Jewish World Review Sept. 20, 2004 / 5 Tishrei, 5765
Kerry asks good question about security costs
Last week, John Kerry raised an important issue about the cost of the Iraq
war. But given Kerry's convoluted position on Iraq, the issue probably
won't achieve the salience it deserves.
The conventional and safe political position on the cost of security
is: Whatever it takes.
But there is no such amount.
There can always be more guns and soldiers, more investigators and
But there is no quantity of guns, soldiers, investigators and inspectors
that will render our country's safety and security fail-proof.
The United States spends nearly as much on the military as the rest of the
world combined. Yet 9/11 happened.
So, while it is rarely openly discussed and debated, national security
spending is subject to risk assessment and a cost/benefit analysis: Is the
increment of security purchased worth the investment?
From the beginning, the Bush administration has played rope-a-dope
regarding the cost of the Iraq war.
The administration refused to provide a cost estimate prior to the war. And
it continues to refuse to submit budgets for ongoing operations.
Instead, it simply submits the bills to Congress as they come due, as
supplemental appropriations which Congress really has no choice but to
War costs are unquestionably more variable than, say, highway construction.
But a range of costs can be estimated, and indeed, within the Pentagon,
undoubtedly are. They just aren't shared so their prudence and underlying
policy can be debated.
Congress has appropriated about $150 billion for the Iraq war so far.
Estimates from a variety of sources put the cost of ongoing operations at
$50 billion to $60 billion a year.
So, with incurred but unsubmitted obligations, American taxpayers are
already into the Iraq war for around $200 billion. With the commitment the
Bush policy represents in Iraq, the total bill could easily reach half a
Let's assume, prior to the Iraq war, that the nation had debated the
question of where to invest an additional $200 billion to $500 billion in
national security. Would anyone have said, let's spend it all deposing
Yet that is what the country is doing.
Part of the mounting cost results from the geopolitical goals the Bush
administration has pursued in Iraq.
There can be debate about the severity of the threat Saddam poised to the
United States. But the Bush administration's mission wasn't simply to
remove that threat.
Instead, it is trying to midwife a democratic government there, as a
transforming force for the entire region.
As a result, American taxpayers are paying for the creation of better
roads, schools, health care, electrical generation and even oil production
than existed prior to the war.
The Iraq war is the signature event of Bush's first term. One of the
central questions about his re-election should be whether the increment of
security we have purchased as a result of that war is worth what has and
will be invested.
Moreover, the continuation of the Bush commitment in Iraq should be a
central issue in this year's election. How much more will this commitment
cost, in money and in the lives of our troops? What are the odds of
success, and what increment of additional security will that success
In his speech last week in Cincinnati, Kerry tried to make an issue of the
cost of the Iraq war.
He mentioned the $200 billion price tag more than a dozen times. He
asserted that it has come at the expense of virtually everything else under
the sun: after-school programs, health care, cops, education, job creation,
job training, Social Security, energy independence, cargo inspections and
But Kerry has now been around the block at least twice on Iraq and offers
no fundamental critique or realistic alternative.
He says Bush misled the country prior to the Iraq war, but that he would
have voted in favor of the use of force resolution even knowing what is
So, Kerry doesn't take the position that what it cost to depose Saddam
wasn't worth the increment of security thereby purchased.
Nor does he openly question the ongoing Bush commitment to establish a
democratic government in Iraq as a transforming force in the region. In
fact, he has criticized the administration for not doing enough, even for
not spending enough, to bring that about.
Instead, Kerry implausibly asserts that with superior diplomacy, he could
have either brought Saddam to heel without war, or gotten other countries
to participate more in the war, with soldiers and money. Nor is there any
reason, regardless of diplomatic skill, to believe that Germany, France,
Russia or other Arab countries are now willing to lighten the American
burden in Iraq.
There's an important debate to be had about the Iraq war, including its
cost. But John Kerry isn't the candidate to make it.
JWR contributor Robert Robb is a columnist for The Arizona Republic. Comment by clicking here.
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