As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Economics Of Military Action

Here's something you don't see everyday - a member of Congress asking to fiscally quantify endless war:

“There are some fundamental questions that I would ask of those who are suggesting that we follow a long term counterinsurgency strategy:

1. As an Appropriator I must ask, what will that policy cost and how will we pay for it? We are now in the middle of a fundamental debate over reforming our healthcare system. The President has indicated that it must cost less than $900 billion over ten years and be fully paid for. The Congressional Budget Office has had four committees twisting themselves into knots in order to fit healthcare reform into that limit. CBO is earnestly measuring the cost of each competing healthcare plan. Shouldn’t it be asked to do the same thing with respect to Afghanistan? If we add 40,000 troops and recognize the need for a sustained 10 year or longer commitment, as the architects of this plan tell us we do, the military costs alone would be over $800 billion. And unlike the demands that are being made of the healthcare alternatives that they be deficit neutral, we’ve heard no such demand with respect to Afghanistan. I would ask how much will this entire effort cost, when you add in civilian costs and costs in Pakistan? And how would that impact the budget?

Warmongers have had the great luxury in this country of never having to justify their costs. Not just the human costs, but the real financial costs to constant military buildup. The usual retort is that you can't put a price on human lives. If that was the case, there would be no requirement for budget neutrality in health care reform, something that could save as many as 45,000 lives annually - the people who die from a lack of health insurance.

Rep. Obey's full remarks are well worth reading - he makes all the points about the futility of nation-building in a country without a partner in the government, the danger of angering local populations with a heavier occupying footprint, the fantasyland strategy of bringing democracy to Afghanistan, the need for an achievable policy, the potential for the war to crowd out any other Presidential agenda item. But I wanted to highlight this part because it's so alien to the contemporary political debate. It's certainly nothing you'd ever hear coming from the mouths of one of the fiscal scolds. The Pentagon budget, the budget for perpetual war, is inviolable and somehow magic - it doesn't create deficits, it doesn't produce burdens on long-term spending, it is never "at risk of going bankrupt." David Obey at least is trying to change that misimpression.

Some insider leaked the idea that the top-level troop request is actually 60,000, in an effort to make the 40,000 number seem like the middle course. Maybe they can write down on paper how much that would cost. And do it in a ten-year budget window to make sure the costs are inflated as possible.


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