Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The grim cost of war

The Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University has just completed a major study of the real cost of the decade-old War on Terror. They state:

Nearly 10 years after the declaration of the War on Terror, the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan have killed at least 225,000 people, including men and women in uniform, contractors, and civilians. The wars will cost Americans between $3.2 and $4 trillion, including medical care and disability for current and future war veterans, according to a new report by the Eisenhower Research Project at the Watson Institute. If these wars continue, they are on track to require at least another $450 billion in Pentagon spending by 2020.

There's more at the link. Their research may be viewed at the project's Web site.

I have no doubt that the costs listed by the researchers are substantially correct - both financially, and in terms of the appalling human toll. However, there's one question they don't try to answer . . . in fact, they don't even bother to ask it: yet, it's fundamental. That question is:

What would it have cost the USA,
and the free nations of the world,
if the War on Terror had NOT been fought?

I suspect not many will think of that question. Perhaps it takes a military background to ask it . . . I don't know. Nevertheless, I submit that the cost of not doing anything, of letting terrorists get away with their crimes, would have been far worse.

I agree that certain aspects of the War on Terror were badly planned and implemented, and might profitably have never been attempted: but that's speaking with the benefit of hindsight. If I'd been in the seat of power at the time, and known then what our leaders knew at that time . . . I honestly don't know whether I might not have made the same decisions. I think those in command can legitimately be criticized for not reacting faster to changed circumstances and conditions, and adjusting their plans to take account of such changes: but again, would I have done any better if I'd been in their shoes? I like to think I would . . . but I can be misled, and make mistakes, as easily as the next man.

What say you, readers?



Anonymous said...

This is an unanswerable argument, for we can't know the unknowable.

But I'm reminded of the old saw about the man who knows "the price of everything and the value of nothing".

Sometimes you just have to put the scorekeeping and MBA analysis away and do what you know is right.

John Peddie (Toronto) said...

Sorry-above comment was mine til I pushed the button of anonymity by mistake.

Noons said...

The problem is not the cost.

The problem is that the War on Terror was really only fought in one place: Afghanistan.

Iraq was never a war on terror. Just a Bush family feud and an avenue for certain other folks to make a lot of moolah.

And in Pakistan it was never fought: no one has the courage to point out where the real enemy is, it's just not convenient to do so...

Anonymous said...

Kill em there, or kill them here. The choice is clear.

Dad29 said...

Imponderables are hard.

The Bush II strike on Iraq was, I think, necessary and very smart. It took out a bad guy, but just as important, told certain folks that the US can be a fearsome opponent.

The 'stan campaign is less convincing. While I agree that taking out Taliban/Hezbollah/AlQuaeda is a good thing--and we SHOULD do it--one wonders if SOF units, supported by a brigade plus the Navy, couldn't be more efficient use of men and dollars.

Clearly, "civilizing" Afghanistan is not in the cards.

Geodkyt said...

Noons --

Except for the fact of all the non-Iraqi nutballs who showed up in Iraq to take on the Great Satan on behalf of head chopping nutjobs everywhere. . . and so were not available to undertake terrorist missions against soft targets in the US, precisely because they went toe to toe with US military forces where the grunts had the relative advantage.

This "Flypaper Strategy" was openly discussed by senior officials (much to the teeth gnashing annoyance of those of us who can spell the acronym "OPSEC").

Only AFTER facing pretty complete failure in Iraq did the nutjobs move into Afghanistan. . . where US military forces do NOT enjoy the same advantages.

You fight the enemy where you can find him, but if you can suck him into playing on YOUR chosen hop-scotch board, even better.

Add in the fact that Saddam BOASTED about supporting terrorist operations. Such as his (open and official) payments to families of successful suicide bombers, payments that might equal a DECADE or more of income for some of these people. . . thus encouraging more suicide attack -- on the theory that he could strike without fear of real retaliation, simply because he didn't actually ORDER specific attacks or recruit specific nutjobs, only paid off the families of the "martyrs" afterwards. For many years, he was right in thhinking that, absent a DIRECT link to a nutjob before said nutjob went out in his Semtex Underoos, no US president would actually threaten Saddam's power.

Add in Saddam's prior use of NBC warfare, his KNOWN prior pursuit of atomic weapons, and the fact that even countires and organizations that didn't want the US to attack (French, German, Russian intelligence, and Hans Blix and his crew of Mr. Magoos. . . who, by the way, had colecte and WAREHOUSED Iraqi NBC weapons, only to have them disappear forever after the UN inspection teams left) were saying he had an ONGOING program working on ALL aspects of offensive NBC weapons (nuclear, biological and chemical).

Noons said...

Sorry. I just can't believe anything that is said about Saddam and his tactics, unless it is backed by verified facts.

And media claims are not facts, not by a long shot.

Not after all the media and non-media lies that characterized the entire Iraq campaign.

In the movie Green Zone, Matt Damon claims at one stage to the state dept drone:

"what happens next time we need people to believe us?"

I couldn't agree more. It sums up my feelings about the Iraq war in a nutshell.

Note that I am not deriding or belittling the efforts of the grunts on the ground: they certainly had nothing to do with it and did the best they could. All the kudos to them.

That is not however the reason for fighting a war.

deadcenter said...

Or, you could ask the question, 'what if the war had been fought by the professionals rather than the Secretary of Defense who thought he knew better'. Sorry, but in my mind an O-6 USNR should not be directing the actual war efforts of O-7+ who's business is the study of fighting ground wars.

Or, what if 'we fought the war properly by finishing the first war
(Afghanistan) before choosing to fight the second (Iraq) during which time additional justification could have been assembled, but oh, that might not have fit the President's timeline because by the time we would have been ready to pull out of Afghanistan and invade Iraq, forty-three would have
been out of office. Just because you can fight a war on two fronts, doesn't make it a good idea.

Or we could have gone after the actual enemy, the terrorists and more importantly, the financiers of terror, but that would have meant going after inconvenient targets that live in places like Saudi Arabia and our ostensible ally, Pakistan, and they make such great friends we really wouldn't want to make them angry or anything.

Anonymous said...

Bush declared war on a tactic, rather than defining the enemy accurately. To Win, you need to define who you are fighting against.

We STILL have not done that!

We keep using WAR as a political term to advance other agendas. And it keeps on not working. I submit Johnson's War on Poverty, and the ongoing War on Drugs.

Both are un-winnable "wars" because drugs and poverty don't fight.

Drugs are inanimate objects. We have criminalized the possession of substances, rather then criminalizing the actions of people who abuse drugs.

Prohibition didn't work and was repealed for good reasons. Just a little thought is required to see that the fallout from the "war on drugs" is FAR worse than the damage done to society by abusers of legal substances.

Poverty is a condition brought on by bad choices of one's self or one's ancestors. Stupid hurts, just like it should.
People spending money on lottery tickets and beer and smokes and gambling instead of paying for food and saving 3% of their income are what causes poverty.

Babies born to people who make bad choices grow up without the guidance of correct behavior. This results in more bad behavior.

We see the result: a congress and Executive branch and a lot of judges that are sure it's OK to take money from the productive people and spend it on their own projects, in the name of "fighting poverty".

War - it's a powerful tool that should be used sparingly and correctly to convince nation states to behave correctly.

Until we declare war on a "religion" that has global domination as its stated goal, we will keep on wasting precious lives and resources in an un-winnable "war".