Libya vs. the Deficit

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    There are two discussions going on in Washington right now, which by all appearances have nothing to do with one another.  One is about how our government is supposedly “broke” and thus we need to slash spending and make massive sacrifices to eliminate the deficit and start paying down the debt.

    The other is about how we need to send our military to a distant land once again, to bomb a country we’ve barely ever had anything to do with, and probably start our third concurrent war in a Muslim land.

    No, these discussions seem to have nothing to do with each other, and yet I’m starting to have a little cognitive dissonance here. If our budget situation is so dire that we have to lay off USDA meat inspectors, stop enforcing the Clean Air Act, eliminate the collective bargaining rights of public workers, kill Amtrak and public broadcasting, etc., etc. — then tell me why it is we still have unlimited money to invade any country we choose, at will?  

    I’ve lost track of how much the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars will end up costing us — is it 1 or 2 trillion dollars at this point? — but this magically seems to have no impact on the deficit. So why not start one or two more wars, since by Washington standards, it’s free?

    Yes, I know, we’re “just” talking about a little no-fly zone, no biggie. (As White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley put it, “Lots of people throw around phrases like no-fly zone. They talk about it as though it’s just a video game.”)  But look back at the history of warfare, and note how many of the longest, bitterest conflicts were supposed to have been short, sweet, easy engagements planned to end quickly.  War is the ultimate demonstration of chaos theory — don’t believe anybody who talks about “surgical” military manuevers.

    It is ironic, if not outright remarkable, how many of precisely the same people are making both the argument about how desperately we need to reduce government spending, and simultaneously, how we need to spend billions — maybe hundreds of billions, maybe trillions, who knows? — invading yet another sovereign nation. I truly wonder if the likes of Mitch McConnell even realizes the contradiction.  (Granted, these guys get gazillions in campaign contributions from defense contractors to help them fail to realize the contradiction…)

    (I have not even gotten into the more profound kind of deficit caused by these “wars of choice” — the deficit of a family where Daddy won’t be coming home for Thanksgiving — or ever — because some politicians wanted to demonstrate their toughness through a so-called “muscular” foreign policy.  These are the deficits that can never be paid off.)

    Everyone talks about starting a mature or “adult” conversation about the deficit, but as long as the entire military establishment is exempt from the discussion, we’re still just burbling baby talk. Look, you want to talk about a tea party, let’s talk about not bankrupting ourselves with yet another major military adventure.  Let’s stick with the more affordable and sustainable approaches of diplomacy, and allow someone else to take the lead on anything that goes boom — the Arab League, the African Union, or the European contingent of NATO — all of whom have more business being in Libya than we do. But keep my tax dollars and our sons and daughters out of it.