Magazine article New Internationalist

There's Always Money for War

Magazine article New Internationalist

There's Always Money for War

Article excerpt

In good economic times and bad, there's always money for war.

Recently, political analyst Paul Waldman made a list of US military actions since 1964. Excluding proxy wars, drone strikes and covert operations, he nevertheless counted 15 significant, direct interventions since 1964. That comes, roughly, to one every three and a half years.

While US politicians like to see each such operation as a rare and unique event, the rest of the world can't help but notice a trend. As Waldman wrote, 'Nearly every American president eventually lets the bombs fall.'

The occasion for his tally was President Obama's preparation for a missile attack in Syria. By the time you read this, it is very likely that the US will have struck. Criticisms that the action will do little to constrain the murderous Assad regime - and that it could lead to a counterproductive escalation of the civil war - will be well-rehearsed by then.

But another point is less often raised: namely, that even amid a fierce climate of austerity and severe cuts to government programmes, America's ability to pay for this military operation was never an important part of the debate.

Of course, Pentagon spending has a history of dodging the fluctuations of the business cycle, whether through appeals to patriotism or outright misrepresentation of the price of war.

In selling the Iraq War to a recession-battered American public, the George W Bush administration suggested that the invasion and reconstruction would cost between $50 and $60 billion. At the time, one economic adviser to the White House, Larry Lindsey, was foolish enough to tell the press that the actual number might be as high as $200 billion. Lindsey was promptly fired.

His imprudent leak turned out to be a dramatic underestimate. To date, still-mounting appropriations for the Iraq War have totalled more than $750 billion. When Harvard professor Linda Bilmes and Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz wrote a bestseller that detailed additional hidden costs - such as interest payments on expanded US debt and the long-term price of providing healthcare to wounded veterans - they titled their book The Three Trillion Dollar War.

Next to that figure, an attack on Syria is expected to be rather inexpensive. …

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