Monday, May 2, 2011

Peace and Prosperity: Nothing Personal

People are not going to like what any president does. Many people are not going to like the person, as is the case with Barack Obama and to a greater extent than to George W. Bush. Conservatives revere the Bush presidency, especially its tax cuts and its waging wars. They despise Obama for trying to undo both of those situations as if it’s personal. They seem to hate peace and prosperity.

I stumbled across an elephant in the living room – the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. As a candidate for the presidency, Senator Obama spoke in Iowa about the great beast, “The best way to protect our security and to pressure Iraq’s leaders to resolve their civil war is to immediately begin to remove our combat troops,” Mr. Obama said. “Not in six months or one year — now.” That was almost four years ago.

It is regrettable that President Obama has not yet prevailed in bringing peace, if for no other reason than the sheer financial cost of the wars. Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports that between Fiscal Year 2001 and Fiscal Year 2011, the Iraq War has cost $802 billion and the Afghanistan War has cost $455.4 billion. (CRS page 14: Table 3, Estimated War Funding By Operation, Agency and Fiscal Year) The CRS report is an interesting read for congressional wonks and for political writers.

Here is a different look at that amount of money. It is a ticker produced by the National Priorities Project. The NPP is a research organization that analyzes and clarifies federal data so that people can understand and influence how their tax dollars are spent. The Project has focused on the impact of federal spending at the national, state, congressional district and local levels since 1983. By any measure, the wars cost the US an astounding amount of money.

The problem is that the money has got to come from somewhere, taxes or deficits. Historically, wars financed heavily by higher taxes end quickly, such as the Korean War and the first Gulf War. Wars financed largely by deficits, such as the war in Vietnam and the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, tend to drag on indefinitely.

Congress and Presidents Johnson and Nixon asked for sacrifices from all citizens. In 1968, Congress imposed a 10% surtax to pay for the Vietnam War. There was also a draft. Conscription can be viewed as a kind of tax that was largely paid by the poor and middle class. However, without naming names, young men from wealthy families largely escaped the effects of the draft through college deferments.

The GOP controlled Congress from 2001 to 2006 and President Bush never asked for sacrifices from anyone, except those in our nation's military and their families. According to Forbes columnist Bruce Bartlett, a former Treasury Department economist in the Bush administration, “American people's support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has always been paper thin. Asking them to sacrifice through higher taxes, domestic spending cuts or reinstatement of the draft would surely have led to massive protests akin to those during the Vietnam era or to political defeat in 2004.” So the Bush administration chose deficits to finance the wars.

What’s more, in the middle of that period -- February 4, 2003, to be exact -- White House budget chief Mitch Daniels conceded that the budget would remain in deficit for the next decade. According to Slate, “a Feb. 3 White House fact sheet lays down the Bush line: The budget would be in double digit deficit if had there never been a tax cut in 2001.” Republicans blame run-away spending, now.

The elephant in the living room is the deficit financing of two wars. End the wars and we apply a tourniquet to the deficit spending that requires raising the debt ceiling. Since March 1962, that ceiling has been raised 74 times and ten of those times have occurred since 2001. If President Obama is to be despised for anything, it must be for attempting peace and prosperity. It’s nothing personal.

Article first published as Peace and Prosperity: Nothing Personal on Blogcritics.

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