Drop Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan, Part 3: Massive COIN Deployments Will Damage Our Economy

Posted: March 24, 2009 in Uncategorized

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:

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Comments
  1. Hooray, the war on terror is over. . . except for some or most of the bombing, shooting, killing, IED’ing, and related havoc, and the somewhat constant threat of a terrorist attack in the United States, possibly employing some type of weapon of mass effect. . .

    I feel better already.

    The United States is conducting overseas contingency operations; the United States has always conducted overseas contingency operations. . .

    Oh Yeah. . . Good luck investing in “Peace” in Afghanistan without the security to back it up.

  2. dcrowe says:

    Fair warning, wilsonrofishing: a quick look at the comments on this blog will show you I don’t mind folks disagreeing or even pointedly challenging me, but we don’t feed the trolls around here. If you have a substantive challenge to make to any of the points made above, you’re free to make them, and I look forward to responding to them. But, one more comment like this, which makes no attempt to engage with the material or make a substantial argument, and you’re outta here.

  3. Greg says:

    Great material here Dcrowe. Well researched and articulated. I’ll be digesting this all week. Thanks a ton!

  4. […] We’re pushing a massive, costly escalation that will damage our economy. […]

  5. dcrowe says:

    Greg:
    Thanks for reading! I’d be interesting to hear your thoughts as you chew on it.

    DC

  6. D –

    No troll here, although I respectfully disagree with you on at least one point.

    Your argument about opportunity cost of money being spent in Afghanistan vs invested elsewhere is likely valid; I did not click on your links to see the data comparing a dollar spent on defense to the various other areas, but I do not doubt it.

    However, the current administration has spared no expense in its current budget proposal, and found no areas worthy of making a sacrifice, so it looks like there will be funds allocated for defense, infrastructure, education, alternative energy, et al. Win win win, right?

    Actually, in a future post you may want to examine the social and national security impact of massive deficits, year after year, on the American economy, I likely will as well.

    I DO disagree with the concept of that petition that you are encouraging your readers to sign (Invest in Peace/Not War in Afghanistan); I believe the premise of that petition is utterly unrealistic There is no positive solution to the problems of Afghanistan that will not require security for the populace, NGOs, etc of some sort for many years to come, a security force that the US will likely provide the lion’s share of.

    Will the Afghan people have access to more aid/opportunities for socioeconomic advancement without military support from the West? Unlikely, and disengaging militarily from Afghanistan equates to abandoning its people to the fate of the various militias and insurgents that operate in and around the country. However bad things may be in Afghanistan now, military disengagement would certainly not make things better for people, especially in the short term.

    Pragmatically, many Westerners are increasingly willing to accept disengagement from Afghanistan at this point, though. There is a news report in Australia today that states a majority of Australians no longer support their country’s military commitment there. European nations and Canada have not expressed any great desire to expand their military role in Afghanistan, either. It is a big news story if a coaltition country increases its force level there by 100 people, the equivalent of a U.S. infantry company.

    In terms of the U.S. though, the point is largely moot, as is the petition. The administration is poised to roll out its new Afghan strategy in the coming weeks, and whatever changes it includes, decreasing the military presence is not on the table at this point. Progressive think tanks are even beginning to give the President cover for having a muscular Afghanistan policy, too.

    That is why I put the link to my post on the War of Terror moniker change in my last comment, at the risk of the comment thread disqualifying troll label. Not calling what we are doing in Afghanistan and elsewhere a war any more is about the biggest change people seeking a decrease in American military activity are going to get out of the Admiistration in the next two years.

    So the “overseas contingency operations” will continue over there, the troops will role in to FOBs, and the Predators will fly. . .

    Cheers.

  7. dcrowe says:

    Thanks for clarifying your concerns. Some thoughts in response:

    However, the current administration has spared no expense in its current budget proposal, and found no areas worthy of making a sacrifice, so it looks like there will be funds allocated for defense, infrastructure, education, alternative energy, et al. Win win win, right?

    Actually, in a future post you may want to examine the social and national security impact of massive deficits, year after year, on the American economy, I likely will as well.

    I’m not here to defend the budget of the current administration. In fact, I’m for deep slashes into the Pentagon budget and I think failure to do that is just that–a failure. This post is, in many ways, a bit of examination of the impact of deep deficit spending, in that the debt-financed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan helped lead directly to the credit crisis.

    …disengaging militarily from Afghanistan equates to abandoning its people to the fate of the various militias and insurgents that operate in and around the country.

    First, I’m glad to see that you are concerned about the Afghan people. Concern for the Afghan people is not why were are in Afghanistan in the first place, however. Concern for the Afghan people, from the perspective of U.S. government policy, has always been secondary to the perceived national security interests of the U.S. government. We didn’t dive in to rescue them before 9/11 when the Taliban were grinding their people into the stone age, we were happy to help them throw their bodies in the way of the Soviet war machine during the Cold War, and our systemic concern for civilian casualties is almost totally tied to the strategic implications of those casualties. Please do not pretend that the conflict is a mission of mercy. It might be so for individual troops on the battlefield, but in the room where the policy is written, the concern overwhelmingly is concern for us, not them

    I reject the premise–and I’m sure you will too, once you stop to consider it–that, as Mao said, “power flows from the barrel of the gun.” People are not powerless without the implements of U.S. firepower behind them. That kind of talk sounds chivalrous, but its rank fascism in pretty clothing. The history of the 20th century is as much the history of nonviolent resistance to oppression as it is the story of violent wars. The Afghan people are perfectly capable of rejecting the people with the guns and denying them consent.

    I hope you consider the most recent post (remembering Oscar Romero) at the top of the page when you’re weighing whether you support a continued counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan. Counterinsurgency sounds progressive and chivalrous, but in fact the U.S. Army/Marine Corps manual on the strategy defines what took place in El Salvador, with our help, as success. If you want to help the Afghan people, save them from our version of “success.”

  8. Sporkmaster says:

    Well there are many point that I want to talk over so I will try to summarize them first.

    1. That there is a lot of assuming plans about how to handle things in Afghanistan and Iraq without understanding the problems that will get in the way. For example the way that any projects are done here in America will have major problems because for one the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing. This is simply not a issue of inexperience or lack in technical know how, but a active non-sharing of information that prevents a lot of things from getting done. If a one person who is supervising a project stops for time off, he will not tell the next guy in charge what needs to be done. Thus the project is at a standstill until the original supervisor returns. Supplies are often backlogged or often ignored. So if you have no idea what needs to be done and with little to so supplies the projects is often dead in the water.

    2. Despite the need for humanities aid, there is still national security issues that must be addressed. In Afghanistan this was not a case of a random attack that was launched from that area, it was a long list of attacks on US personal around the globe, from the twin tower attacks in 1993, to the embassy bombings in Africa, to the attack on the USS Cole. The 9/11 was the event that finally put it over the limit because of the past repeated attacks from that area and the fact that the local government was actively supplying safe havens to train and launch further attacks.

    3. As far as the success and failures on non-violence (and violence alike) that it is easy to say what could be better if you are not actively facing such problems. It is one thing to say that we should change policy that we have right now, but I think that it would carry much more weight if instead of just signing a petition that people would volunteer to go help these areas to put ideals into action. Because if your not going to risk personal safety on the ideas that a non-violent solution can work, then your not going to find a receptive audience among those that are actively facing those dangers.

    Because how is that not the same as those that would want to go to war but not be willing to serve in that war?

  9. dcrowe says:

    Because if your not going to risk personal safety on the ideas that a non-violent solution can work, then your not going to find a receptive audience among those that are actively facing those dangers.

    Because how is that not the same as those that would want to go to war but not be willing to serve in that war?

    Yes. Yes yes yes. I could not agree more. You’ve brought this up before, but it bears repeating: there is a wide, wide gulf between folks pantomiming through their fantasies of reliving 60s activism and people actually putting their bodies at risk in nonviolent movements.

    I’m a certified nonviolence facilitator for Creating a Culture of Peace nonviolence trainings (shameless plug: Austin-area folks, if you want nonviolence trainings for your group, please contact me at derrick.crowe@hotmail.com). This program has been used in several countries, and it’s a powerful tool to help people in a variety of situations build nonviolent social movements. I’m new at it, but I agree with you totally: “peace on the couch” isn’t much different than “war on the couch.”

  10. DC-

    Good discussion.

    I concur that the strategic interest that guided our initial invasion of Afghanistan had little/nothing to do with the Welfare of the Afghan people; however by invading the country, and the subsequent actions of the last 7-8 years, we have de facto taken responsibility for a large portion of the country in terms of security.

    And yes, I DO personally care for the Afghan people; I know that there is suffering all over the world and in many places the West does not lift a finger to alleviate it, but we have a presence and focus on Afghanistan right now, and I believe that whatever efforts the United States makes in the next several years will be critical for the future of Afghanistan.

    My personal assessment of the area (since it is less a nation state than a geographical area with a several ethnic groups, competing loyalties and ties, etc) is that unilateral security disengagement of Afghanistan right now would exacerbate many of the problems, and lead to increased factional fighting, bloodshed and suffering of the Afghan people. At least in the short term. There are already critical shortages of medical professional there, and infrastructure projects are routinely attacked regardless of who is involved with them. NGOs will bolt if there is not sufficient security.

    People are not powerless, certainly, but no one group in Afghanistan is powerful enough to provide security for the entire region, not even the coalition right now. Lack of coalition security security would not alleviate the violence in the country, but conversely lead to increased conflict among many groups as they vie for control of contested areas.

    I disagree with your point about nonviolence/civil disobedience too, D; there are instances where nonviolence has worked, certainly, but there are cases where it could not be applied to solve the problem. I cannot see it working in Afghanistan if the foreign military presence was eliminated. If there was no coalition presence, factions would likely start fighting for contested areas along ethnic/tribal lines, and civil disobedience would not alleviate it. There is not a large enough diaspora/community of concern to highlight it and make Afghan violence intolerable, either.

    (As an aside, one place where I do think that nonviolence would be a tactic worthy of effort is Gaza/Palestine If the Palestinian people went on strike, protested on behalf of their agenda and practiced nonviolent, well publicized civil disobedience en masse, abandoning “resistance tactics” that are easily dismissed as terrorism in the West, my guess is they would have a better chance of advancing their agenda than with suicide attacks and the shitty rockets that they fire indiscriminately into Israel).

    I also do not believe that a majority of groups that protest the war here in the name of peace would physically do much to alleviate any suffering of the Afghan people, either, should there be a great deal of civilian strife caused by military withdrawal; Would ANSWER, after coalition withdrawal, travel en masse to get between a Taliban force getting ready to overrun an ethnic Tajik city, or provide funding to replace the clinics that the military is running throughout the country? Doubtful, even though it fits with their, you know, act now to stop war, end racism meme to a T. Similarly, what NGOs are availing themselves to travel

    Again, I believe that the administration is going to make our respectful disagreement moot when they role out their new Afghan strategy at the end of this week; the fact that left of center think tanks like Center for American Progress are now providing cover by recommending a more muscular policy there is somewhat indicative of this.

    I read your other posts, too, thanks.

  11. Sporkmaster says:

    “If the Palestinian people went on strike, protested on behalf of their agenda and practiced nonviolent, well publicized civil disobedience en masse, abandoning “resistance tactics” that are easily dismissed as terrorism in the West, my guess is they would have a better chance of advancing their agenda than with suicide attacks and the shitty rockets that they fire indiscriminately into Israel”

    I second this.

  12. dcrowe says:

    there are instances where nonviolence has worked, certainly, but there are cases where it could not be applied to solve the problem. I cannot see it working in Afghanistan if the foreign military presence was eliminated. If there was no coalition presence, factions would likely start fighting for contested areas along ethnic/tribal lines, and civil disobedience would not alleviate it. There is not a large enough diaspora/community of concern to highlight it and make Afghan violence intolerable, either.

    I have a couple of thoughts in response:

    1) I think I disagree with your assessment of current situation in Afghanistan, but I just want to make sure: is it your contention that right now, the groups in Afghanistan are not fighting for contested areas along tribal lines? If so, I’d strongly disagree. I contend that the conflict is very much a regional/ethnic/tribal conflict, with an added mix: we’ve picked a preferred winner, and are resourcing the heck of them and doing quite a bit of violence on their behalf. And, that particular faction we’re backing isn’t interested in the welfare of the Afghan people, either. Women’s groups started calling the currently recognized government of Afghanistan “The Rule of the Rapists” a few years ago, and the powerholders are awash in corruption. We upended the results of a brutal civil war and put the losers in power to advance our interests–reigniting a basically settled conflict. I’m not defending the prior rulers by any means, but I think we should move beyond the idea that we’re there, as a matter of policy, to back a government that will look after the concerns of the Afghan people; and we should also jettison the idea that our presence is the only thing standing between a bunch of cute, cuddly, helpless Afghans who need our protection and a Taliban steamroller (i’m hyperbolizing here, but you get my point). Numerous reports have cited our presence as the number one galvanizing tool for Taliban recruiting, and not having us around would take the wind out of their propaganda. And, numerous experts, including the UN’s taliban/AQ expert, warned some time ago that flooding Afghanistan with more foreign troops galvanizes fractious Taliban and AQ groups together, when they were splintering and competing before.

    2) Give me the operational budget for the “war on terror” operations and I’ll give you nonviolent solutions out the wazoo. 🙂

    3) I’d contend with you a bit (shocker!) on the workability of nonviolent conflict after the pullout of American troops in the ensuing scramble. Having international attention on a struggle, yes, has been historically important in whether a nation-wide nonviolent struggle to overthrow a government succeeds. But as you point out, that’s not the challenge that Afghans seeking to use nonviolence would face; instead, they’d be facing the challenge of nonviolently resisting other factions. There’s good historical precedents for this kind of thing, and it’s dependent on a lot of factors (getting the right people involved, etc) but it’s possible. From the government of Afghanistan’s perspective, though, they might want to mount an Anti-Coup: http://aeinstein.org/organizationsd063.html.

    However, from a perspective of Christian nonviolence: if it turns out that nonviolent means aren’t possible to achieve an end, the only way to remain true to one’s belief is to renounce those ends. (I’m cribbing from John Howard Yoder and “The Politics of Jesus”) The point of a Christian nonviolent position is not that you can get whatever you want through nonviolent pressure. The point is that renunciation of all things made possible only by violence (which turns out to be a very, very small number of things) is necessary to follow Christ in a consistent way.

    I also do not believe that a majority of groups that protest the war here in the name of peace would physically do much to alleviate any suffering of the Afghan people, either, should there be a great deal of civilian strife caused by military withdrawal; Would ANSWER, after coalition withdrawal, travel en masse to get between a Taliban force getting ready to overrun an ethnic Tajik city, or provide funding to replace the clinics that the military is running throughout the country? Doubtful, even though it fits with their, you know, act now to stop war, end racism meme to a T. Similarly, what NGOs are availing themselves to travel

    This may be true; I hope we’ll be pleasantly surprised. I would say, though, that Christian Peacemaker Teams have been attempting this since the start of the Iraq war.

    Re: the Palestinians, agreement all around. There’s a chapter I’m just now getting to in “A Force More Powerful” that deals with nonviolent actions by some groups during the first Intifada. I’ll get back to you with more info when I’m more qualified to talk about it. 🙂

    Re: the president’s plan…I wouldn’t say the point becomes moot. I’d say the president is about to get himself in a whole lotta trouble and that we’re just getting started putting pressure on him. 🙂

  13. DCrowe:

    I enjoyed the thread and the points you made, even if I disagree with some of them.

    I subscribed to your blog and look forward to dropping in from time to time, too. Cheers.

    By the way, it looks like the President is getting ready for all that pressure you are preparing to lay on him. Best of luck!

  14. dcrowe says:

    I also enjoyed it, and will likewise subscribe to yours. I always love good debates. It’s obvious to me you’ve got a good grasp of the situation and just come down in a different place. Thanks for reading!

  15. […] Massive deployments required by counterinsurgency doctrine will damage our economy when we can least…. […]

  16. Sporkmaster says:

    Remember how we where talking about the dangers that come with trying to stop terrorism? This just came up a few minutes ago.

    “Suicide attack kills 48 at Pakistani mosque
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090327/ap_on_re_as/as_pakistan

    A government official accused Islamist militants of carrying out the bombing in revenge for a recent offensive aimed in part at protecting the major supply route for NATO and U.S. troops in Afghanistan that passes in front of the mosque.

    “Residents of this area had cooperated and helped us a lot. These infidels had warned that they will take revenge,” said Tariq Hayat, the top administrator of the Khyber tribal region. “They are the enemy of Pakistan. They are the enemy of Islam.””

  17. […] We’re pushing a massive, costly escalation that will damage our economy. […]

  18. […] Massive deployments required by counterinsurgency doctrine will damage our economy when we can least…. […]

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