Sunday, March 09, 2008

What Game Does McCain Think He's Playing?

…we need to pull the plug on the media's disturbing habit of acting as if foreign policy and domestic policy are completely separate entities -- a pair of high stakes board games that can only be taken off the shelf and played one at a time. To hear the media tell it, combining the two would make about as much sense as using your Monopoly pieces to play Risk.
--- Arianna Huffington
The 100-Year-War man wants his electorate to imagine staying in Iraquagmire just like we stayed in the Phillipines and Korea:McCain has no clue about the domestic consequences of his open-ended occupation of Iraq. He says he doesn’t know anything about economics. In Jan 2000, McCain claimed:
I didn't pay nearly the attention to those issues in the past. I was probably a 'supply-sider' based on the fact that I really didn't jump into the issue.
In November 2005, McClain said,
I'm going to be honest: I know a lot less about economics than I do about military and foreign policy issues. I still need to be educated.
And in December 2007, McClain said
The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should, I've got Greenspan's book.
When McCain confesses his ignorance of economics, that is one place where I take him at his word. You can’t keep on going on having both guns and butter forever. The American way of war has always been to call on the current generation to make their sacrifices along with the troops in the field and their families. That’s because most wars in American history were explainable to the people as war forced on us. Most of them weren’t unprovoked, elective or vanity invasions of nation-states who had no inclination or capability to attack us. So, the current generation of our people understood their war was born of dire necessity and were willing to carry the burdens of shortages and taxes to sustain the national effort. Not so with the Bush-Cheney-McCain war occupation or pacification of Iraq. Our government fudged and lied about the casus belli; then they lied and fudged about how much it would costs us; and in the upcoming presidential campaign of John McCain they will lie and fudge about how much longer it will go on.

McCain doesn’t understand much about economics, by his own admission, but
Joseph Stiglitz does know a tad. He’s a Nobel Prize-winning economic professor at Columbia. A Harvard colleague of Stiglitz is Linda Bilmes, a former assistant secretary and chief financial officer of the U.S. Customs Department. Together, they have published a monograph with the self-explanatory title The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of The Iraq Conflict. Stiglitz says of Iraq that
. . . the big picture is that, by our most conservative estimates, this war has cost an almost unimaginable $3 trillion. A more realistic estimate, however, is closer to $5 trillion once you include all the downstream "off budget costs" of long-term veteran benefits and treatment, the costs of restoring the now depleted military to its pre-war strength, the considerable costs of actually withdrawing from Iraq and repositioning forces elsewhere in the region.
I have a lot of trouble imagining even how to write a Trillion dollars out, numerically. It’s 3,000,000,000,000

A trillion dollars wasn’t what it was supposed to cost was it? Mitch Daniels, the Office of Management and Budget director, and Secretary Rumsfeld estimated the costs in the range of $50 to $60 billions, a portion of which they believed would be financed by other countries. (Adjusting for inflation, in 2007 dollars, they were projecting costs of between $57 and $69 billion.) The tone of the entire administration was cavalier, as if the sums involved were minimal. Even Lindsey, after noting that the war could cost $200 billion, went on to say: “The successful prosecution of the war would be good for the economy.”

But where are we? Stiglitz and Bilmes argue the true costs are at least $3 trillion under what they call an ultraconservative estimate, and could surpass the cost of World War Two, which they put at $5 trillion after adjusting for inflation. The direct costs exclude
  • interest on the debt raised to fund the war,
  • health care costs for veterans coming home, and
  • replacing the destroyed hardware and degraded operational capacity caused by the war.
Well, according to the authors, the cost of direct US military operations - not even including long-term costs such as taking care of wounded veterans –
  • already exceeds the cost of the 12-year war in Vietnam and is more than double the cost of the Korean War.
And, even in the best case scenario, these costs are projected
  • to be almost ten times the cost of the first Gulf War,
  • almost a third more than the cost of the Vietnam War, and
  • twice that of the First World War.
Stiglitz and Bilmes write that the only war in our history which cost more was the Second World War, when 16.3 million U.S. troops fought in a campaign lasting four years, at a total cost (in 2007 dollars, after adjusting for inflation) of about $5 trillion. With virtually the entire armed forces committed to fighting the Germans and Japanese,
  • the cost per troop (in today's dollars) was less than $100,000 in 2007 dollars.
  • the Iraq war is costing upward of $400,000 per troop.
In two weeks’ time the fifth year of McCain’s 100-year war occupation will draw to a close. Operating costs (spending on the war itself, what you might call “running expenses”) for 2008 are projected to exceed $12.5 billion a month for Iraq alone, up from $4.4 billion in 2003. That’s almost four times what we’re spending on the Afghanistan theater of the war on terror – the locus of the planning for the 911 attacks on our cities.

I excuse myself from the inability of fathoming the unfathomableness of the eventual cost of $3,000,000,000,000, or its monthly price tag of $12,000,000,000. Reading through previews and reviews of the work of Stiglitz and Bilmes as well as their Congressional testimony, I can begin to grasp the reaches of this nightmarish loss in blood and treasure. The money spent on the war each day is enough to
  • enroll an additional 58,000 children in Head Start for a year,
  • make a year of college affordable for 160,000 low-income students through Pell Grants,
  • pay the annual salaries of nearly 11,000 additional border patrol agents or 14,000 more police officers.
A trillion dollars could have
  • hired 15 million additional public school teachers for a year or
  • provided 43 million students with four-year scholarships to public universities
It doesn't matter whether it's George McCain or John McBush. Both are playing risk with funny money. Robert Borosage says
John McCain enjoys a fawning press and a maverick reputation. He likes to describe himself as a conservative populist. Straight talk is his boast. But when it comes to the economy, he's peddling the same poisonous brew that is sapping this country's strength. That is why even though John McCain is a decent man, the campaign this fall will be ugly and mean. McCain couldn't survive a straight up policy debate.
Clearly, if John McCain doesn't understand the economy, he doesn't understand security. If we had infinite resources, we might be able to have perfect security. But America, like every other country, has resource constraints. That means you need to be smart -- that is, economic -- about the money we spend. If you weaken the American economy, you won't be able to find the resources you need for security. The two cannot be separated.

Come this fall, when Senator Obama demonstrates to America that Senator McCain can’t cash his rubber checks with funny money, it’s not going to be pretty.