During an appearance I made on MSNBC today in which the subject started off being about Iraq and then moved to Afghanistan, anchor David Shuster asked me how I’d finance our continued presence in the nations. I said that there was a long list of government programs that I’d like to cut, and he found it rather amusing that I required more than 10 seconds to explain. But just for the record, here are a small sampling of the government measures that I’ve opposed in recent years:
President Bush’s Medicare prescription drug plan (cost: ongoing, but $41 billion in 2008 alone).
The Bear Stearns bailout (cost: $30 billion).
The AIG bailout (cost: $180 billion).
Fannie and Freddie bailout (as much as $200 billion).
Auto bailouts (cost: Over $60 billion).
The Bush economic stimulus bill of 2008 (cost: $152 billion).
The Bank bailout (cost: $700 billion).
The Obama economic stimulus bill ($787 billion).
This does, however, bring up a broader point. Libertarians and non-interventionist conservatives argue that a more costly foreign policy abroad undermines the case for fiscal restraint at home. This is a valid point that I think those who, like me, favor a limited role for the government domestically have to grapple with when arguing for military intervention. The way I think about it is that there’s a consistent argument to be made that national security is one of the legitimate functions of government because fighting a war is not something that individuals can realistically do without a government. The most honest way I can sum up my outlook is that while I believe it’s a proper role for the federal government to prevent thousands of American civilians from getting killed while going about their work day, I don’t think that government’s role is to pay for everybody’s health insurance. Ideally, I’d like to live in a world in which we didn’t need a military at all, or at least one in which we only required a very limited military merely tasked with defending our borders from foreign invasion. But while, for non-interventionists, Sept. 11 proved that we shouldn’t be meddling in world affairs, for me it proved the opposite.
As much as I’d like for the United States to maintain a low profile, I don’t think that such a policy is realistic in a day and age in which men plotting in caves in Afghanistan can send 19 extremists armed with box cutters to smash airplanes into buildings and kill 3,000 civilians on U.S. soil. When it comes to how to prevent terrorist attacks, the record shows that for decades the frequency and severity of the terrorist threat grew even as we viewed it as a manageable threat that did not require a full military action. And I don’t think that withdrawing troops from around the world would satisfy Islamic extremists. So conceptually speaking, I do support aggressive actions to deprive those extremists of training grounds and to make sure that weapons of mass destruction do not fall into the hands of irrational actors who are enemies of the U.S. That has lead me, in recent years, to support two objectively costly wars.
So where do the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan fit into this framework? While I continue to believe that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein, in hindsight, I don’t think the Iraq War was worth it when you consider the full range of costs associated with the war. That is, not only the actual cost in blood and treasure, but the opportunity cost in terms of other actions that are no longer feasible because of Iraq, most prominently, our inability to do anything to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions. However, I also recognize that since we’re already in Iraq, that we should leave in as responsible a manner as possible to make sure that there isn’t a climate of violence and civil war that creates a vacuum through which Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups can build bases, not to mention the destabilizing effects in the entire region. As far as Afghanistan, there was a clear connection to Sept. 11, and I also think it’s important that we don’t leave prematurely and turn over the country to the Taliban.
In any event, this is a complicated set of arguments, which are difficult to make in a short television segment, which you can watch below: