Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Price of Peace

As the debate over tax rates continues in the House and Senate, one of the chief argument against extension of lower rates is over their cost to the federal government. It seems that their is a great deal of concern on the part of those desiring the end to those tax rates because an increase of the federal deficit will result. 

Chief among the concerns of these recent deficit hawks is that the country cannot afford a loss tax revenues at a time when this country is involved in two wars. I cannot help but reject this thinking. Since Congress has not passed a Declaration of War since December 7, 1941, the conflicts that we are currently engaged in cannot qualify as such. This does not speak to the necessity of these actions nor in any way lessen the sacrifices of brave men and women fighting on these fronts; but only speaks to the fact that words do have meanings and in this country war means something very specific. (Either that, or Congress and past Presidents have abused their legal authority under the Constitution.) 

Besides, the cost of these military engagements is far from the only investment that this country is making. Most estimates in fact, place all defense-related spending at between $1 and $1.5 trillion for fiscal 2010. Since the total 2010 budget is over $3.5 trillion, which would put total defense spending at less than half. Setting aside the rest of the money spent by Congress (admittedly, a pretty large set-aside, but one that many Representatives seem capable of doing), my curiosity turns not to what the price of these two combat zones costs, but what the cost of peace is to the US in the rest of the world. 

What does it cost this country for troops deployed in the Far East and NATO countries? What does it cost to maintain and replace equipment in far-flung bases around the world from Saudi Arabia to Guantanamo Bay? What level of treasure do we pay for troops and bases not actually engaged in open conflicts around the world? What's the cost to maintain bases of the various services in this country alone, where by law such troops cannot be deployed. While we are deploring the costs involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, does anyone ever bother to ask about the cost of troops in Japan and South Korea? How much do we spend to maintain armored divisions in NATO countries that have never fired a shot in anger? 

Moreover, what have we paid over the years to hire, transport, and provide logistical support special envoys sent into countries around the world attempting to maintain peace that often has nothing to do with this country? What have the costs been in attempts to resolve thousand year-old conflicts between with a never-ending stream of Cabinet Secretaries and special envoys seeking to create or maintain peace in Eastern Europe between various sectarian groups or the Middle East between Palestinians and the Israelis? 

What we do know, at least according to its "Budget In Brief", is that the Department of State operated on about $16.4 billion in appropriations last year; but these sums do not include Foreign Service Nationals or Border Security Programs. Also not included is the money called out in this document is that doled out as Foreign Aid either dropped into the cesspool more commonly known as the UN or used as little more than payoffs to governments and petty tyrants in nations around the world in a vague and failing effort to get them to remain our friends. 

What does it say about the quality (or value) of such friendships that they have to be bought and paid for? How long would we expect them to last if the money were withdrawn? I am not trying to justify the nation building that this country is attempting around the world, in fact far from it. Neither am I commenting on the too seldom heralded efforts of a military often placed in untenable positions by the very politicians who complain about their costs after deploying them in the first place. I am however showing my confusion and disgust at the ability of these self-same politicians to complain about the cost of fighting what they deem lengthy and perhaps unworthy battles around the world, without ever mentioning the price of maintaining the peace for far greater periods in far more places.

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