Sunday, April 06, 2008

Are You $820 Billion Safer?

This months Reason magazine has a good article titled "The Trillion-Dollar War." It details the political shell-game that the Bush administration and Congress are playing with the financing of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rather than funding them through the usual means, they are financing them through "emergency supplemental appropriations" that are separate from normal defense spending and are exempt from the few remaining restraints that Congress puts on spending. For instance, "emergency" funding doesn't count towards the governments deficit projections, making the DC government appear more fiscally conservative than it is. (It's worse than it looks? Yikes!)

Five years into the war in Iraq and seven years into Afghanistan, the nebulous "War on Terror" should hardly still be a "surprise" emergency anymore. You would almost think that Congress and the Pentagon could plan for it, but no, it's ramrodded through as emergency add-ons, as if it was just sprung on them. While previous administrations used emergency funding in the initial stages of wars that sprung up, they soon had to budget for them once they were up and running.

Since no congress-critter wants to vote against any defense spending bill, for fear of being called weak or accused of disarming our brave soldiers, these emergency funding bills have become a favorite vehicle for getting wasteful pork projects through Congress. The most recent "war" supplemental appropriation, signed by El Presedente in June 2007, contained $24 billion in nonemergency spending including: $120 million for shrimp and menhaden fishermen, $60 mill for salmon fisheries, $283 mill for the Milk Income Loss Contract program, and $100 mill for California citrus growers. (Mmm... shrimp, salmon, milk and fruit. Proof that you should neither shop nor legislate while hungry.)

The Reason article included an interesting table listing the cost of current and past U.S. wars.

Cost of U.S. Wars in 2007 Dollars
(in $ billions)

American Revolution: $4

War of 1812: $1

Mexican War: $2

Civil War (Union and Confederate costs): $81

Spanish-American War: $7

WW1: $364

WW2: $3,200

Korean War: $691

Vietnam War: $650

Persian Gulf War: $92

Iraq/Afghanistan (through FY08 request): $820

(Source: Reason magazine- May 2008)

As you can see, only World War II has cost us more than the "War on Terror." Since, unlike WWII, the current war has no clearly defined victory conditions, it may end up costing us much more before it's done.

If the American people decide that the ever-shifting goalposts of the "War on Terror" are truly worthwhile, I hope that they will at least demand that the war be conducted with fiscal prudence. I'm sure that will happen.

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