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A Point Not Forgotten

A Point Not Forgotten

Courtesy of Michael Panzner, When Giants Fall 

080328-N-2838C-026 ATLANTIC OCEAN (March 28, 2008) The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS T

When I discuss America’s accelerating descent into a fiscal abyss, I occasionally fail to mention the role that gargantuan military spending has played in getting us to this point. However, when I read reports like the following from the Inter Press Service, "Bill for Afghan War Could Run Into the Trillions," it quickly brings to mind the reason most often cited for the fall of so many great powers before us: imperial overstretch.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate is moving forward with a 59-billion-dollar spending bill, of which 33.5 billion dollars would be allocated for the war in Afghanistan.

However, some experts here in Washington are raising concerns that the war may be unwinnable and that the money being spent on military operations in Afghanistan could be better spent.

"We’re making all of the same mistakes the Soviets made during their time in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, and they left in defeat having accomplished none of their purposes," Michael Intriligator, a senior fellow at the Milken Institute, said Monday at a half-day conference hosted by the New America Foundation and Economists for Peace and Security.

"I think we’re repeating that and it’s a history we’re condemned to repeat," he said.

Intriligator also argued that the real, long-term cost of the war in Afghanistan may completely overshadow the current spending bill.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes estimated that the long-term costs – taking into account the costs of taking care of wounded soldiers and rebuilding the military – of the war in Iraq will ultimately cost three trillion dollars.

Intriligator suggested that a similar calculation for the costs of the war in Afghanistan would indicate a long-term cost of 1.5 to 2.0 trillion dollars.

"Why are we putting money into Afghanistan to fight a losing war and following the Soviet example rather than putting money into [our] local communities?" he asked.

I’ll tell you why: Because that’s what fading empires do. 


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