The Spectacle Blog

The Debtor’s War

By on 1.12.09 | 6:46AM

Whether you're pro-war or not, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments has a new study out taking a look at how the war in Iraq is being funded. The discussion on financing foreign adventure has been generally limited to, "This War Costs A Lot Of Money," which is probably persuasive to people unaware that government activity generally costs a lot of money. But in these economic times, citizens would do well to take a look at the dollar signs and evaluate for themselves if they can stomach the idea of an interventionist foreign policy that costs more than a defensive one.

Waging a war, however, is not your average government activity. When Spain was pursuing an empire and annoying British fleets with a hefty armada, it did so through direct financing with gold. Their industrial revolution was sacrificed because of an unhealthy desire to spend on immediate goals and not invest in the longterm, something that has plagued Spain's economic history.

So then:

...[The administration's] reliance on supplemental appropriations, often submitted in the middle of the year and supported by inadequate justification materials, the process has reduced the ability of Congress to exercise effective oversight. It has also tended to obscure the long-term costs and budgetary consequences of ongoing military operations.

It's interesting that such a passive aggressive approach has been taken to war spending. But perhaps that's because Americans are rarely comfortable with spending a large sum of anything that has no direct benefit to them. The cost of a defensive measure is likely to be more acceptible than the cost of a foreign intervention. Their support of the surge also showed that they also understand the importance of winning.

Whatever the case, the administration has refused to address these budgetary issues, well, conservatively:

A reasonable—although ultimately subjective and unprovable—case can be made for attributing a share of federal interest costs to these wars. With the exception of the 1991 Gulf War, which was a brief and relatively inexpensive war financed primarily by contributions from US friends and allies, the costs of all previous major conflicts were financed through a combination of tax increases, cuts in domestic programs and borrowing. By contrast, rather than raising taxes, the Bush Administration proposed, and Congress implemented, significant tax cuts. Nor have major reductions in spending been implemented in non-defense portions of the budget to help pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

There is a certain irony here. The war may have served as an excuse to cut domestic programs, but this was avoided in favor of charting a course that sought Democratic support -- during a Republican majority. In other words, even when he didn't have to pander, Bush did.

Perhaps a plank in the next Republican platform can be, "When next there is Republican dominance of both the Congress and the White House, the agenda shall be to reduce the size of government."

Send to Kindle

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article