Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Where's the baloney?

By Capt. Fogg

I used to travel fairly often and I always made it a point to learn some useful words and phrases when going somewhere where English or German weren't helpful. Where's the bathroom? How much is that? and too much! probably head my list of most used items. Of course the problem with such partial skills is that one can't always understand the answers.

When asking how much relative to the cost of our invasion and occupation of Iraq, the answers vary and the answers are as confusing as the dialects one encounters traveling in China. "It's only half a trillion or so" say those who wish to minimize it for purposes of maintaining some political attitude. Others like Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, a Columbia University professor, and Harvard University public finance Professor Laura Bilmes may give you a much higher figure that adds perhaps 600 billion in interest payments, possibly another 300 billion to replace and repair the military infrastructure. In fact they give us a total of 3 trillion, which is far harder to sweep under the GDP - and of course the meter is still running. According to Zachary Coile at the San Francisco Chronicle, the White House has not disputed these numbers that show Bush's war so far is second only to WW II in cost making it the second most expensive war in the last hundred years - at least. That makes it ten times more expensive than WW I, 3/5ths of the cost of WW II and yet it has so far failed to eliminate the inchoate and disparate movement that killed 3000 Americans over 6 years ago.

As Stiglitz and Bilmes write in their book, The Three Trillion Dollar War:

The best way to think about it is: What could we have done with $3 trillion? What is the best way to spend the money, either for security or for our national needs in the long run? The stronger the American economy, the more prepared we are to meet any threat. If we weaken the American economy, we are less prepared.

With perhaps half our National Guard resources committed in Iraq, is our ability to deal with an other and larger terrorist attack less that it would otherwise have been? Can we really dismiss this kind of cost as a serious detriment to our economic future?

It's hard to think that this cost hasn't weakened us, it's painfully humorous to remember how the administration punished people for suggesting that it would cost as much as two to three hundred billion. Rumsfeld called it "baloney"

I guess English is still well enough understood in the US that I don't have to learn the phrase "where's the baloney?" In fact I don't have to ask the question, I know where it is already.

(Cross-posted from The Impolitic.)

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