Monday, February 6, 2006

The American War: All Cost, No Benefit

Terry McKenna is back today, with a cost/benefit analysis on the Iraq War. Meanwhile, as we sort of predicted last week, fundamentalist idiocy has reached new depths in the reaction to the notorious Danish cartoon (which has been out for nearly six months now, mind you).

Are we going to blame the cartoonist, or the newspapers that published his work, for fanning the flames that now burn in Lebanon, and are likely to break out elsewhere? I submit that if we do, we are in effect joining that gang of mindless yahoos in their violent sport (just watch the video at the link above—it's a mostly young, male crowd featuring the usual flag-waving dolts who are catching maximum camera time for their raging egos).

Let's put it into perspective: no one was attacked by this cartoon. Zero deaths, zero injuries, as a result of its publication. The only thing injured was a dead idea—a group belief and its swollen, festering ideology. If you imagine that you can't live without your group attachment and its binding system of belief, then I would suggest that you have far greater problems than any cartoonist can create. You have to start walking that wide-open path toward the rediscovery of your individuality. For some of us, it's not always easy or convenient, but for all of us it's the most direct route toward personal growth and world peace.

And now, Mr. McKenna:

Is the War on Terror worth the cost?

Let’s think big picture. And before you raise the specter of September 11, let me state that I remember the morning of 9/11. From a 20th floor office in Mid-town, we could hear the rumble of the first aircraft as it careened its way toward the North Tower (though we did not know what the noise meant). Upon hearing the news of an air crash, a number of us went down to the street to see for ourselves. By the time I reached the ground, the South Tower was also on fire.

September 11 was a horrible day. But war is horrible too. The question remains, it this “war” worth it? Is it worth some 2,500 “coalition” deaths (and over 16,000 wounded), plus tens of thousands of Iraqi dead? Is it worth the monthly expense of approximately $6 billion per month? Then there is the cost of enhanced security at all sorts of transit points from airports to rail stations. Then we have the potential loss of freedom—the undermining of the Bill of Rights itself—via the Patriot Act and the domestic surveillance program.

There is another cost that is largely overlooked: I call it the opportunity cost. That’s right, the opportunity cost. In the aftermath of the SOTU speech, the big news is what we can longer afford because of a toxic combination of tax cuts and war spending. For example, we can’t afford to maintain the student loan program (so even if NCLB brings us improvements to public schools in poor districts, which seems highly unlikely, we won’t have enough money to send those better-performing kids on to college). We also can’t afford the expense of research into alternative energy, at a time when we need such research more than ever. And we can’t afford genuine reform of either Social Security or Medicare. All we can afford is to leave the one just as it is (after wasting uncounted time and money in the struggle between Congress and the Bushies' advertising campaigns).

And for what have we made these human and economic sacrifices? If it's to defeat the terrorists, our Iraq war seems rather to have energized them (and, as we can see from the Yemeni prison break, even organized them). As Rep. Murtha reminded us (see Friday's post), nearly half of Iraqis polled now think it's OK to kill American troops in order to more quickly expel our forces from their land.

More importantly, we may be overstating the threat. Sure, they hit us hard on 9/11; and again in Spain, London, and sporadically throughout Asia. But terrorist attacks have been few and far between – and likely to remain so. No matter how hard they hit, they can’t launch organized follow up attacks or equal or greater strength. They just don’t have the manpower and infrastructure. And even the worst attack (the attack on September 11) did not bring western society to its knees. New York was up and running within 2 days. I know this for a fact: I was there, heading back to work.

Real wars are bigger. Many more people fight, and whole societies are involved. Peoples are displaced; economies are depleted or completely destroyed; an entire generation can be robbed of opportunity. Vietnam has spent the last 30 years recovering from the devastation inflicted on it during the American holocaust there. You cannot put a smiley face on war: there is no such thing as a good outcome, only a grim reality—at best, a victory riddled with grief.

During WW2, major cities like London, Berlin and Tokyo were devastated by nightly bombing. Yet even then, most citizens adjusted. And many more of us fought. In WW2, 12% of the US population went to war, and nearly 300,000 died in combat.

By purely numerical standards, the War on Terror has been a comparative breeze. Three thousand Americans died on September 11, 2001, another 2,249 so far in Iraq. Overall, a few hundred in Britain and Spain. Horrible, yes. But we have withstood it so far. With no end in sight, the best thing to do now would be to pare the whole enterprise down to a livable minimum — especially since we now know what we should have known before this started (and what Dubya's father knew) — that we can’t win this thing through direct combat anyway.

What I propose is the opposite of visionary — but it is time to replace dreams with reality.

So here we go:

 Korea – few options, keep talking.
 Iran – time to get over the hostage crisis – it will soon be 30 years old. Iran has good reasons to be suspicious of us. Let’s leave it at that. And yes, Iran hates Israel and it’s special hold over US policy. But we can’t invade them. And that’s that.
 Israel – we should do what we can to prevent harm to them…but Israel is not the US. If we can keep Iran from getting the bomb, that may be the best service we can do for the Israelis. The endless stream of US aid dollars has so far done little except to allow Israel to engage in expansionist dreams in Palestinian territory. Although the expansion seems over, the damage to US – Middle East relations is irreparable.
 Terrorism — We should continue to enhance airport and border security. And we must continue to remain vigilant. So internal police work is important. So is cooperation with European police. We should also continue our experiment with nation building in Afghanistan. But as far as Iraq is concerned, let’s find a way out of there. The sooner, the better.

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