Health care or war?

Which is more dangerous, the Taliban or the lack of health insurance?

In the debate over health-insurance reform and its cost—from $80 billion to $110 billion a year, depending on what’s in the final bill—little mention has been made of something else that will cost dearly: dispatching another 30,000 to 40,000 troops to Afghanistan, on top of the 68,000 now there.

As Nicholas Kristof, writing in the New York Times, points out, the bill in Afghanistan has been running about $1 million per year per soldier. For 100,000 or more soldiers, the cost could well be $100 billion or more annually—and that doesn’t include the long-term medical and disability costs when injured soldiers return home.

Here’s a big difference, though: Health-insurance reform will pay for itself, while the war’s costs will be added to the deficit.

It’s ironic that the Republican hawks in Congress who are calling for the additional troops are the same people who are charging that health-insurance reform is fiscally irresponsible.

As Kristof points out, a Harvard study released in September shows that the lack of health insurance kills about 45,000 Americans a year. “So which is the greater danger to our homeland security, the Taliban or our dysfunctional insurance system?” he asks.

Good question. And consider this: There are already 100,000 highly trained American and allied soldiers in Afghanistan, as well as 150,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers, to fight a Taliban force estimated at 25,000. That’s a 10-to-1 ratio.

Karl Eikenberry, former commander of allied forces in Afghanistan and current U.S. ambassador to that country, believes that dispatching additional troops at this time would be unwise because of the corruption and ineffectualness of the Afghan government. We agree. Asking American soldiers to risk death for such a government, and the American people to pay such a steep financial price, makes no sense when we already have a strong presence there.