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How to Use America’s New Peace Dividend

Redirecting money from Afghanistan would be a clear message from Congress that it is time to rebalance and focus on strengthening America.

Washington isn’t quite sure what to do after the chaotic end to America’s longest war. Some suggest we may need to reestablish a military foothold in the country. Others want to funnel money to the Taliban under the guise of diplomacy. And there are those who want to wash their hands to focus solely on funding refugee resettlement programs.

How Congress decides to commit our national resources following the withdrawal will be the clearest indicator of the state of our policy toward Afghanistan and our foreign policy priorities going forward.

I believe there is only one right answer: rescind any remaining funds appropriated for maintaining a military and diplomatic presence in Afghanistan, as well as funds to support the Afghan government or military, and put them to better use. Namely, put them toward great power competition with the People’s Republic of China.

Last year, Congress appropriated more than $3 billion toward the Overseas Contingency Operations Afghanistan Security Forces Fund, in addition to funds for supporting the U.S. diplomatic presence in the country, training Afghan military and law enforcement units, and rooting out corruption in the government. Given Taliban control of the country, and the Taliban’s role in harboring terrorists, no taxpayer dollars should be released to the regime.

Rescinding these funds would be a clear message from Congress that it is time to rebalance and focus on strengthening America. With Democrats in control of Congress, however, it is unlikely that any rescinded funds this year will go unspent. How we use the unspent dollars is an important question.

Rescinded funds from Afghanistan should not be used for refugee resettlement efforts or social programs. Instead, they must go towards bolstering America’s position for the challenges of the future. My Prioritizing Readiness and Competitiveness (PRC) Act would do exactly that by directing these funds to critical supply chain issues, advanced research, and Navy shipbuilding.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, few in Washington considered the potentially catastrophic impacts of our overreliance on the Chinese economy, which is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party. The pandemic, the shortages, and the deaths exposed the dangers of a U.S. economy built on short-term financial gains over long-term resilience. The PRC Act would pour funding into the Defense Production Act purchases account to support domestic manufacturing and supply chain resiliency in strategic industries critical to national security.

This is, essentially, how then-President Trump stood up and funded Operation Warp Speed, which was a tremendous success and should serve as a blueprint for future initiatives. There are numerous areas ripe for investment, as I noted in a 2019 report on China’s economic plans, including biotechnology, robotics, new materials, and more.

As China directs its strategic attention to development in technological areas that pose threats to our security, such as quantum computing, America must develop high-technology defenses. The PRC Act will direct unspent funds into the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for research and development projects related to strengthening the United States’ global advantage in strategic technologies. DARPA has been at the forefront of some of America’s most important technological breakthroughs, as it takes on moonshot projects that the private sector will not, either because of cost or reputation. We cannot rely on nationless companies like Apple to out-innovate the Chinese, let alone put Americans, their families, and our national defense first.

Finally, we must also continue to invest in the United States Navy, which has fallen behind the People’s Liberation Army Navy in terms of assets. While the Chinese Communist Party has been on a shipbuilding spree, the United States is stagnant. We cannot successfully refocus on the Indo-Pacific region, protect our critical trade routes, and discourage Beijing’s aggression if our Navy cannot project power or maintain order in critical areas. As Elbridge Colby has argued in The Strategy of Denial: American Defense in an Age of Great Power Conflict, Beijing’s quest for hegemony must “be reflected across every aspect of the U.S. armed forces and U.S. defense planning.” And naval power is essential to that goal. Otherwise, the communist nation will be able to hold our economy hostage to advance its goals.

As I said last fall, we could not keep our military in Afghanistan forever. The questions were always how we execute the withdrawal and how we focus our resources afterwards. The Biden administration botched the first part, but it is not too late for the president to get the second part right. But we cannot compete with China based on lip service; we actually need to invest in American research, American industry, and American naval power.

We have the opportunity to do exactly that, and the question is whether the Biden administration and a Democrat-led Congress can rise to the challenge.

Marco Rubio serves as the senior United States Senator from Florida.