Wednesday, January 24, 2007


A war we can't afford to win

At lunch on Monday a friend, an accountant, remarked that the war in Iraq is a war we can't afford to win. I realized immediately the truth of this assessment. Unfortunately the point has not been made by anyone in the mainstream media and certainly not by our politicians, at least to my knowledge. Once stated, however, it becomes self-evident.

David Leonhardt in his column (in the NY Times' Business section naturally) comes as close to recognizing this truth as we may hope, yet still he shies away. After reviewing various assessments of the cost of the war he writes

Whatever number you use for the war’s total cost, it will tower over costs that normally seem prohibitive.

Think about that phrase: "costs that normally seem prohibitive." Do these costs not seem prohibitive because they in fact are prohibitive? By tossing in the abverb "normally" Leonhardt seems to suggest that we have entered some alternate reality in which these prohibitive costs can be borne. Thus he disguises the truth and offers us a fantasy.

I don't mean to be overly critical of Leonhardt. He tries to show the enormity of the waste this war represents by suggesting ways in which the money might have been better spent. Using an estimate of $1.2 trillion (that's $1200 billion), which he considers a "conservative" estimate of the cost of the war to date, he offers—

For starters, $1.2 trillion would pay for an unprecedented public health campaign — a doubling of cancer research funding, treatment for every American whose diabetes or heart disease is now going unmanaged and a global immunization campaign to save millions of children’s lives.

Combined, the cost of running those programs for a decade wouldn’t use up even half our money pot. So we could then turn to poverty and education, starting with universal preschool for every 3- and 4-year-old child across the country. The city of New Orleans could also receive a huge increase in reconstruction funds.

The final big chunk of the money could go to national security. The recommendations of the 9/11 Commission that have not been put in place — better baggage and cargo screening, stronger measures against nuclear proliferation — could be enacted. Financing for the war in Afghanistan could be increased to beat back the Taliban’s recent gains, and a peacekeeping force could put a stop to the genocide in Darfur.

We frequently hear the punditocracy discussing whether the Congress will cut the funding for the war. The right-wingers like to suggest that such an act would be tantamount to withdrawing support for the troops and "losing" a presumably winnable war. But the funds for this war are not ultimately in the hands of Congress. As with everything else the American people have purchased of late, the funds have been borrowed from overseas.

It may turn out to be an irony of globalization, so ardently promoted by the Bush and Clinton administrations, that it will be the global investors who finally decide to stop throwing good money after bad and bring this terrible war to an end.


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