Counterinsurgency will require expenditures that damage our economy at a time when the U.S. can least afford it.
As I’ve written elsewhere, executing a counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan will require massive amounts of troops: anywhere from 204,600 to 654,767 troops, depending on how badly we want to fudge the numbers. This is problematic on several levels, not least of which is the cost.
You may have noticed that we are in an economic meltdown right now. You’d think that the administration would want to focus its attention on abating the crisis with every resource at its disposal. However, trying to plus-up troop numbers in Afghanistan will do just the opposite. Economists point to massive debt-financed defense spending caused by the Iraq war as a key driver of the current economic crisis:
THE Iraq war has cost the US 50-60 times more than the Bush administration predicted and was a central cause of the sub-prime banking crisis threatening the world economy, according to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.
The spending on Iraq was a hidden cause of the current credit crunch because the US central bank responded to the massive financial drain of the war by flooding the American economy with cheap credit.
Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes also point out the poor stimulative potential of defense spending in their book, The Three Trillion Dollar War:
As Stiglitz and Bilmes put it, “Money spent on armaments is money poured down the drain”; far better to invest in education, infrastructure, research, health, and reap the rewards in the long term. But any idea that war can be divorced from the economy is also naive. “A lot of people didn’t expect the economy to take over the war as the major issue [in the American election],” says Stiglitz, “because people did not expect the economy to be as weak as it is. I sort of did. So one of the points of this book is that we don’t have two issues in this campaign – we have one issue. Or at least, the two are very, very closely linked together.”
The authors aren’t alone in their analysis of the drag of military spending on the economy. An October 2007 study by the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst) found that per $1 billion invested in the following fields, you create wildly different numbers of jobs:
- Defense: 8,555 jobs
- Construction for home weatherization/infrastructure: 12,804 jobs
- Health care: 12,883 jobs
- Education: 17,687 jobs
- Mass transit: 19,795 jobs
So, to get a rough estimate of the job creation we’re missing out on thanks to massive war spending, let’s divide the cost of “war on terror” operations just for fiscal 2008-june/july 2009($254.9 billion for fiscal 2008-june/july 2009) by the number of jobs that could have been created in each sector had we not spent it on defense.
Based on these numbers and the PERI figures, we’d assume that this spending level would create:
- 2,180,670 jobs if spent on defense.
- 3,263,739 jobs if spent on home weatherization/infrastructure.
- 5,045,746 jobs if spent on mass transit.
That means by if we chose to spend an amount equal to the fiscal 2008-june/july 2009 war on terror budget on defense vs. other sectors, we created anywhere between 1,083,069 and 2,865,076 fewer jobs than we could have. (Remember, this doesn’t even take into consideration the whole Defense budget for that timeframe…just the “war on terror” operations. The real loss is much, much higher.)
Now, let’s relate this specifically to Afghanistan. Per New York Times’ Thom Shanker and Christopher Drew:
“…[B]udget analysts at the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill say that even troop reductions in Iraq…would present little savings in the first years…savings would be seen only in subsequent years. Calls…to shift troops from Iraq to Afghanistan actually would add costs to the Pentagon budget…It is significantly more expensive to sustain each soldier in Afghanistan than in Iraq because of Afghanistan’s landlocked location and primitive road network.”
In other words, a counterinsurgency policy which requires more troops in Afghanistan will reinforce a self-destructive spending pattern possibly costing us millions of potential jobs in the depths of an economic recession.
The escalation required by counterinsurgency doctrine in Afghanistan = the self-immolation of the U.S. economy.
Next: Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan could push us to arm one of the most corrupt elements of the Afghanistan national security forces.
What you can do until then:
- Call your Member of Congress and let them know you oppose escalation in Afghanistan. If you’re not sure who represents you, visit the House of Representatives website and input your address–it will give you the name of your congressperson (and, it will take you to their email form). You can reach them through the Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121. United for Peace and Justice prepared some fantastic fact sheets to help you prepare.
- Call the White House and tell the President you oppose escalation in Afghanistan: 202-456-1111.
- Sign the petition over at Rethink Afghanistan calling for oversight hearings on the Afghanistan policy. (They’ve also just posted part 2 of their excellent film…see the trailer.)
- Sign Sojourner’s petition to Obama (mentioned above).
- Sign the Friends Committee on National Legislation’s petition calling for an investment in peace, not war, in Afghanistan.
- Learn more about the reasons to oppose counterinsurgency strategy by reading Alex’s post on counterinsurgency vs. counterterrorism.
- Read the previous post in this series.