a contract to develop the Aynak copper deposit in Logar Province. This deposit may yield up to $88 billion of copper ore. To my knowledge, China does not have one boot on the ground in Afghanistan and has not contributed one penny toward that country's security. The United States is directly and indirectly helping China profit while we lose our brave men and women fighting to keep Afghanistan safe.
I believe American can and should fight terrorism anywhere and everywhere it may take us to keep it from the shores of our nation. But I do not believe we can spend invaluable American resources trying to change Afghanistan and Iraq at the expense of great needs that are being neglected here at home. We must focus on rebuilding America, and I was pleased to share my priorities with the Defense Secretary.