For thirty years, "government spending" is a term that in the minds of all too many Americans is the same thing as saying "Welfare for lazy people", despite the fact that defense, Social Security, and Medicare make up over three-quarters of Federal spending. And yet no one except Rand Paul is even looking at defense spending.
Here we are, almost a decade into Afghanistan and seven years into Iraq, with no end of our involvement anywhere in sight. We are not one iota "safer", and not one of the so-called fiscal conservatives is even addressing the cost of these wars:
"Another four years of war—at the current rate—we’re talking about 2400 more coalition and American soldiers dying, thousands more Afghans killed, and a price tag of about a half trillion dollars,” said Matthew Hoh, a former US Marine who resigned his Afghanistan post in protest last year and now serves as director of the Afghanistan Study Group. And the question remains—what does this sacrifice buy us? How does this benefit the US? How does it impact Al Qaeda? How does it help stabilize Pakistan? How is any of this worth it?"
Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes now estimate the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will reach $4 to $6 trillion. There have been approximately 2,200 US and coalition casualties in Afghanistan, and tens of thousands of Afghan civilian deaths. The Christian Science Monitor reports that “softening” the 2011 and 2014 deadlines “could add at least $125 billion in war spending—not including long-term costs like debt servicing and health care for veterans."
According to the Congressional Research Service, the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan account for 23 percent of the combined budget deficits since 2003. The Republicans' hypocrisy here is venal. If they were indeed serious about shrinking the deficit in a responsible way this war is one area where they would focus needed attention. Certainly those concerned with the budget and rebuilding our economy can agree that these resources could be put to better use at home.
If these wars were doing anything to keep us safe, it might be possible to justify the cost. But it seems that Americans are as frightened as they've been at any time since the 9/11/01 attacks, we are subject to security theatre at airports that is designed to reinforce that fear while our luggage gets loaded onto planes by Goddess-knows-who, and we keep playing a game of catch-up with a few thousand terrorists who seem able to simply nail together two things that have never been nailed together before and bring us to our knees. Positive steps such as fortified cockpits and passengers who now know that being passive with onboard terrorists no longer means that no one gets hurt minimize the chance of another 9/11-style attack. Everything else is whack-a-mole: Richard Reid tries to light explosive in his shoes, so we have to take off our shoes. Someone else tries to make a bomb out of liquids, so we can only take as much shampoo and moisturizer as will fit in a baggie. A guy tries to light powdered explosive in his underwear, so we have to search elderly people wearing depends and cancer survivors' ostomy bags. Someone hides explosives in printer cartridges and so we ban the shipping of printer cartridges. Whoever finances these penny-ante tactics is laughing at our foolishness.
Because the fact is that we don't know what the hell we're doing. Not in our conduct of war (in which today we find out that a high-level Taliban "leader" with whom we've been negotiating is a fake), not in our air security operations, not in how we handle the economy.
Yesterday was the 47th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I was eight years old then, and while I remember the impact of that event, I also remember that it was a time when Americans were about looking forward, about the future and its potential. The Kennedy assassination was a wake-up call that there was a dark underbelly in this country, but still -- we went to the World's Fair in 1964 and attended exhibits called "Futurama" and "Avenue of Progress" and "Wonder Rotunda" and looked ahead into a future of continued innovation and prosperity.
Forty-seven years later, we are a nation of frightened, medieval-thinking people who deride people who actually live in caves while we behave as if we do, with legislators who say we don't have to do anything about climate change because God wouldn't allow the effects of global warming. We have potential presidential candidates who participate in rituals banishing witchcraft and who think behaving like a high school mean girl is the way to power. Educated people are regarded as "elites" and ignorance is valued as symbolizing "real Americans." Sixty-five years ago we vanquished the Third Reich and the Japanese emperor in four years and now we haven't been able to defeat terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq in nine.
And now cannibalism is being lauded on national television as symbolizing good old American ingenuity.