Congressional Republicans are engaged in a rare, internal debate over foreign policy. Prominent neoconservatives, including Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, are chiding some in the party for what they describe as “isolationist” views. Of course, this label is dishonest; no one (at least in the Congress) wants to completely cut the United States off from the world.
But it is just as clear there is a pronounced and growing sentiment among Republicans that playing policeman to the world may be an unsustainable burden, especially at a time when we are experiencing a massive debt and budget crisis at home. And, with new, nonpartisan calculations of the costs of such an interventionist foreign policy now available, the questions are more timely and serious than ever. Whether the politicians in our nation’s Capitol will actually act on such sentiment, however, remains a question.
According to a new study from the Watson Institute at Brown University, the so-called “wars on terrorism” will cost taxpayers between $3.2 trillion and $4 trillion. The estimate includes not only the costs directly associated with prosecuting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the occupation and rebuilding in which we continue to engage in those countries; but also the substantial obligations to soldiers and their families.
Independent figures such as these have never sat well with those in government advocating for such adventures.
In the months before the invasion of Iraq, for example, Bush Administration officials claimed that war would cost between $50 billion and $60 billion. In fact, the administration played down higher cost estimates by its then-economic advisor, Lawrence Lindsey, who was forced to leave his White House post shortly after suggesting that the war could cost up to $200 billion.
However, the Watson Institute report now estimates we have spent over $757 billion in this Iraq adventure alone. Clearly, Bush Administration officials deliberately low-balled the cost of the war in an attempt to sell it to members of Congress and the public.
While some form of military involvement in Afghanistan was understandable and justifiable in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, our continued to presence in the “Graveyard of Empires” nearly a decade after those attacks has cost over $416 billion.
The cost in terms of human lives also should be noted. The report estimates that 225,000 people have been killed in the 10-year “war on terrorism,” which includes soldiers from the U.S. and allied countries and civilians in occupied nations. Additionally, the report notes that the US Veterans Administration system alone has already treated more than 650,000 veterans of the two wars for a variety of problems and received 550,000 disability claims.
Sadly, our interventions do not end with these two countries. America’s involvement in Libya continues; and apparently at levels higher than publicly admitted. Just last month we learned of airstrikes against militants in Somalia. The Washington Post noted that the “airstrike makes Somalia at least the sixth country where the United States is using drone aircraft to conduct lethal attacks, joining Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq and Yemen.”
With the Congress poised to condone a broadened view of the “war on terrorism,” there is little to prevent President Barack Obama from arbitrarily dropping bombs on whatever country might engage in actions the president finds displeasing on any particular day.
At the end of the day, however, while Republicans and Democrats may bicker, and nuanced differences in domestic policy will surface periodically, when it comes to war, it doesn’t really matter much which of the two major parties occupies the residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue or is in charge of the domed building at the other end of the street. War is patriotic.
by Bob Barr — The Barr Code