Friday, July 04, 2008
Here is a bit of news to be thankful for on this Fourth of July. In the first six months of 2007, 529 American soldiers died from hostilities in Iraq. The comparable figure for the same period of 2008 was 176, a decline of 67%. At this writing, the most recent American death in Iraq was on June 26, eight days ago.
The question, of course, is whether this trend will sustain itself. I have happily posted about declining casualties in Iraq more than once in the last five years, only to see them spike in some horrific attack. Someday, the last American will die from hostilities in this war. We will not know, of course, that the man or woman who falls that day is the last until long after the fact, but eventually he or she will be remembered as such. Will it be in victory, or defeat?
What is victory, and how much will it cost/have costed? How do we know this was worth it, especially when the second question so rarely has an answer? Mild fiscal responsibility trumps an urge to propagate democracy in my book.
Mild fiscal responsibility trumps an urge to propagate democracy in my book.
I appreciate this argument, but it's an argument that critics of our Iraq policy, for the prior two decades before the Iraq War, rarely brought up before it became a moot point.
Fun with math.
It is most worth comparing the casualty rates of the past six months, in this catastrophic, "worst foreign policy mistake ever ever ever in all history of man, etc", to caualties suffered by the US in a host of other foreign policy "decisions".
US Iraq casualties will match those suffered by the US in....
In the single Battle of Okinawa - in the year 2033
The single Battle of the Bulge - in the year 2052
In "Harry Truman's War" in Korea - in the year 2101
In the "Democrats War in Vietnam" -in the year 2168
Oh, and in mid-next year the number of Iraq casualties will equal the number of Union casualties suffered at Cold Harbor, Virginia .... IN TWENTY MINUTES. By a country with one tenth the population.
"Worst military / foreign policy disaster ever in US history, blah blah blah."
Idiots. Stone freekin' idiots.
Cute numbers druu, but how many dollars will it cost? Are you willing to pawn Texas, California and New York to China to pay for this chance at maybe spreading democracy? How about three states of my choosing, including your home state, where you'd like to move, and your backup option? Will you gladly pay the taxes we'll have to levy on an annual basis just to pay interest?
Balance your checkbook before you buy your neighbor's nephew in Omaha a new Ferrari. And this point isn't moot while we still drop $162B at a go for the foreseeable future.
Are you willing to pawn Texas, California and New York to China to pay for this chance at maybe spreading democracy?
The high estimates for this war are about $1 trillion total. That covers more than the last five years, but if you were to limit it to that - that would amount to $200 billion per year.
The federal budget for 2007 was $2.77 trillion. When this comes down to a choice between spending $2.77 and 2.97 trillion, to say that this war is going to lead to us pawning Texas, California and New York is hyperbole at minimum.
It is a moot point when a lot of the complaints of the war deal with sunk costs - a good deal of this is money we've already spent.
It is additionally a moot point when we don't take into account the implications of us leaving - how much will we have to spend on future actions? How much will it affect our economy if we leave, a civil war breaks out, Iran invades, etc.?
It is also, for me, just annoying as Monday morning quarterbacking. For twenty years everybody was complaining about our Middle East policy, our willingness to deal with dictators...we finally do something and all of a sudden their lambasting us for how much it costs--something nobody ever thought to bring up earlier when they were attacking us for our policies.
Now, a guy like Barack Obama has the Democratic nomination, who during the debates suggested he'd go into Pakistan (a country with 7 times the population of Iraq) and other people over the last few months have criticized the United States for not doing more in Darfur and lately Burma. If there's been any mention by people on the left of what these actions will cost, I've missed it. It seems more like the intention is to criticize U.S. policies whatever they may be at a given time, not to offer a coherent and consistent policy of your own for others to follow.
Also, if $2.77 vs. $2.97 tril. = breaking the budget, there are a considerable amount of social programs supported by the left that I'd like them to think more seriously about cutting.
Something "nobody ever thought to bring up?" Please. Questions of the war's cost were repeatedly met with the $60B invasion figure, and no other numbers were mentioned. In my opinion, reporters took that number on blind, naive faith the be indicative as to the long-term cost of the war. This was dumb on their part, and should never have happened, but definitely has come up several times in discussions I have with my war-opponent friends. It is one argument among many, and to dismiss it as after-the-fact is deceptive at best.
As for sunk costs: how do you know how much the remainder of our occupation will cost? Why do you know these numbers are correct? Why are they in any way more reliable than previous estimates of the war's pricetag, which have had to continually adjust upwards?
In short, the advocates were egregiously wrong before. Why should those estimates be trusted now, as opposed to numbers that are order(s) of magnitude bigger?
Want to play accounting games? Consider the amount of money that we have to pay total from now (including the interest cost of a foreign counterparty running the juice at say, 5% annually until we're done), factor in the opportunity costs of investing that in anything you choose (tax breaks, research, education, fighting poverty, whatever) and use that figure. The real-valued 8% per annum return on the stock market causes the minimum opportunity cost on hundreds of billions at a go to be high indeed. Compound interest is also your enemy here, because I see no move by advocates to raise capital to pay off these costs. If you want to talk about supply-side economics, I'll pick at that too. See the Neo-Laffer Curve.
Also, as for hyperbole: these figures indicate that ( as a low figure, ie without opportunity or interest costs) $200B/yr is more than the GDP of the following states:
DC is a district, but counted apart
Oh, and about those costs of leaving: what about the opportunity costs of us staying? Any saber-rattling at various countries (such as Iran, North Korea, etc) is incredible at best, because we can't even wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan without one of the two falling apart. Further, what if we just happen to crack our army in half by overreaching??
I think that after our wildly impressive returns on our dollars so far, it is up to those that demand the American people keep throwing money at this investment to show (with much analysis, substantiation and number-crunching) why it's a good plan.
Something "nobody ever thought to bring up?" Please. Questions of the war's cost were repeatedly met with the $60B invasion figure, and no other numbers were mentioned.
I'm sorry, no. That was a bad and stupid move by the Bush administration, but cost a peripheral issue at most in 2003, much less in the 1990s, 1980s, etc. when your side was constantly lambasting us for following the policy you that now seem to all wish in retrospect we followed.
That was crappy, but it just wasn't a big factor period - national sovereignty, WMDs, whether they were really a threat--those are all things you guys made a point of bringing up, but whether cost should have been a big focus or not, it just wasn't one of them.
As for sunk costs: how do you know how much the remainder of our occupation will cost?
I don't, except I know that violence has been going down, the Iraqi Army has been improving and that should lead to less of an expense on our side in keeping order there - however, whether it does or not, that wasn't what I said. What I said was that people on your side are often complaining of expenses we already we spent--which, again, now in 2008 is a moot point.
In short, the advocates were egregiously wrong before.
Invent me a time machine so we can go back to 2003 and I'll take these criticisms seriously instead of considering it Monday morning quarterbacking.
Want to play accounting games?\
No, but you apparently ought to avoid them -- you do not "buy" or "pawn" a state based on what its GDP is, something that should be pretty obvious to anybody who knows what the hell they're talking about in this area.
It's still an incredibly small percentage of the budget to say it's causing us to go bankrupt. $2.77 trillion vs. 2.97 trillion -- out of the huge amount of dollars we are throwing at social programs that your side supports, to say it's Iraq that's going to cause us to go bankrupt is ridiculous.
Any saber-rattling at various countries (such as Iran, North Korea, etc) is incredible at best, because we can't even wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan without one of the two falling apart.
Again, invent me a time machine so we can go back to 2003 so our options won't be A.) we show them we have trouble handling two wars, but we'll stick around long enough and win or B. (your pick) all you need to do to beat the United States is blow up a few kids in street markets or increase the war to a whopping 6% of its budget and we'll determine it's too expensive.
"Egregiously wrong" also seems to be a great description of such statements as "the war is lost", "an unrecoverable catastrophe", "It's a civil war now"... (was it? If so, is it now over? When? Who won? etc).
These are not only egregiously wrong, they were said by people who voted to send the troops in.... and then they WRONGLY said those troops lost the war!
The conflicts I mentioned above ALL contained mistake after mistake after mistake after mistake by US commanders and politicians. The philipinnes under FDR was the biggest surrender in US history. MacArthur screwed the pooch re: the Chinese in korea. Don't even get me started on Lincoln's first two years in office and his succession of commanding generals.
The difference? Our political classes were then not made up of screaming children unable to accept that war, not to mention life itself, is many times messy, difficult, painful, prone to error etc. And that victory goes to whomever has the WILL to prevail. Even strategy is secondary to will. Strategy can be altered (and is). Without the will, forget it.
And God has just BARELY favored us with enough men and women with the will that we HAVE prevailed, in that face of Baathists, jihadists, and the valorous ones most deadly enemy of all, the cowardice and childishness of all too many of their own countrymen and supposed allies.
When we start the rationing of food and other necessities, special 'war taxes,' donations pools requesting scrap metals and tin cans to be recycled into tanks, and other such wartime measures, maybe I'll start to think that this war is 'too expensive.'
But up until now, common citizens have been asked to sacrifice exactly nothing for the war effort. And all while upgrading and expanding the military.
But it's 'too expensive.' What a load of bullshit.
Here in Minnesota the leaders in the Democratic party have been making this argument:
We need to increase the gas tax to increase funding for roads and bridges which in turn provides good jobs and feeds the Minnesota economy.
As a neophyte on economics I really don't know what to make of the argument that increased funding will feed the economy, because on some level I think it is very much true. Isn't this money that goes into the public sector pretty much being put right back into the private sector?
One thing I an sure I will not see is a Democrat using the exact same logic on War expenditures. Sure we may be spending $11 Billion a month on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it's not like most of that money is going down a black hole except in the case of the $ being spent on fuel.
Eliminate welfare. That solves your war spending issue. Or farm subsidies.
Or stripping the tax exempt and charitable deduction status of universities. PBS, NPR the NEA surely these are non essential spending with this looming war spending.
Winning this war is far more essential for the long term security of the nation than all of the above spending. Perhaps some lib can tell us why going in to Darfur is more important than Iraq or Afghanistan. Money spent in Darfur is well spent but not in Iraq or Afghanistan. And just what exactly is the national interest in Darfur again?