The New York Times published a remarkable story
yesterday that highlighted a forgotten element of the ongoing debate
about what the Obama administration should do about the disastrous war
in Afghanistan: costs.
The war in Afghanistan costs the U.S. $1
million per year per soldier stationed there, and the cost of the war
is expected to exceed $65 billion in 2010 alone. Meanwhile, the Obama
administration may be preparing to dramatically increase spending on
the war by sending in tens of thousands of additional ground troops.
The total U.S. military budget for 2010 could rise to $734 billion.
poker analogy seems appropriate: you are holding a weak hand but you've
been pouring money into the pot, and even as the last card is dealt and
things look more hopeless than ever, you feel that you've spent too
much to cut your losses and fold - so you keep raising and throwing in
money in the desperate hope that maybe this time you'll get lucky with
the big win.
We wouldn't even be having this debate about
whether to continue and escalate this war if politicians and voters
really thought about and understood the absolute costs and opportunity
costs involved here. Every conservative who rants about the alleged
fiscal recklessness of the stimulus package or health care reform while
blindly supporting an escalation of the Afghanistan war is spouting
nonsense - as is every liberal hawk who thinks that we can rebuild the
American economy and invest seriously in health care, education, small
businesses, scientific research, the environment, and infrastructure
while essentially lighting billions upon billions of dollars on fire by
waging high-tech, manpower-heavy warfare on the other side of the world
in pursuit of a Quixotic fantasy of an Afghanistan made liberal,
democratic, secure, and united by American power.
We have spent
over $915 billion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan so far. What
exactly has that money bought us? What might we have accomplished
instead, in a world where almost half of humanity lives on less than
$2.50 a day?
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