The United States of America is currently embroiled in a war in which it is purporting to deliver justice and freedom to people living in a hinterland halfway across the globe. However, this same nation is failing to provide that justice, freedom, or peace to many of its own citizens. Just a short drive from Santa Cruz up Interstate-880, the evidence is clear.

The city of Oakland recorded 148 homicides in 2006, its highest total in more than a decade.

While pointing to drugs and gangs is an easy way to rationalize and blame this surge of killings on its own victims, a deeper and more thoughtful consideration reveals the true root causes of such urban violence -shoddy public education, poor social services, severely limited employment options, a lack of affordable housing, and ultimately, extreme poverty.

Meanwhile, as of 3 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, American taxpayers had spent $360,636,804,595 to fund Operation Iraqi Freedom, with $454,423,055 of that coming from the pockets of Oakland residents. Fifteen minutes later, Oakland taxpayers had given about $4,000 more.

Instead of buying faulty body armor for troops, more Hummers that rumble across the desert wasting gas as fast as we’re winning it, and contracts to mercenary soldiers-for-hire, Oakland citizens’ hard-earned tax dollars could have been put to much better use on their own streets, where they would have seen tangible benefit-namely, fewer senseless murders.

The money that Oakland had sent to Iraq as of 3:15 p.m. Tuesday afternoon could have sent 60,189 children to Head Start preschool, giving them an academic foundation to decrease the likelihood of their dropping out of school before 12th grade and becoming another statistic of school attrition rates and, quite possibly, city murder rates.

Or that money could have been used to hire 7,875 school teachers for one year, giving Oakland teenagers the smaller classes and individual attention they need to stay off the streets and get into college.

Speaking of college, the money Oakland had spent on the Iraq war as of Tuesday afternoon could have given 22,029 students four-year scholarships to pubic universities.

Something else Oakland taxpayers’ dollars could have been used for is the construction of 4,091 new housing units, which would have provided an extremely welcome relief for low-income residents struggling to stay afloat. Such guaranteed housing could also eliminate the need in many people’s lives to sell or use the drugs that are blamed for so many murders.

And this is far from just an Oakland issue. The amount of money that New Orleans taxpayers have contributed to Iraq could have built over 2,233 additional housing units in their city. That’s about 2,233 fewer FEMA trailers sitting in driveways of Hurricane Katrina victims in the Lower Ninth Ward.

The point here is not just that Iraq is a "quagmire" or that the United States government entered this war under false pretenses, though both are extremely valid and worthwhile arguments. The larger and more fundamental issue is that, before America can portray itself as the dispatcher of freedom and justice to the rest of the world, it must first become a source of freedom and justice to its own citizens. All of them.

If this is not achieved, the United States won’t need to worry about being demolished by weapons of mass destruction or demoniacally crazed dictators.

The real threat to the American empire will be the dispossessed, poverty-stricken, and hopeless millions living in urban war zones whose desperation will eventually evolve into anarchy, destroying our nation from within.