Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Why does war cost so much?

I thought that it be a simple matter to breakdown the defense budget and easily pick out some spurious costs (OK, not really, there must be 10,000 people poring over those numbers).  Before I get flamed, I want to reiterate that I am pro-military and I served in the US Navy in the ‘80s.  But the defense portion of the federal pie still represents an attractive location for cuts.

We KNOW that we have to make cuts somewhere in the budget, or we will default on our loans.  This is something that most Americans have faced in their own domestic budgets: pay the rent or buy food; pay for the needed medications or pay the car note; buy the children clothes or pay the phone bill.  With times being even tougher now, these decisions are being made more often.  Why can’t the government understand and make similar decisions: cut social programs or defense spending; protect the borders or keep social security; provide for Medicare or…I think that everyone gets the idea.  I know that this is not a simple decision, but when the average American is faced with this they don’t have months or years to come up with an answer.  They don’t have super committees, analysts, aides, or any of the roughly 24,000 member staff that the house of reps has.  And if they saw it coming years ahead of time, wouldn’t they have done something about it before now?  Apparently not.

On to questions about war.  We are currently fighting two major wars: the war on terror, mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan; and the war on drugs, being fought mostly in the US and on its borders.  Just to simplify some of the points that I want to make, I’m going to talk about the War on Terror as just being in Afghanistan.  Some argument can be made that the fighting in Iraq had other reasons than just terrorism.  Now, I believe that had we not taken the war to the terrorists, there would have been more attacks like 9/11, and I also believe that Saddam had to fall, so I’m leaving Iraq out of the discussion.

The War on Terror, in Afghanistan, has lasted longer than Vietnam (10 years in June, 2011), cost to date about $474 billion, there have been just over 1,800 American military deaths (as best I can determine), and an unconfirmed Afghan civilian toll of more than 14,000.  Below are some interesting data and articles about this war.

By contrast, the War on Drugs has lasted 40 years, by my rough estimation has cost the US approximately $435 billion (federal dollars, and more in border state budgets), and the cost in lives is probably uncountable.  Below are some articles and a collection of data about the war on drugs.

I don’t want to reargue the legalization of drugs here; that has been done to death by people that have researched it for years.  There ARE strong arguments FOR legalization, but all I want to say here is that what we are doing is clearly not working.  As Albert Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.”  Based just on this thought, shouldn’t we at least try something different?

Now it occurs to me that we are fighting one of these wars using the wrong methods.  In Afghanistan we have thousands of boots on the ground, hundreds of Air Force and Navy planes, and most of the Predator and Reaper fleet loitering overhead.  We killed thousands of natives, combatants or not; imprisoned and questioned thousands (not going to touch methods); and spent a trillion dollars.  The War on Drugs has people, planes, boats, helicopters, blimps, a few Reapers of their own, and many less feet on the ground.  But we've never treated the drug fight like the WAR that it is called.  Bring out the heavy artillery, tanks, ships, and do whatever it takes to WIN!

Since we are backing off on the terror war, maybe we should use the troops in the other war.  When we decided that we had to fight the terrorist threat, although no particular nation could be blamed, we still took the fight into other countries.  Why can’t we do the same for the War on Drugs?

We won’t be attacking Mexico – we will be going after narco-terrorists.  Likewise, we are not invading Columbia, just going after the cartels.  Et cetera and so on.  In this war we would have the additional benefit of recovering billions of dollars that could help fund the fighting, and by some estimates of the amount of money in cartel hands, help pay down the deficit.

At the same time we should make every effort to destroy as much of the drug infrastructure as possible, which mostly means destroying crops.  Not with the aerial-sprayed defoliants used in Columbia in the early 2000s, but by the troops on the ground.  We should also treat the growers, refiners, transporters, and sellers of these drugs exactly like we treat the terrorists in Iraq or Afghanistan.  With one possible exception this time, let’s house them in their own country.  We have enough prisoners, both American and foreign, in our prisons.

If we can finish up both of these wars (WW II finish, not Vietnam) then we can begin some rational discussions on how to balance the budget and pay off the deficit.

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