Stupid wars

Why are we involved in another expensive and pointless war?

Chuck McIntyre is a Sacramento economist and writer.

At first it seemed like a post-9/11 retaliatory strike against Al Qaeda was reasonable, since they were harbored by the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the effort was aborted before successful, because our “war” efforts were diverted to Iraq. Eight years later, Al Qaeda has regrouped in western Pakistan and the Taliban have regained control of much of southern Afghanistan.

Now we seem to be engaged in a Vietnam-like campaign: fighting in the midst of what is arguably a civil war between the Taliban and, by all accounts, a corrupt Karzai regime.

Sound familiar?

Much like the goal in Vietnam (to prevent a falling-dominolike spread of Communism across the Pacific) proved bogus, the current goal in Afghanistan is unclear at best. President Barack Obama asks Americans not to expect any short-term changes in our Afghanistan strategy—as a large troop buildup (“surge”?) takes place—with the stated goal being to “keep Americans safe.”

But does it really? And from whom?

Security experts ranging from recent CIA field operatives in the region to the hawkish Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser, feel that the United States needs to reassess its effort in Afghanistan. The argument, essentially, is that fighting the Taliban is not the same as fighting Al Qaeda, which has moved out of Afghanistan and, in any case, can find safe haven in any number of other countries such as Somalia, Indonesia and, as seen in the 9/11 plot, even Germany.

Even someone without national security expertise can recognize the illogic of increasing U.S. troops and spending $70 billion per year (and rising) on an ambiguous Afghanistan campaign or “counterinsurgency,” as it’s called under current versions of Orwellian doublespeak.

A repeat of the immoral and likely illegal Iraqi campaign in Afghanistan can only lead to unnecessary human loss. In the case of Iraq: thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed, several million Iraqis displaced from their homes, the country’s infrastructure destroyed and a U.S. expenditure estimated from $1.9 trillion (by the Congressional Budget Office) to more than $3 trillion (by Pulitzer Prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz). Adding to this, outrageous practices by our unaccountable military contractors in Iraq are now being repeated in Afghanistan.

Of course, all these resources represent one of our biggest industries. The United States spent $976 billion on war and “defense” in 2008—$1.9 million per minute, about 55 percent of the federal government’s discretionary budget, or around one-tenth of our entire economy’s gross domestic product.

The economic and moral value in opportunity costs of such an allocation of national resources (foregoing possibly more beneficial investments in health care, education or rebuilding our own deteriorating infrastructure) can only be justified by urgent and real national security threats. If President Obama was sincere in his campaign statements that he is against “stupid” or pointless wars, then, as our commander in chief, his current policy in Afghanistan seemingly violates his own beliefs.