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Jewish World Review
April 22, 2011
18 Nissan, 5771
Stingy at home, but free-spending abroad
What is all this crazy talk about the United States government spending too much money and running up huge bills it cannot pay? Why all this shrieking and hair-pulling on Capitol Hill over deficit reduction and increasing the debt limit?
Talk about a tempest in a tea bag. The United States is rolling in dough. We have so much of it, in fact, that we are dropping it on foreign countries. In the form of bombs and missiles.
We are so rich, we are financing our third war, this one in Libya, and picking up not only our own costs, but much of NATO’s costs as well.
On March 18, President Obama said the United States would be actively involved in any military action against Libya for “days, not weeks.”
Libya was going to be our abet-it-and-forget-it war. But here it is more than a month later, and we are still actively involved. The official Pentagon estimate is that the war in Libya cost us $608 million for the first 17 days.
Some think that is a laughable underestimate, however, except that nobody is laughing. Forbes reported at the end of March that “what looks like an inexpensive military operation in Libya is actually costing taxpayers about $2 billion per day.”
Remember how Democrats and Republicans in Congress wrestled back and forth recently, nearly shutting down the government over a lousy $38 billion? Heck, we’ve already burned through that in Libya and Muammar Qadhafi is still thumbing his nose at us from Tripoli.
Technically, the air war in Libya is being fought by NATO. But the United States, in addition to paying for our own forces, pays about a quarter of NATO’s budget.
The numbers get kind of dazzling, but according to the Fiscal Times: The United States now pays NATO $90.2 million for its civil budget, $462.5 million for its military budget and $259 million for NATO’s Security Investment Program, which covers radar bases, airfields, fuel pipelines, etc.
That is about $811.7 million per year. And how is NATO doing in Libya, by the way? Not all that well.
According to a NATO spokesman, “Qadhafi is fighting a war on several fronts. What’s still not clear a month into the fight is whether the rebels have the ability to exploit Qadhafi’s weakness by mounting a new offensive, taking ground, holding it all while continuing to their march toward Tripoli.”
Oh, is that all?
Not all of NATO is engaged in Libya. Germany says it supports NATO’s goals but doesn’t want any part of the fighting.
Winslow Wheeler, director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information, says the German decision not to join in the mission reflects the divisions within NATO.
“Nobody attacked any NATO country, so I don’t know why NATO is involved,” Wheeler said. “The German decision is a more appropriate one than the American decision. They don’t see the rest of the world as their problem.”
But we do. Obama appears to conflate the civil war in Libya with the Rwandan genocide of 1994 in which 500,000 to 1 million people were murdered. The numbers in Libya are nothing like that, but I suppose Obama can claim they would have been if the United States had not acted.
The United States and NATO were hoping air power alone would be enough to defeat Qadhafi, but this no longer seems likely, and Britain, France and Italy are now moving military “advisers” into Libya to try to organize the rebels and perhaps stop them from firing their guns into the air all the time.
“The big question is, how long does Qaddafi hold out?” asks Ray Dubois, a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “He’s got a lot of gold bullion buried in the desert and lots of hundred-dollar bills hidden in suitcases. He’s not about to retire to the south of France.”
The European press is full of ominous references to “mission creep” and “Vietnam” and “exit strategies.” The NATO countries are not exactly rolling in euros these days - - only 14 of the 28 NATO members are even participating in the Libyan war - - and there is talk that the fighting is already too expensive to be sustained for very long.
But Europe should take a page from the U.S. playbook: War is never too expensive. Heck, we are fighting three of them. Remember Iraq and Afghanistan? They haven’t gone away, we’re still paying for them and according to an article in Stars and Stripes: “Joseph Stiglitz, who received the 2000 Nobel Prize for Economics, and Linda Bilmes, a public policy professor at Harvard University, predict that the combined costs (including health care of vets) will likely push the true long-term cost of the wars over the $4 trillion mark.”
Which worries me a little: A trillion here, a trillion there, and pretty soon we are talking about real money.
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