What with our precarious economy and people raising heck about the government wasting money, I am trying to figure out why not more of a fuss is made about the cost of our ongoing wars. According to a front-page story in the Sacramento Bee (on 8-16-11), due to the complex way the government budgets it is hard to pin down the exact cost of the wars, but the best estimates are $1.42 trillion since 2001 and $9.7 billion per month, and I don’t know and don’t think that includes Libya. Surely this must be one of the main reasons the country seems to be going broke.
We are not fighting World War II here. If we were fighting that type of war, a war that at least seemed to make sense, all young people (and some not so young) would be subject to the military draft and we’d be urged to buy war bonds and there would be some type of at least economic sacrifice expected of individual citizens, and people would support it because it would be for survival. This is clearly not the case now. What we are doing is fighting war for oil and other geopolitical concerns (arguably oil is for survival, but we have other sources and pretty much people want to sell the oil they have because if not it is worthless, and if we really must have it, we ought to be honest about our intentions). The mantra of fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here is nonsense. What we are doing now may make us so weak that we might well find ourselves fighting them over here but not strong enough to defend ourselves. Probably what we did to Osama Bin Laden recently is the way we should have been handling things all along. We do have to have a strong military but we need to use it wisely and not get bogged down in the sands of the Middle East.
Now I have written essentially that I am against most wars, but I think if you fight a war you have to fight it to win. The surgical thing we did with Bin Laden worked. That was not a war. If we find ourselves in a position that seems to demand the introduction of troops, then yes, we have to go all out. That is what I said in Libya — not that we needed to fight a war there, but if we were to do it then go all the way. We have not and we are at stalemate, although it seems Gaddafi may be forced to step down soon (which begs the question: “and then what?”). And someone told me that he thought it was clever of President Obama getting NATO to do the heavy lifting in Libya and not leave the U.S. holding the bag. Perhaps so. But whatever, unless we are trying to be an empire of old, we have no business with occupying troops in foreign lands.
What I am saying is that if we have an enemy that threatens us, we do what is necessary, whether it be a surgical strike or an invasion, but once we commit ourselves to an invasion we have to go for it and win. We don’t need any more Koreas, Vietnams, Iraqs, Afghanistans, or Libyas (not to mention Somalias).
What makes it so hard to pin down our war costs is that we are fighting them “off the books”, a device war supporters use to avoid debate, I guess.
What follows is the original version of this post:
I was surprised to read a columnist in the New York Times referring to President Barack Obama as the weakest incumbent since Carter, until later when I realized that he is a Republican and supposed to be one of the Times’ conservative voices (the Times itself usually referred to as liberal). But I think he might be right if we don’t get our economic house in order or get more jobs and pronto.
The columnist is Ross Douthat. An interesting or peculiar name. And I see he was born 1979. That seems young for someone like me, born in 1949.
But he was also saying or perhaps lamenting that if the Republicans don’t get their act together they won’t even be able to beat what he considers the quite beatable Obama.
I would say that as long as the Republicans allow the likes of Michele Bachman and Rick Perry to represent themselves as credible presidential candidates, they might as well kiss their hopes of regaining the presidency goodbye. I guess Obama has to be secretly rooting for them.
(I still don’t know much of anything about Perry except some of his outlandish statements and that he has been popular in Texas, but I had been thinking over the past day or so he might be the kind of candidate who could disavow some of it and then go on to play a more serious role, but he does not seem to be doing that yet.)
Bachman, as far as I am aware, has not said anything of any substance at any time anywhere. And that shrill voice grates on my ears. While she may be a tax attorney she seems to be a brick short of a load and she has already been caught misstating facts and can’t seem to even get her own family history correct. Her latest or one of her latest gaffes (a minor one I admit, but silly nonetheless) was confusing Elvis Presley’s death anniversary with his birthday (and what does Elvis have to do with running for president anyway?).
Texan that he is, Perry shoots from the hip. His latest shot is that of a climate change denier. Yeah and smoking doesn’t hurt you either.
Meanwhile, the GOP’s only hope so far for a candidate that would appeal to the electorate as a whole rather than the far right or the fringes is Mitt Romney, but he is universally known and universally not trusted, as far as I know. We don’t really know much about his Mormon brother (brother in faith that is) Jon Huntsman, but that’s just it, he is an unknown.
While we got over the Catholic thing in 1960 by electing JFK, I have serious doubts a Mormon could be elected. I think most people see the Mormons more as a cult than a religion. But the women are strong and the men are handsome and their offspring are all above average.
Conservative columnist Douthat thinks Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, would be a good candidate, except for the fact he is probably unappealing because we have not elected someone of his girth as president in a hundred years (since maybe one-termer Taft?).
I’m not sure how this connects, but I think the problem many of our leaders have, including Obama, is not giving clear objective, non-partisan explanations on things. I say this because I was listening to an interview with New York Times reporter and author Robin Wright on NPR the other day and she was explaining why we are in Libya — and notice, I wrote “explaining”, that is giving the rationale, not necessarily supporting it or not supporting it. I really felt I understood. I did not say agree.
If Obama and others would lay out their case or cases on the various issues in adult, albeit everyday, language and talk to us all as grownups and as people capable of understanding somewhat complex issues they might get somewhere — but they don’t for the most part.
But, by the way, I still say just lets us basically withdraw from the Middle East Wars, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya. Let us stop the nation building elsewhere and put all of our resources into national rebuilding right here at home. Said it before many times. And keep believing it.
One thing Wright said is that the so-called Arab Spring movement in the Middle East is one of primarily young people looking to gain their democratic and social rights in a modern society, but they don’t necessarily want to be allied with the U.S. and they are not tied to radical Islam, although elements of the latter may be included in the movement or trying to take advantage of it.
(And let me explain, I am not trying to strictly paraphrase what Wright said, this is just what I took away from the interview.)
The important thing I think is to let the Arab Spring play out and stay out of its way.
Of course the truth is, where there is oil or if something is in the way of getting oil, the United States and its European allies in NATO are likely to be involved.
And China waits in the wings, letting us do the fighting, letting us make enemies, and looking for its opportunity to move in. This is a problem. But we need to be careful and not fall into the trap anymore than we already have and make sure we don’t ignore problems here at home.
And here is a strange and somewhat troubling phenomenon. The American public does not seem to give a wit about our wars, other than they wish they were over. And knowing this, the politicians seem to be fairly silent on the matter nowadays.
The nature of war seems to have changed for us. Back in the day we fought land wars for territory and sea wars to support the land wars. Hundreds and thousands of soldiers (and sailors) were lost in a day. I heard on NPR that during World War I, Britain lost 21,000 troops in one day. Nowadays if 30 troops are killed in a downed helicopter, it is considered horrific. It is good that the numbers are down, but I think for better or worse (probably better) the American public could never stomach a real war again.
But to use a cruel play on words, the war(s) is what is killing us. We are gaining nothing and losing much, billions of dollars per month and the loss of human life.
But no one, the public or the politicians, wants to deal with it. I don’t think anyone seems to have the guts to deal with it.
It’s the old trap: if we quit now it was all in vain. If we continue, we just continue the quagmire (Vietnam?). We go on with the delusion we are preparing our supposed friends to do the fighting for themselves. For one thing, there is little evidence we have any friends over there and for another there is no homogeneous group of friends. They are divided into religious and political and tribal (and not necessarily in that order) factions.
I would say: Stop now. The lives we save will be that of many thousands of young Americans who can go on to do great things for their own country.
Let’s show the rest of the world how to live. If they like what they see, they will probably mimic us (through modern technology it has become nearly impossible for tyrants to hide how the rest of the world lives).
Meanwhile, part of me wants to see the Republicans step further into the mire they find themselves in with nut case candidates or uninspiring or untrustworthy ones, and part of me wants to see someone give Obama a good run for his money (and he has lots of it).
I wanted to work the Tea Party into all of this, but I could not this time. I think I still do not understand the movement entirely and also believe it is a combination of a phony group set up and financed by special interests in big business and big money along with well-meaning citizens who would like to see less corruption or no corruption and some common sense in our government and who consider themselves conservative. There is no doubt that they are successfully using the elective process to achieve their goals. For that, more power to them. No one is stopping others from doing the same thing. But apparently some of the others are not as committed or think they just don’t have the time. Or no big money donors are there to help. It almost always takes money.