While Democrats and Republicans argue over whether the war in Iraq can be won, an important question goes unanswered: Can we afford to win?
So much of the talk about this war has been about differences in religion and culture, we forget that the real reason we are fighting has to do with economics.
If there were no oil in the Middle East, we wouldn't be there. There also wouldn't be rich Saudis like Osama bin Laden planning attacks on us, or corrupt dictators with billions in petrodollars to spend on weapons of mass destruction. The reason we fight for oil is economics. Our economy needs oil to survive, the cheaper the better. Securing that supply of oil is a priority.
But one has to wonder if the costs of securing that resource surpasses the good that comes from it.
Last year, a Nobel Prize winning economist estimated that the total cost for the war could top $2 trillion. What are we getting for that $2 trillion?
The war has caused oil prices to skyrocket. That runs counter to the goal of our Middle East involvement. Hundreds of billions of dollars are flowing out of this country and into the hands of people who help fund our enemies.
But worse, the money we are spending to pursue this war, and pay for its aftermath, may be the final straw that breaks our back.
The government is now spending about $2 billion per week on the war in Iraq. We've spent almost $400 billion so far. That figure leaves out a lot of continuing costs like taking care of the hundreds of thousands of veterans of this war, and replacing all the equipment that is being worn out or blown up. Add to that the cost of interest, since all of this is going on the country's credit card, for our children to pay off.
And we still haven't won yet. Victory in Iraq could take many more years and trillions of dollars, if it is achievable at all.
With all that money we are spending, I bet we could have developed alternative energy sources to take the place of all of that Middle East oil. We spend about $23 billion a year on what the government calls alternative energy research, and most of that is for nuclear energy.
Think about the things we can't have because we blew it in Iraq. The National Cancer Institute receives a paltry $6 billion a year to try to find a cure for this disease that kills a half million Americans every year. We could double that funding by forgoing just three weeks of war in Iraq. Try asking Americans whether they would want to fight a war in Iraq or find a cure for cancer.
I'd bet $400 billion would do wonders for the health of the Social Security trust fund. Invested properly, we wouldn't have to worry about that program running out of money until all of us are long since dead. By then, maybe they'll have a cure for old age.
Instead of paying for 150,000-plus troops in Iraq, how about some extra police officers on the streets of America to crack down on crime? Or how about giving more funding to the Border Patrol so that they do something about all of the undocumented workers in this country?
President Bush believes that we have to continue the war to show the world we don't back down. In his view, it's better for the war to go on forever. Any withdrawal could look like giving up. We have to live up to our image as a superpower.
But as American troops toil to control a country they don't understand, for reasons that were questionable to start with, and we borrow money from China in order to pay for it while critical needs in our own country go unmet, one has to wonder about just what image we are projecting. The world might think higher of us for giving up than continuing such foolish, self-destructive behavior. Instead of America the Superpower, we are looking like the Super-brat, the petulant child who creates messes and knows not how to clean them up.
President Bush and the Democrats are headed for a showdown on Iraq very soon. Both sides are sure to act like children as they huff and puff and toss blame around like a hot potato. Too many of them are thinking about their political futures instead of our future. When the smoke clears, let's hope they do what the majority of this country clearly wants, and that is to realize the foolishness of this war, and to find a way out before we go broke.
• Kirk Caraway is editor of http://nevadapolitics.com, and also writes a blog on national issues at http://kirkcaraway.com.