The Wars that are Killing Us Economically
I am contrarian at present, running very much against the fiscal flow of both parties and peacefully decrying the political establishment at every chance I get. I have always been an independent, politically, because I can barely stomach either party. (The mention of either word is like Ipecac syrup to me.)
Long ago, I leaned a little more toward voting Republican, as they made me vomit less, but that has changed. The Republican establishment has become its own Antabuse, dissuading me from supporting them probably forever by their penchant for endless wars and their endless repetition of tried-and-tired ideas for economic recovery.
Not that Democrats are any less war-hungry, but I have to agree with my Democrat friends when they say the Republican ticket now looks like a clown car every time we come back to a presidential election cycle. Where do Republicans find these caricatures whose highest claim to international acumen is that they can see Russia?
On the other hand, Shrill Hill, with her gaping vulture smile, doesn’t appeal to me. I think she would eat her own young … or, at least, her servants. She’s a poster-child for the benefit of burkas. The thought of four years of hearing her shriek “Turkey?” like a bird herself, does not make for Thanksgiving. Her accomplishments are stunningly dull. Worse than dull, as everything went over a cliff internationally while she was Secretary of State. While some of the controversy around her seems overinflated, the wars that swirl in the dust of her globetrotting feet are certainly real.
At the same time, the idea of voting for a self-proclaimed socialist — the war-wary Bernie Sanders — is beyond the extreme to which I can tilt, even though the Democrat’s lone commie sounds like the fatherly voice of reason compared to the rest of the rat pack.
Knitting a beautiful Afghanistan
I’m not utopian, and I’m not a pacifist. We live in a world where you have to defend our country, or you won’t have one. Like Republicans, I want a strong military, but I strongly disagree with some of the ways we use our military and the huge vaults of money we put into fighting wars in other countries that have done us no harm. I agreed wholeheartedly with Bush’s doctrine after 9/11 (and still agree) that those who willfully harbor our enemy are our enemy. We cannot allow nations to provide safe haven to those who attack us. So, going after the Taliban and Al Qaida in Afghanistan was the right thing to do. In my opinion, a just war. On the other hand, I wholeheartedly disagree with his doctrine of pre-emptive strikes against regimes we think might be a risk to us.
Handing the Afghan battle over to mercenaries in Tora Bora was absolutely the wrong thing to do. As I said the moment I heard Bush had done that, “There goes Osama bin Laden! We’ve lost him now for sure.” And lose him we did … for years. At which point, Bush, who had once assured us he would get bin Laden, now assured us continually that it no longer mattered.
Mercenaries are loyal to money, not causes, and bin Laden had lots of money with which to bribe himself out of any tough spot with mercenaries. Bin Laden’s cause was also probably closer to the hearts of mercenaries in Afghanistan than was our cause. So, it should have been clear to Bush and all of his advisors that bin Laden would escape unless we did the job ourselves. What a bungled decision that was!
We need to maintain a military that can handle all possible needed military jobs internally. So, I’m for a strong, well-maintained, highly equipped military and for letting them do their job, rather than handing things over to indigenous forces or mercenaries if the battle is truly over our national protection.
I remember arguing with good Republican friends when we first attacked Iraq by saying, “Spending so much money and human resources on Iraq will weaken our ability to fight with all our strength in Afghanistan, where we have a legitimate right to be, and will prolong the Afghan war.” They disagreed with an air that indicated we were practically invincible so could easily handle war on two fronts. We remained stuck in Afghanistan for years, so it certainly appears to me that Iraq weakened our efforts there, as I think we are more than capable of faster victory.
I also argued, “We should take some of the money we’d save by not fighting in Iraq and use it to win the peace in Afghanistan by building roads and schools and hospitals and other infrastructure because we are good at winning wars but terrible at winning the peace.” Not since WWII, where we spent a fortune helping to rebuild Germany and Japan, have we done a good job of winning the peace.
I think it is because we did not do that in Afghanistan, that we are still engaged there. We could have made friends in Afghanistan, which would have helped keep the Taliban and Al Qaeda out, if we had left Afghans with a nation that was more vibrant than what they had. There would be a lot of people who would have said, “The Americans tried to focus their fighting on just the Taliban and Al Qaida, and they left the rest of country in the best condition we have ever experienced. We are better off because they were here.” But the never-ending results have been far from that.Granted, we have done some of that but not nearly as much as we could have if we had not spent a fortune fighting in Iraq. And, I am certainly not being critical of our troops, who were often quite humanitarian (and sometimes not). But, politically, the commitment to spend money on restoration has fallen short, so I question that most Afghans feel they are better off because we have been there.
There is no point in winning the war if you don’t win the peace, and you win the peace by winning the hearts of the people — by clearly doing what it takes to make their lives better … as part of the cost of true victory. You have to show you care as much about that as you do about tearing things up if you want to create friendly stability out of a place that was habitat for hatred when you entered it.
The Afghanistan War is, in my opinion, an example of a right war wrongly fought in terms of the choices of our elected leaders (not in terms of the abilities and courage of our soldiers). We have wasted a vast fortune on war because we are not willing to spend equal amounts to win the peace. Winning the peace in Afghanistan would have cost us less in the long run and saved us a lot of debt and a lot of lives compared to the cost of the continual cleanup that now involves us and which continues to be getting worse again:
Even as the Obama administration scrambles to confront the Islamic State and resurgent Taliban [in Afghanistan], an old enemy seems to be reappearing in Afghanistan: Qaeda training camps are sprouting up there, forcing the Pentagon and American intelligence agencies to assess whether they could again become a breeding ground for attacks on the United States…. The scope of Al Qaeda’s deadly resilience in Afghanistan appears to have caught American and Afghan officials by surprise…. In public, the administration has said little about the new challenge or its strategy for confronting the threat from Al Qaeda, even as it rushes to help the Afghan government confront what has been viewed as the more imminent threat, the surge in violent attacks from the Taliban, the Haqqani network and a new offshoot of the Islamic State…. The emergence of new Qaeda training camps comes amid a widespread erosion in security in much of the country. “In the second half of 2015, the overall security situation in Afghanistan deteriorated, with an increase in effective insurgent attacks and higher [Afghan National Defense] and Taliban casualties,” the Pentagon said. (The New York Times)
So much for the idea that we could diffuse our energy and still come handily to a victory in Afghanistan. We have fought a war that has lasted over a decade, only to be right back in a situation where, if we pulled out today, the Taliban would come back in charge and would provide safe refuge to Al Qaeda all over again. And that’s because our presidents didn’t concentrate properly on the war in the first place and also started pulling out before the job was done, and because we have not won the peace.
So, I’m for a strong military, but for using it wisely. I’m certainly opposed to policing the world (and to politicians who think they are skilled enough to call the shots on the battlefields). Thus, I would be willing to cut military costs to help balance our budget by not engaging our military against everyone we don’t like; but focusing just on those who are actually acting as a threat to the US or our allies.
[amazon_link id=”0991004701″ target=”_blank” ]What military strategy did the U.S. initially pursue in Afghanistan that routed the Taliban and nearly annihilated Al-Qaeda only a few months after 9/11? How did the War in Afghanistan, so successful in its opening weeks, become ‘The Long War’?[/amazon_link]
The Iraq Attack
Going into Iraq enraged me. We had no business there. We have spent hundreds of billions of dollars and lost thousands of US lives and half a MILLION Iraqi lives just to depose one supremely bad dictator who wasn’t doing us much harm, if any, and who posed only a minor threat … unless you believe the trumpeting about stockpiled weapons of mass destruction. As far as I am concerned, the proof is in, and they weren’t there. All we found was dilapidated junk that was far more dangerous to Iraqis than to us.
I watched Secretary of State, Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, wanting to believe he’d show justification for what the president was clearly intent upon doing, as I liked Powell a lot. Instead, I had to agree with the Iraqi ambassador that his presentation was a dog and pony show. It was easy to see other completely plausible explanations for the satellite photos that were presented. (For example, is it really so hard to believe that an agricultural insecticide factory would have a chemical clean-up truck on hand and ventilation that extended far out into the desert? You don’t have to be making bombs to be concerned about what savage chemicals will do to the workers and local populace if there is a spill.) It was shameful the we’d go to war on such contrived evidence and, therefore, almost predictable to me that we’d find nothing once we got in there.
Even if you go with the strict body count of Iraqis who died directly from military fire, 110,000 is a lot of grief brought against a people who were not attacking us. Saddam had, a decade earlier, attacked his neighbors; but we had resolved that and had Saddam imprisoned in his own land. (And if we were going to get Saddam, the time to do it would have been in the first Persian Gulf War.)
Saddam Hussein was also vile toward Iraqis, but not a fraction as vile as the torment we brought to Iraq, which continues to this day — the broader count of the half-million people who have died of war-related starvation, war-related disease, war-caused shock, suicide, and from violence in a land that was, henceforth, torn without solid leadership.
That vile dictator was strong, but he was also contained, and the cost of containment was far less than all the costs of war. Those in the military who plan wars, as well as a few politicians, rightly opined that letting Saddam stay in charge as a strongman kept other worse players in the region, like Iran, in check.
Hussein kept a lot of wannabe bad players inside of Iraq in check, too. Getting rid of him, I was certain, would create a power vacuum to where even worse people might manage to gain control. As others were stating, it would leave us in a quagmire where we would spend a decade or more trying to maintain political order after the disorder we’ve introduced.
And, so, it has been and still is a quagmire. Here we are, more than a decade later, still fighting in Iraq, which is now infested with al Qaeda and ISSIS, which were not a problem for us in Iraq when Saddam was ruling with an iron fist. It is not our responsibility to eradicate all the evil people in the world, and it is not achievable. It’s almost unbearable to think of how much we spent just to get rid of ONE person and what the bill will be by the time the fighting stops — if it ever stops.
We are just too ready to use our weapons to re-engineer the world in our image, and the cost is insane. (The cost in human suffering is far worse, but this blog is about economics and this article about the economics of war.)
[amazon_link id=”0544570413″ target=”_blank” ]”I am a United Sates Army general, and I lost the Global War on Terrorism. It’s like Alcoholics Anonymous; step one is admitting you have a problem. Well, I have a problem. So do my peers. And thanks to our problem, now all of America has a problem, to wit: two lost campaigns and a war gone awry.”[/amazon_link]
We are increasing our insecurity in the world by instigating war everywhere we look
Instead of gaining security for ourselves, we have created numerous new enemies throughout the middle east, and we are far less secure than we were before the campaign in Iraq; but don’t think Democrats are a bit better. Under Obama, we added Libya and now Syria. Once again, we tried to help take out evil dictators, Assad and Gaddafi. Once again, all we have succeeded at so far is to create power vacuums for ISIS to step into.
The truth is we are constantly engaged in nation building, and we have always done a terrible job of that. We are the ones who empowered al Qaeda in Afghanistan in the first place in order to stir up trouble for the Soviet Union!
In the same manner, we are involved with supporting the coup d’etat government in Ukraine, which overthrew an elected president. The rapidity with which we embraced the new insurrectionist government leads me to wonder if the Obama administration was involved with those players prior to the overthrow the democratically elected government, as Putin claims. Is Putin, albeit also not a guy I like, right (unfortunately) in his claim that we instigated the overthrow and are interfering too close to Russian borders and Russian interests? Was this more covert US engineering?
While I would rather not see Ukraine lean more toward Russia, as it was doing under its now-deposed leader, I’m not for recasting ballots with machine guns by supporting those who overthrew the new leadership by force. That’s not democracy! If we supported the overthrow behind the scenes, it makes us hypocrites to be a party to that. I don’t know that we did, but it looks suspicious. Regardless, we are deeply involved in supporting the coup government now.
It seems to be our nation’s nature to love democracy until it elects a communist and then to undo what democracy has done because we don’t like how they voted. Bush particularly seemed foolish in his relentless notion that instituting democracies would create a world we like. We haven’t gotten it through out heads that democracy is only as good as the voters are good. As Alexis de Tocqueville said after examining the new democracy in America for the French government, “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
I’d take that one step deeper. America is only good if its people are good. It is only the goodness of the people that makes a democracy good. So, bringing democracy to countries full of people who hate us is not really a benefit to us and certainly not worth blowing up our children to accomplish it.
What is the state of US engagement on battlefields today?
- We have a destabilized Libya to where ISSIS and Al Qaeda elements are now spreading there.
- We have a hugely destabilized Syria by supporting people who are probably terrorists just because we hate the Syrian leader. We have fought the war based on battlefield calls from the White House. Our own inability to manage the situation tightly has enabled ISSIS, Al Qaeda, Iranian and Russian elements to take root there, turning a Syrian civil war into a potential world war as so many nations gather to fight in one small crust of sand. This week’s news indicates China may be preparing to enter the fray:
China has adopted its first counter-terrorism law that grants overarching powers to security agencies, allows the military to venture overseas on counter-terror operations… The country’s armed police forces may carry out such operations with the approval from the Central Military Commission, the new law says. (Times of India)
- We support Turkey, which certainly appears to be supporting ISSIS in Syria! We have a fractured Iraq with ISSIS and Al Qaeda elements there.
- We have an unresolved ongoing costly situation in Afghanistan.
- We have a bankrupt Ukraine in a civil war that appears to be a proxy war with Russia with the US having threatened full-on war if necessary.
- We have threats and near skirmishes with war ships in the South China Sea as we test each other’s resolve. And who knows what other areas we are secretly involved in to smaller degrees?
Aside from the moral questions so much militancy raises, how does the cost of all that radical social engineering in so many parts of the now thoroughly destabilized globe not help break the US budget? How does it not create vast new risks for the decaying global economy because any or all of those areas could spin up in amplitude as we saw on a small scale with Turkey and Russia?
And how does it make us more secure?
Further reading on the complexities of US involvement in Ukraine:
[amazon_enhanced asin=”0300211597″ /][amazon_enhanced asin=”0815726643″ /]
Further reading on the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars:
[amazon_enhanced asin=”0307279448″ /][amazon_enhanced asin=”0544570413″ /][amazon_enhanced asin=”0991004701″ /][amazon_enhanced asin=”030734682X” /][amazon_enhanced asin=”0307450767″ /]