Journal: From Waste to Want to Weak

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Two articles, one each from Wash Post and NYT follow.  Both focus on finance as it relates to national security.  IMHO, both are probably more true than not.  Also IMHO, the two parties principally responsible are Donald Rumsfeld and L. Paul Bremer.  Had those two, particularly Rumsfeld, not filled the Coalition Provisional Authority with ideologues, particularly Bremer, certain key actions like de-Baathification and dissolution of Iraqi institutions might have not been taken and Iraq might have come in at far lower cost.  I think Friedman (NYT, second article) is spot-on with respect to effect.  We have been down that road before.  As high intensity military operations wind down, the public guns/butter debate inevitably shifts to butter and the nation disarms.  It happened after WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and DESERT SHIELD/STORM.  I predict that it will happen again and that we will have another Task Force SMITH incident where vital or survival national interests compel us to rush inadequately trained, structured, and resourced forces to some emergent conflict where they will get needlessly slaughtered.)

Washington Post  September 5, 2010  Pg. B4 By Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes

A War More Costly Than We Thought

New York Times  September 5, 2010   Pg. WK8 By Thomas L. Friedman

Superbroke, Superfrugal, Superpower?

Below the line is a strong comment sent to the Contributing Editor of this post.

Your comments on Rumsfeld/Bremer seem true, but the new media meme of the wars, particularly Iraq, as the cause of the current economic woes, is bogus. The Bilmes/Stiglitz $3 trillion figure seems to have been pulled out of the two writers' asses, although Randy Hoven notes that the same number has been bruited about by noted noneconomist James “Snakehead” Carville.

Also, Tom Friedman's opinions on military operations are as valuable as his insights on economics: he was born to immense, unearned wealth, and with no need to work for a living has never seen a need to serve his country, either.

This coordinated assault on military spending on the left is just warming up. However, a few facts to bear in mind when the lefties in your life start:

• Total cost of the Iraq war was less than the first porkulus bill alone. (OIF $709B end-to-end according to CBO, including training Iraqis and DOS efforts [if anything DOS ever did merits the term effort] in Iraq). Not to mention the two larger boondoggles since. If $709B is an obscene number, $787B is almost exactly 10% more obscene. And the $787B accomplished nothing, except direct payments to politically favored individuals and organizations.

• The second stimulus boondoggle (2/2009) cost $862 billion, and also accomplished nothing except handouts to Democrat constituencies.

• OIF to end of 2008 (functionally, end of Bush admin) was $20B less than federal education spending in the same period (2003-2008).

• Medicare during that same period cost over four times as much as the war.

• Iraq war accounts for <15% of deficit and <8% of outstanding debt. These are large numbers on their own, but considered in the light of all federal spending, its like someone with a $200/day drug habit deciding to economize by not going to a movie. It doesn't address the real problem.

Will the military be cut, probably to the bone, and will that bite us in the ass down the road? Certainly. But you could zero out the defense budget,and apart from Tom Friedman's transient orgasm (and the collapse, overthrow or Finlandization of US allies worldwide) the effect on the deficit would be nugatory. We're in the hole because of entitlements and other transfer payments, and Congress can't/won't cut them because they are popular.

Sources, from most partisan to least. The Hoven American Thinker piece gives a framework for negotiating the statistics and charts in the last three links, and provides an informative chart of his own. War-deficit stories often include a graphic of war costs alone, or one of war costs in the total deficit with a suppressed zero to give a false impression. An old statistical trick,well covered in the 1954 book How to Lie with Statistics which seems to have been the bible of all news agencies:

CBO: Eight Years of Iraq War Cost Less Than Stimulus Act

Iraq: The War That Broke Us — Not

The Budget and Economic Outlook: An Update


Phi Beta Iota: This was Dick Cheney's war, made possible in part by Ahmed Chalabi, very likely an Iranian agent of influence who played the neo-cons perfectly.  History will render a verdict, no doubt multiple verdicts, on whether that money, the stimulus money, and the Wall Street bonuses bail-out money was spent in the public interest.

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