Supporters of the war in Afghanistan have long contended that the
mission to stabilize the violent and destitute nation, curb
international terrorism, and prevent the collapse of neighboring
nuclear-armed Pakistan was too important to worry about cost. But,
increasingly, some pundits worry that the war's price tag
may be spiraling out of control. Their concerns come amid attacks on the expense of health care reform legislation. If health care is subject to such stringent concerns
about cost, should Afghanistan be as well? How do you put a price tag
on global humanitarian disaster?
- Democratic Lawmakers Object Three high-ranking House Democrats have proposed legislation
to impose a surtax to pay for the war. In a joint statement,
legislators lamented that cost is a factor in discussing health care
but not in discussing the Afghan war. Rep. John Murtha, who backs the
bill, conceded that it is unlikely to pass but is meant to send a
political message and to get people talking about the dollar costs of
- Better Spent Elsewhere The Atlantic's Derek Thompson asks
in the Daily Beast, "Why can't a debate about war also be a debate
about money?" Thompson points out that the suggested 40,000 troop
scale-up could cost $40 billion. "Put military strategy on ice for a
minute, and think about that number.
That $40 billion could be about half the average yearly cost of health
care reform over the next decade. It's the equivalent of our total
education department budget for 2010. An additional $40 billion would
double our Homeland Security budget.
Comparing the fight against terrorism to textbooks and electronic
records might seem impolitic. But spending is scarce. It's also
- Letting Military Set Tone Matthew Yglesias laments "the limits of conducting this kind of debate more-or-less entirely within the four walls of the military. After all, why wouldn't the special ops guys want to see as
much resources as possible put into Afghanistan? At the end of the day
to get a real debate going about the wisdom of going big you need
someone in the room who represents a competing claim on the resources
at hand," he writes. "If the meeting also includes someone who needs to worry about the
budget deficit, or about health care, or about child nutrition, or
preventing bridges from collapsing then maybe this doesn't look like
such a great deal."
- Cost of Failure?
The potential price tag of departing Afghanistan is almost never
discussed. It's not exactly politic, after all, to ask how much it
would cost in dollars to recover from another terrorist attack. But no
less than then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld did exactly that when evaluating the price tag of the Iraq war in 2003. "I think the way to put it into
perspective is that the estimates as to what September 11th cost the
United States of America ranges high up into the hundreds of billions
of dollars. Now, another event in the United States that was like
September 11th, and which cost thousands of lives, but one that
involved a -- for example, a biological weapon, would be -- have a cost
in human life, as well as in billions, hundreds of billions of dollars,
that would be vastly greater."
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