A thoughtful piece in the latest New Yorker by David Remnick on the death of Bin Laden got me thinking about the costs of war. Remnick wrote*:
“Bin Laden’s death underscores the question of why we go on losing young men and women daily in the defense of an indefensibly corrupt government in Kabul.”
I’ve heard people of all political stripes raise this question. It’s a good one. I don’t claim expertise that would offer deep insights into the decision, but like many people, I thought we were in Afghanistan to get OBL and Al Qaeda. Those kick-butt Navy Seals dispatched the former and there are allegedly hardly any Al Qaeda left in Afghanistan. At this point, I for one can’t even really say what winning would look like.
But what I do know is what we’re spending on the Mideast wars. The President’s budget includes the numbers (see Table S-3), as shown in the chart below. 2010-2012 sums to about half-a-trillion, and the “out years” include a placeholder of $50 billion per year, which is likely to prove highly optimistic, at least for the next few years, unless we quickly change gears. (Stiglitz/Bilmes’ estimates of these costs, which are much more inclusive, are in the trillions.)
Source: OMB (link above)
So, add “opportunity costs” to Remnick’s question. With everyone in this town clamoring for spending cuts, this one looks a lot better to me than most of the others.
*Word’s spell checker recognizes Bin Laden but not Remnick, which I found slightly unsettling.