Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Cost of the War

I was reading a good article in FastCompany (subscription required--sorry) entitled “Digging Out” by David Axe. The article looks at ways microfinance (making small loans to small businesses) can “win hearts and minds” by increasing employment which in turn leads to fewer unemployed prospective insurgents, provided that the deteriorating security situation is not past the point of no return. Ideally the micro-finance is a sub $1000 loan (not a grant--although in this instance/article I think they are grants) used to help an existing business grow or get a new business started. According to the article, the British army captain running the microfinance/microgrant operation is tapping an $80 million (per year--I presume) US State Department fund.

Here is what we should have been doing x 1000 for the last 4 years.

Instead we are spending $8 billion a month on (progressively less effective—or so it seems to me) military operations. On WHAT?

This figure is quite honestly mind-boggling. Let me boggle a bit. That is $266 million a DAY in a country with a population of 25 million and a prevailing daily wage of $10 or less (and unemployment in the 25% range in the stable provinces). Rather than increasing our troop levels, couldn’t we just start paying Iraqis (NOT Haliburton!) $1 billion a month to rebuild their country? I have to believe that a guy working a 12 hour shift in construction is not gonna have the energy to sit around all night planning ways to kill their fellow Iraqis.

Back to boggling…$8 billion/month adds up to $100 billion a year. Iraq is 1/12th the size of the US in terms of population, and yet for $100 billion a year we run a significant portion of our government including the (all the ones in blue below) US Departments of: Agriculture, Justice, NASA, Treasury, Labor, Interior, Commerce, Judicial Branch, NSF, Legislative Branch and the Army Corp of Engineers.
Figures are pulled from the wonderful site

Federal US Department 2007 Budget (Billions)

Transportation 68
Health and Human Serv.* 68
Education 54
Veteran Affairs 36
State 34
Housing and Urban Dev. 34
Energy 24
Agriculture 20
Justice 19
Treasury 12 (~90% IRS)
Labor 11
Interior 10
Commerce 6
Judicial Branch 6
National Science Found. 6
Legislative Branch 5
Army Corp of Eng. 5

*includes National Institute of Health ~28

I can’t help but feel we should be getting more for our tax dollar than we are in Iraq.

Edit 1/31: My table formatting did not take, so the numbers may be hard to read...but I think you get the general picture. Just to be clear the number following the department name is the budget in billions for 2007 (current).

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Counting on fiction writers to dispute global warming?

I read Crichton’s State of Fear today. It seems like a terribly long story to relate the idea that there are a lot of uncertainties in climate science, today’s media tends to oversimplify and thereby misinform people about complex scientific topics, and good intentions are not enough to fix things especially if you are poorly informed.

A bit of skepticism is entertaining, but a 630 page churlish diatribe against environmental groups strikes me as excessive. On the other hand I agree with his argument that we are being purposefully (and ceaselessly) scared out of our wits by the powers that be to maintain a certain order that they find advantageous.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Stay the course +

I read Bob Woodward’s State of Denial this week, and it is hard to dispute the book's basic premise when we are faced with Our Dear Leader’s growing belligerence as seen in the January 10th call for escalation in Iraq.

The President got several things right in his speech: 1) “the situation in Iraq is unacceptable”, 2) “there is no magic formula for success in Iraq”, and 3) “America’s commitment is not open ended”.

Bush listed several clear “consequences of failure” which are already a reality, including: 1) “radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits”, 2) “they would be in a better position to…create chaos in the region”, and 3) “Iran would be emboldened in its pursuit of nuclear weapons”.

It is against this backdrop that Bush proposes to send 20,000 more troops to Iraq with 80%+ going to help secure Baghdad and the balance going to Anbar province to fight Al Qaeda types. At least 4,000 out of 160,000 of our forces will be “pressuring terrorists”, 30,000 will be holding Baghdad…I wonder where the other 125,000 are?

Bush also provides a laundry list of actions and political commitments to be undertaken by the Iraqi government: like taking responsibility for security in all its provinces, passing legislation to share oil revenue among all Iraqis (how to do this is the crux of all the sectarian violence), the Iraqis will spend $10B of their own money to rebuild and perhaps most controversially re-Bathification (or un-deBathification) which means allowing the former Saddam cronies back into power. Even if I shared Bush’s vision (or is it a hallucination?) of a free, democratic, secure and America-loving Iraq, I would think it was a huge mistake to rely on a weak foreign government to implement policy that is as fundamental as Bush says this struggle is to this nation’s future welfare.

If this “new” strategy is so clearly correct, why has it taken us 45 months to come up with it? Just 6 months ago Bush was telling us that sending more troops would send the wrong signal (to the Iraqi government) about our intentions to stay indefinitely.

A troop surge would have made some sense 3 years ago before the “insurgency” became entrenched. Now we have such a mix of violence from Al Qaeda, insurgents, anti-occupation and sectarian forces that I don’t think a simple counter-insurgency strategy will suffice. It is not clear to me that one can truly counter an insurgency, but two essential preconditions to doing so are having the support of the local populace and good intelligence. The US has neither in Iraq.

And finally, despite all his rhetoric about how much the Iraqis (indeed all people) yearn to live in freedom, Bush seems to think that a decrease in US troops will lead to the “collapse of the Iraq government, tear the country apart, and result in mass killings on an unimaginable scale”.

Jeepers that is almost as bad as his “mushroom cloud” comments during the rush to war.

Never mind that Iraq was the cradle of civilization and survived for thousands of years before the US was created. After 45 months is this all we have to show for $500 billion and 25,000 US troop casualties? A country so fragile it will cease to function if we remove any of our 140,000 combat troops?

Considering how completely Bush and Co. have bungled Iraq, I don’t believe that anyone needs to justify how another path would be more likely to succeed. Nevertheless, the talking head media has latched on to the idea that democrats have to provide an alternative plan. While I would push to bring our troops home as quickly as their safety permits, I would also understand it if the democrats and republicans opposed to the surge, simply endorsed the Baker-Hamilton report’s plan.