Thursday, March 13, 2008

Costs, Benefits & The New Anti-Iraq War Meme



Having failed to legislate defeat in Iraq despite near heculean perfidy, Democrats are now rolling out their next in a line of ever-changing arguments for an immediate withdraw from Iraq. In a new book by two economists and former Clinton staffers, they claim that the cost of the Iraq war will be $3 trillion. The book, which comes out now a week before General Petraeus will be briefing Congress on the progress of the war in Iraq, is sounding the new democratic meme – that the war is costly and that money can be used to fund great new adventures in socialism. Not surprisingly, besides creative accounting, the highly partisan authors studiously ignore the costs of leaving Iraq.

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The latest book out piping the new anti-Iraq war meme is by two former Clinton staffers, economists Linda J. Bilmes and Joseph E. Stiglitz. I have not bought there new book, but the pair have been kind enough to provide what amounts to a synopsis in the Washington Post. They make no attempt to hide their partisanship, stating in the first paragraph, "You can't spend $3 trillion -- yes, $3 trillion -- on a failed war abroad and not feel the pain at home."

The figures seem a trifle large – indeed, if accurate, we should have gone bankrupt as a nation a few years ago. As to the specifics of their creative accounting and assessments, which appears to involve everything from including every possible opportunity cost to the full costs of the rise in the price of oil, and including military costs that we would incur whether at peace or in war, I will wait for other economists to have their shot at that one. My puny mathematical mind goes into lock down when I consider anything beyond addition and subtraction.

Having said that, the two economists do give a litany of all the wonderful socialist projects that could be funded if we took all the money spent on the Iraq war and started using it to fund entitlement programs. The first one they name is, not surprisingly, "new health care plans." To call these two shills partisan would seem an understatement. Read their entire article here.

It is a measure of their distinct lack of seriousness that they do not count the costs of not engaging in the Iraq war in the first place, as Christopher Hitchens argues here, nor the potential costs and long term ramifications of leaving Iraq. Any assessment of that would have to consider such things as:

What are the costs to the U.S. and the free world if we leave Iraq immediately and allow it to be divided up between al Qaeda and Iran,

What will be the costs of highly re-energized Islamic radicalism and an Iranian theocracy that believes it has no reason to fear us?

What will be the costs of renewed terrorism from organizations that believe that the U.S. simply does not have the will to outlast them? That was the mindset that gave rise to 9-11.

What will be the costs if we suffer nuclear terrorism in a port city?

What will be the costs if we suffer a dirty bomb in our economic centers?

What will be the long term effect on our ability to conduct foreign policy if no country believes that we will make a steadfast ally?

What Middle Eastern country will choose to ally with us for protection against Iran or al Qaeda?

Those are just a few of the considerations any realistic debate about the costs-benefits of the war would have to address. Our two partisan economists studiously ignore all of these in their fixation on funding a vast expansion of the socialist welfare state. I will leave the final thoughts to Christopher Hitchens in his essay responding to our two partisan economists:

Of the military cost I would simply want to make the same point in a different way: that the most important factors are unquantifiable, or at least unquantifiable by this sort of actuarial shorthand. A few years ago, we had armed forces that were quite able to remove a ramshackle yet horrific government in Kabul or Baghdad but were quite unprepared to tackle the much more agonizing and tenacious enemies -- a Baathist/Al Quaeda alliance, or a Pakistani Pushtun/Bin Laden coalition -- that had partly emerged under those ex-governments' shadows. Now, after infinite labor, we have armed forces who have learned in practice how to smash Islamist terrorism on the battlefield, and also how to isolate and discredit it in the slums and the villages. This is what we needed in the first place and still need, as it happens, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and will also need in the future. It's not that Bilmes and Stiglitz don't present an alternative accounting process here: it's more that they seem entirely unaware of the whole calculation.

Innocent as they are on the above points, they become positively childlike as they go on. Think how many candy-canes and vacations I could have if it were not for the space program, or the cost of carrier-groups or special forces or -- I don't know -- Black Hawk helicopters. (If you think I am being unkind or frivolous, see if you can detect the thread of reasoning that connects Iraq expenditures with the crisis in the mortgage system.) There are days when I think that the money raised by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama might have been better spent on the alleviation of poverty, but I can still tell an apple from an orange and am not hopelessly stuck on the zero-sum fixation. Once again, the economic "experts" turn out to know the price of some things but not the value of anything.

Read the article here.


1 comment:

MK said...

With out security you can't have welfare, entitlements, healthcare, a future, you can't have anything.