A Ryan McCarl Blog: Afghanistan, One Mill per soldier per year
15 November 2009
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.
A 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?
(See also an op-ed of mine from earlier this year: "War: The More We Spend On It, The More We Get," Antiwar.com, 6/15/09.)