War’s Unbelievable Price Tag



Operation Odyssey Dawn—the bizarrely named military attack upon Libya—is a relatively small war. It is only because of this that Obama partisans are getting away with not calling it a war at all. It is indeed tiny compared to the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. It pales in comparison to the great U.S. wars of the 20th century that each inspired a slew of movies and stand as major watersheds in American history, with lasting impacts on our culture and social consciousness.

Yet this infant war has almost surely cost hundreds of millions of dollars already and will likely cost billions before it’s over.

Let’s put this in perspective. Republicans, holding high the banner of fiscal discipline, recently targeted National Public Radio for spending cuts. Now, I always opposed federal funding for this or any other media outlet. And I suspect NPR will only improve, freed from the stigma of being governmental, a heavy price to pay for the mere 2% or so of its budget that directly came from Washington, DC. (Even the executive who recently resigned, having been caught lambasting the tea party, agreed that NPR would have been better off with no federal funding.)

But how much did NPR cost taxpayers? Last year, the news organization got $5 million from the federal government. That’s the cost of about three or five Tomahawk missiles, 112 of which Obama launched into Libya just over the weekend. This means the savings to taxpayers from eliminating federal funding for NPR—over a period of 25 or so years—was offset by this one “limited” military activity, itself just the beginning of one relatively minor military engagement.

(Incidentally, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, in defending the cuts to NPR, said, “why should we allow taxpayer dollars to be used to advocate one ideology?” I couldn’t agree more. But why should we allow taxpayers dollars to be used to enforce one ideology—namely, the ideology of warfarism—through the implementation of war? I know, this is not a fair question, since it places under scrutiny the whole ethical basis behind taxation itself and the whole rationale of statism.)

Back to Libya, the financial costs alone will likely climb, since the administration doesn’t really seem to have any sort of clearly defined mission, other than the end of Gaddafi’s oppressive treatment of his subjects, which I do not expect to end until Gaddafi’s out of power. Will this war cost more than a billion? More than $10 billion? Perhaps it will fall far short of the price tags we have become accustomed to in connection with today’s wars—price tags reaching hundreds of billions or even trillions of dollars over the years. Still, is it not quite a significant thing that the president can simply expend such resources—hundreds of millions of dollars—toward violent ends, all on his own say-so, and yet he has the nerve to call out businessmen and CEOs for their alleged greed and disregard for other people’s money? Is it not humorous, in a black-comedy sort of way, that today’s Republicans are mostly caught between defending these expensive military operations while opposing smaller pet spending projects or, even more absurdly, attacking Obama for spending money on this war while ignoring the even more expensive imperial projects of his predecessor? And is it not obscene that in today’s climate of surreal fiscal recklessness and institutionally ubiquitous insolvency, a few hundred million amounts to much less than rounding error? But nevertheless: a splendid little war here and another one there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

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