Sunday, February 06, 2005

New Budget Numbers

National Security Takes Big Hit, and
What We Can Do About It

The New York Times reports todayon some details of the budget that is being proposed for the country in 2005.  The budget calls for a 4.8% increase in military spending, not including the five billion dollars per month for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  However, it also includes a cut of 9% for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

I know I've harped on this string before, but it is an important point, and it also helps to have actual numbers to illustrate a point. 

The point is this: the war in Iraq has not saved any American lives; in fact, it has led to at least 1300 deaths and about seven times that number in serious somatic injuries.  No one knows the actual number of psychological injuries, but the New England Journal of Medicine has published three articles on the subject; the first two listed are available on an open-access basis. (1  2  3)  The third will be openly available six months after publication, which will be in late April 2005.

The second article informs us that the incidence of clinical depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and generalized anxiety, is about 16% for Iraq veterans, and 11% for veterans returning from Afghanistan.  Most of those are cases of PTSD.

There is no evidence that the war in Iraq has saved any American lives.  If you define a threat to security as a threat to life, limb, or mental health, then it is clear that the Iraq war has not improved security at all, at least in the short run.  Admittedly, we cannot know today what the long-run effects of the war will be.  Indeed, there probably never will be any way to know whether the war made us safer in the long run.  May have argued that it has not. A Google search on the string, 'has Iraq war made us safer' yields about 632,000 results.  I haven't read them all, but here are some excerpts:
Has the War Made Us Safer?
By Christopher Dickey and John Barry
Newsweek 4/12/2004

Controversial former counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke likens the aftermath of the Afghan war to "smashing a pod of seeds that spread round the world," allowing bin Laden and his deputies "to step back out of the picture and have the regional organizations they created take their generation-long struggle to the next level." The Iraq war, Clarke insists, was an enormous distraction and a drain on resources. Worse, "we delivered to Al Qaeda the greatest recruitment propaganda imaginable," Clarke writes.
Bush's Lost Year
By James Fallows
Atlantic Monthly Oct 2004

"Are we better off in basic security than before we invaded Iraq?" asks Jeffrey Record, a professor of strategy at the Air War College and the author of the recent Dark Victory, a book about the Iraq War. "The answer is no. An unnecessary war has consumed American Army and other ground resources, to the point where we have nothing left in the cupboard for another contingency-for instance, should the North Koreans decide that with the Americans completely absorbed in Iraq, now is the time to do something." [...]

"Let me tell you my gut feeling," a senior figure at a military-sponsored think tank told me recently. "In my view we are much, much worse off now than when we went into Iraq. That is not a partisan position. I voted for these guys."
Of course, there are some persons who have argued that the Iraq was has made us safer, but they don't seem to have much to offer in the way of evidence, or even an organized, logical line of reasoning. 

So, we have evidence that the war has not made us safer (dead soldiers being the evidence); but no way to know what would have happened if the war had not taken place.  We have essays written by experts, who argue that the war has not made us safer.  On the other hand, there are a few people who say the war has made us safer, but the only evidence they have is to say "It's true because it seems true to me." 

Furthermore, we now have evidence that the Administration is proposing budget cuts for health care programs, cuts made necessary, in part, by the cost of the war in Iraq.  There are plenty of studies that show how spending for health care programs can save lives.  (Try Google 'investment public health save lives'.)  The cutting of public health programs probably will lead to deaths that could have been prevented.  This is another way to demonstrate that the war actually has created a danger for Americans. 

The budget proposal shows just how much our national security has suffered, if we have to cut the budget of the CDC in order to pay for a war.

One might argue: "So what? The fact is, we are in Iraq now, we've made a mess, and now we have to clean it up.  That being the case, there is no way to avoid all that spending."

Fair enough, but that does not mean there is nothing we can do.  First, get out of Iraq as quickly as possible.  Force the contractors to accept the same magnitude of budget cuts that the American people have to accept.  After all, if the war is less profitable, it just might go away quicker.  Second, ban US oil companies from signing contracts for Iraq's oil.  We've said all along that we were not going into Iraq for the oil, so lets prove it.  American oil companies are making record profits right now, so it's not like they're going to suffer.  Third, make the health-related budget cuts temporary.  Force congress to renew the cuts every year.  No free rides on this one.  There are congressional elections coming up next year, so make them get up in front of the country and justify these cuts year after year.  Don't just sweep it under the carpet and let everyone forget about it. 

The final recommendation: when it comes to homeland security, we may as well accept the fact that we cannot necessarily prevent every terrorist attack.  That bing the case, what we need to do is restructure our economy so that any subsequent attack will have less impact.  That means decentralizing the government and the financial centers, diversifying energy sources, and diversifying the food supply. 

Right now, we are terribly dependent upon foreign oil.  Drilling in ANWR is not the answer; it is at best a short-term solution.  The answer is to develop solar, wind, hydrogen, biodiesel, gasohol,  and geothermal energy sources.  Have people put up their own solar panels and windmills, to supplement the energy grid.  A distributed energy system is less vulnerable to point attacks.  But don't move all our manufacturing off the continent.  That makes us too vulnerable.  Encourage people, gradually, to eat less beef, more vegetables.  That will lessen our exposure to disruption of the food supply.  None of these things will lessen the risk of an attack, directly, but they could dissuade some attackers, if it appears that whatever attack they are contemplating will not be devastating to us. 

So there are things we can do, to make ourselves safer, there are things we can do to get our budget back on track, and there are things we can do to hold politicians more accountable.  What we cannot do, though, is find a way to justify the war in Iraq. 

(Note: The Rest of the Story/Corpus Callosum has moved. Visit the new site here.)
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