Heartfelt thanks and respect to all of our veterans, past and present.
Less can be said the jingoistic judgments of who send the troops into harms way and the rest of us who stand by and watch it happen as if we were watching the Weather Channel.
The Class of 2010 has lived with the “War on Terror” since they were in seventh grade. Now we will be asking them to go and fight. It’s ironic that as we pay homage to our war dead and wounded, the urgent issue now is whether to send an additional 40,000 troops to Afghanistan.
This is not a political decision. Take it and the entire question of Wars on Terror out of politics and emotion. Place it into the barest of government questions. What is the greater good?
Over the centuries, Afghanistan has been invaded, occupied and given up by the Persians, the Greeks, the Arabs, the Mongols, the British and the Russians. And now, it’s America’s turn to prove history wrong for the first time again.
In the last two weeks I had opportunities to speak privately with a US Senator who just returned from Afghanistan and who sits on the Intelligence Committee. As well, I spent more extensive time with the retired US General who headed security in Afghanistan.
In unconnected conversations they both said to me two things almost word for word.
“We’re just blowing up rocks.”
“How can we ask Americans to sacrifice for a corrupt regime?”
H.P Lovecraft (1890-1937) “the most important American writer of weird fiction since Poe” said that “the most merciful thing in the world is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.” Ironies and contradictions abound within us, as if our psyche were an ocean liner with guests carefully scheduled so as to never run into each other.
Who is the enemy in Afghanistan? The Taliban or is it the War on Drugs opium trade which ends up as heroin on US streets? Opium accounts for about 50% of Afghanistan’s GNP.
How is that battle for hearts and minds going? Our soldiers are handing out candy to kids while we fight to prop up a blatantly corrupt and abusive political system just because it is not the Taliban. At the same time we are trying to destroy 50% of the Afghan GDP. They gotta love us.
The war on terrorism is undeclared in the sense that there is no one to declare it against and the funding for it is “off the books,” as if it were free to wage or that the debts we pass on here are much less burdensome than the cost of say a national health care program.
The fight over health care reform includes the stubborn issue of cost. Many Americans compartmentalize health care into a financial deficit problem while such a view is ignored when it comes to these wars. The “War on Terror” already costs Americans in economic terms alone, more than the projected costs of the most extravagant health care proposals. If they cost the same and you can’t afford both, how would you decide? Is our national health unconnected to our physical and economic security?
Regarding the national economic stimulus package it ‘s disconcerting to some that adding or retaining a job is estimated to be a one-time cost of $235,000 per job even though every dollar of that money is being invested one way or another in the American economy. It seems less alarming than the $1-million-per-soldier cost, per year in Afghanistan alone. These costs were calculated in connection with adding 40,000 new troops in Afghanistan. Is that productive? The question is not about 40,000 troops or a compromise number of some kind. It’s about whether we should be there at all given the other priorities we face.
Of course estimating costs for a war with a non-existent state, a non-standing army, a geographically indeterminate and an unknown enemy is difficult to be sure. In inflation adjusted dollars, Viet Nam cost about $400 billion to lose. It would cost the US almost $200 billion just to support the proposed 40,000 troops over the next ten years.
Another ten years of this war on terror at the current run rate will reach up to $2 trillion. It cost $2 trillion in inflation adjusted dollars to defeat Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini in half the time we have already spent on the “War on Terror.”
What conviction have we that the war on terror will ever end? Or that it will not spread to Pakistan, Yemen, Syria, Iran or Somalia or Florida or Fort Hood?
HOW DO WE DEFINE “VICTORY” IN THE WAR ON TERROR?
If we cannot answer that then not only can we never estimate the real cost but we can never win. Do all terrorists need to come forward and surrender? Do we win when everyone likes us?
A JUST WAR?
For those of you who were in seventh grade when the war on terror was sold to the American public, you should know that an actual rationale offered was St. Augustine’s calculus of a “just war.” The absurdity of this application is immediately clear on the pivotal matter of “proportionality.” We have sent the best soldiers in the world in superior numbers, with the best training and technology in world history to fight a “war” with mosquitoes and to bomb rocks.
There are good reasons to make war decisions unemotionally and in the context of the greater good. Offering up American lives, limbs and public treasure in Afghanistan to make political points is what Spinoza called fighting:
“… as we would for salvation and will not think it is shameful, but a most honorable achievement, to give their life and blood that a man may have a ground for boasting.”
NO MORE TROOPS. GET OUT!