WASHINGTON — Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is proposing giving all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans a one-time $2,500 payout and declaring victory in Afghanistan in what he is billing a cost-saving move for America.
“It’s important to know when it’s time to declare victory and leave a war,” the Republican said in a Facebook video posted Tuesday morning. “I think that time is long past.”
Paul, a Republican lawmaker known for his libertarian views and tense relationship with party leadership, said the payout to veterans would cost taxpayers more than $7 billion, but it would also be “an immediate savings of 83 percent when compared to the current yearly cost of nation building.”
Pentagon estimates put the total costs of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 at around $6 trillion. Paul said ongoing overseas missions in the global war on terror total more than $50 billion annually.
“We don’t need to be wasting that $50 billion, and there is no doubt much of it is wasted,” he said. “When are they (the Afghanistan government) going to pay for their own stuff? Why does Uncle Sam have to be Uncle Sap and pay for everything?”
Paul intends to introduce the legislation in coming days.
The idea follows calls from President Donald Trump in the State of the Union to begin a drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, arguing that “great nations do not fight endless wars.”
About 16,000 U.S. troops are still deployed to Afghanistan in support and training roles. Pentagon leaders have said that too quick a drawdown from the nearly 18-year-old war could destabilize the region and allow terrorist groups to regain a foothold in the country.
More than 2,400 U.S. military personnel have died since the initial invasion of American forces in 2001.
Paul said under his plan the “peace dividend” bonus for veterans would be required to be paid out within one year of the official end of the war. More than 3 million Americans served in the two wars.
He also said that the annual savings from cutting off the war funds should be used for domestic infrastructure projects and other priorities. He called spending American money overseas “incredibly insulting” to taxpayers.
“It’s time to declare our mission over and the war won,” he said. “It’s time to build here and not there.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.