Econ-Recon: November 2006: Archives

November 17, 2006

Iraq - The Money Pit: Pentagon To Ask For Billions genre: Econ-Recon & Just Jihad

Money down the drain

The GOP likes to talk about Democrats enabling the terrorists when they voice concerns that the war in Iraq is a mess...that we need to establish a time frame for our exit...and that it isn't reducing the threat of terrorism. At the same time, according to an article in USA TODAY, he Bush administration is preparing to ask for somewhere between 127 and 160 billion dollars to fund the U.S. efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Depending on the final request, the war on terror could be the most expensive war since World War II.

If memory serves me, one of the stated objectives of Osama bin Laden was to force the U.S. into spending itself into decline in its efforts to combat the threat of terror. At the current level of spending, one might well argue that the Bush administration is the one that is actually enabling the terrorists.

The Pentagon is considering $127 billion to $160 billion in requests from the armed services for the 2007 fiscal year, which began last month, several lawmakers and congressional staff members said. That's on top of $70 billion already approved for 2007.

Since 2001, Congress has approved $502 billion for the war on terror, roughly two-thirds for Iraq. The latest request, due to reach the incoming Democratic-controlled Congress next spring, would make the war on terror more expensive than the Vietnam War.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., who will chair the Senate Budget Committee next year, said the amount under consideration is "$127 billion and rising." He said the cost "is going to increasingly become an issue" because it could prevent Congress from addressing domestic priorities, such as expanding Medicare prescription drug coverage.

Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., who put the expected request at $160 billion, said such a sizable increase still "won't solve the problem" in Iraq.

To make any meaningful conclusions requires some important contextual review. Clearly the invasion of Afghanistan was a reasonable and necessary action intended to put an end to al-Qaeda and those who carried out the attacks on 9/11. Unfortunately, before that mission was completed, the Bush administration turned their attention to Iraq...premised upon the assertion that Sadaam possessed weapon of mass destruction that could find their way into the hands of terrorists. It wasn't long before the WMD justification morphed into full fledged nation building in order to export democracy to the Middle East.

So what have we achieved for our half a trillion dollars and counting? Afghanistan remains a tribal nation with an economy driven by drug production and a resurgent Taliban intent on toppling the U.S. backed government. Osama bin Laden remains a free man who is likely intent on radicalizing a remote region of Pakistan into a mirror image of the domain he held in Afghanistan. Pakistan's leader, Pervez Musharraf, holds power by force over a population that opposes the U.S. and supports al-Qaeda and the Taliban. He must walk a thin line between appeasing the Bush administration and preventing the toppling of his tenuous rule which limits our ability to capture or kill Osama and his minions. Regarding al-Qaeda and the Taliban, one might argue that aside from some hard to quantify weakening, we have achieved little more than forcing a geographic shift.

In Iraq, we have in excess of 140,000 soldiers in harms way...a government that is ineffectual and lacking the power, the influence, and perhaps the motivation to put an end to the escalating sectarian conflict. Democracy seems more symbolic than endemic as longstanding allegiances and ethnic animosity appear to far exceed the desire for unifying the nation under a consensus government. Each time more executions are carried out and more people are kidnapped and murdered, the potential for resolution diminishes while deep seated revenge and rage run rampant.

At the same time, our presence in Iraq...in conflict with many of the religious beliefs in the region...has fueled the recruitment efforts of numerous terrorist groups...all intent on harming the United States and its allies. The effort to resolve the Israeli - Palestinian conflict has been set to the side and suffers the unintended, though tangible, consequences of our incursion in the region. Syria and Iran continue to fuel extremism while we virtually refuse to engage them in dialogue. Frankly, one could argue that the bulk of our efforts have served to undermine the goal of democratizing the region.

The new request being considered for the war on terror would be about one-fourth what the government spends annually on Social Security — and 10 times what it spends on its space program.

The new request is top-heavy with Army and Air Force costs to replace and repair equipment and redeploy troops, Hoagland said. That's why the 2007 cost is likely to top the war's average annual price tag.

Overall, he said, "we're easily headed toward $600 billion." That would top the $536 billion cost of Vietnam in today's dollars. World War II cost an inflation-adjusted $3.6 trillion.

Here at home, politicians haggle over raising the minimum wage, negotiating better drug prices for seniors, building a fence on our southern border, spending federal funds on stem cell and other important research, and finding the means to provide health care to well over 40 million uninsured Americans. The GOP tries to portray the Democrats as the irresponsible tax and spend party...while the cost of our war and our debt and our deficit swells at a record pace and will eventually have to be funded by the American public. I can't help but wonder what the country could do to make the lives of more Americans better with the half a trillion dollars spent on the war on terror. I doubt those who suffer the struggles of poverty and hunger feel the cost of the war has improved their day to day lives or made them any safer. I would suspect that the toil to survive each day far overshadows any concerns of safety.

In the end, while we contend that we are defending our way of life, our way of life looks to be on the decline and the road back to better days gets steeper each day. For the few that prosper, the reality is that it is dependent upon the masses achieving some level of success. The longer their needs are ignored, the sooner the established mechanisms of this increasingly narrow band of prosperity will unravel. The President likes to talk about the importance of winning the war in Iraq. If that can only be achieved at the expense of our American way of life, then I must not understand the definition of victory.

Daniel DiRito | November 17, 2006 | 12:00 PM | link | Comments (1)
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