Published in the Topeka Capital-Journal on January 11, 2008
If you are anything like me, January is a time of considerable anxiety. My waistline has expanded after too many holiday cookies and too much eggnog. The sweater my grandmother gave me lies abandoned in the corner collecting dust. Worst of all, VISA keeps calling because they think somebody stole my credit card in December. How else to explain such reckless spending?
But I am not the only spendthrift on the block. Just before leaving town for the holiday break, Congress approved an additional $70 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing the total amount they’ve appropriated since 2001 to $700 billion. This astronomical sum surpasses the cost of the whole Vietnam War ($670 billion) in inflation-adjusted dollars.
I feel my anxiety turning into depression. Unfortunately, the bad news just keeps coming.
The Bush administration requested a total of $196 billion for Iraq and Afghanistan in 2008, of which the $70 billion approved in December was only a starter. Congress must still decide whether to ratify the remaining $126 billion, a task it will likely tackle in late spring or early summer. Accepting this sum would push the total cost since 2001 past $820 billion, nearly nine times greater than the Persian Gulf War ($94 billion) and almost three times greater than the Korean War ($295 billion) in inflation-adjusted dollars.
What can we do to avoid passing this psychological and economic burden on to our children?
Congressional Democrats do not have the votes necessary to cut off money for the war in Iraq, as much as some liberal activists wish they did. Furthermore, many objective experts will tell you that by several military indicators, there has been a net increase in security in Iraq since the “surge” was initiated in early 2007. Democrats are presented with the challenge of working to end a war that seems, at least temporarily, to have improved in military terms only.
Do not think, however, that Democrats will go gentle into that good night. After failing to reverse President Bush’s Iraq policy in 2007, they will be looking for a rematch, especially with presidential and congressional elections looming in November and most Americans still unhappy with the status quo. Look for Democrats to continue to call for an Iraq policy of force reductions coupled with the transition of the mission to targeted counterterrorism operations, protection of American infrastructure and personnel, and training of Iraqi Security Forces.
There can be no price tag on the thousands of American, Iraqi, and Afghan lives that have been lost, and will continue to be lost, the longer these conflicts continue. We can, however, estimate the financial burden these wars are exacting.
In the time it takes you to read this article, the United States will spend nearly $1 million dollars in Iraq and a quarter of a million dollars in Afghanistan. If you include future payments on the U.S. national debt, each American family of four may end up spending more than $30,000 on Iraq and Afghanistan over the next decade. That is more than my annual salary after taxes.
Isn’t there something terribly wrong here?
Lawmakers cannot continue to write blank checks that drive the United States further into debt. Continuing to sacrifice long-term economic prosperity for short-term political purposes — so that politicians can use rhetorically-charged words like “victory” and “defeat” that sound excellent on the evening news but offer no insight into how badly the war in Iraq has tarnished America’s image abroad — is the definition of self-destructive behavior.
I call on our elected leaders to pursue a single New Year’s resolution: act with urgency to reach the endgame in Iraq and Afghanistan and bring U.S. troops home as soon as possible. As the wise Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu says in the Art of War: “No country has ever profited from protracted warfare.”