Taxes and War: The Indefensible Costs of the Afghan War and NATO

April 27th, 2011 - by admin

Susan Cornwell / Reuters & Gene Healy / The Washington Examiner – 2011-04-27 23:05:24

Factbox: A Look at Costs of Afghan War to US Taxpayers
Susan Cornwell / Reuters

WASHINGTON (April 26, 2011) — Tucked into the recent spending bill that kept the government from shutting down was some $110 billion for the war in Afghanistan. That’s more than in any other year since the conflict began, although the Obama administration hopes to start winding it down this year.

President Barack Obama plans to begin drawing down his force of 97,000 US soldiers in Afghanistan in July, although the size and nature of that drawdown remains unclear.

Here are a few facts about the costs of the Afghan war to US taxpayers:

Congress has appropriated $386 billion so far for the war in Afghanistan, where the United States in 2001 supported the toppling of the Taliban after the September 11 attacks, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) says. CBO is the budget analyst for Congress.

The total to date includes $38 billion for training and equipping Afghan military and police units. The goal is to leave behind security forces that can take on fighting the Taliban as US forces start to leave.

But some recent events, including a massive jailbreak at an Afghan-run jail in Kandahar and a mob attack on a UN compound in Mazar-i-Sharif, have raised doubts about Afghan security capabilities.

The $110 billion being spent in Afghanistan in fiscal 2011 is more than double the $44 billion being spent in Iraq this year, CBO says. Two years ago, the relationship was the other way around; then, Iraq carried the far bigger price tag.

Afghanistan became the more expensive battleground in 2010 after Obama sent a surge of 30,000 more forces there and started drawing troops down in Iraq.

Nonetheless, over the years, the United States has spent almost twice as much money in Iraq as in Afghanistan. CBO says the total for the Iraq operations is about $752 billion since the United States went to war there in 2003, compared to the $386 billion for Afghanistan since 2001.

When operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are combined together and some “other” costs are added, US taxpayers have spent $1.26 trillion on both wars, CBO says.

That total excludes about $8 billion in spending for medical care and benefits for survivors of the two wars by the Department of Veterans Affairs, CBO says.

Foreign aid, including development assistance to Afghanistan managed by the State Department and US AID, has totaled some $25.1 billion since 2002, a recent report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) says. CRS prepares reports on issues that US lawmakers ask it to probe.

Development aid increased in recent years as part of a “civilian stabilization strategy” by the Obama administration. The idea is to foster economic growth and improve basic services so Afghans feel they will have a better future with the Afghan government, rather than the Taliban.

The Obama administration has asked for another $4.3 billion for these purposes in fiscal 2012. With some lawmakers trying to cut overseas aid to reduce the US government deficit, General David Petraeus, the top US military commander in Afghanistan, has warned that failure to adequately fund civilians working alongside his forces could “jeopardize accomplishment of the overall mission.”

Costs per troop per year in Afghanistan have grown from $507,000 in 2009 to $667,000 in 2010 and $697,000 this year, the Congressional Research Service says.

Some would argue this reflects the effect of deploying additional troops, mounting more operations and expanding infrastructure, the CRS said in a March report.

Future expenses are a question mark, partly because troop levels are uncertain. Obama says he wants to start withdrawing troops in mid-2011, but that will depend, in part, on conditions on the ground.

Iraq costs should continue winding down sharply, if the remaining 47,000 US troops there are withdrawn as planned by the end of this year.

© Thomson Reuters 2011. All rights reserved.

Time for the US to Get Out of NATO
Gene Healy / The Washington Examiner

(April 25, 2011) — Again and again, just when you think you’ve reached maximum possible cynicism about politics, you discover that, actually, you haven’t been cynical enough. It’s almost always worse than you think.

You’ve probably heard that what President Obama trumpeted as “the biggest annual spending cut in history” was nothing of the sort.The purported cuts — $38 billion from a federal budget $1.4 trillion in the red — were pathetic enough at face value.

But according to the Congressional Budget Office, the real total for this year is only $352 million — with an “m.” That, it turns out, wasn’t even enough to cover the first six days of bombing Libya, which cost roughly $400 million.

Two fruitless and expensive wars weren’t enough, apparently, so we’ve now added a third.

We got dragged into Libya by our NATO allies, who aren’t competent to run a proper airwar against a crumbling Third-World autocracy, and are now complaining that we’re not doing more to bail them out.

It gets worse: Would you believe that we’re in this mess largely because of the machinations of a preening French intellectual with friends in high places?

France, you’ll recall, was especially eager for war: first to recognize the rebel “government,” and first to fire shots over Benghazi. “France has decided to play its part before history,” President Nicolas Sarkozy pompously intoned.(Upon hearing that, a friend wisecracked, “How long now till Gaddafi rolls into Paris?”).

Credit or blame goes to French celebrity-philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy, who, “in the space of roughly two weeks,” the New York Times reports, got “a fledgling Libyan opposition group a hearing from the president of France and the American secretary of state, a process that led both countries and NATO into waging war.”

Who is Bernard Henri-Levy (BHL)? He’s heir to an industrial fortune, and a crusading socialist who favors open-collared shirts, stylishly long locks and “humanitarian” wars. One critic summed up BHL’s persona tartly: “God is dead, but my hair is perfect.”

Henri-Levy’s 2006 book, American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville, was so condescending about America’s “derangements,” “dysfunctions” and “hyperobesity,” it roused NPR’s Garrison Keillor to a fit of patriotic ire. The normally placid “Prairie Home Companion” host called BHL “a French writer with a spatter-paint prose style and the grandiosity of a college sophomore.”

And yet, BHL — clever boy — helped entangle this fat, silly country in a conflict that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates admits “isn’t a vital interest for the US.” You can’t make this stuff up.

Since we turned command over to NATO, the British and French have been running short on laser-guided munitions and pleading with the US to do more heavy lifting.

But if our NATO allies can’t get the job done, maybe it’s because they’ve become military “welfare queens,” free-riding off America’s lavish defense budgets. The US now accounts for nearly 75 percent of NATO members’ overall military spending.

What are we doing in NATO anyway? Maybe it made sense in 1949 to put aside our distrust of “entangling alliances” in order to confront the Soviet threat.But that threat disappeared two decades ago.

Today, the alliance’s main functions seem to be forcing the US taxpayer to subsidize Europe’s generous welfare states, and periodically embroiling us in conflicts, like Kosovo and Libya, that we’d be smarter to avoid.

There are lessons to be learned from the Libyan debacle. For us, the main lesson is that NATO long ago outlived its usefulness.For Europe, it’s that foreign adventurism doesn’t come cheap.If you think these things are worth doing, pay your own way, and finish the fights you start.

Examiner Columnist Gene Healy is a vice president at the Cato Institute and the author of The Cult of the Presidency.

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